The first question Jake Peetz ever fielded as LSU’s offensive coordinator was about the Tigers' 2019 offense.
Because of course it was.
That historic offense — the one that produced a national championship, a Heisman Trophy, two national position group awards and a book’s worth of new records — was mostly why Peetz was sitting here on a Wednesday, in front of this purple backdrop, speaking to reporters in a Zoom call about why the future of LSU’s offense lies in its past.
On Jan. 13, 2020, confetti spiraled down from the Superdome rafters and spilled onto the shoulders of Peetz’s old boss, Joe Brady, the wunderkind former passing game coordinator who helped engineer one of the greatest offenses in college football.
Exactly one year to the date — after Brady left for the Carolina Panthers, after LSU stumbled to a 5-5 record in a disappointing title defense — Tigers coach Ed Orgeron publicly introduced his newest hires who are tasked with returning LSU’s offense to those same great heights.
By now, the story is probably committed to memory: Orgeron’s staff contacted Brady (now the Panthers’ offensive coordinator), asked who could run his offense, Brady recommended Peetz and his offensive assistant, DJ Mangas, and Orgeron hired them both last week to two-year contracts worth a combined total of about $3.3 million.
Orgeron wanted to return to the cutting edge of offensive football. He acknowledged that former offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger, who retired from on-field coaching last month, was a veteran rooted in the pro-style offense who learned the spread from Brady.
Now, Orgeron has committed to moving from old school (Ensminger, 62, and former passing game coordinator Scott Linehan, 57) to new school with two young coaches (Peetz, 37, and Mangas, 31) who make LSU’s coaching room feel like it’s based in Silicon Valley.
“These guys are power points, organization, very smart,” Orgeron said. “You go in an offensive meeting and you could be at IBM.”
Ask Orgeron what he thinks of when he remembers LSU’s 2019 offense, and he’ll tell you about the unit’s empty packages, its breakneck no-huddle pace, a short passing game paired with a series of explosive plays.
But the offense’s intricacies? Leave that to the IBM coaches. Orgeron is self-aware enough to know defense is his specialty. He said that’s why he nailed down his offensive hires first. He knew he can afford to wait and get “the right guys” to fill his defensive coordinator and two staff openings.
Which brings us back to the question, that first question Jake Peetz ever fields as offensive coordinator: How would you describe the philosophy of LSU's 2019 offense?
"Well, it's something that I greatly believe in," Peetz began.
He believes in that passing game, the West Coast route tree Brady picked up as an offensive assistant with the New Orleans Saints. Peetz said it's similar to what he ran as an offensive assistant on the Washington Football Team under former offensive coordinator Sean McVay.
But beyond any scheme or specific play, Peetz talked about a fundamental theme that echoes a mantra Brady once said in Baton Rouge.
"What I want to see is our players in the best position to make plays," Peetz said. "What are they great at?"
And it's at this point in the interview the Nebraska native, the son of a lawyer, broke into a rhythm.
"We want to define what things our players do at a very high level, and we want to amplify that," he said. "We want to adjust it, keep changing it, so people can't set their watch to what we're doing and how we're doing it. And we want to involve everybody."
Everybody? What about the running backs, a deep unit that ranked 109th nationally last year with 121.7 rushing yards per game?
"If our best personnel grouping has multiple backs on the field, let's do it," Peetz said. "We have great playmakers here. And that's our job as coaches, and that's my responsibility as the offensive coordinator to make sure that those young men are prepared and that they're on the field to attack the defense."
Mangas, LSU's passing game coordinator, put it another way: "Maximizing the talent you have." He sat next to Brady in the coaching booth as an offensive analyst in 2019, and he said the biggest thing was "putting your players in position to succeed."
But how do you do that? That's got to be about scheme, right?
Partially, Peetz explained. There's a fundamental piece that he's drawing upon all his previous coaching experience to use now that he's a first-time play-caller for a major football program.
After watching and working with other first-time play-callers — like Brady, like McVay — Peetz said "you learn that it's not even so much about the Xs and Os at the beginning."
It's about establishing a relationship with the players from the beginning. Building trust. Without trust, there's no relationship. With no relationship, he can't ask players to buy into his playbook. More than that, he can't be demanding of them and challenge them "unless they feel that we believe in him."
Peetz said one of the first things he did was reach out to each position coach at LSU, each analyst and each graduate assistant. He wanted to establish a "great strength and power" in the staff, so that they can eventually "sharpen each other" and "pass ideas along to each other" and produce a "very defined product" with "defined roles, defined responsibilities" so that the players "can play with great confidence."
But for now, Peetz said, it isn't really about football. The players won't be able to begin official workouts until Tuesday. So, he's met with each of them just to learn about them personally. He says he can't wait for his wife, Maggie, and their six children to move in this weekend, so he can bring them to the facility and make the players feel a part of his family.
"Because when we build that," Peetz said, "then we're going to be able to get into football. Then we have trust. Then we have belief. And then we can really magnify what these guys do. And I think that's what you saw in the 2019 season."
Then, once the offensive staff begins teaching LSU's playbook, Peetz said he's learned from Brady how to deliver his thoughts with grace, to communicate with intelligence but not complication.
"There were times where I thought he helped me take it from advanced math to maybe Algebra 1," Peetz said. "In learning these systems, it's not about what I know. It's about what these guys know. It's not about what we know. It's about what they can learn and retain and play fast with."
That's the other task Peetz will be asked to handle: getting the offense back toward its explosive pace. LSU averaged 38.6 points per game before starting quarterback Myles Brennan was lost for the season with an abdominal injury, but even then, the Tigers struggled on third down and in the red zone.
Orgeron said he's still talking with Peetz and Mangas about whether Mangas will oversee third downs and red zone plays — as Brady and Linehan did before — but Orgeron said he does see Mangas next to Peetz in the booth assisting with play calls.
"We're going to put in an exciting brand of football," Peetz said.
Orgeron trusts Brady’s recommendation. He trusts what he saw during the interview process: A coach prepared for the answers he knew were coming. Peetz averaged 412 words per answer during his introductory news conference, too. Orgeron also trusts John Robinson, a Hall of Fame former head coach who has consulted Orgeron since 2019.
Robinson sat in on a recent offensive meeting with Peetz and Mangas, and Orgeron said the 85-year-old Robinson emerged “rejuvenated.”
“Coach, you got the right guys,” Robinson told Orgeron. “This is going to be great.”