It appears Ed Orgeron’s search for new members of his offensive coaching staff won’t even go out the door of the LSU football complex.
We await official word, but every indication The Advocate has gotten is that Steve Ensminger will be elevated from tight ends coach to offensive coordinator, while consultant and former LSU wide receivers coach Jerry Sullivan, 73, will become a full-time assistant and aid Ensminger in directing LSU’s passing attack.
Earlier this offseason, Orgeron selected James Cregg, a former colleague at Tennessee and Southern California, to coach the offensive line.
Maybe this will all work out the way Orgeron wants it to, which is with more yards, more points, more wins.
But as Alabama, the school LSU and everyone else in the Southeastern Conference is angling to beat, was winning yet another national championship — word is since the CFP title game with Georgia went to overtime, Bama will try to claim two championships — Orgeron was putting together what looks like a friends-and-family plan on offense.
Maybe it will work. No one today praising these impending hirings (or burning season tickets in protest) knows for sure. But in the wake of hiring and firing Matt Canada after barely a year on the job, honestly, how much different does this look than when Les Miles hired Cam Cameron?
“My plan is to take my time and assemble the best staff in America.”
That’s what Orgeron said when he got the LSU job long-term in December 2016. He retained defensive coordinator Dave Aranda (a Miles hire) and retained him again for a king’s ransom salary — $2.5 million guaranteed per year, for four years — after Texas A&M tried to use its considerable oil money to slide Aranda over the border to College Station.
But on offense, it looks like Orgeron made a campaign promise he couldn’t deliver on. He basically promised Lane Kiffin to be his offensive coordinator, but Kiffin went to FAU because he wanted to be a head coach again.
So Orgeron hired Canada, who he didn’t know, only to find out he couldn’t coexist with him. One year and $1.7 million in buyout dollars later, Canada is gone.
“We will identify a coach with a wealth of experience who is totally committed to the vision of the program and has the drive to do whatever it takes to see it through.”
One must, in fairness, try to see this through the eyes of Orgeron, the man who made that statement. He must believe he’s fulfilling that mission statement with Ensminger’s hiring. He certainly has to believe he has a man who will run the kind of offense Coach O said even during the season that he wanted: a USC-like pro-style attack with power-running principles.
What it looks like to the eyes of everyone else is that Orgeron is putting together a fishing trip of old buddies instead of an offensive coaching staff. “Steve, you bring the bait; Jerry, you bring the drinks; and James, can we borrow your trolling motor?”
The saddest part about this whole situation is the disparagement being heaped on Ensminger by a vocal element of LSU’s fan base — an element that doesn’t ever really know who it wants, only that it wants someone else.
A Central native, Ensminger split time as LSU’s quarterback from 1977-79 with David Woodley. Ensminger was my favorite as a kid growing up in the ’70s, because he was the passing quarterback while Woodley was the runner. As much as any coach on LSU’s staff, Ensminger is a Tiger through and through.
Ensminger has experience, including time as an offensive coordinator, though not anywhere as the permanent play-caller since 1998 at Clemson.
All he’s done since Orgeron took over the program in September 2016 is what is asked of him, and done it to the best of his ability — much like in his playing days sharing snaps with Woodley.
At the 2016 Citrus Bowl he clearly was happy to relinquish the reins of offensive coordinator. Now if he’s being thrust into a coordinator role again, one has the feeling he’s being talked into doing it instead of pursuing it.
One doesn’t expect Ensminger will make Aranda money or even Canada money ($1.5 million per year), but he should get a hefty raise into seven-figure territory from his current $325,000. Call it hazard pay for being an offensive coordinator instead of a tight ends coach.
There’s hazard enough to go around. This 2018 season is going to be a tough one: LSU gets the reigning national champion at home, as well as the team Bama beat, Georgia. It faces two other New Year’s Six bowl teams away from home, Auburn and Miami, plus the Mississippi State team that routed LSU by 30 in September.
Finally, there's a trip to Texas A&M, which will likely be improved by Jimbo Fisher’s arrival.
In other words, Orgeron could have made Hugh Freeze or Kendal Briles or Eddie Gran or Steve Sarkisian his offensive coordinator, and 2018 could still be a struggle. It may be a season that sets up 2019 as make-or-break for Orgeron’s regime.
There is one thing to know: Orgeron is totally committed to the vision of his program. People with whom he is comfortable are by his side.
The question is whether that comfort zone will put LSU in the end zone enough.