Remember when Jim Harbaugh was better than Ed Orgeron?
It might be hard to remember that far back (2015 seems like 20 years ago now) — the Michigan man was already crowned one of the sports’ best coaches — a true elite motivator and leader of men. Orgeron, meanwhile, was mocked for his thick Cajun accent and was known more for inhaling energy drinks than posting victories on the actual field.
How things have changed.
Harbaugh arrived at Michigan with far more pomp and circumstance than Orgeron did at LSU. Harbaugh was a proven winner at Stanford before leading the San Francisco 49ers to the Super Bowl. Orgeron had a disastrous tenure at Ole Miss and was the guy the majority of LSU fans felt the school settled for after missing out on Jimbo Fisher and Tom Herman.
Harbaugh entered last season with the far larger salary ($7.5 million per year compared to Orgeron’s $4M), had the distinction of coaching a more prestigious program (11 claimed national titles to three), and was definitely a coach who was generating more headlines.
From calling SEC coaches “cheaters” in a book, to holding satellite football camps in the conference’s backyard, Harbaugh elevated the Michigan brand back to national prominence even though he did it with a certain smugness that made him one of the more unlikeable figures in college football.
For all those antics, Harbaugh has yet to elevate his alma mater back to its glorious past, or perceived glorious past, rather. Harbaugh has done a nice job with the Wolverines (which reportedly has the second-largest support staff in the country with 22 members) having averaged nine wins per season and playing for a bowl game each of his five seasons.
The problem is that Michigan has yet to win a division title outright under Harbaugh (the team was tied for one in 2018), hasn’t even played for the Big 10 championship, has lost four straight bowl games and, oh yeah — is 0-5 against arch rival Ohio State.
Orgeron, meanwhile, simply took his down-home south Louisiana approach to turning around LSU. Coach O didn’t make excuses or try to drum up publicity with stunts and throwing slander in interviews. He proudly talked about “one team, one heartbeat,” and boy did it ever work.
Not only did Coach O win over the purple and gold fan base with his approachability and likability — he also proved to be a hell of coach as he guided the Tigers to a 15-0 season last season, ended the panic-inducing losing streak to Alabama and claimed the program’s fourth national title.
Those differences between the two coaches were abundantly clear once again this past week as Coach O proved that he didn’t need satellite camps, name calling, social media shade or pressed khakis to lock up prized recruits.
Hell, the LSU head football coach doesn’t even need to meet a recruit in person or, for that matter, wear a shirt (as evident by his most recent vacation). No, the man in charge of the LSU football program only needs to have a conversation with a recruit for that young man to make his pledge to LSU.
Orgeron and his staff picked up its second prized recruit out of Big 10 country in recent weeks as Garrett Dellinger, a four-star offensive lineman, announced on his Twitter account that he is verbally committed to the Tigers.
The 6-foot-5, 280-pound Michigan native is one of the top tackle prospects in the country and chose LSU over blue-bloods Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State. This comes a month after four-star running back Corey Kiner of Cincinnati committed to LSU. Like Dillinger, Kiner selected LSU over the likes of Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan.
So despite having not having a in-person recruiting visits and being located more than 1,100 miles away, LSU is still able to poach recruits out of Michigan and Ohio State’s backyard.
Not to mention that LSU has already gotten a commitment from five-star outside linebacker Raesjon Davis out of Santa Ana, California, who also chose LSU over Michigan and Ohio State.
Yes, winning a national championship and having your quarterback obliterate the NCAA record books on his way to winning the Heisman plays a role in these recruiting wars — as does Joe Burrow originally hailing from Ohio and beginning his career at Ohio State.
But the reality is that Orgeron is a masterful recruiter, which has long been his calling card as a coach from his time the University of Miami under Jimmy Johnson to University of Southern California under Pete Carroll. Coach O recruited his tail off at Ole Miss but back then he didn’t know how to be a head coach — now he does.
Harbaugh can recruit just as well as he has had consistently Top 10 recruiting classes but he has yet to prove that he can develop that talent — as evident by the woes at the quarterback position. It is one thing to get the kids to sign that National Letter of Intent — it is something else entirely for them to be developed into NFL talent. Harbaugh has had five players selected in the first round at Michigan while LSU had five first-round picks just this year.
The difference in recent success is why Orgeron is now considered a better coach than Harbaugh. In the latest college football coaches rankings, CBS Sports has Orgeron at No. 4 while Harbaugh at No. 12.
Could that change is Harbaugh breaks through and wins the Big 10 and earns a spot in the College Football Playoff? Absolutely. For right now though — the better coach is the one that resides in Baton Rouge and its not even close.
Raymond Partsch III is a longtime sportswriter and radio broadcaster.