by Bruce Feldman
Bruce Feldman wrote Meat Market to give the average reader an insight into the world of college football recruiting. Feldman did succeed on that front, but he also gave the sports world an inside look at the Ole Miss football program and its challenges in making strides towards recapturing its glory as an SEC power.
Despite a few decent years here and there (as well as the entire Eli Manning era), Ole Miss hasn't truly been competitive since integration, the post-Johnny Vaught era which went from 1947-1970. Ole Miss's problem has been recruiting top talent.
Ole Miss's difficult racial history has been used against the school by its SEC rivals. With Sylvester Croom, the SEC's first black head coach, leading in state rival Mississippi State, the pressure was on Ole Miss more than ever before.
The hiring of head coach Ed Orgeron makes it clear that Ole Miss is in a boom or bust gambling mode. Orgeron is a Louisiana native who played college ball as a defensive lineman with New Orleans Saint legend, Bobby Hebert. Orgeron began his college coaching at the University of Miami with Jimmy Johnson. He learned about fiery coaching and great recruiting as the lifeblood of a college football program.
Orgeron's personal history has been somewhat mixed. He lost his job in Miami after alcohol and domestic violence incidents. These almost prevented him from ever coaching again. He eventually climbed back up the ladder ending up at University of Southern California as an assistant coach. His tenure carried over from Paul Hackett to current coach Pete Carroll. Together, Orgeron helped Carroll turn USC into a recruiting machine.
When the David Cutcliffe era in Ole Miss ran its course (ie Eli Manning graduated), the school decided to take a flyer on Orgeron. Orgeron's recruiting genius and his knowledge of Louisiana and the general natural recruiting region for Ole Miss made him an aggressive hire for a program looking to shake things up.
Meat Market covers the first two years of Orgeron's time at Ole Miss focusing mainly on the recruiting of the class that would come to Ole Miss for the current football season. Orgeron's past battles with show him to be an addictive personality who replaced that vice with a zeal for recruiting. Orgeron loves the identification and pursuit of talent.
One of Orgeron's main targets for that season was, ironically, the star player, Joe McKnight, of the New Orleans high school football team featured in Neal Thompson's fantastic book, Hurricane Season. The irony is that Orgeron ended up losing this prized recruit to his former employer, Pete Carroll.
As Ole Miss enters its season-ending Egg Bowl rivalry game against Mississippi State, the team is the only SEC team with no conference wins. Orgeron has also lost many of his players to suspension.
Considering that Mississippi State, Kentucky, and Vanderbilt all turned the corner in their respective coach's fourth seasons, Orgeron probably deserves to return. However, Meat Market also makes one question what is the right approach to turning around a struggling SEC program. Recruiting is important, but it is also important to have good coaching and a group of coachable players.
As Feldman ends the book, "If Ole Miss doesn't win, Ed Orgeron's only solace will be thathe stocked the fridge for his successor." How he did it and what drives him makes for a fascinating story. If the Orgeron era comes to an end before next season or if next season begins the path of Orgeron rise as Ole Miss's savior, Meat Market captures the moment of change in that program's history.