Bo knows defense.
If you remember Bo Pelini’s first three seasons as LSU defensive coordinator from 2005-07 under Les Miles, you should remember that much. Pelini had the benefit of some great talents in those defenses — All-Americans like Glenn Dorsey and LaRon Landry and Craig Steltz. He used those players to turn in some brilliant defensive numbers: second in the Southeastern Conference and third nationally in scoring defense in 2005, the SEC’s top-ranked scoring defenses in 2006 and ’07.
The college football world has flipped over like a reverse image of itself since Pelini was last at LSU. A dynamic offense is THE must-have now to contend for the national championship. LSU led the nation in scoring and total offense this season, but the other three teams in the College Football Playoff — Clemson, Oklahoma and Ohio State — all ranked in the top five in yardage covered or points scored or both.
But a strong defense never goes out of style. And it is a fiery style that Pelini brings back to LSU. The style that LSU hasn’t really had since he left.
No one, not Pelini nor his new boss Ed Orgeron, knows at this moment whether the Tigers will line up this fall in a 4-3 or a 3-4 defense. That may not even be the most important point. But they will have a driven and emotional leader. Of that there can be no doubt.
Two emotional leaders, actually. Bo can be expected to fill Dave Aranda’s role as not only defensive coordinator but linebackers coach, while Orgeron can be expected to continue to take a big hand in helping coach the defensive line.
Pelini is a huge departure personality-wise from Aranda, who one would think has to grow his personality a few hat sizes to fill his new job as head coach at Baylor. In all the practices I attended in Aranda’s four seasons at LSU, I can’t recall his voice ever being more audible at a conversational level. If he ever was upset with a player for botching an assignment, it never sounded more like a stern father-son talk.
Pelini will be heard. That’s a promise. If Aranda was The Professor as he is aptly known, Pelini is the Patton.
How will two such strong personalities, Orgeron and Pelini, coexist? One has to believe that given his track record with his other coordinators, and Pelini’s willingness to give up a head coaching job at Youngstown State (his hometown school and alma mater) to return to LSU, there had to be a reasonable amount of autonomy written in between the lines of Bo’s soon-to-be approved contract. There is an enormous raise roughly 10 times over what Pelini was making in Youngstown (believed to be somewhere around $250,000 per year, now $2.3 million), always a compelling inducement. But in this case, money literally is not everything.
“I know,” Pelini said Monday in a news release, “it is a great fit for me.”
A big difference between Orgeron and Pelini is the fact that Orgeron seems to have better embraced the political side of his job. The recruiting and the schmoozing with high school coaches, benefactors and the common fan. Orgeron has smoothed the rough edges to his Cajun from the Bayou persona, no small feat. He even has a catch phrase: “Geaux Tigahs!” It’s become so identified with LSU, I heard a Golf Channel announcer parrot the words Sunday as he was signing off after former Lady Tiger Madelene Sagstrom won her first LPGA Tour title in Boca Raton.
Knowing Pelini from his first stint here, this stuff can’t have ever been his favorite part of the job. That has to be a factor as well in allowing himself to go from top man to subordinate once again. You do have to recruit, of course, but he will shed himself of a lot of those ancillary duties that detract from the pure task of coaching defense.
And does anyone care if Bo has a catchphrase? They will not. Not when memories like this will suffice:
Late in the 2007 Alabama game, the score tied 34-34 and LSU’s national title hopes balancing, Pelini found safety Chad Jones before he went back on the field.
One week from LSU’s CFP national championship, it felt like the football program was under assault.
“Chad,” Pelini barked. “Make a (bleeping) play!” Jones sacked Bama quarterback John Parker Wilson, forcing a fumble that set up Jacob Hester’s game-winning touchdown moments later.
Bo knows how to push those buttons. Bo knows big-play defense. And Bo knows what LSU built its reputation on for decades, last season’s Joe Burrow-led aerial circus aside.
It was defense. Tough and game-changing. And for that reason, and in that role, he should be a welcomed edition back into the LSU fold.