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AP photo by Rogelio V. Solis / LSU football coach Ed Orgeron joins his players as they sing their school song after a 36-13 win at Mississippi State on Oct. 19.

The showdown between Alabama and visiting LSU a week from Saturday will pit the greatest coach in college football history against the most imitated.

After all, who at this point hasn't attempted Ed Orgeron's gruff and occasionally indiscernible voice?

"I laugh at them, because I enjoy them," the LSU coach said this week. "Some on our team have impressions, and so do some of our former players. Obviously the fans do. It's all part of football, and it's all fun."

While Nick Saban has been the sport's steadying force, implementing a process that has resulted in six Southeastern Conference championships during his first 12 seasons in Tuscaloosa as well as five national titles in a nine-year stretch (2009-17), Orgeron has reached next week's matchup of top-two teams from a most unusual path.

Orgeron was a defensive lineman at Louisiana's Northwestern State University from 1981 to '84 and became a graduate assistant at his alma mater immediately after his playing days were over. He was a grad assistant at the University of Miami in 1988 when he got his first big break, getting promoted to defensive line coach of Dennis Erickson's Hurricanes, who won national titles in 1989 and 1991.

A seven-year stint as a defensive assistant at Southern California from 1998 to 2004 yielded two more national crowns, though the 2004 title was vacated due to NCAA violations, and in December 2004, Orgeron landed his first head coaching opportunity at Ole Miss. Orgeron reportedly made former Ole Miss chancellor Robert Khayat get into a three-point stance during his interview, and Orgeron earned the job over much bigger names such as Erickson and Rick Neuheisel.

Orgeron's three years in Oxford did not go well, with the Rebels' record 10-25 overall and 3-21 in SEC games during that time. The SEC West was as unrelenting then as it is now, with Alabama (2005), Auburn (2006) and Arkansas (2007) making Cotton Bowl trips during Orgeron's time at Ole Miss, and with LSU winning the 2007 national championship.

The 2007 Rebels went 0-8 in league play, their first winless SEC mark since World War II, but Orgeron never gave up hope for a second try at being a head coach.

"I knew we did some good things there, but that obviously wasn't evident in our record," he said. "I knew there were some things that I had to change, but I believed I would get another shot. Now, I didn't know it would be at LSU or any place like that."

Orgeron spent the 2008 season in the NFL with the New Orleans Saints and the 2009 season at the University of Tennessee, where he worked under Lane Kiffin and then followed Kiffin after one season in Knoxville to Southern Cal. Kiffin guided the Trojans to a 10-2 record in 2011 and to a No. 1 ranking in the 2012 preseason poll, but they struggled to a 7-6 disappointment that year and Kiffin was abruptly fired after a 3-2 start in 2013.

Serving in an interim role, Orgeron made a bid for the USC job on a full-time basis by winning six of his first seven games and leading the Trojans to a No. 23 ranking. After a 35-14 loss to No. 22 UCLA, however, former Trojans athletic director Pat Haden opted to go in another direction.

"The interim stint at USC gave me the chance to prove — going 6-2 and beating the No. 5 in the country (Stanford) — that I can lead a big-time program at a high level," Orgeron said, "and I was very appreciative of (former LSU athletic director) Joe Alleva giving me the opportunity to have the interim job here. I think we've showed everybody that we can do it.

"It's all about getting the best staff. I've got a great staff right now, and we have some great players, and that makes it a lot easier being a head coach when you're surrounded by great people."

Orgeron became LSU's interim coach after the dismissal of Les Miles, who won two SEC titles and led the Tigers to the 2007 national crown but was 17-8 during the 2014-15 seasons and 2-2 out of the gate in 2016 after an 18-13 loss at Auburn. Orgeron produced another 6-2 interim stint and has since gone 9-4, 10-3, and now 8-0 with the program's first No. 1 ranking in the Associated Press poll since 2011.

Getting the best staff has included defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, who became the highest-paid assistant in college football history last season with a salary of $2.5 million, and bringing 29-year-old passing coordinator Joe Brady over from the Saints to assist veteran offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger.

LSU will enter the Alabama game averaging 535.9 yards and 46.8 points per game behind quarterback Joe Burrow, currently the Heisman Trophy favorite.

"They're a completely different offense and have completely changed their style of play," Saban said. "They've got really good skill guys and a very good quarterback and a good runner. They do a lot of the same kind of stuff that the Saints do, and they're really, really good at it."

While the Tigers have been rapidly transitioning from a ground-and-pound offense to their free-wheeling aerial attack, Orgeron has more methodically opened back up personality-wise. Known for consuming Red Bulls and ripping his shirt off during his days in Oxford, he became conservative in his ways for more than a year after taking the LSU job.

That has changed, with Orgeron happy to admit this week that his favorite gumbo contains shrimp and two scoops of potato salad.

"I wasn't here to make a big splash," Orgeron said. "I wasn't here to make noise. I guarded myself, because I didn't want to detract anything from our football team.

"I wanted to get this thing rolling like we've got it right now, and right now, being myself is fun."

Tide to play FSU

Alabama and Florida State announced a home-and-home football series for the 2025-26 seasons, with the Crimson Tide to play in Tallahassee in 2025 before hosting the Seminoles the following year. This will give the Tide two Power Five nonconference opponents in those seasons, with Alabama already scheduled to host Wisconsin in 2025 and play at West Virginia in 2026.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524. Follow him on Twitter @DavidSPaschall.

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