Six seasons later, U.S.C. struggles for relevance while L.S.U. seeks its fourth national title. Orgeron implemented an inventive passing game and helped develop quarterback Joe Burrow into a Heisman Trophy winner. To show his appreciation about becoming an honorary Cajun, Burrow, who is from Ohio, recently wore a pregame jersey with his name spelled Burreaux.
L.S.U. football has long served as a measure of achievement in a state that has struggled with poverty, educational achievement, cancer rates, infant mortality and political chicanery. Rudy Penton, an inveterate L.S.U. fan who has been known to paint purple and gold tiger stripes on his dogs, told me years ago, “When we’re No. 1, it’s usually for something bad.”
Orgeron, though, represents characteristics that Cajuns hold dearest: resilience, innovation, hard work, pride in their heritage, lightheartedness combined with seriousness of purpose. Rod Dreher, a Louisiana native and a senior editor at The American Conservative, wrote that Coach O, as Orgeron is widely known, “could be acclaimed governor for life by divine right.”
Orgeron and his mother, Coco, have also endeared themselves by speaking fluent Cajun French in video clips. The Washington Post did a deep linguistic dive into Orgeron’s accent, variously described as rough as the hide of a gator and as flavorful as a bowl of gumbo. By happenstance, Orgeron’s ascendance comes amid an explosion in south Louisiana of French immersion schools, which have popped up like mud chimneys built by crawfish.
“I’m proud as all get-out to know we have someone that speaks like us and people are finding out there’s nothing to be ashamed about being a Cajun,” said Mark Layne, the professional name of Martel Ardoin, the general manager of radio station KVPI in Ville Platte, La., which hosts two French-language newscasts daily and a morning coffee-talk show called “La Tasse de Café.”