Coach “O” and the governor’s raceBy CHARLES DUNAGIN GUEST COLUMNIST,
I suppose it would be ridiculous to imply that LSU Football Coach Ed Orgeron has more political influence in Louisiana than President Donald Trump.
But it’s worth noting that Orgeron, not Trump, was on the winning side of the Louisiana governor’s race Saturday.
The president, as he has done in two other southern states electing governors this fall, went all in for Republican businessman Eddie Rispone who was in a runoff election race with incumbent Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards.
Edwards narrowly defeated Rispone 51 percent to 49 percent — a margin of about 40,000 votes.
Trump had paid multiple visits to Louisiana campaigning against Edwards.
But, as was the case in Kentucky, the president’s favored candidate lost in a close election.
Only in Mississippi did the Trump-backed candidate carry the governor’s race, and Tate Reeves probably would have won that election even if Trump hadn’t come to the state.
Reeves had the most campaign money and his national party is the one now favored by the majority of Mississippians.
Coach Orgeron, who has had more success coaching against the Rebels than he did for them when he was the Ole Miss head coach, came under criticism before the election from U.S. Sen. John Kennedy and some of Kennedy’s fellow Louisiana Republicans for appearing at a fund-raiser and introducing Edwards with whom he apparently has a close personal relationship.
According to an article in Sports Illustrated, Edwards and Orgeron go on duck hunts together as well as attending other functions.
Edwards, a former high school quarterback at Amite, La., has been known to throw passes at LSU practices.
The SI article noted that during an event in April, Orgeron introduced the governor in a way that some viewed as an endorsement. Kennedy said he was “appalled” after watching video from the event, denouncing such a move from a celebrity figure employed at a public university.
Kennedy, despite his outrage, no doubt is aware that historically a number of Louisiana governors have been close to the LSU football program and, at times, vice versa.
The Sports Illustrated article referred to what it called “a near century-old relationship between LSU football and Louisiana politics. This bond is steeped in history, rooted in passion and adorned with truly unbelievable tales—one former governor insisted on calling plays during games and another skipped his own election party to watch the Tigers.”
The story is told that in the 1930s, Gov. Huey Long, who was very much involved in LSU affairs, had a train carrying the LSU band to a football game stop in McComb.
The band got off the train and proceeded to the store owned by the parents of legendary football player and later physician Abe Mickal, a McComb High School graduate, where it performed.
While the votes were being counted Saturday night, Orgeron’s team was keeping its number one college football ranking by defeating Ole Miss, a week after the Tigers had knocked off Alabama.
While LSU remains undefeated, the New Orleans Saints also have a winning record of eight and two and appear to be headed to the NFL playoffs.
Some pundits are speculating as to how much the good feelings about Louisiana football helped Edwards, who also has appeared in a public service announcement with Saints quarterback Drew Brees.
The governor himself even opined, “It is an easier state to govern when the Saints and LSU are winning. People are just in a better mood.”
Here in Mississippi, fans of the two in-state Southeastern Conference football teams, aren’t in a great mood with perhaps the exception of some Rebel fans who are looking forward to next year.
And Trump remains more popular with the majority than the coaches.