LSU is stuck with Ed Orgeron and can only blame itself

Dan Wetzel
Columnist

Following a humiliating loss to Troy on Saturday, LSU is 3-2 heading into the meat of its SEC schedule.

That means first-year head coach Ed Orgeron is 3-2, leaving some Tiger fans panicked that he’s no better than the failed head coach he was at Ole Miss from 2005-07, where he finished 10-25 overall and 3-21 in the SEC. A GoFundMe account has already been started to raise money to buy out Orgeron’s contact.

They are going to need a lot of donations.

If LSU were to fire Orgeron this season, they’d owe him $12 million (minus his compensation already paid this year, so about $9 million).

This begs a very obvious question: Why in the world did LSU agree to such a massive number for a second-chance head coach with no other comparable career options, especially when he wasn’t the school’s first choice in the first place?

How exactly did college football become such a seller’s market that LSU felt compelled (pretty much along with industry practice) to guarantee $12 million to a guy absolutely no one was certain could do the job?

We asked some athletic directors. Some blamed the business collectively.

“It’s gotten out of hand,” one Power Five athletic director told Yahoo Sports. “Everything is backwards.”

Some blamed LSU specifically.

“I don’t understand why you guarantee that much if there is not competition for your coach,” another Power Five athletic director said.

Whatever it is, LSU is stuck with it.

LSU is struggling under Ed Orgeron this season and the Tigers still haven’t played the meat of their SEC schedule. (Getty)

LSU’s contract is actually with “O” The Rosy Finch Boyz, LLC, which was incorporated last January when he got the job. It lists as its officers Ed Orgeron, his wife Kelly and New Orleans attorney William Neilson. It runs through 2021 and pays him about $3.5 million per year, with various incentives, plus benefits such as membership in the University Club of Baton Rouge and a $2,000-per month carer’s allowance.

If Orgeron is fired “without cause” (namely for losing too much rather than NCAA violations or legal issues) prior to Nov. 28 of each year, then he is owed $12 million this year, $8.5 million next, $6 million in 2019, $4.5 million in 2020 and $1 million in 2021. Those numbers are “minus compensation paid during the terminating year.” So subtract $3.5 million pro-rated at however many months he’s worked that year.

The buyout protects the head coach, causing a school financial pain to fire him. “The parties have bargained for this liquidated damages provision,” Orgeron’s contract flatly states.

It goes on to note that getting fired because he didn’t win many games would cause Orgeron to “lose the salary, supplemental compensation, fringe benefits, certain other LSU-provided benefits, and possibly other income and benefits provided by third parties, which damages are impossible to determine with certainty.”

Indeed, other income and benefits provided by third parties (i.e. outside endorsement deals) would be “lost,” although would they ever have been earned?

Regardless, that’s what Orgeron got LSU to agree to and more power to him. Somehow he found himself in a position of strength. Athletic directors say coaches and agents have been able to negotiate incredible buyouts by in turn giving back buyout clauses should they leave for another job before the end of the contract. While those tend to get paid by the program luring them away, at least the school gets something. It’s particularly important at mid-level programs where good coaches naturally get poached.

In Orgeron’s case, if he were to leave LSU before Nov. 28 of this year, he’d owe the school $3.5 million. It drops to $3 million next year, $2.5 million in 2019, $1.5 million in 2020 and $500,000 in 2021.

The contract also notes this was “bargained for.” What did LSU get though?

This isn’t a young, up-and-coming mid-major coach likely to draw interest from another program with far more resources. Orgeron is 56 and a known commodity that was available for hire while working as a coordinator at LSU. He’s twice been an interim coach, at LSU and USC (in 2013). No other major program showed interest.

Moreover, even if Orgeron had great success this year, was anyone else going to grab him at a salary that was so much greater than LSU could provide? If the Tigers had a big season, a richer contract would be renegotiated immediately.

Even if a wealthier school suddenly came knocking (there are few with more money), would Orgeron have left? He hails from little Larose, Louisiana, deep in Cajun Country and maintains the accent and likable attitude to prove it. He called this his dream job. If he were successful, he’d be king of talent-rich Louisiana with no in-state recruiting competition. Recent history dictates LSU is capable of winning national championships. He’d be a folk hero.

“No one is leaving LSU,” one Power Five AD said. “Especially not him.”

After all, we’re talking about a guy who named his company “‘O’ the Rosy Finch Boyz,” which possibly – possibly – makes sense in Louisiana but sure doesn’t anywhere else.

So there was a significant possibility one side will have to terminate the deal early. And there is almost no possibility the other side will have to terminate the deal early. Yet it is the former who got the far greater guarantee.

“Coaches have been able to say they need these buyouts for loyalty and for recruiting, but it’s gotten out of hand,” one athletic director said. “Schools are getting choked by these buyouts. First the team fails and causes tickets and donations to drop, then you have this big payment to the failed coach, then you have to hire a new one.”

The poster child for these deals is Charlie Weis, who made some $24 million in buyouts after being fired first from Notre Dame ($19 million) and later Kansas ($5 million). In 2015, the two schools paid him $4.6 million … to not coach.

Despite that cautionary tale, the business pushes on. Athletic directors say that coaches are able to use the chaos and intensity of the annual hiring merry-go-round to press for all sorts of concessions from athletic departments under booster, fan and media pressure.

That really isn’t a good answer though. That’s just weak leadership in an industry full of it.

Whether Coach O wins big at LSU or not, whether he survives this season or next, doesn’t matter to the bottom line of his LLC.

The Rosy Finch Boyz won the negotiation, which in college athletics is the most important game of all.

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