Commentary: Orgeron could restore Ole Miss

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HOOVER, Ala. - It is easy for Ed Orgeron to get lost in the shuffle.
The new Mississippi head coach gave his press conference during the opening session of SEC Media Days between Tennessee's Phillip Fulmer and South Carolina's Steve Spurrier. Florida's Urban Meyer opened the session, so clearly Orgeron was not the main attraction of the blockbuster first day.
One gets the feeling that the blue-collar Orgeron likes it that way. It doesn't matter to him that he is not in the spotlight. In fact, he said that he liked being the "forgotten man" when a reporter posed the question.
While it may not grab the national headlines of a Spurrier or Meyer, there are some lofty expectations for the man they call "Coach O" in Oxford. Especially when you consider that Ole Miss forced out former coach David Cutcliffe after five straight winning seasons and one bad one.
The dismissal of Cutcliffe was the greatest example of how far apart reality is from where the Ole Miss fan base sees its program. Last year's 4-7 record came on the heels of a 10-3 record and a Cotton Bowl victory, the finest season in Oxford since the 1971 Rebs went 10-2.
Orgeron's workmanlike mentality, however, could be what turns the poor decision to a great one.
There are some raw materials for the former Southern California defensive line coach to work with. The facilities in Oxford are good, however, and given that football greats both real (Archie and Eli Manning) and the work of fiction (Brick Pollitt in Tennessee Williams' Cat on a Hot Tin Roof) have worn the Red and Blue, there is some tradition and mystique surrounding the program.
There also is talent to be had. Orgeron made the point that there were 47 players taken in the 2005 NFL draft that are within a six-hour drive of Oxford. After closing strong last year and getting off to a great start for the class of 2006, it is clear that's 2004 Football Recruiter of the Year knows how to get talent on campus.
It's what he does with that talent that is more of a concern. Did the learn enough from working on the Trojans talented staff to lead an SEC program to prominence?
We will soon find out about that. What we already know is that Orgeron can be motivating and downright inspiring at times. The story of Orgeron's first meeting with his team has reached mythical proportions on the Internet, and while there wasn't equipment broken, it got the players' attention.
"You could almost see fire in his eyes," quarterback Micheal Spurlock said. "You just hung on his every word and the guys in the room, you saw the fire coming back in their eyes, a fire you had not seen in a while."
But he's not all fire. He also has a philosophical intellect that also inspires. Thursday, Orgeron talked with great reverence about the conference wars he will fight with his Rebels this year. He spoke about how every young football player in the Magnolia State grows up wanting to play for Ole Miss, and how it was his job to help recruits, when it is time to make a college decision, rediscover why they loved the Rebs so much when they were young. He mentioned had he not made the choice to play football and get an education that he likely would be in Southern Louisiana, working in the shrimp industry.
The roll-up-your sleeves mentality could be a prescription for Ole Miss to get back to the days of winning, and if the gameplanning and playcalling work as well as the motivation and recruiting, then the Rebels may rise even higher.
JC Shurburtt can be reached via email at
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