They’re dubbing it the “Coach O” Bowl.
Ole Miss’ players are talking about it. Tennessee’s players are talking about it. So are Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt and Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin.
The only person who isn’t talking is Ed Orgeron.
He’s declined all interview requests this week as he gets ready to go back to Oxford, where he recruited a slew of talented players and won very few games.
Some of the Ole Miss players swear by him. Junior defensive tackle Jerrell Powe, for instance, talked at length this August about the impact Orgeron had on his football career and how Orgeron continued to believe in him despite it looking like for the longest time that Powe would never become eligible.
Then there’s some who’d probably like to swear at him, not that the volatile Orgeron would be taken aback by such language.
He was known to light into his players verbally.
So much so that senior receiver Shay Hodge told The Jackson Clarion-Ledger following the Rebels’ win over Northern Arizona last week that this game was “personal” for a lot of the players.
“Coach O never did anything to me, but the way I saw him treat some people, I know some guys are going to come out with a real fire in their belly and get after them pretty bad,” Hodge said.
Perhaps it was Ole Miss junior defensive end Kentrell Lockett who shed the most candid perspective on Orgeron’s time in Oxford.
In short, he’s one of the best defensive line coaches in college football and one of the most dogged recruiters in college football. But as a head coach …
He was 0-8 in the SEC in his final season and lost 21 of the 24 games he coached in against SEC teams.
“Great guy, but he just wasn’t that head coach,” Lockett told the Clarion-Ledger. “He was a great D-line coach, but he wasn’t that head coach. I haven’t talked to him since [Orgeron was fired]. I might get a chance to talk to him after the game Saturday, might not.
“But life goes on, you know?”
And so has Orgeron. He’s been a huge part of Tennessee’s recruiting machine under Kiffin and has made quite an impression on the Vols’ players.
Yes, he’s still loud with that unmistakable voice. And, yes, he’s been known to rip off his shirt to fire up the guys.
But you’d be hard-pressed to find anybody on Tennessee’s team to say a negative word about him.
His fire has epitomized the way the Vols have played this season and is a big reason they’ve won three of their last four games and are playing their best football right now.
“Yes, Coach O can take it up a notch,” Tennessee junior defensive end Chris Walker said. “We have only seen a little bit of it. We know he can be more intense than he has been, so we’re kind of expecting it this week.
“He’s an awesome coach to play for. He teaches us the details of things we haven’t learned since we’ve been here.”
Kiffin says in a lot of ways that Orgeron was a more important piece to this coaching staff puzzle than even Kiffin’s dad, Monte.
In fact, the two Kiffins went down to Destin, Fla., to recruit Orgeron together when it looked like he might be going to LSU. They changed his mind that day.
“Having worked with him at USC, he knows exactly what I want and exactly how I want to do it,” Kiffin said. “We had to have him.”