There’s little doubt Ed Orgeron got what he was after when brought in veteran coach Scott Linehan to replace Joe Brady as LSU’s passing-game coordinator.
The question is whether Coach O is on the right track.
Orgeron went veteran and veteran-er in filling the two vacancies on his staff this offseason. He brought back one-time LSU defensive coordinator Bo Pelini to fill that role again after Dave Aranda left to be head coach at Baylor. Now he brings in Linehan, who has a 30-year career on the NFL and collegiate level.
The Linehan hire was greeted by predictable second-guessing on social media. Message boards are filled with folks who don’t know what they really want, just that they want … something else.
That doesn’t mean the Linehan hire isn’t without its question marks. He hasn’t coached on the collegiate level since 2001, when he left the offensive coordinator position at Louisville to become offensive coordinator with the Minnesota Vikings. He rose all the way to be head coach of the St. Louis Rams from 2006-08 where frankly he failed, going 11-25. And he was out of coaching this past season after being let go after four seasons as offensive coordinator with the Dallas Cowboys. A Dallas team that was 22nd in the NFL in yards per play in 2018 and ranked first this year.
LSU football coach Ed Orgeron said he was looking to the NFL for a replacement for passing-game coordinator Joe Brady.
The coaching business is filled with names of people who stumbled only to rise again, or to rise to even greater heights. Orgeron is as good an example of that as any, a man no one pegged as a future national championship-winner after three losing seasons as head coach at Ole Miss.
The obvious line of criticism on the Linehan hire is you are going from a young up-and-comer like Brady (who parlayed LSU’s 2019 success into the offensive coordinator’s job with the Carolina Panthers) to, frankly, a retread.
But it isn’t fair to cast aspersions on the Linehan hire without also looking at some highlights. He coached Dak Prescott and Tony Romo with the Cowboys, and had some prolific offenses with Matthew Stafford when he was calling plays with the Detroit Lions. He found ways to get the ball to Hall of Fame receiver Randy Moss with the Vikings. It seems logical that he has a thought or two about how to defeat college defenses.
It also is worth remembering, and this is a point often lost in the bright offensive lights of LSU’s 2019 season, that Steve Ensminger was the offensive coordinator in 2019. Not Brady. And Ensminger called the vast majority of the plays, not Brady. A lot of schools don’t even have a passing-game coordinator position. Unlike the NFL, where the staffs are unlimited in size, LSU has added that position at the sacrifice of a full-time tight ends coach (Ensminger’s former position) or a linebackers coach on defense (Pelini, like Aranda, will coach linebackers himself).
The impressions folks have of Brady remind me of the revisionist history with which people look back at the Nick Saban era at LSU (Saban, by the way, hired Linehan in 2005 as his first offensive coordinator with the Miami Dolphins). When not sticking pins in Saban voodoo dolls, LSU fans wistfully look back at the Saban era as five years of wedded bliss. They forget the second-guessing of a guy whose team lost to UAB in 2000, or who was being shredded so much on the postgame show after a home loss in 2001 to Ole Miss that Kristen Saban asked her father on the ride home if the family was going to have to move again.
Orgeron has, with Brady being one of the most notable exceptions, gone for experience when making coaching hires. He did it with Pelini. He did it with Pete Jenkins when O replaced Les Miles in 2016. He did it with Jerry Sullivan as receivers coach. He even did it with offensive coordinator Matt Canada in 2017, a hot name but a bad fit with O and LSU, which goes to show that hiring coaches is more of a crapshoot than most people would care to believe.
To borrow a favorite Sean Payton word, “look,” is it entirely possible LSU’s 2019 season was a winning lottery ticket? An alignment of the cosmic offensive tumblers? A magical combination of individuals like The Beatles, who together were greater than the sum of their individual parts?
That absolutely could be true. And if so, if you’re an LSU fan you have to tip your cap to Orgeron, Ensminger, Brady and Burrow and say, “Thanks for the memories.”
But this is all about the future. About sustainability. About whether Orgeron can put together a staff that helps LSU remain a relevant player on the national stage in a conference, and a division, that is tougher than the NFC East.
Based on his decision to change LSU’s offensive identity, LSU’s entire football culture really, by going to the spread offense for the 2019 season, it is inconceivable that Orgeron would replace Brady with someone who would bring LSU back to the stone-age offense the Tigers ran for much of the Miles era.
On this one, Orgeron has earned the benefit of the doubt that Linehan, if not a transformative hire like Brady, is at least a hire that fits into what LSU’s offensive philosophy has become.