Tennessee's new coaching hire Ed Orgeron addresses a news conference on Friday, Jan. 2, 2009 in Knoxville, Tenn. He will be the Vols' new assistant head coach, recruiting coordinator and defensive line coach. (AP Photo/Knoxville News Sentinel, Chad Greene)
KNOXVILLE -- Assistant college football coaching titles have nearly become a joke, in many cases.
Titles often are doled out to keep promising young assistants on staff, or justify a large salary increase, or both.
New titles pop up every year. Passing game coordinator. Running game coordinator. Defensive co-coordinator. Associate head coach for player development.
Ed Orgeron's three titles are no exaggeration, though. There is no doubt on the Tennessee campus that the fiery Cajun is defensive line coach, recruiting coordinator and, most importantly, associate head coach.
"He is somebody that, when I have to go other places -- when I have to go out recruiting, when I have to deal with the media, when I have I have to deal with our boosters, any of that stuff -- this is somebody who can run our program exactly the way we need it run to be a national championship team," first-year head coach Lane Kiffin said while introducing Orgeron in January.
Orgeron's voice often rose above the rest this summer inside the Neyland-Thompson Sports Center, according to several sources in the program. And not just in the volume department.
A longtime colleague and friend of Kiffin's since they were potent 1-2 recruiting punchers for powerhouse Southern California, Orgeron has had a hand in several important decisions the past several months. The Vols hired wide receivers coach Frank Wilson and strength and conditioning coach Aaron Ausmus, who had similar responsibilities under Orgeron at Ole Miss.
And Orgeron unquestionably runs the recruiting program with the same passion so prominently displayed in Bruce Feldman's book, "Meat Market: Inside the Smash-Mouth World of College Football Recruiting."
All-America safety Eric Berry said some days, a random person strolling through the UT complex could reasonably assume that Orgeron was the head coach.
"He is the sparkplug," Berry said. "No one wants to wake up at 5 o'clock in the morning and run, but he's always excited to come do it, and he gets us woken up and ready to go to work."
Kiffin had a logical explanation for that early-morning energy.
"Ed's up at 4 and has his three Red Bulls by 4:20," Kiffin said.
Berry confirmed parts of Orgeron's Red Bull routine.
"He probably drinks about three in the morning," Berry said. "But the thing is he has coffee, too. That's what messes it up. When you have coffee and Red Bull, I don't think that's a good combination. That's the big thing.
"You can't stay away from him. You're going to hear him. He's going to be screaming somewhere."
Defensive linemen Dan Williams and Chris Walker struggled to contain smiles when describing their daily encounters with Orgeron.
"When you see Coach O in the hall or whatever, he doesn't shake your hand," Williams said. "He does a swim move on you."
Added Walker: "It takes a little while to get used to, but that's just how it is with Coach O. He's crazy. I love it."
But Kiffin quickly refutes any idea that Orgeron is all hat and no cattle.
"He's the best defensive line coach in the country -- NFL or college," Kiffin said. "And he is the best recruiter anywhere in the country, in any conference."
Kiffin has made multiple references to the Orgeron-built Ole Miss team that returned most of the nucleus from January's Cotton Bowl championship roster. The Rebels went 0-8 in the SEC in 2007 -- Orgeron's last as their head coach -- but Kiffin argued that Orgeron wasn't given enough time to see the fruits of his recruiting labor.
A few Orgeron-recruited Southern Cal players, including quarterback and first-round NFL draft pick Mark Sanchez, still highlighted the Trojans' January Rose Bowl championship roster.
Orgeron's lack of head-coaching success didn't diminish demand for his assistant services. The New Orleans Saints tried hard to retain him as their defensive line coach this offseason, and LSU coach Les Miles made several fevered pitches. But an opportunity to work with Kiffin again and with legendary NFL defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin led Orgeron to UT despite a smaller salary.
LSU and the Saints reportedly made more lucrative offers than UT's still-plenty $650,000 per year.
"With Ed Orgeron, he's extremely valuable to us because I really think that he's kind of the passion of our program, that our players and our coaches feed off of his energy," Lane Kiffin said. "Our players feel so much energy and passion from him.
"I can't imagine there's a better recruiter out there than Ed, if you go back and look back at guys that he's recruited over the years and developed. Once again, you go back to hiring recruiters and coaches, look at the defensive linemen, go all the way back to Miami, then USC, then all the players he recruited, all the great players that are at Ole Miss right now that he recruited there. What an unbelievable job of evaluating the players, then also getting them there."