Last week, LSU coach Ed Orgeron spoke confidently about the pursuits of his top candidates for the main vacancies on his coaching staff, saying in a radio interview that he was interviewing three coaches that week.
Two ended up agreeing to deals with LSU — offensive coordinator Jake Peetz and passing game coordinator DJ Mangas — while Orgeron's top candidate for defensive coordinator, Marcus Freeman, chose to leave Cincinnati for Notre Dame.
Orgeron gave another update on his defensive coordinator search Tuesday morning, telling WNXX-FM, 104.5 that LSU still has "a lot of great candidates" and that "it's about getting the right fit."
"Hopefully, we can get it within the next week," Orgeron said. "But we're going to take our time, get the right people in here, and I think eventually all the pieces are going to fit together."
Mississippi State defensive coordinator Zach Arnett reportedly interviewed Tuesday for the coaching vacancy, according to The Columbus Dispatch. After a day of interviewing, Arnett is not expected to be LSU's next defensive coordinator, according to multiple reports.
The 34-year-old Arnett is coming off his first season leading Mississippi State's defense, after he spent nine years at San Diego State working up from graduate assistant to defensive coordinator within the Aztecs program. Mississippi State ranked 57th nationally in scoring defense (28.1 points allowed per game) and 52nd in total defense (389.7 yards allowed per game) in 2020.
LSU's players returned to campus Monday, and Orgeron said there will be no mandatory workouts until next week. The team will take off Monday, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, then begin "football school" Tuesday.
Orgeron said he and cornerbacks coach Corey Raymond, the only remaining defensive assistant, and some analysts on staff are handling the defensive offseason duties until a defensive coordinator is hired.
"Defensively, we can handle it," Orgeron said. "I've coached defense all my life. We can take care of it until we can get the right guys, and I do believe the right guys are going to come along."
Orgeron was asked whether he was looking for a specific defensive scheme — 4-3 or 3-4 — as he's been interviewing candidates, and Orgeron said "you've got to be multiple nowadays."
"I don't think you can only play one or the other," he said. "You see all the great defenses out there — I don’t know if you’re seeing any great defenses right now — but the better defenses are playing both. I think you’ve got to play some 3-4 to stop the run. You’ve got to play some nickel packages. Most of the nickel packages are in a 4-3. So, I think if you can remain flexible — which, we have talent on the defensive line, personnel to play both — I think you need to be flexible there.”
After former defensive coordinator Dave Aranda left to become Baylor's head coach after the 2019 season, Orgeron hired Bo Pelini to transition LSU toward a four-man front. The scheme was more of what Orgeron wanted, a defense in which he believed LSU would be more attacking and produce more sacks, tackles for loss and turnovers.
While Pelini's 4-3 scheme ranked sixth nationally with 22 total turnovers forced, 39th nationally in sacks (24) and 38th in tackles for loss (63), LSU's overall performance on defense worsened.
The Tigers ranked 97th nationally in scoring defense (34.9 points allowed per game), 124th in total defense (492 yards allowed per game) and ranked last in total number of plays surrendered of over 40 yards (14), over 50 yards (six) and over 90 yards (one).
LSU's next defensive coordinator will be asked to improve on the unit's worst statistical output in school history, but, so far, there will be a large portion of the defense's starters and contributors returning.
Already, LSU's entire starting defensive line has announced they're returning in 2021, and cornerbacks Derek Stingley and Eli Ricks — both voted to All-America teams in the last two seasons — will lead a secondary that will also be bolstered by a rich recruiting class.
“I think we can be one of the top defenses in the conference," Orgeron said. "At least a top 20 defense, which should be a big improvement from last year. I don’t want to put too much on ‘em. But you know, with our defensive line, these guys know that they have some positives and they have some strengths.”