-- MANDEVILLE, La. -- Ed Orgeron stirs a massive pot of gumbo the same way he would lead his defensive linemen through a drill during the dog days of preseason camp.
Beads of sweat forming on his forehead, Orgeron doesn't just stir this Cajun delicacy whipped up by his mother, known affectionately as "Co Co." He attacks it, making sure it's just right for serving.
Sure enough, the roux is heavenly, not to mention all of the ingredients that go with it.
"In Louisiana, you better know how to do two things -- swim and make a roux," Orgeron jokes.
It's game day at the Orgeron household, and like any football coach worth his salt, he has his ritual down to a science.
Only these days, the man they call "Coach O" isn't coaching, at least not until December, when he's sure to emerge as one of the hottest free agents on the market. He's too busy being a husband, father, cook and the biggest (and loudest) Mandeville High School fan on the planet while soaking up life on the North Shore of Lake Pontchartrain.
* * *
The first Saturday this season was the hardest.
"I really didn't know what to do with myself because the juices were flowing and I'm running around the house," says Orgeron, whose thick Cajun drawl is naturally amplified. "It's taken an adjustment to just calm down and watch the games and not be as emotional."
Maybe he's not as emotional, but the fire is still there.
Watching the games from an outdoor paradise his wife, Kelly, designed that includes a gourmet kitchen with multiple flat-screen TVs just feet from a saltwater pool and hot tub, Orgeron is ready to watch Kentucky-Mississippi State. The coach, who insists he has cut down on his beloved Red Bulls, is just getting warmed up.
Mississippi State's Josh Robinson refuses to go down in a spectacular tackle-breaking run, and Orgeron wants to jump through the television screen.
"Look at him fight," Orgeron roars. "That's a Louisiana guy. Look at all those Louisiana guys killing it right now for Mississippi State, right up the middle, too, where you've got to be strong. The quarterback [ Dak Prescott] is from Louisiana, so is the center [ Dillon Day] and Robinson at running back."
Orgeron is fiercely proud of his Louisiana heritage. He earned a football scholarship to LSU out of high school but made it only two weeks before getting homesick and returning to Larose, where his father, Ba Ba (pronounced bey-bey), made him get a job digging ditches. He eventually ended up at Northwestern State, where he had a stellar career and was inducted into the school's hall of fame earlier this month. His oldest son, Tyler Spotts, currently attends LSU and works in the recruiting office.
Looking back, Orgeron says not a lot of people know how close he came to going to LSU instead of Tennessee in 2008. He met with LSU coach Les Miles about a job after Lane Kiffin and his father, Monte, put the hard sell on Orgeron while he was vacationing with his family in Destin, Florida.
Lounging with his wife and kids while sorting through his opportunities, Orgeron texted Miles a dollar figure that he says was "way up there." He didn't hear back from Miles that night and finalized his decision to go to Tennessee. Early the next morning, he got on a plane headed to Knoxville, where he'd be introduced as part of the Vols' staff.
"As soon as I landed, all these texts from Coach Miles started popping in wanting to know if I could be in Baton Rouge by 1 p.m.," Orgeron says. "But it was too late. I couldn't turn back then."
The LSU-Ole Miss game is the one that has most of the Orgerons' attention. USC's game against Utah is later that night.
Orgeron is thrilled to see Hugh Freeze have such success at Ole Miss. Orgeron hired Freeze to be on his staff when Orgeron was the head coach at Ole Miss from 2005 to '07, but there are still obvious scars with the entire Orgeron family after he was fired there after only three years on the job. The Rebels went on to win nine games each of the next two years under Houston Nutt primarily with players recruited by Orgeron.
"Ole Miss was a job. USC was my passion," Orgeron says. "USC will always be my school."
* * *
One of the most enduring images from last season was Orgeron swinging a sword while perched atop a ladder and leading the Trojans' band following a 20-17 upset win over No. 4 Stanford at the Los Angeles Coliseum. He did a masterful job in picking up the pieces following Kiffin's firing, guiding the Trojans to a 6-2 finish. But after a 35-14 thumping at the hands of rival UCLA, USC athletic director Pat Haden decided to go with Steve Sarkisian.
The Colorado-UCLA score flashes across the screen, and the game's in overtime after the Bruins led big earlier.
"I don't know what's wrong with UCLA," Orgeron says. "I thought they would be a lot better. Why couldn't they have picked last year to play like this? That cost this old boy a lot of money."
But it did give him a chance to reconnect with his family.
"When it didn't work out at USC, I made a promise to my family that I'd take this year off," Orgeron says. "It's been a gift. It really has, to be here and be a part of everything, to go to games, drop by practice and spend time with Kelly."
He refers to Kelly as his "best recruit." As a testament to his skills as a salesman, they were married two months after they met.
Orgeron brings the same legendary intensity that made him a masterful recruiter into his home life.
His son, Cody, loves telling one particular story about one of the last times he played tennis with his dad. The mere image of Orgeron on a tennis court is priceless enough. But on this day, Cody, a two-time state tennis champion, kept serving up a steady diet of drop shots. His competitive juices racing, Orgeron went charging in trying to get to one and popped a hamstring. He wound up taking the whole net down, getting tangled up in it and looking like a spider's prey in its web.
Orgeron gets that competitiveness and work ethic from his father, who died of cancer three years ago. Co Co, meanwhile, was his biggest fan.
When Orgeron was in high school, she'd wake him up early on the mornings of big games and greet him with a shrimp po' boy and plate of fries.
"I mean, she'd have a helmet on her head and pompoms in her hands and would give me a pep talk," Orgeron says fondly. "And people wonder where I get it from."
Orgeron gets ready for the games of his son Parker, a junior wide receiver and Cody's twin, by going through what he calls "Double Pump Friday" -- his standard workout and jog in the morning followed by a second weightlifting session in his sweltering garage while blasting Creedence Clearwater Revival.
He cruises around town in a big, black Hummer, which immediately calls to mind his commercials while at Ole Miss.
"Yeah, it was a horrible commercial, but at least I got a Hummer out of the deal," says Orgeron, not afraid to poke fun at himself.
He's a regular at Franco's Athletic Club, and the people there gravitate to him. Bob Smith, dressed head-to-toe in Alabama gear, loves the Tide but is an even bigger Orgeron fan.
"I still can't believe Ole Miss didn't give him more than three years," Smith says. "Look at all the players he left them. And I don't know what USC was thinking by not hiring him with the way he turned them around last year."
Orgeron slaps Smith on the back and chortles, "You know how I met [Smith]? He walks up to me one day here in the gym and says, 'What's wrong with that Kiffin guy?'"
* * *
Orgeron glances toward the television, and TCU's 82-27 shellacking of Texas Tech pops up. He winces.
"Man, it's a different world today with these offenses," he says. "I always said that would never happen to me, and then Oregon scores 62 on us [in 2012]. I just wanted to dig a hole and go straight down in the Coliseum that day."
Orgeron's really starting to rev up as it becomes obvious that the LSU-Ole Miss game is going down to the wire. He can already feel an upset in the air.
They quickly flip over to the Alabama-Tennessee game to see the Crimson Tide jump out to a 27-0 lead.
"Lane might not say anything, but he'll put 70 on them if Saban will let him," Orgeron says. "That's the thing about Lane. He gets devious if you screw with him. He won't let you know, but he's coming after your ass."
Orgeron adds there were never any hard feelings about Tennessee, although he wishes the way they left could have been smoother.
"I think the fans were more mad because Lane left," Orgeron says. "It's just like Saban here in Louisiana. They say they hate him here now. But if Saban wanted to come back, they'd throw a parade for him."
As the LSU-Ole Miss game draws to a close, Orgeron says Freeze is one of the best and most unpredictable playcallers he has ever been around.
On the game-ending play, Bo Wallace's interception, Orgeron is standing behind the couch and perched as if he's ready to attack.
"I get more nervous watching these games," he explains. "When you're coaching, you can do something about it. All I can do now is watch."
Just as Wallace's pass is picked off, Orgeron, like everybody else, wonders what the Ole Miss quarterback was doing.
"But those Tigers wanted it," he says. "The whole state when they woke up this morning said they were going to beat Ole Miss."
As one of college football's most colorful characters, Orgeron will be back soon enough at a college football stadium near you. He wants to be a head coach again but isn't going to take a lower-level job just for the sake of it. It's more likely he ends up at a big-time school as a defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator. Wherever he lands, the job he did at USC is sure to have his phone buzzing in another month.
"None of this was planned, but sometimes that's when you find out the most about yourself," Orgeron says. "Everything happens for a reason, but I can tell you that I'm more ready than I've ever been to go back. "
And when he says he's ready, he means it.