LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — In his first season as a major college football assistant coach, LSU passing game coordinator Joe Brady said "in my wildest dreams I could never have wrote this type of story."
A year ago, Brady was an offensive assistant with the New Orleans Saints with no play-calling duties, his first job after spending two seasons as a graduate assistant at Penn State.
Now, the 30-year-old coach is behind one of the hottest offenses in college football, having completed a remarkable revamp at LSU that's rewritten the school's record books and produced a likely Heisman Trophy winner in quarterback Joe Burrow.
Brady won the Broyles Award, which is given to the nation's top assistant coach every year in Little Rock, Arkansas.
Brady detailed his whirlwind year in a sitdown with The Advocate on Tuesday morning, hours before the Broyles Award winner was announced.
He detailed his personal relationship with offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger and how they work together running the offense in tandem in the booth on game days.
He talked about his personal preparation, how LSU comes up with plays (Saints viewers, you'll find it familiar), and how he and Ensminger approached constructing the offense in the spring around the players they had.
LSU is also in contract negotiations to retain Brady, which has been previously reported, and head coach Ed Orgeron has said that the program is "a step ahead" of other schools that have shown interest in college football's newest rising coach.
Brady spoke about his future with LSU, saying "nothing's been done in my eyes" in regards to a new deal. Asked after LSU's 37-10 victory over Georgia in the SEC Championship game if his future was at LSU, Brady said "absolutely."
"If LSU wants me, I loved everything about LSU," Brady told The Advocate. "Like I said, I don't know what the future holds. I think it's, I'd love to be at LSU, and when I say, 'Absolutely,' it's because I absolutely love being there. I don't think of another job. I never have no matter what."
You were saying that yesterday was the first time you really got to reflect on the year, what have you reflected on?
I’m just grateful for this opportunity. Coach O took a chance on a guy that was an offensive assistant, was an assistant to an assistant, and I’d never called a play before. I’d never put together a game plan together, so just grateful for the opportunity that Coach O and Steve presented me, and then just thinking back to seeing how much fun and watching all these videos of our guys dancing and all these awards that a guy like Joe (Burrow) is winning, you know, it’s very rewarding. I’m not in this—I talked about it last week—I’m not in this profession for notoriety. I’m not in this profession to make it about me. So seeing the guys I’m coaching have a lot of success, and then getting those awards and seeing the team having success—when you sit back and think of the work that you’re putting in and for those guys to be able to benefit from it, it’s rewarding.
A year ago you were an assistant in New Orleans, from then to possibly winning the Broyles Award, what would that mean for you?
Just to be a finalist here at the Broyles and just being able to meet the Broyles family and just seeing how powerful and how much Coach Broyles meant to so many people in this profession and what he brought to this profession. Just to be here right now, that’s what’s kind of the surreal feeling that’s kicked in, just being around some of the top coaches in the country right now and part of you feels like you’re not worthy, I shouldn’t be here right now. So to have an opportunity to talk with these guys and get to know these guys on a personal level and not having to scheme them up and game plan, that’s what’s been rewarding to me. But you know, it’s been an incredible opportunity. Thinking back to a year ago to now, in my wildest dreams I could never have wrote this type of story. I’m just embracing it and just looking forward to Oklahoma and being present right now and hopefully winning two more games.
Ed Orgeron was talking about how you and Steve Ensminger really like working together. Why do y’all connect so well?
I hope, God willing, I’m an offensive coordinator at his age, I’m going to be as open and humble to ideas and approach as he is. I work for a guy who has so much pride in Louisiana, puts so much pride in LSU, that all I want is for us to have success because I think he deserves every bit of it. So, you know, we’re able to work well together because I think we both want the exact same thing. All we want is LSU to win right now. All we want is our guys to have success. There’s no “I” in either of us. I think it is unfortunate that he doesn’t give enough credit, and so I think I wouldn’t be sitting here right now if it wasn’t for Steve. I’ve learned a lot from Steve, and I’m grateful for this experience.
The age gap, some people call it kind of an ‘odd couple,’ but what would you say your relationship’s like and do you have any stories from him?
No stories, but Steve has a loud personality. He’s a funny guy. I know he probably doesn’t talk much with the media and whatnot, but Steve’s an incredible person. But the one thing, the only difference is our age, because on game day there’s no two people that are more confident than us on game day. We both have the same mentality, and I think that’s what allows it to go so well is because come game day from the preparation that we all put throughout the week, we’re extremely confident and ready to go for the game. So it allows us to call these games and makes life so much easier, obviously, having Joe Burrow.
I am interested in the in-game relationship y’all have. How would you explain how the offense is run during a game with both of you up there?
I think game-to-game it’s different. I think a lot of it has to do with the game plan standpoint. Steve’s the offensive coordinator. Steve’s the play-caller. It’s just my job up there to, if I have any ideas, for him to take them and run with it if he wants. If not, keep doing what he’s doing and we’ve had a lot of success this year with Steve being a great play-caller. There’ll be times in games where he’ll say, ‘Hey look, you’ve got it.’ Or, ‘Hey, whatever you want to do here, you’ve got it.’ I think every coach is always ready, if their time comes, that they need to call a play. So, I just sit up there, and if there’s an opportunity that I have to give some advice or what I’m seeing or my thoughts — especially from the passing game standpoint — I’ll give it. Outside of that, it’s Steve’s show, and I’m just rolling with it.
Is there an in-game moment that you’re most proud of?
I think the play that stands out the most this year, to me, is the touchdown at the end of the half against Alabama. I study the touchdowns across the NFL every week. That’s my Wednesday thing. I study the biggest plays, the touchdowns, and that play was hitting for touchdowns in three straight weeks. So we had put that play in the Thursday before. We had repped it once in practice. We repped it once in a walk-through, and it was the perfect opportunity, the perfect play. We got the perfect look. And to see that to come full circle, just to see that, ‘Hey, this was working for the Raiders, this was working for the Texans, this was working for these people,’ and for that to come in and work. And then you see last week, you’ll see we scored a touchdown in the back of the end zone to Justin Jefferson, and you rewind back a few weeks ago, you’ll see Mike Thomas score the exact same touchdown against the Tampa Bay Bucs. It’s a copycat league, and we did the same thing in New Orleans. We studied what other teams were doing. We all do it in the offseason. So if you had an opportunity to see what was working across the NFL and across college throughout the week, we were going to do it. Those are what’s fun, is seeing it having success at that level, having an idea, matching it up against defenses that you’re seeing from that standpoint and then seeing your guys being able to execute it just like they’re seeing some of their favorite players do. That’s what’s been kind of fun and rewarding.
Earlier, you were saying that (Georgia defensive coordinator) Dan Lanning (also a Broyles finalist) gave you many sleepless nights. Who gave you the most trouble this year?
They all do. Especially in the SEC, there’s a reason they’re all defensive coordinators in the SEC, because they’re the best in the business. Look, fall camp, I’m biased. We have the best defensive coordinator in the country: Dave Aranda. Spring ball, fall camp — that’s the hardest it’s been all year. I mean, Dave has answers for everything. I’ve learned so much from Dave because you get in spring ball, you get in fall camp, and you might have plays that are working and the next day, they have no shot at working. He found ways to give them issues. So now, from the offensive standpoint, now I know going into these games what gives us issues. It helps from that standpoint. But I don’t think there’s one team specifically that gives the most issues; but they all, in one way or another, whether what they’re doing up front, whether it’s a coverage structure, whether it’s third down or red zone, they’re all defensive coordinators in the SEC for a reason, and every single week, regardless of what their record shows, regardless of their statistics, you have to approach it the same. You know that there’s going to be a lot of issues and challenges and you embrace them and you hope you have success against them.
Ed Orgeron said that Scott Woodward had a plan in place if things had to change. When were they first approaching you when there needed to be a change?
I’m not going to comment on any of that stuff. I’ve said all along I’m just trying to be the best passing game coordinator that I can be — a wide receiver coach. What my future holds, I have no idea. When I was a graduate assistant, whether I was an offensive assistant or defensive assistant, I never looked at the next job. So from that standpoint, I haven’t thought about what could be potentially next for me. I’m just hoping to be the best receivers coach I can, and hopefully get two more games this season and have success with that, and I know the rest will take care of itself.
Saturday you said, ‘Absolutely,’ your future was at LSU. Is that different?
No. Look, if LSU wants me, I loved everything about LSU. Like I said, I don’t know what the future holds. I think it’s, I’d love to be at LSU, and when I say, ‘Absolutely,’ it’s because I absolutely love being there. I don’t think of another job. I never have no matter what. Whether the New Orleans Saints came calling. No matter what, whoever it was, I don’t think of those things. That wasn’t a reaction to just winning an SEC Championship Game. I love LSU. I love everything about LSU. I haven’t thought of what’s next for me. I’ve purposely tried to take everything and just focus on the games that we’ve been playing and whatnot. So, nothing’s changed from that standpoint.
So nothing’s done yet?
No, nothing’s been done in my eyes. Nothing is… I’m just focused on beating Oklahoma right now.
(Oklahoma coach) Lincoln Riley was once a winner of this too (2015). I think you said Saturday how the pieces help in the scheme for building it. How did Joe Burrow make it easy, and whenever y’all were constructing this in the spring, how did you try and find what you had and turn it into something like this?
The thing about Joe Burrow, he’s incredible. His mind — from a college football (standpoint) — I don’t know how it can get any smarter. From that standpoint, there’s nothing that you can… It was hard in spring, because you want to throw just so much at him because he’s like, ‘I got this. All right, what’s next? Keep it going. Let’s go to 401 level.’ I’m like, ‘Hold on, we’ve got young quarterbacks. We’ve got to make sure everybody else can pick it up.’ And look, same issues you have in New Orleans. He’s extremely athletic, as you were able to see on Saturday, and you’ve seen all season that he can make plays with his feet. It was critical in spring ball and fall camp that we threw a lot of these guys — playbook-wise — a lot of plays, because I do think these guys want to be challenged, but let’s find out what they do well. Let’s find out what Ja’Marr Chase, what routes he does well. Let’s find out what Justin Jefferson’s strengths are. Let’s find out what Clyde Edwards-Helaire, what he does best from a run-game perspective, in the pass game. Thad Moss. Terrace Marshall. You can go on and on, and you just find out. So there’s a lot of plays that we ran in fall camp that hasn’t even been ran yet this year. There’s a lot of stuff in spring ball that never even made it to fall camp. I think what I’ve learned from some of the best coaches, it’s not about running a system and just plugging it in and saying, ‘this is what we’re doing.’ It’s about finding out what they do well and running those plays and putting them in the position to have success. I think from an offensive staff standpoint, I think that collectively, we did a great job, and it’s showed this year of putting those guys in the best position to have success.
So the system allows it to be fluid?
Yes. And what the system is, I have no idea. The system is going to change year to year. It’s all a product of what we have. If you’ve got four dynamic tight ends or four dynamic running backs, you have an extremely dual-threat quarterback—I don’t know what that system entails, but it’s our job as coaches to figure that out and work with things in the spring and fall and find a niche of who we’re going to be as an offense and what our system’s going to look like and kind of go from there.