ORLANDO, Fla. — At first, Steve Ensminger declined coach Ed Orgeron's request for him to be LSU's interim offensive coordinator.
"No," he said he told Orgeron.
"No," Orgeron fired back, "you're going to do it."
Ensminger, the former LSU quarterback and Baton Rouge native, broke his silence Thursday in a 35-minute joint news conference, a Citrus Bowl event that took place in the bowels of Camping World Stadium.
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He discussed just how he handled replacing the fired Cam Cameron on Sept. 25, dividing up the offensive coordinator duties among the offensive staff and graduate assistants. He talked about sleeping on his couch and his future on Orgeron's staff (Orgeron said Ensminger, in some role, will remain as one of his assistants).
Ensminger did not expect to remain as LSU's offensive coordinator, he said, knowing full well that Orgeron needed to make a splashy hire.
He detailed what was wrong with LSU's offense the past two years. The Tigers were "a 'run' football team and then we were a 'spread' football team," he said, but the program never incorporated play-action pass — his most significant change upon taking over.
Ensminger said he exchanges texts with former coach Les Miles on a weekly basis, and he refers to the day of Miles' firing as "crazy."
"I told Coach O, ‘I’m doing this for you. I think you deserve this job. I mean that,' " Ensminger said. "I’ve known him for a long time. I said, ‘I’m going to do everything I can to make you the (long-term) head coach right here and make the Tigers win again, and that’s it.’
"I was doing it for our school, our state and Coach O. That’s it. I could care less about being the offensive coordinator at LSU. I told him that."
With the ‘WakeyLeaks’ scandal in mind, what precautions do you guys take in protecting information?
I don’t have a damn clue what you’re talking about. I don’t get on the computer. My assistant (Emily Dixon) does all that stuff. She protects it. I don’t do none of that.
Describe the last three months, on a personal level, for you.
When the transition happened and Coach O came, he said, ‘I want you to be my offensive coordinator,’ and I said, ‘No.’ He said, ‘No, you’re going to do it.’
The change, it wasn’t hard, because we have great coaches. Our staff took it on. I gave some responsibilities to our GAs. I passed the responsibilities around. Coach (Jeff) Grimes handled our run game. Him and coach (Jabbar) Juluke. Coach (Dameyune) Craig handled our third-down passing game. I handed out … ‘Hey, here’s your responsibilities and everything else.’ We presented it all together on Mondays, what we were going to go through that day and on Tuesdays. It was a group effort. I can’t say enough about our coaches and graduate assistants, who would stay up there with me at night until 12-12:30 at night to make sure we had everything done.
It wasn’t only me. Those guys did a great job. It was a lot more work. I can guarantee you that. The fun part about it was, I saw our kids play. We opened it up a little bit. Everybody was excited. It was fun walking off that field seeing our players smile. That was the beauty of it.
Coach Orgeron considered it an audition as interim head coach. Did you feel that same way as interim offensive coordinator or did you feel resigned that a change would come at the end?
When he asked me to be the offensive coordinator, I had one goal in mind: See how many games we can win. I went to LSU, played at LSU and I just wanted our team to get back to where it’s supposed to be.
I told Coach O, ‘I’m doing this for you. I think you deserve this job. I mean that.’ I’ve known him for a long time. I said, ‘I’m going to do everything I can to make you the (permanent) head coach right here and make the Tigers win again, and that’s it.’
I was doing it for our school, our state and Coach O. That’s it. I could care less about being the offensive coordinator at LSU. I told him that. I told him, ‘I’m doing this for you.’
If you remain on staff, how do you feel about new offensive coordinator Matt Canada?
I’m excited about it. I’ve had the chance to sit down and talk to him about it. Not a whole lot, but visit with him. What I love about the guy is, in my opinion, he’s a lot like me, a lot like Coach O. He’s a football guy. All he wants to do is, ‘Let’s coach football!’ He could care less about being in front of this mic, just like I do. He wants to coach football. That’s the way it is.
What are you most proud of this season?
We went through a tough four games earlier in the season and then we went through the transition and everything else. Just taking over … Coach O did a super job of preparing this team, but, to be honest, offensively we always felt we were better than what we were showing. For those kids to get out there and work like they did and to show what we could do offensively… and they did. I’m proud of the fact that our kids are happy. We spread the ball around. Our fullbacks are catching passes. Our tailbacks are running really good. Our receivers … just spreading the ball around, doing what our quarterback can do. They all walk off the field and you can tell they’re excited about it.
Can you share your thoughts on Louisville’s defense? Are they underrated?
They’re very underrated. When I put the film on, I saw a lot more than I wanted to see, I promise you.
Their front seven is outstanding. They’re big inside. Their nose guard is a special player. Both of their outside linebackers are 250 pounds. They’re good against the run. Looking at them, underrated? Yes.
You look at the stats in what they’ve given up in the run game and look at our strength, it’s going to be strength on strength. We didn’t change the game plan. I’m kind of curious to see how well our guys play up front, but they’re a very good defense, especially up front.
What did you see in Kentucky’s win over Louisville that they exploited that you might too?
Kentucky made big plays on them. They really did. But they’re a totally different offense than we are. Basically what we got out of the Kentucky game is when we go to three wise (receivers) and stuff like, the things we feel like can be effective on.
I did see that (Louisville) rushed the passer and got after them pretty good. It was a great ballgame. Just, Kentucky made big plays — on a screen play, on a deep ball and everything else. And I think, through all of that, we’ve got to take off the top too. They’re going to be up there to stop the run, and we’re going to run the football, but we’ve got to be successful … we’ve got to make some big plays against this defense. I don’t think we’re going to take this football and run it down their throats 80 yards or whatever. You’re going to have to mix it up and make some big plays.
You took over and the tight ends began catching the football. Talk about the passing game.
First when we got (the interim job), I didn’t even meet with the offense for three days. They just went to position (meetings). We went out there and ran plays and ran plays. I kind of told them, on Wednesday, ‘We’re doing this because we can run the football.’ I said, ‘We’ve got to become a great passing team.’ We’ve done that. We keep ourselves in manageable third downs — third and medium, third and short — and stay out of the third and longs, we’re a very good offense.
How does not having Leonard Fournette change the offense?
Coach O says it all of the time and it doesn’t matter what position, and Leonard Fournette is a great player, OK? But it’s next man up. Texas A&M game — next man up. You know what? Derrius Guice and Darrel (Williams), all of those guys just stepped up and played. You ask your teammates, ask your teammates around them, ‘How about a little bit extra?’ Our offensive has responded. Our offensive line, our receivers, have played so well. We’d love to have Leonard here and everything else, but our team is very confident who we have in the background.
Have you told the stories to the players about that 1979 Tangerine Bowl that you played in here in Orlando?
I never tell stories about myself. I don’t share anything with these guys about myself, but I do remember, 1979, I was a senior that year. Coach (Charles) McClendon was our coach and we beat Wake Forest. We had a great time. It was the only time I’ve had a chance to go to Disney World. We put the Mickey Mouse ears on and had a hell of a time. These guys, they weren’t even born yet.
Ethan (Pocic) walked in and said, ‘You played with leather helmets?’ I said, ‘I’m not quite that old.’
Did you really sleep in your office this season?
I do it every year. Not usually during the season. During two-a-days, I always stay at my office. There were nights, games that I didn’t think we completed the game plan, didn’t have what I wanted in there and, yes, I slept on the couch. That’s just part of it.
How did you prepare to call plays that first week after not doing it for 10 years?
It’s difficult, I’ll be honest with you. But the difficult part is, it’s not your system. Back when I was coordinator, yes, it could just roll off your tongue, what you wanted to call. Having put the game plan together, you know what you want. I really had to look at the game plans, when we first started, to see how we called this play, by the formations and adjustments and everything else. Now, after these last two and a half months, I feel very comfortable with it. I had to be like the quarterbacks. On Thursday and Friday nights, I had to go home and I had to study, just like they did, on how I was going to call this play and what plays I wanted in these situations. I was studying again. I never liked college anyhow.
Why did you feel like Ed Orgeron was the right man for the job?
I knew he was the right man for the job. You know what? I saw him talk to the team. I saw him in meetings every day, trying to get this team together, bring this team together. I saw him take our practice schedule and change it and it changed for the better. I see how he treats the players. These players played for him. It didn’t take me long, and I’ve known Coach O since the 70s. It didn’t take me long to watch him lead this team, how he treated the players, how he treated the coach, how we’re going to practice, how we’re going to overcome defeat and how he responded to it … I knew he was the man for this job.
Just your thoughts on Danny Etling and next year.
Like all of the rest of them, we’re having a new quarterback coming in and he’ll have to compete for a job. Nothing is given to you on this team, but I’ve seen him improve. I think the thing our staff did, I think we did a great job of fitting our offense around him and what he can do and not ask him what he can’t do.
You know? I think he’s a very good quarterback who’s gotten better. I expect him to have a great game. I expect all of the rest of them, when it comes to spring, to compete for the job. That will be Coach Canada’s decision.
You and Ed Orgeron haven’t talked at all about your future?
What do you want to do?
Whatever he asks me to do.
But you’d like to stay at LSU?
No doubt about it. I think I have a shot, no doubt about it. I plan on being here and, at what capacity, I don’t know, but we’ll talk about that after the bowl game.
What exactly did you change in the offense?
We became a play-action pass team. I’ve always felt we were a run football team and then we were a spread team. I never thought we complimented our running game with play-action pass. Only thing we did, we became a big-time play-action pass team. And we were able to run the football, be able to play-action pass and get the ball to our fullbacks and making the defensive accountable for everybody on the team kept us in third-and-manageable downs.
Why had that been missing?
I don’t know that. I really don’t.
Have you talked to Les Miles at all?
I’ve talked to Les. I have. I haven’t talked to him in a while, but I text him. I text him every week. He texts me and tells me good game and all of that. I stay in touch with him.
How tough was the firing on him?
I’m sure it was tough. But I tell you what, he handled it well with the media, handled it well with our players and that’s all you can ask for.
Did you call anyone when you got the interim job to get advice for getting back into the play-calling, coordinator role?
Didn’t have time. Didn’t have time. I really didn’t have time. It was just, ‘Go!’
How crazy was that day, Sept. 25?
It was crazy. I got together with the staff and handed out responsibilities.
‘Coach Grimes, you’re in charge of our run game. Coach Craig, you’re in charge of our passing game. Coach Juluke, you’ll be with me in the play-action pass game.’
Our new tight ends coach was a GA. Gave him goal-line, short-yardage. He’s done an outstanding job. Our two GAs, I told you’re in charge of 20 (yard line) and in and 10 (yard line) and in. They presented it to me and everything else. I liked this. I don’t like this. It was a whole group deal. It really was.
Did you kind of know from the beginning, given the offensive struggles the last couple of years, that if Orgeron was going to get the job, he was going ot have to make a splash and bring in new blood?
Yeah. I’ve been in the business long enough to know that. It was not an interview for me. I wanted to win. I wanted to win for those kids, that school, that state and for Coach O. I wasn’t interviewing for that job. I did know. I’ve been in this business long enough. I know what everybody wants. They want a splash. I said, ‘You know what? Do what you’ve got to do.’ I’m happy for him.
Steve Ensminger enjoys his leather recliner.