Every recruiting cycle is filled with bizarre stories and odd circumstances.
The recruiting saga of Neville defensive tackle Phidarian Mathis certainly qualifies on a couple of levels.
Mathis announced his commitment to Alabama on Tuesday in a cemetery, next to the grave of his cousin, Tyrell Cameron, who died from injuries he suffered in a football game in 2015.
While that’s highly unusual, Mathis’ decision is commendable in its way.
What he said about LSU defensive line coach Pete Jenkins may be even more perplexing.
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Mathis said after his announcement that he never spoke to Jenkins, indicating that their lack of communication factored into his decision to shun the Tigers.
LSU coach Ed Orgeron didn’t publicly deny it, but he took a couple of subtle digs at Mathis on Wednesday during his national signing day news conference.
“We got the guys we want. The guys we didn’t want, we’ll play against them,” Orgeron said. “Pete Jenkins is a great coach. That’s all I’ll say about that.”
Later, Orgeron added: “We got the best player in Louisiana and the No. 2 defensive tackle in the country in Tyler Shelvin.”
In other words, Orgeron was saying, “We got the best player in Louisiana, and it isn’t you.”
While it’s true that the 75-year-old Jenkins, who came out of retirement to fill Orgeron’s coaching spot in September after he was named interim head coach, doesn’t recruit off campus, it strains the limits of credibility to say that Mathis never had any interaction with Jenkins.
A story on the website GridironNow.com quoted an unnamed LSU staffer who said Mathis made three visits to LSU during his recruitment and was introduced to Jenkins and had his phone number.
It further hurts Mathis’ story that K’Lavon Chaisson, the heat-seeking pass rusher the Tigers signed out of Houston and away from new Texas coach Tom Herman, made Jenkins the first LSU coach he mentioned in his post-announcement interview with a Houston TV station.
Clearly, Jenkins was a factor in Chaisson’s decision. Why should the recruitment of Mathis — like Chaisson, a highly regarded four-star prospect — be any different?
Ed Orgeron marched to the podium Wednesday for his first Bayou Bash recruiting party as LSU’…
That said, the fact that Jenkins isn’t recruiting off campus is likely to continue to be an issue other schools try to exploit (LSU general manager Austin Thomas is allowed to recruit off campus in Jenkins’ place).
LSU no doubt will try to offset that with Jenkins’ stature as a legendary defensive line coach. He’ll spend a good part of his time leading up to the start of spring practice in March prepping NFL-bound D-linemen for the combine and draft, which could be an issue LSU will have to contend with as well.
Whatever really happened with Mathis, ultimately Jenkins isn’t a long-term solution for Orgeron’s staff. Is his experience and acumen worth the trouble? Absolutely. But it doesn’t mean the situation with Mathis will be the last one for LSU.
Raiders of the LSU ark
Though LSU pulled in the nation’s consensus No. 7 class, fans had justifiable reason to wrinkle their noses at the notion of so many other schools making Louisiana their department store this recruiting season.
In the end, LSU signed just three members of The Advocate’s Super Dozen — Plaquemine safety Todd Harris, St. James quarterback Lowell Narcisse and Shelvin — when the Tigers normally land eight to 10. LSU also got only four off the Second Dozen, which is historically a pretty representative number.
How ya gonna keep ‘em down on the farm, Coach O, after they’ve seen ... Tuscaloosa? Alabama got as many Super Dozen players as LSU — Southern Lab linebacker Chris Allen, Amite wide receiver Devonta Smith and Mathis. And that doesn’t even count Baton Rouge native Dylan Moses, the linebacker who now attends IMG Academy in Florida, or Ruston defensive end Isaiah Buggs, the nation’s No. 2 junior college prospect out of Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College.
Whatever you feel about LSU’s class relative to how it did with in-state prospects, contrast that to what happened with the big schools in Texas.
According to 24/7’s composite rankings, only four of the top 20 prospects from the Lone Star State chose to stay at home, one each for Texas A&M, TCU, Texas Tech and Texas. That’s it. LSU got two of Texas’ top seven, No. 5 Chaisson and No. 7 offensive tackle Austin Deculus. They’re both ranked higher than the top-rated Texas prospect who decided to stay home: No. 8 Anthony Hines, a linebacker, who signed with A&M.
In all, LSU got a record 17 players from out of state, five from Texas. That’s impressive for the LSU brand, but it’s a high degree of difficulty Orgeron and his staff don’t need every year. Next year the Tigers might not stick the landing so easily.
The dark side
Orgeron dismissed running backs coach Jabbar Juluke (he was reassigned within the athletic department) and wide receivers coach Dameyune Craig on Thursday, just one day after LSU completed its signing class.
There was one reason for that, of course: Orgeron didn’t want their imminent ejections to affect recruiting.
Once again, note to recruits: Commit to the school, not the coach.
Why the change? These were Les Miles hires, and they didn’t jibe with Orgeron’s vision of the program going forward. You could see that particularly with Craig when Orgeron named Steve Ensminger interim offensive coordinator after LSU fired Miles. Is it a harsh way to do business? Yes, but not an unusual one. Miles fired receivers coach Tony Ball shortly after signing day last year. Coaches get pink slips after the letters of intent come in every year.
Like any coach, Orgeron isn’t tasked with making “feel good” choices. It’s his multi-million dollar job on the line, and he has to be comfortable with the people around him who will do the best job of helping him win enough games to stay in office.