LSU's search for its next defensive coordinator continues.
Ryan Nielsen will remain as the New Orleans Saints defensive line coach, sources confirmed with The Advocate, bringing an end to a complex negotiation between LSU and the NFL franchise over contract language that prevents Nielsen from leaving for Baton Rouge.
The news was first reported by The Athletic.
LSU was finalizing a deal with Nielsen, news that was first reported Monday by NFL Network's Jane Slater, who reported that Nielsen met with Saints coach Sean Payton and told him of his intention to take the LSU job earlier that day.
Indeed, Nielsen met with Payton on Monday, sources confirmed with The Advocate, and complications arose over language within Nielsen's contract with the Saints that prevents him from leaving New Orleans for a collegiate coaching position.
A conversation between LSU and the Saints followed, continuing from Monday evening and spilling into Tuesday morning. Nielsen then met with Payton and Saints general manager Mickey Loomis, a source told The Advocate, and the franchise offered Nielsen a new three-year contract and the added title of assistant head coach with the Saints.
The offer produced a solution for New Orleans to retain Nielsen, and it ended a situation in which both parties would've embarked on a battle over the contract that would've involved attorneys.
So, Nielsen will remain in New Orleans, and LSU coach Ed Orgeron is left seeking a defensive coordinator after yet another prime candidate slips away. Two weeks have passed since Orgeron's top choice, Marcus Freeman, chose to leave Cincinnati for Notre Dame instead. Freeman chose South Bend, multiple sources said, because it was closer to where family lived.
LSU remains in the middle of finalizing a complex deal with New Orleans Saints defensive line coach Ryan Nielsen to make him the Tigers' next …
Orgeron said Monday evening on WWL radio that Nielsen is "obviously a prime candidate" for defensive coordinator, and that the athletic department was "in the process" of finding out who they're going to hire and were "very close" to a decision.
Orgeron gave another update in a Tuesday morning radio interview with WNXX's "Off the Bench," saying the "deal is not done yet," but he confirmed that the athletic department viewed Nielsen as a "primary candidate" and was pushing toward making the deal happen.
"There are still some things to work out," Orgeron said then.
The 41-year-old Nielsen just finished his fourth season as New Orleans' defensive line coach, a job he acquired after spending four seasons at North Carolina State as the Wolfpack's defensive line coach, recruiting coordinator and run game coordinator. Nielsen was named a candidate in 2015 for the Broyles Award, given annually to college football's top assistant coach.
Most notably, Nielsen had a strong connection to Orgeron. Nielsen played for Orgeron as a defensive tackle at Southern Cal from 1998-2001, and he later served as Orgeron's defensive line coach at Ole Miss from 2005-2007.
LSU reached out to Nielsen last week to gauge his interest for the defensive coordinator position, a source told The Advocate. The talks were only initial, which allowed Nielsen to focus on New Orleans' Sunday playoff game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
But after the Saints were eliminated in the 30-20 loss, LSU and Nielsen resumed talks Sunday night, and, by Monday, the school was in the process of finalizing a contract for Nielsen to sign.
It's the second time LSU has neared the dotted line in acquiring someone to replace former defensive coordinator Bo Pelini, with whom the university parted ways after just one season. The LSU Board of Supervisors approved the $4 million settlement with Pelini on Friday, which also includes five $14,000 payments through March 31, 2023.
The search for LSU's next defensive coordinator has not gone as smoothly as Orgeron's swift hiring of his top offensive assistants. A day after interviewing Orgeron's top candidates, LSU hired offensive coordinator Jake Peetz and DJ Mangas both to two-year contracts that, in total, will cost the athletic program about $1.65 million per year.
Orgeron said he prioritized hiring his offensive positions first because he knew offense was not his specialty.
"I knew that I could wait and get the right guys on defense and I know we’re going to get them," Orgeron said. "I have a good idea of who that is going to be, we just have to be patient, wait until the right time. But knowing I can help on defense gives me some security. Knowing we could wait and get the right guys.”
The defensive coordinator role on Orgeron's staff is perhaps the most crucial: Whoever it will be will take over a major restoration project with an LSU defense that is coming off its worst statistical season in school history.
LSU's defensive issues were a fundamental flaw in the Tigers' disappointing 5-5 season in 2020, and those issues ultimately led to the school parting ways with Pelini, who oversaw the program's rocky transition from a 3-4 to a 4-3 scheme during a year riddled by the coronavirus pandemic.
Along with the departure of safeties coach Bill Busch and the retirement of defensive line coach Bill Johnson, the only remaining defensive assistant from last season is cornerbacks coach Corey Raymond.
As things stand, Orgeron still has three spots left to fill within his defensive staff, and it's likely whoever is hired as defensive coordinator will have major input on how the staff is eventually organized.
LSU players returned to campus last week for voluntary workouts, and, on Tuesday, the program began its "football school" that consists of 30-minute meetings and on-field instruction to begin teaching and installing the team's offensive and defensive playbooks.
For now, Orgeron and Raymond will have to continue leading the defensive players without a true and specific scheme while the program's search for LSU's next defensive coordinator continues.