Kevin Steele and Ed Orgeron were announced as LSU’s new coaches Wednesday, Steele as defensive coordinator, Orgeron as defensive line coach.
Their reputation as recruiters borders on legendary, especially Orgeron, the gregarious, high-energy son of south Louisiana, who finally gets to fulfill a longtime career ambition by coaching at LSU.
Combine them with established LSU coaches like coordinator Frank Wilson and defensive backs coach Corey Raymond, and Les Miles may have well succeeded in assembling a recruiting version of a Dream Team. An NFL scout told 24/7 Sports, a major national recruiting service, that LSU now has the best recruiting staff in the country.
Recruiting may be an overhyped waste of time — hence the existence of major national recruiting services. But there is no question drawing the best raw talent from the high school ranks and refining it into a polished product is what drives college athletics. Urban Meyer may be a great coach, but the Buckeyes are national champions because they had great talent first and foremost.
When it was Orgeron’s turn to take the podium Wednesday, booming and gesturing and hugging friends in attendance, he left no doubt how delighted he was to finally be coaching at LSU.
Amid all the euphoria, though, Orgeron delivered a plain truth.
“I’ve got to produce,” he said.
He was talking about his reputation as one of the nation’s best recruiters. But he could also have been speaking for Steele as well.
When the recruiting “dead period” ends at midnight Thursday, both will hit the trail and try to impact an LSU class less than three weeks from signing day. Barton Simmons of 24/7 Sports said he wouldn’t be surprised if Orgeron pulls in one or two five-star defensive linemen between now and the start of the national signing period on Feb. 4.
Whether he and Steele can make LSU’s defense play like a dream is the larger question.
Social media is rarely the home field of happy and contented fans, but Steele’s hiring Wednesday night brought out platoons of LSU fans lamenting Steele’s rocky stints as head coach at Baylor (he was 9-36) and defensive coordinator at Clemson (where in his last game those Tigers lost 70-33 to West Virginia in the 2012 Orange Bowl). He spent the past two seasons at Alabama, helping pull in top-ranked recruiting classes there.
The greeting Orgeron’s hiring got from LSU fandom could be written in fireworks. Steele, well, not so much.
There are warning signs on Steele’s résumé to be sure, but his hiring shouldn’t inspire panic. There are just as many signs he is a highly respected coach, one who worked under such legends as Tom Osborne at Nebraska, Bobby Bowden at Florida State (he considers them both mentors) and Nick Saban.
Both Steele and Orgeron promised to play an aggressive, multiple style of defense that will likely bear some stark contrasts to the defense run by ex-coordinator John Chavis, Steele’s close friend from their days growing up in South Carolina.
Chavis bolted for Texas A&M after LSU lost Dec. 30 to Notre Dame in the Music City Bowl, an acrimonious split in which LSU is demanding that Chavis pay a $400,000 buyout from his contract here.
Despite the hard feelings between Chavis and LSU, he still advised his old friend Steele to take the LSU job. Some detractors might say he did it to spite LSU, but that’s hardly realistic.
As for those who believe the Steele hire will further drag down the program like an anchor, well, there is a broad swath of Tigers fans for whom no coach, no decision by Miles, no recruit perhaps, will be good enough. They are the fans who have been disenchanted with Miles since LSU lost the 2012 BCS title game, while others bailed on him after his first loss in 2005 to Tennessee.
Bama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart would have been a popular choice, but not universally so. If he got the job, someone would have complained that he really doesn’t run Alabama’s defense, that he’s simply Saban’s mouthpiece.
Miles can’t run a program like that. He has to make the best choices he can, even if they’re painful. Which brings us to Brick Haley.
LSU’s good and loyal former defensive line coach went from being a legitimate candidate for the defensive coordinator job to out of a job when LSU had a chance to hire Orgeron, all in a matter of days.
Currently reassigned administratively within the program technically as a $440,000 per year intern, Haley is almost certain to move on to another coaching job, likely Texas A&M, where Chavis wanted him all along. He has a $100,000 buyout, but allowing him to leave for nothing compared to paying him for the two years of his contract would certainly seem to make financial sense for LSU.
Miles clearly didn’t want to have to move Haley out to make room for Orgeron, but he literally had no choice from a practical or political standpoint. How could he have gone forward letting the popular and magnetic Orgeron slip away, especially if it was to another SEC school?
“There’s reasons you do this,” Miles said. “You cannot sacrifice LSU. Whatever my personal wants and desires are makes no difference. I have to make the best call for LSU, and I felt this was absolutely the best call.”
It was. Football is an unsentimental game, and sometimes people get replaced. Because you have to win. Especially Miles and LSU. Especially this year.
The expectation is Steele and Orgeron will pay quick recruiting dividends for the Tigers.
Judging the hires on the field will have to wait.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter: @RabalaisAdv.