On Sunday morning, LSU tight end Foster Moreau scrolled through the Twitter application on his iPhone and learned the news that Tennessee had fired head coach Butch Jones.
What’d he do?
“I don’t care. It doesn’t involve me,” Moreau said Monday. “Is that going to change their defensive philosophy or game plan? Probably not.”
For the most part, the Tigers are shrugging off Sunday’s news from Knoxville, Tennessee — the dismissal of Jones and promotion of defensive line coach Brady Hoke to interim head coach. Moreau and LSU are Act I of Hoke’s likely brief reign over the program, the first opportunity to show off “tweaks” Hoke said he plans to make.
The former Michigan coach is even closing practice to reporters this week in an effort to keep the changes secret. But no one from LSU — players or coach Ed Orgeron — is expecting too many differences when the 21st-ranked Tigers (7-3, 4-2 Southeastern Conference) meet the reeling Volunteers (4-6, 0-6).
They’d know best. Orgeron spent seven games as LSU’s interim coach after the firing last September of Les Miles.
“Can't change much, obviously. I've been there,” Orgeron said. “Obviously they're going to tweak some things. He's going to put his spin on it. … We're not going to spend all week trying to figure it out, nothing like that. We're going to study what they do best. We're going to stop those plays. The things that they tweak, we're going to have to make adjustments on the sideline.”
Tennessee’s schematic changes under the 59-year-old Hoke aren’t what concern those in Baton Rouge. Orgeron changed little in that regard last year after replacing Miles. Many of Orgeron’s tweaks were to the players’ mental psyche and their practice habits.
Orgeron expects to face a motivated team Saturday led by another fiery D-line coach. He called Hoke an “inspiring guy” who will get the Vols “fired up.”
Players expect the same. Center Will Clapp recalls Orgeron’s takeover, and quarterback Danny Etling brought up another point: Tennessee is fighting for bowl eligibility.
Welcome to Film Room, our weekly analysis of LSU’s last football game.
At 4-6, wins over LSU and Vanderbilt would make the Volunteers bowl eligible.
“With the coaching change, sometimes you do feel that fresh start. ‘Hey, whole new season. If we can just win these last two games, (we) go to a bowl game,’” Etling said.
LSU's players speak from last year's experience.
“Change is fun,” Clapp said. “You never know what’s going to happen. They’ve been doing it Butch Jones’ way for a long time. Now they’re going to do it the interim guy's (way).”
So who’s this interim guy? Hoke is well known, even to LSU players, some of whom were already in college the last time Hoke led a football program. Michigan fired him in 2014 after 31 wins in four seasons in Ann Arbor.
An Ohio native, Hoke landed the Michigan job after rebuilding Ball State and then winning 13 games in two years at San Diego State. He joined Tennessee’s staff just nine months ago, working as D-line coach under defensive coordinator Bob Shoop.
“I’ve got to be who I am. If not, that would be a fraud,” Hoke told reporters Monday at a news conference in Knoxville.
“I think, No. 1, we lost a good man,” he said referring to Jones. “That was the first thing you deal with from an emotional level, a respect level and a friendship level. Then you have to move forward, because if we don’t move forward with our competitiveness and our energy as coaches, then you won’t get that from the players. These next two weeks are all about coaching our hearts out and coaching for these seniors on this football team.”
LSU faced an interim coach just last month, when the Tigers beat Matt Luke and Ole Miss 40-24. That was the first time LSU played a game against an interim leader, the school believes, since 1992, when Arkansas and interim coach Joe Kines beat LSU 30-6.
This one is expected to go differently. LSU is nearly a 16-point favorite, and the Volunteers haven’t won an SEC game since last November, losing three of their league battles this year (Georgia, Alabama and Missouri) by a combined 112 points. They’re last in the league in scoring offense (20.4 ppg), rushing defense (256.9 ypg), third-down conversions (30.2 percent), passing offense (165.2 ypg) and total offense (296.8 ypg).
Will Hoke change all that?
“I’m sure they’ll have something different that he’s always wanted to implement that the head coach didn’t and now he has the chance to do it,” Etling said. “He’s going to take all his shots he can to prove what he wants to show, being an interim coach.”