Carolina Panthers quarterbacks coach Jake Peetz has been hired as LSU's next offensive coordinator, the university announced Wednesday.
LSU and Peetz came to an agreement quickly, just days after the NFL regular season ended on Sunday. Peetz interviewed with LSU on Tuesday, along with offensive assistant DJ Mangas, whom LSU also announced has been hired for the passing game coordinator position.
The 37-year-old Peetz is a Nebraska native, a former long snapper and cornerback for the Cornhuskers, who has spent seven seasons as an assistant in the NFL, four in the NCAA, most of which were spent as a quarterbacks coach.
Peetz also spent time successfully building game plans behind the scenes at the college level, twice as an offensive analyst at Alabama in 2013 and 2018.
He began his NFL career as a scout for the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2008, under then-head coach Jack Del Rio — a connection to LSU coach Ed Orgeron, whose close friend and former Northwestern State teammate, Bobby Hebert, played with Del Rio with the New Orleans Saints from 1985-86.
"We are excited about the opportunity that Coach O has given us to move our family to Baton Rouge and be a part of the LSU football program," Peetz said in a statement Wednesday. "Dealing with Coach O and (athletic director) Scott Woodward through this process has shown me the commitment made to winning more national championships and I am grateful to be a part of that."
But it's Peetz and Mangas' ties to former LSU passing game coordinator Joe Brady that made them Orgeron's top targets.
Orgeron told WNXX-FM's "Off the Bench" on Tuesday that Derek Ponamsky, LSU's special assistant to Orgeron, has been in contact with Brady during the search, hoping to find candidates who can replicate the schemes Brady and former offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger ran when the Tigers won the program's fourth national championship.
"Joe, who can run your offense?" Orgeron said Ponamsky asked Brady. "And he recommended me two guys, and they're here with me today."
Mangas spent one season as an offensive analyst with LSU in 2019, joining the Tigers staff after serving two seasons as the offensive coordinator at William & Mary. He played wide receiver for the Tribe from 2008-11, where he was teammates with Brady, who played from 2009-12.
"Both Jake and DJ come highly recommended from one of the premier and innovative offensive coaches in the game in Joe Brady," Orgeron said in a statement Wednesday.
Can Peetz and Mangas run Brady's offense? That will be the ultimate question on that side of the ball going into the 2021 season. It's a crucial year for Orgeron, who will enter the season under scrutiny after leading the Tigers to a disappointing 5-5 record in the program's title defense in 2020.
Most of the problems stemmed from a historically bad defense, a unit that gave up its highest per game average in points and yardage in school history and eventually led to LSU parting ways with former defensive coordinator Bo Pelini after one season.
Still, LSU's offense was often inconsistent during the season. It sputtered in spots, even before starting quarterback Myles Brennan suffered a season-ending abdominal injury four games into the season against Missouri.
The Tigers were 0-for-10 on third downs against Missouri and were stuffed on a fourth-and-goal attempt that would have almost certainly sealed victory in the 45-41 loss.
Offensive firepower diminished significantly following Brennan's injury. LSU 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 the Tigers 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 the responsibilities of former passing game coordinator Scott Linehan, with whom LSU parted ways after one season. 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.
Linehan held the same role as Brady, who won the Broyles Award for nation's best assistant coach, and it's Brady's influence on Peetz that Orgeron hopes will rejuvenate the Tigers offense this time around.
Ensminger, who voluntarily retired from on-field coaching, will still remain on staff, preparing game plans as an off-the-field analyst.
"I believe in Joe and what he's done," Orgeron said. "I believe in Coach Ensminger. I thought that those guys worked great together two years ago. I thought this year we lost a little bit of it, but that was just because of the expertise of Joe, and I want to get back to that offense."
Many of LSU's top offensive players have left the team for the NFL draft or by entering the NCAA transfer portal, but Peetz still has a strong core of veterans plus young players who broke out toward the end of the season.
Brennan, entering his fifth year at LSU, is on pace to return at starting quarterback, although Orgeron said he has not yet fully recovered from his injury.
Ty Davis-Price and John Emery, LSU's top two leading rushers, are both entering their third season on campus. The Tigers rushing attack dipped significantly from 2019 to 2020, dropping from 60th to 109th nationally with just 121.7 yards per game.
There is promising young talent in the backfield along with Davis-Price and Emery. True freshmen Josh Williams and Tre Bradford both had notable plays in LSU's final two games, and the Tigers signed two of the nation's Top 10 running backs in Armoni Goodwin and Corey Kiner out of the 2021 recruiting class.
LSU enters the offseason without any of its starting receivers from last year: Ja'Marr Chase, the 2019 Biletnikoff Award winner, opted out before the season began; star receiver Terrace Marshall opted out after the Texas A&M game; starter Race McMath, who was injured in the Arkansas game, declared for the NFL draft; and star tight end Arik Gilbert, a former five-star recruit, opted out after the Alabama game and eventually entered the NCAA transfer portal.
Orgeron said Tuesday that he's remained in contact with Gilbert and his family, expressing that "we still want him to come back." LSU still has four scholarship tight ends returning, plus three-star recruit Jalen Shead, but none quite have Gilbert's ability to make explosive plays.
LSU's wide receiver corps has shown that it can still be potent with its next round of players.
True freshman Kayshon Boutte is expected to lead a group that includes Jaray Jenkins, Koy Moore and Trey Palmer. The 6-foot, 185-pound Boutte set a Southeastern Conference and school record with 308 receiving yards in the season finale against Ole Miss, and he recorded 27 catches for 527 yards and four touchdowns in the final three games.
Perhaps most importantly, Orgeron has been successful in retaining offensive linemen who could have left for the NFL draft. So far, starting center Liam Shanahan, right guard Chasen Hines and left guard Ed Ingram have all declared they will return to LSU in 2021. Left tackle Dare Rosenthal and right tackle Austin Deculus have not yet announced their intentions.
Mangas expressed his belief in LSU's offensive potential.
"I was fortunate enough to be a part of the 2019 team and see exactly what this offense and these players are capable of," Mangas said. "It fires me up to see the potential we have for the 2021 offense."