It’s the holidays, so chances are you’re waiting — impatiently — for an important package to be delivered.
LSU can relate.
LSU has its new head coach in Ed Orgeron. And it paid an unprecedented sum to insure that its top shelf elf, defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, stays put in the purple and gold with a contract that won’t have him bolting easily for another similar defensive coordinator job (read: Texas).
As for the unfilled permanent offensive coordinator spot, well, that’s where things are starting to get a little squirmy in Tigertown.
This is a crucially important hire for LSU, arguably more important than hiring Orgeron himself. LSU’s new coach has publicly committed himself to overhauling the Tigers’ traditional pro-style offense, replacing it with a more modern spread-style scheme. Being a defensive coach his entire career, it’s imperative that Orgeron can land a highly competent offensive coach to pull off this transition.
The Christmas gift Orgeron wants most of all, Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, just happens to be object of a couple of other schools' coaching search desires as well. Or at least he’s a prime candidate at Houston and South Florida.
As of Thursday night, Houston had narrowed its list to four: Kiffin, former LSU coach Les Miles and current Houston coordinators Todd Orlando, on defense, and Major Applewhite, on offense.
All signs now point to Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, one of LSU's main targets …
Houston's top job was just vacated by the man who was LSU’s top target in its head coaching search, Tom Herman, now at Texas. South Florida just opened up this week when Willie Taggart got the job at Oregon.
Kiffin has been and continues to be at the top of LSU’s watch list, so Orgeron is willing to wait to see whether Kiffin gets a head coaching job he so obviously craves after three years of calling plays at Alabama.
If Kiffin does come to LSU, whether he arrives in time to call plays for LSU’s Citrus Bowl appearance against Louisville on Dec. 31, or stays at Alabama through the playoffs (as defensive coordinator Kirby Smart did last year before leaving to be head coach at Georgia) is apparently irrelevant.
Steve Ensminger would in that case continue to call the plays as he did in the seven games Orgeron served as interim head coach, then return to his previous duties as tight ends coach.
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It’s debatable how well things are going for Kiffin on the head coaching search front. He interviewed for the Houston job twice, UH board of regents chairman Tilman Fertitta told The Houston Chronicle.
"We like Lane a lot, but he has not been offered the job," Fertitta told The Chronicle.
As for USF, there have been reports that Kiffin is the Tampa school’s top target, but that may also be recently fired Texas coach Charlie Strong, who according to the Tampa Bay Times is the popular choice of USF fans.
LSU is in no rush to hire an offensive coordinator or a special teams coordinator, coach Ed …
By the way, Taggart made $1.7 million this season at USF. Would LSU pay that, or more, to land Kiffin? It’s entirely possible.
If not Kiffin, then who at LSU? That is the seven-figures-per-year question. Two potential answers: Steve Sarkisian and Mark Helfrich.
Sarkisian, of course, was the coach at Washington and Southern California, getting the job at USC when Orgeron didn’t after serving as interim coach in 2013 when Kiffin was fired (sounds like a soap opera, doesn’t it?).
Sarkisian lost his job at USC midway through the 2015 season and sought treatment for alcoholism. Alabama hired him as an offensive analyst — a paid position on the staff but not an on-the-field coaching position — in September. Sarkisian was seen on the field last Friday as Alabama went through walkthroughs at the Georgia Dome for the SEC Championship Game. It’s a safe bet that if Kiffin leaves Bama — for a head coaching job or LSU, which seems likely — Nick Saban will move to promote Sarkisian.
Sarkisian and Kiffin worked together as USC assistants under Pete Carroll in 2005-06. There are divergent schools of thought as to what kind of relationship exists between Coach O and Sark, considering that Sarkisian got the USC head coaching job that Orgeron once coveted. It stands to reason, though, that Orgeron would more have issue with former USC athletic director Pat Haden, the man who hired Sarkisian over him, than Sarkisian.
The third and perhaps most intriguing possibility is Helfrich. Yes, he was just fired at Oregon, but he knows offense. His 2014 team, with Heisman winner Marcus Mariota at quarterback, reached the first CFP Championship Game before losing to Ohio State. His 2015 team ranked in the top five nationally in total yards, scoring and rushing.
An Oregon native, Helfrich might seem like a Pacific salmon out of water at LSU, but he does have a tie on staff. Helfrich and LSU offensive line coach Jeff Grimes were together on the staff at Arizona State from 2001-03.
But the big drawing card could be the amount of money LSU is likely to lavish on an offensive coordinator considering what they’re paying Aranda ($1.8 million for 2017) and what they were paying former offensive coordinator Cam Cameron ($1.2 million).
Back to Bama for a minute. Saban last week in Atlanta sounded like he was ready to let Kiffin fly — for a head coaching job. Being LSU’s offensive coordinator may be another matter. The same may be true for Sarkisian, leaving Helfrich as a healthy option.
Whoever is the choice, the anticipation for opening this particular package is getting intense.