You don’t have a heart if you watched or listened to Steve Ensminger’s news conference Thursday and didn’t find yourself rooting for LSU’s new play caller.
You don’t have a brain if think Ed Orgeron as a head coach and Ensminger as his offensive coordinator would be likely to be in these positions at any other Power Five school that considers itself a player on the national scene.
But this is LSU, and more to the point, Louisiana, where who you know and where you are from count for a great deal. More than they should, really.
You think Nick Saban and Alabama are hiring anyone for a major job just because they’re from Bessemer? You think Urban Meyer and Ohio State are hiring anyone just because they’re from Ashtabula? No. They’re going out to hire the best and the brightest no matter where they’re from. Personal ties and roots deep in the local soil wouldn’t count for very much with those guys. But that appears to be at the root of Orgeron’s decision to promote Ensminger, a man he knows well and to whom he is deeply indebted from 2016, when his offense helped Orgeron go from interim to permanent head coach.
It’s pure provincialism, as Louisiana as crawfish and the Napoleonic Code.
That said, Ensminger is also a victim of what my father calls the Philadelphia Lawyer Syndrome. It is a mentality that says, basically, “Why hire someone from right here when someone from far away has to be better?”
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Maybe Orgeron is right, that Ensminger is THE man for the job. But it is not a good look on him that he apparently didn’t interview anyone else — he said he researched some candidates but acknowledged there were no actual sit-downs. But whether Ensminger’s offenses will gain enough yards, make enough first downs, score enough points and help LSU win enough games for Orgeron to be the coach long-term is anyone’s guess.
Whether this is really the next level move for LSU’s offense, as compared to hiring and firing Matt Canada over the course of a single year, you really saw what the promotion meant to Ensminger.
A little more than a year ago, before the 2016 Citrus Bowl, Ensminger basically said he was happy to be letting go of the offense. Maybe that was a defense mechanism, because Thursday when he stood at the podium in the LSU football operations building and talked of playing quarterback “across the street” in Tiger Stadium for the late Coach Mac, Charles McClendon, he visibly choked up.
“I’ve spent my entire career leading up to this,” Ensminger said.
There is no one on LSU’s football staff, perhaps few football coaches ever at the Old War Skule, who were more LSU than Ensminger. He grew up in Central, spent four years quarterbacking the Tigers (mostly sharing the job with the late David Woodley) and now going on nine seasons as an LSU assistant coach.
Ensminger is open, unvarnished (his press conference was spiced with, ahem, colorful metaphors) and respected by former players like Will Clapp, who is leaving a hole for Coach E to deal with at center as he jumps for the NFL, and former LSU quarterback Brandon Harris.
“I wouldn’t be shocked if they had the best offense they’ve ever had,” Harris told The Advocate’s Ross Dellenger.
Color many LSU fans shocked, the ones who wanted someone else — someone perfect, undefeated, never had to punt.
This is going to be a tough job for Ensminger or anyone Orgeron might have hired, at least for 2018, with four CFP New Year’s Six bowl teams on the schedule. The make or break for Orgeron and his entire staff could come with how well they recruit and how many games they win in 2019.
That recruiting had better come with another quarterback in the fold, though in this regard there is concern as well. Orgeron declined to commit to a pocket passer or a dual-threat styled signal caller moving forward — instead citing that he has both of those (Myles Brennan and redshirted Lowell Narcisse) returning. Diversity may be a strength in most cases, but to the jaundiced eye of those who have been watching LSU football offenses struggle and struggle through the post JaMarcus Russell/Matt Flynn era without committing to a single style, it isn’t a comforting philosophy.
Still, criticism and concern are nothing but noise at this point, when it comes down to it. It’s up to Orgeron, Ensminger, defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, new passing-game coordinator Jerry Sullivan (returning at 73 for his second stint at LSU and another highly controversial hire since he won’t be recruiting) and the rest of the staff to make it work. The goal, as defined by Alabama’s zillionth national title that it won Monday night, is clear.
Whether you believe LSU can get back to that level now may depend on whether you are thinking with your heart or your head. It looks like Orgeron was doing the former when he made the decision to elevate Ensminger and hire Sullivan, but the latter says he’s got to prove himself right on the field.