John Thompson was there for Steve Ensminger’s rise.
It unfolded at a Louisiana Tech football practice in December 1990. Then-Georgia head coach Ray Goff, in for a visit, stood in the middle of practice, his eyes focused on Ensminger, a young up-and-coming offensive coordinator who in three years turned the Bulldogs into an offensive power.
“(Goff) is standing out there on the practice field. Can you imagine? He’s not even on the sideline. He’s right there in the mix of it,” said Thompson, the defensive coordinator on that Tech staff. “I was like, ‘Man, that was strange.’ ”
In a way, it’s even stranger now. The 59-year-old Ensminger is back as a full-time offensive coordinator nearly three decades after that first big break and two decades after his last permanent coordinator role.
LSU announced the promotion of its tight ends coach on Wednesday afternoon, news The Advocate reported Monday night. The announcement ushered in a new wave of criticism from fans who hoped for a splashy outside hire, and it brought elation from players in a handful of social media posts.
It is unclear if officials conducted a search after the split last week with Matt Canada. Canada and LSU agreed last Friday to a $1.7 million settlement after a sometimes-messy one season together.
Matt Canada’s settlement with LSU could be voided if the former offensive coordinator “interferes” in the football program’s activities or if …
His replacement was here all along, a guy whom head coach Ed Orgeron has eyed for the potential opening for more than a month. Orgeron and Ensminger are Louisiana natives and close friends, their relationship dating to some 30 years ago.
Orgeron promoted Ensminger to interim offensive coordinator in 2016 when the school fired coach Les Miles and coordinator Cam Cameron. The coach attributes Ensminger’s successful eight-game run to him landing the permanent gig.
Ensminger’s offense soared in six games, averaging 41 points in those affairs, winning them all and setting the school record for total offense (634 yards against Missouri). It struggled in matchups with Alabama and Florida, combining for just 10 points in the pair of losses.
“In 2016, and in difficult circumstances, he put together one of the most explosive offenses LSU has ever seen,” Orgeron said in a statement released by the school Wednesday. “We did that with Steve Ensminger at the helm and we’re going to do it again.”
The hiring news is not over for LSU.
Jerry Sullivan, the 73-year-old longtime NFL receivers coach, is expected to be elevated from his position as a consultant. Known as a guru in the passing game, Sullivan will likely have a heavy hand in the team’s aerial attack. Former longtime Saints assistant Greg McMahon is in line to be LSU’s special teams coordinator, something Orgeron said last month.
Steve Ensminger, announced as LSU's next offensive coordinator Wednesday, has been an FBS offensive coordinator, play-caller or pass game coor…
The school is expected to announce those hires in the coming days. Meanwhile, Ensminger, the Baton Rouge native and ex-LSU quarterback, gets his time in the spotlight alone Thursday. LSU has scheduled a noon news conference with him and Orgeron, an event where sharp questions are likely coming.
Ensminger was thought by most to be in the twilight of his coaching career, having signed last summer a one-year contract extension through 2018. He has not served as a permanent and full-time coordinator since a two-year stint at Clemson in 1997-98. That followed an OC stay at Texas A&M (1994-96), a three-year stint as QBs coach and pass game coordinator at Georgia (1991-93) and that three-year run at Louisiana Tech (1988-90). He called plays at Auburn in 2003, part of an unusual set up with O-line coach and offensive coordinator Hugh Nall.
In an interview in 2016, former Auburn head coach Tommy Tuberville called Ensminger “one of the best that’s ever worked for me” and touched on the Orgeron-Ensminger duo.
“He’s a perfect guy for Bébé,” Tuberville said, using Orgeron’s nickname. “It’s ironic both are working together at one of the most high-profile jobs in the country and both are homegrown. That’s what makes it pretty unique.”
In Ensminger’s 10 years as a coordinator or play-caller, five of his units ranked inside the top 35 nationally in total offense. Like any journeyman coach, he’s been a part of several firings — at Texas A&M and full-staff firings at Clemson and Auburn.
“He survived the ups and downs,” Thompson said. “Now he’s getting rewarded. That longevity is going to pay off. It’s not always the young whippersnapper. I’ll take talent over experience, but sometimes when you've got talent and experience, it’s hard to beat.”
Supporters of the hire point to the most recent results: his 2016 LSU offense as an interim coordinator. He flashed a more pro-style scheme that leaned on the run and on play-action. It averaged 464 yards a game, which would have been good for 26th nationally.
“Did y’all not see how our offense was rolling last season,” tweeted former LSU linebacker Lamar Louis, a likely rebuttal to the social media critics. “We seen players ball the we didn’t even know existed! The ball was spread all over the field. I support coach E!”
Tweeted outgoing receiver DJ Chark about the news: “My dawg coach Ensminger!! Love this man.”
Steve Ensminger enjoys his leather recliner.
IN THE INTERIM
Steve Ensminger replaced Cam Cameron in 2016 at LSU, serving as offensive coordinator for eight games. Here are the stats of his unit and where they’d rank in 2016 in college football.
Yards a game
^points a game
Steve Ensminger will be LSU's eighth offensive coordinator since the Nick Saban era ended.