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The SEC’s toothless tigers

Two of the three Southeastern Conference football teams nicknamed Tigers are finding out the cheap hire is often the wrong hire.

Missouri is a dumpster fire. Barry Odom is in over his head. He might have been a fine coordinator under Gary Pinkel, but as the man in charge, he is trying to navigate the Missouri River in a canoe.

The Tigers looked absolutely pitiful yesterday in a 35-3 loss at home to Purdue. Yes, the Boilermakers have been in the Big Ten since the conference was formed, but when was the last time Purdue was mentioned consistently among college football’s elite? Hmmm….I want to say it was when Jack Mollenkopf was coaching, and last I checked, he retired after the 1969 season, seven years before I was born.

The Boilermakers won the Rose Bowl after the 1966 season, when Bob Griese was a senior. Since then, Purdue has made it to Pasadena ONCE (which is still one more time than Minnesota and the same number of times as Indiana and Northwestern in the last 51 seasons), and that was with Drew Brees.

Purdue plummeted like a rock once Brees departed. The school from West Lafayette has been in the lower division of the Big Ten every year since 2000, and the Boilermakers were absolutely dreadful under Darrell Hazell, who was 9-33 in three and a half seasons before he was fired at the mid-point of the 2016 campaign.

Jeff Brohm, a former standout quarterback at Louisville under Howard Schnellenberger and then a very successful head coach at Western Kentucky, has got Purdue going in the right direction. The Boilermakers gave Louisville a major scare in the season opener, and have now destroyed Ohio (more on the Bobcats later) and Missouri. Purdue isn’t going to be a factor in the Big Ten race this year, but it should be a consistent bowl team under Brohm.

Missouri is going in the opposite direction as Purdue. The Tigers have been a hot mess since racial tension on campus two years ago, which led to Pinkel’s resignation. Odom’s defenses have been nothing short of awful. Rockhurst High in Kansas City has a better defense than Mizzou.

Odom has got to be on the hot seat. If athletic director Jim Sterk is not seriously vetting candidates, then shame on him. The longer Odom lingers at his alma mater, the better the chance Mizzou relapses into pitifulness, which was the state of the program for much of the 1980s and 1990s.

I fear the Tigers will slip to the point where they were under Woody Widenhofer (1985-88) and Bob Stull (1989-93), which was fighting like hell to stay out of the Big Eight cellar. Mizzou teams of that era routinely were destroyed by Colorado, Nebraska and Oklahoma, were dominated by Oklahoma State (prior to 1989, when the Cowboys were severely sanctioned by the NCAA), and had trouble with Iowa State and Kansas. Kansas State was the one punching bag the Tigers routinely beat, but that all changed under Bill Snyder, who turned the tide completely in favor of the Wildcats in the series by 1991. \

After consistently going to bowl games under Dan Devine (1958-70), and then making semi-regular appearnaces under Al Onofrio (1971-76) and Warren Powers (1977-84), Mizzou went 13 seasons (1984-96) with no bowl games. NONE. Larry Smith, the former Tulane, Arizona and USC coach, took the Tigers to minor bowl games, but Mizzou was back at rock bottom in 1999 and 2000.

It took Pinkel a couple of years to turn Mizzou around, but once he did, the Tigers became bowl fixture. In 2007, the Tigers ascended to number one after beating Kansas in the regular season finale, but they fell to Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game.

Mizzou is not going to a bowl game this year unless something turns around right now. I can’t see the Tigers winning an SEC game, not with Kentucky and Vanderbilt much improved, and with Florida, Georgia and Tennessee all well above Mizzou. Not happening.

Now on to my alma mater.

There was a team wearing LSU’s uniforms last night in Starkville. The names on the players’ jerseys were the ones which were listed on the roster released by the school.

Yes, the Bayou Bengals were there in body. In spirit? No way.

I expected LSU to have a very difficult time with Mississippi State. I went in feeling the Bulldogs had a great chance to win. The Bayou Bengals went in having won eight consecutive games in Starkville, and I figured the Bulldogs were overdue.

State had a huge advantage at quarterback, where Nick Fitzgerald was an All-SEC selection last year. LSU’s Danny Etling is competent and nothing more. Bulldogs coach Dan Mullen is an acclaimed offensive mind, having helped Florida win the 2006 and 2008 national cahmpionshp and molding Tim Tebow into a Heisman Trophy winner. LSU offensive coordinator Matt Canada has been as popular as his boss, Ed Orgeron, since his hiring earlier this year, but I was skeptical. Still am skeptical.

The game which unfolded bore out every point I listed above.

Not only did State win, it embarrassed LSU. Bulldogs 37, Bayou Bengals 7.

How bad was it? State’s largest margin of victory EVER over LSU.

The Bayou Bengals and Bulldogs have been playing each other since 1896, and continuously since 1944. Counting last night’s game, LSU has played Mississippi State–once known as Mississippi A&M–111 times, more than any other opponent.

Last night was State’s 35th win in the series, compared to 73 for LSU, with three ties.

The Bayou Bengals had two touchdowns called back by penalty, although they got one of those back two plays later. In the second half, two defensive players, Donnie Alexander and Neal Farrell, were ejecting for hits to the head of Fitzgerald.

LSU was penalized nine times for 112 yards. It is on pace to commit 120 penalties for over 1,000 yards.

If Orgeron is as committed to discipline, he will suspend Alexander and Farrell for the entire game vs. Syracuse this week, not just for the first half as mandated under NCAA rules.

Regardless of what happens, Orgeron was a very disappointing hire for a team which has one of the largest budgets of any university.

LSU does not want for cash. It doesn’t have as many deep-pocketed donors as some schools, but it is the flagship university, the only one in a Power Five confernece, and there are big fans from every corner of the state. LSU consistently is deep in the black and pays its coaches handsomely.

Orgeron’s hire falls squarely on the shoulders of athletic director Joe Alleva, whom I believe should never have been hired in the first place.

The way Alleva severely mishandled the Duke lacrosse case when he was the Blue Devils’ athletic director should have precluded him from getting any other job as an athletic director, much less at a power school like LSU. I don’t know what LSU saw in him, unless Mike Kryzewzski convinced the administration Alleva was the second coming and was the only person worth hiring.

Alleva hired LSU women’s basketball coach Nikki Caldwell-Fargas, who I do not like. If Alleva were smart, he would have gone to Waco and had a blank contract for Kim Mulkey, who has been at Baylor for nearly two decades now. Alleva would have asked Mulkey to fill in a dollar amount. LSU could certainly afford it.

LSU women’s basketball was a dominant program in the middle of the last decade, reaching the Final Four five consecutive years (2004-08), although it did not win a single game.

Now, the Bayou Bengals are at best a middling program in the SEC. They have been passed and lapped by Mississippi State and South Carolina, have fallen well behind Kentucky, and are still way behind Tennessee, even though the Lady Volunteers are not the superpower they were under the late, great Pat Summitt. LSU also lags behind the SEC newcomers, Texas A&M and Missouri.

Had Mulkey been hired, I’m certain at least one national championship banner would be hanging from the rafters of the Pete Maravich Assembly Center right now.

As for Pistol Pete’s old program, it is as low as the Marianna Trench right now.

Alleva is on his third men’s basketball coach, Will Wade, who came from VCU, where he succeeded Shaka Smart after he left for Texas. The 35-year old has brought youthful energy to the Bayou Bengals, but will that energy translate into victories? It won’t in 2017-18, but if it doesn’t in 2018-19 and beyond, then it will be another bust, right up there with Wade’s predecessors, Johnny Jones (2012-17) and Trent Johnson (2008-11).

LSU has won ONE NCAA tournament game with Alleva as athletic director. In 2015-16, the Bayou Bengals had Ben Simmons, regarded as the greatest basketball player to step on campus since Shaquille O’Neal. Simmons could not get LSU to the NCAA tournament, then skipped school and became the #1 overall pick of the 76ers in the 2016 NBA draft. Last year, LSU tied Missouri for dead last in the SEC. This year, LSU will likely occupy the cellar by itself, since Missouri has brought in a stellar recruiting class under Cuonzo Martin, who took over for Kim Anderson, who like Odom and Orgeron, was grossly in over his head.

Alleva cannot take credit for baseball coach Paul Maineri, because he was hired by Skip Bertman, Alleva’s predecessor who built LSU baseball into college baseball’s Death Star, winning five championships from 1991-2000 and 870 games in 18 seasons (1984-2001). Maineri led LSU to the 2009 national championship and the College World Series championship series earlier this year.

Orgeron was hired as LSU’s defensive line coach in 2015, and was elevated to interim head coach after four games in 2016 when Les Miles, hired by Bertman to replace Nick Saban in early 2005, was fired. Ironically, Orgeron’s first game in charge at LSU a 42-7 victory over Missouri in Baton Rouge.

Oregeron is not currently in dire straits like Odom (or Kevin Sumlin at Texas A&M, Bret Bielema at Arkansas or Butch Jones at Tennessee), but if Orgeron goes 7-5 this season, the grumbling will be heard long and hard in the bayou.

Yes, Orgeron is Louisiana through and through, growing up in Larose, playing for a state championship team at South Lafourche High in 1977 and then playing in college briefly for LSU and more extensively at Northwestern State in Natchitoches. Orgeron was the most popular hire LSU has made in recent memory, much more so than Nick Saban was when he came from Michigan State and Miles when he came from Oklahoma State.

Alleva was ready to hire Tom Herman when Texas moved quickly to fire Charlie Strong. The Longhorns are the one program which can pay a higher wage than LSU, and paid it to swipe Herman from Houston. With Herman out of the picture, Alleva simply waved the white flag and took the “interim” off of Orgeron’s title.

Nobody doubts Orgeron is a great defensive line coach and recruiter. He coached Warren Sapp at Miami. He coached some great players at USC, including two-time All-American Shaun Cody. And he was recruiting very well at

As a head coach, Orgeron just doesn’t cut it. He was brutally bad at Ole Miss, going 10-25 over three seasons, including a pathetic 3-21 mark in the SEC. The Rebels bottomed out under Orgeron after winning 10 games in 2003 under David Cutcliffe. Ole Miss bounced back under Hugh Freeze, but that was because Freeze broke more than a few NCAA rules to build his teams.

Alleva should have hired Brohm or someone proven as a head coach. If Orgeron didn’t like it, he was free to find another job. I’m sure Pete Carroll would have offered Orgeron a position with the Seahawks had Orgeron not been able to find a college job.

There is no excuse for Alleva’s laziness. NONE. LSU should never have hired Alleva in the first place, but the Bayou Bengals have got to get someone new in the athletic director’s chair, or LSU may rot from within.

The Saints are down 20-3 to the Patriots at the end of the first quarter. It’s not a good weekend to be a football fan in Louisiana.