Ed Orgeron

LSU coach Ed Orgeron's search for an offensive coordinator moves on.

Advocate staff photo by HILARY SCHEINUK

LSU’s pursuit of Lane Kiffin didn’t exactly go as planned.

Or, perhaps, it went exactly as it could have been expected to go all along.

Kiffin had LSU waiting by the phone for days as he looked under every rock he could in search of a head coaching job — first at Houston, then at South Florida and then finally at Florida Atlantic. Heck, Baton Rouge native and five-star linebacker prospect Dylan Moses didn’t keep LSU twisting this long before finally deciding over the weekend to stick to his commitment to Alabama.

Apparently Kiffin wanted to be a head coach so badly he was willing to pass on LSU’s millions for the job at … Florida Atlantic. Not Florida, nor a team in the ACC’s Atlantic Division, but Florida Atlantic. The school will probably have to pay Kiffin in coupons to South Florida restaurants to round out what will pass for even a modest compensation package ($1 million per year) by today’s college coaching standards.

LSU might have offered Kiffin twice that, but the heart wants what it wants and Kiffin got it, a chance to be a head coach again and in a trendy locale. (FAU is in Boca Raton, not so far from Palm Beach.) People will sacrifice a lot to make their dreams come true. Once upon a time, Les Miles gave up a well-paying job in the trucking business to return to Michigan as a graduate assistant, making a fifth of what he had been earning.

The cursed part for LSU is Nick Saban got what he wanted, too, apparently happy to part with Kiffin as his offensive coordinator after three years (though he’ll still coach Bama in the College Football Playoff) while seeing him steered away from an Southeastern Conference rival like LSU. Saban and Kiffin share an agent, Jimmy Sexton.

 

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New LSU coach Ed Orgeron clearly wanted his old buddy Lane to come be his play caller and thought him worth the wait. That’s understandable, too. And Kiffin, once upon a time, made it plain to LSU’s administration that he was coming to help his friend Ed out.

Orgeron thinks Kiffin is the best play-caller in the college game and was worth having his patience tested to try to land him. Orgeron made bringing Kiffin in a plank of his campaign to get the LSU job full-time, along with keeping defensive coordinator Dave Aranda. It’s now a campaign promise that Orgeron will never be able to deliver.

Aranda is staying, but now that Kiffin’s not coming, as patient as Orgeron was, that’s how swiftly he needs to move to stabilize the offense. Aranda’s soft-sell approach helped LSU land a commitment Monday at a sore position of need with linebacker Monty Rice from Alabama. Meanwhile, LSU lost a commitment from highly regarded dual-threat quarterback Lowell Narcisse of St. James amid the uncertainty of the direction of the Tigers offense. Fellow quarterback prospect Myles Brennan of St. Stanislaus in Mississippi remains tenuously committed to the Tigers (then again, aren’t all commitments tenuous?) while he explores other options.

Aside from the sense that LSU is settling once again for a down-the-line choice (Tom Herman was its first choice as head coach before that fell through), there is no reason to think LSU can’t hire an offensive coordinator to do what it needs: Give the program a modern, productive offensive identity without — and this is rarely if ever mentioned — sacrificing its defensive principles. LSU wants to score more points and needs to, but it can’t be at the expense of remaining strong on defense, as it has back to the days of Paul Dietzel. Score 40 points to give up 30 points a game? LSU can't gain a new offensive identity and lose its roots in the process.

Now the attention turns to what we’ll call the Group of Three: former Southern California coach (and current Alabama offensive analyst) Steve Sarkisian, former Oregon coach Mark Helfrich and Pittsburgh offensive coordinator Matt Canada, a Frank Broyles Award finalist as assistant of the year.

With what LSU is willing to pay and the autonomy Orgeron (a defensive coach by trade) is likely to give, landing a top-notch offensive coordinator is likely. Canada appears to be the front-runner and is expected to interview for the job Tuesday.

Whether it ends up being Canada, Helfrich, Sarkisian or someone else, Orgeron needs to find his man and start selling the kind of offense he’ll be coaching to recruits — whether that’s the spread, a variation on LSU’s pro-style offense, bringing back the Winged-T, whatever. LSU needs a high-quality quarterback as badly as it needs a savant to call the plays. The Tigers aren’t getting back to challenging for a place in the upper echelons of college football without both in place.

Then, after that, Orgeron should ask LSU’s administration to schedule a game with FAU. It might be cleansing for the soul.

Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter, @RabalaisAdv.​