It's official: LSU and defensive coordinator Bo Pelini are parting ways, the university announced Monday night, hours after The Advocate broke the news.
More staff changes are expected to come, including the departure of safeties coach Bill Busch and the retirement of defensive line coach Bill Johnson. Cornerbacks coach Corey Raymond, an assistant on staff since 2012, is the only defensive coach remaining on staff.
LSU is also expected to part ways with passing game coordinator Scott Linehan after one season, multiple sources told The Advocate. The 57-year-old Linehan is due the full remainder of his two-year, $800,000 per year contract, a buyout that is approximately $1 million.
More staff changes are coming within the LSU football program.
LSU coach Ed Orgeron has previously said he'd evaluate his entire staff at the end of the season, which concluded with a 53-48 win over Ole Miss on Saturday to finish with a 5-5 overall record.
The major shakeup comes just a year after LSU won its fourth national championship, and it represents the urgency Orgeron has to restore the program's path toward title contention.
Pelini's departure was the most anticipated within the football program.
The divorce was expected to be an expensive one: Pelini was guaranteed all the remaining income in his three-year, $2.3 million contract, which pegs his buyout at about $5.2 million.
LSU, like most athletic programs, has taken a massive financial hit due to the coronavirus pandemic and expects to lose $80 million in revenue this year. Orgeron was given a limited budget to buy out his staff, multiple sources said, and Pelini's buyout would have taken up most of it.
Instead, LSU and Pelini agreed to a financial settlement in which Pelini will accept a one-time payment instead of the full liquidated damages in his contract, the school said in a statement. The exact amount was not detailed.
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"I wish nothing but success for LSU, Coach O and the players that I thoroughly enjoyed coaching and getting to know this year," Pelini said in a statement. "I was proud of how hard our team competed down (the) stretch, the way our young guys stepped up and were developing and the overall direction we were headed."
Several times this season, Orgeron expressed frustration and disappointment in the defense's discipline and schemes, although the criticism often came along with a belief that their overall performance could improve.
Pelini, a 53-year-old Ohio native, arrived in Baton Rouge in January as Orgeron's replacement for former defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, who left the program to be the head coach at Baylor.
Hiring Pelini represented Orgeron's desire to move toward the defensive philosophy he favored: a four-man front that attacks opposing backfields and produces a high number of tackles for loss, sacks and turnovers.
It was Pelini's second stint at LSU. He coordinated the Tigers defenses from 2005-07, and he left to be the head coach at Nebraska (2008-14) after LSU won the 2007 BCS National Championship.
Before returning to Baton Rouge, Pelini was the head coach at Youngstown State (2015-19), where he led his hometown university to the FCS National Championship Game in 2016. Comfortable in Ohio, Pelini said LSU's culture was "a great fit for me" in a news release when he was hired, and the opportunity to coach the Tigers defense again was enough to convince him to leave home.
Orgeron said during LSU's spring coaching clinic that Pelini was the only coach he talked to about the job. He'd consulted their shared mentor, Pete Carroll, who told Orgeron that Pelini "has the best defensive mind of any coach I've ever coached with."
"We are looking forward to him bringing his tremendous amount of knowledge and expertise back to LSU to continue to win championships," Orgeron said in a news release upon Pelini's hiring.
Then, the coronavirus pandemic canceled spring football practice, and Pelini was forced to transition LSU from a 3-4 defense to a 4-3 defense through a series of virtual sessions with players.
LSU returned to team activities in June, and the NCAA extended preseason practice by two extra weeks to partially make up for lost practices during the spring.
Orgeron said during the preseason "we are so much better on defense right now than any part of the season last year," a quote that led to further public scrutiny once things turned awry.
Aside from bright spots against Arkansas and Texas A&M, LSU's defense recorded historic lows statistically, from the record 623 yards passing allowed in the Mississippi State opener to the most points ever scored by Alabama against LSU.
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Opt-outs, injuries and illnesses hit LSU's defense hard too. Starting nickel safety Kary Vincent and defensive tackle Tyler Shelvin both declared for the NFL draft before the season began.
All-American cornerback Derek Stingley missed the Mississippi State game after spending the night in a hospital due to an unknown illness that caused a reaction, and an injury kept Stingley out of the final two games of the season.
Pelini's scheme was indeed more volatile, ranking second nationally with 22 total turnovers forced while ranking in the Top 50 in tackles for loss (63, 33rd) and sacks (24, 32nd). But the defense was deeply flawed, prone to busted coverages, and recorded school lows in points allowed per game (34.9) and yards allowed per game (492).
LSU also ranked last nationally in total number of plays surrendered of over 40 yards (14), over 50 yards (6) and over 90 yards (1).
LSU's offense was often inconsistent during the season.
Offensive firepower diminished significantly following starting quarterback Myles Brennan's season-ending abdominal injury against Missouri. The Tigers scored just 25.1 points per game the remainder of the season, which included a dismal four-game stretch against Auburn, Arkansas, Texas A&M and Alabama in which LSU averaged 13 points per game.
LSU had a 33.8% third down conversion rate in those four games, and the offense was often stagnant and ineffective with 17 total three-and-outs.
LSU finished the season ranked 102nd nationally in third down conversions (34.62%) and a 52.9% touchdown conversion rate in the red zone that ranked 104th nationally and was a substantial drop from the conversion rate in 2019 (78.67%).
Third downs and red zones fell under Linehan's responsibilities, the same role held by former passing game coordinator Joe Brady, who won the Broyles Award for nation's best assistant coach.
Opt-outs and injuries significantly hurt the offense's production, too.
Ja'Marr Chase, last season's Biletnikoff Award winner for nation's top receiver, opted out in the preseason. Star receiver Terrace Marshall departed for the NFL draft after the Alabama game. Then, days later, true freshman tight end Arik Gilbert left the team and returned home to Marietta, Georgia.
LSU's offense managed success in its final two games, switching true freshman quarterbacks from TJ Finley to Max Johnson, who led the Tigers on game-winning drives against Florida and Ole Miss.
Maason Smith certainly knew how to build suspense.
There appeared to be optimism in LSU's young talent offensively, a group of five true freshman starters that produced a total of 1,011 yards and 76 points in the final two games. Kayshon Boutte set the school and Southeastern Conference single-game record with 308 receiving yards against Ole Miss.
Pelini's defense also showcased its volatility by forcing six turnovers against Ole Miss, including five interceptions and a pick six. But the defense still surrendered 41 points against the Rebels and 558 total offensive yards.
Next season, LSU's offense and defense will each be led by new coaches.
"I'm excited about it," Orgeron said of LSU's future Saturday night. "I'm obviously excited about the guys that stayed with us, the guys that are coming back."