The makeshift mattress in Steve Ensminger’s office could get more use than ever in 2018.
Ed Orgeron plans to hire the former LSU quarterback and longtime assistant as his offensive coordinator, barring any last-minute snags, multiple sources confirmed Monday night to The Advocate. The move is not yet final but is expected to be completed in the coming days.
LSU officials reached Monday could not confirm the report.
Ensminger is expected to work alongside LSU consultant and longtime NFL receivers coach Jerry Sullivan, who is expected to be given a significant role in the offense. Sullivan's exact title is unclear, but he is likely to have a heavy hand in the Tigers' passing game.
Ensminger will replace Matt Canada, who after one season split with the school in a mutual financial agreement signed Friday. Canada will receive about half of the $3.3 million remaining on his contract, ending a somewhat messy 12-month marriage.
Ensminger, 59, is experienced, and many laud his ability as a game-planner and play-caller. Orgeron raves about his work ethic, too, revealing on several occasions that Ensminger often sleeps in his office on a mattress set up on the floor.
Ensminger, a Baton Rouge native, has not served as a permanent offensive coordinator in 20 years. He was last in that position at Clemson in 1997-98. He had stops as a coordinator/quarterbacks coach at Texas A&M (1994-96), Georgia (1991-93) and Louisiana Tech (1988-90).
UPDATE: Toby Weathersby announced Monday night that he was forgoing his senior year to enter the draft
His promotion would be a resurrection of sorts to a career that many thought was in its twilight. He signed a one-year extension on his contract over the summer, taking him through the 2018 season with a deal that pays $325,000 in salary.
He’ll surely get a contractual boost with a potential staff elevation. LSU’s past two coordinators made $1.5 and $1.2 million a year.
Meanwhile, the 73-year-old Sullivan, a Miami native, is set to be elevated from the consultant role he manned last year, possibly as a passing game coordinator.
Orgeron greatly respects Sullivan, lauding his work with receivers coach Mickey Joseph in 2017. Sullivan was an offensive coordinator for one year, in 2003 for the Arizona Cardinals. He's mostly spent time as a receivers coach on the pro level, with the Jaguars, 49ers and Dolphins. Sullivan has mentored more than 10 NFL Pro Bowlers. He coached receivers at LSU from 1984-90.
His expertise in the passing game and route-running is well-known and something Orgeron has spoken about throughout last season. As a consultant, Sullivan could only work with coaches — not players.
If he is added to the full-time staff, he would complete a five-man offensive group: Ensminger, Sullivan, Joseph, new offensive line coach and run game coordinator James Cregg and running backs coach Tommie Robinson. It leaves Orgeron searching to fill two open spots, one of which Orgeron has said will go to analyst Greg McMahon, expected to be the Tigers’ new special teams coordinator.
The other assistant likely will join a defensive staff that already includes coordinator and linebackers coach Dave Aranda, defensive line coach Dennis Johnson and secondary coach Corey Raymond. Aranda is expected to hire that open spot. It could come in the form of a safeties coach, multiple sources tell The Advocate.
On offense, Orgeron plucked Canada from Pittsburgh in December of 2016, hiring a Midwestern with a quirky offense. The two coaches clashed, and Orgeron is expected to now turn to someone in his inner circle, someone with deep ties to LSU and a close relationship with the head coach.
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A permanent coordinator role might be new for Ensminger, but he served as the interim OC at LSU in 2016. Orgeron elevated him to offensive coordinator after the school fired head coach Les Miles and Cam Cameron four games into the 2016 season.
Ensminger’s offense soared in six of eight games, averaging 41 points in those affairs and winning them all. It struggled in matchups with Alabama and Florida, combining for just 10 points in the pair of losses.
Ensminger’s offense in 2016 was a more pro-style scheme that heavily used play-action and tight ends, his position group. A Charlie McClendon disciple, Ensminger’s schematic approach in a full-time role isn’t quite clear, but the system is expected to fit its quarterback.
Orgeron has praised Ensminger at every turn, even crediting Ensminger's success as interim OC with helping Orgeron land the permanent head coaching gig. He calls plays, Orgeron has said, with “ice water in his veins.”
“I wouldn’t have this job if Steve Ensminger didn’t do the job he did as offensive coordinator last year," Orgeron said in the fall. "He was perfect, did a wonderful job.”
A replacement for Canada is a paramount hire for the second-year head coach.
LSU's offense has been a long-standing lightning rod for criticism, specifically its passing game. The program has not ranked in the top 40 in passing offense in the previous 11 seasons, and its finish of 84th this season was its best since 2013.
Fifth-year senior quarterback Danny Etling’s departure opens the door for a pair of true freshmen and rising fourth-year junior Justin McMillan. Most around the program have anointed Mississippi native Myles Brennan as the favorite heading into spring practice. Lowell Narcisse, a dual-threat product who redshirted as a freshman last year, is on the roster, too.
Orgeron has not been subtle about what he'd like to see from LSU’s offense — similar to the one Southern Cal ran in the early 2000s, a balanced scheme that spread around the ball and pounded the football when needed.
Ensminger’s mentality fits that, his colleagues have said.
“He’s one of the best that’s ever worked for me,” said Tommy Tuberville, Ensminger’s boss for six seasons at Auburn. “Steve was a guy I’d call when he was at other places and ask him about certain (pass) protections. The thing about Steve is a lot of QBs who are offensive coordinator … being a head coach, you have to watch them trying to light up the scoreboard passing. Steve likes to run the football.”
Said Hugh Nall, also with Ensminger on that offensive staff: “The beauty about Steve Ensminger is he’s an offensive lineman in a quarterback’s body. He’s a tough sucker.”
Ensminger is beloved by his players, especially his position group. They rave about his off-the-field personality and on-the-field knowledge. He’s got a nickname, too: Slinger.
It is a reference to his former quarterbacking days, when he handed off to running back Charles Alexander and rifled passes to Carlos Carson. Decades later, Ensminger is a journeyman, hardened by this cutthroat industry. He’s been fired three times, twice as a coordinator.
With Ensminger as tight ends coach, Tuberville’s staff was dismissed after the 2008 season. In 1996, he was fired as offensive coordinator at Texas A&M for what one newspaper called a “difference of opinions” with then-head coach R.C. Slocum, who was eventually fired himself. Two years later, Ensminger was fired as offensive coordinator at Clemson, another complete-staff dismissal.
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In 2003, his first year on Tuberville's staff, Ensminger called plays as part of an unusual offensive staff setup. Nall was the offensive coordinator. Auburn's offense floundered, finishing 61st nationally, and Tuberville demoted Nall and Ensminger and hired Al Borges.
Ensminger was one of the most sought-after coordinators in the nation after turning Louisiana Tech’s offense into one of the nation’s best. He became Georgia’s pass-game coordinator and quarterbacks coach, helping the Bulldogs rank 11th in total offense and 25th in scoring in his third year there in 1990.
It was in Athens that Ensminger developed the gem of his career. Quarterback Eric Zeier led the Southeastern Conference in passing in 1992 and in total offense in 1993. The Bulldogs won 19 games in Ensminger’s first two seasons calling plays, and he turned that into a full-time coordinator position with Texas A&M in 1994.
Both of LSU football’s coordinators cashed some enormous checks this week.