HOUSTON — You figured there was a strong possibility LSU would be changing coordinators after the Texas Bowl.
It is, but it’s certainly not the one everyone figured.
Cam Cameron was saying after LSU beat Texas Tech in the Texas Bowl on Tuesday night he was ready to hit the recruiting trail for LSU. Odds are strong he will be LSU’s offensive coordinator in 2016.
Kevin Steele is hitting the road, too. But after he boarded a chartered bus at the team hotel Wednesday morning bound for the airport he was looking for a connecting flight to Auburn, which apparently sent a university plane to Baton Rouge to collect him.
In what is becoming an annual rite of the holiday season, LSU has lost its defensive coordinator for a second straight year. And once again to an SEC West rival, to boot.
The parallels are almost too much to believe, except in this crazy go nuts LSU football season we’re starting to accept that no possibility is so outlandish as to be off the table. If we find out over the next month that Leonard Fournette is from Krypton, I promise not to be surprised.
A year ago it was John Chavis heading west for Texas A&M right after the Tigers lost to Notre Dame in the Music City Bowl. Now it’s Steele jetting east for Auburn. Heck, Steele and Chavis are even both from the same small hometown: Dillon, South Carolina.
With Chavis, the issue was apparently an LSU contract structured in a way that The Chief couldn’t find palatable. It’s what is known as the “Les Miles clause,” which stipulates LSU only owes its assistants six months salary should Miles vacate the premises.
With Steele, the issue is apparently The Godfather clause. Auburn made him an offer he couldn’t refuse, one that apparently is including a sweet inducement tied in to Alabama’s state retirement plan.
LSU declined to get in a bidding war with Auburn. No complaints here. LSU was already paying Steele $1 million per year, making him one of the top-10 highest paid college assistants in the nation. The results on the field were good but not great. LSU’s defense was a far cry from the unit it fielded last year under Chavis that led the Southeastern Conference in fewest yards allowed, though it must be noted the Tigers held Texas Tech about three touchdowns under its season scoring average.
There were some extenuating circumstances tied into the defense LSU fielded this season, namely that the Tigers were lacking the kind of depth on their front seven that they’ve enjoyed in the past. For that, at least partially, Chavis’ lack of expertise as a recruiter is to blame.
Steele’s recruiting acumen will be missed. But frankly, at the prices LSU is willing to pay for assistants, the highest-paid staff in the nation again this season according to USA Today, Miles should be able to attract a quality choice.
He certainly talked to some top-shelf coaches last year before hiring Steele. According to court records uncovered by The Advocate earlier this month, Miles interviewed Penn State’s Bob Shoop, Wisconsin’s Dave Aranda, Oklahoma’s Mike Stoops and Georgia Tech’s Ted Roof. He considered former Auburn coach Gene Chizik, who did great things at North Carolina this season before the Tar Heels were stampeded by Baylor in Tuesday’s Russell Athletic Bowl, and he had conversations with Louisville’s Todd Grantham and Clemson’s Brent Venables.
The obvious possibility that, of course, must be discussed already sits in LSU’s defensive meeting room.
Ed Orgeron is known first as a superb recruiter, but he is also an outstanding defensive line coach. That LSU went from 19 sacks last season to 34 this season wasn’t done with mirrors. The Tigers had a tough time getting Texas Tech’s Pat Mahomes to the ground Tuesday night, but they did sack him six times and pressured him constantly.
The hitch is that while Orgeron was a head coach at Ole Miss, he’s never been a defensive coordinator. That’s a considerable red flag, though not one that couldn’t be overcome. Making “Coach O” the coordinator would strengthen his ties to LSU in a season when he expressed interest in the recently vacant head coaching job at Syracuse and was mentioned as a possible defensive coordinator at Southern California, both schools where he has previously worked.
Ultimately, stability at the defensive coordinator position may count for a lot.
Stability at Auburn is not something Steele is parachuting into. Auburn beat Memphis in Wednesday’s Birmingham Bowl, but coach Guz Malzahn will definitely be on the hot seat there in 2016 after his team went from preseason SEC favorite to 7-6. Miles’ seat will still be warm here, but not that toasty.
But the job there has a risk premium attached to it that Steele found too enticing to pass up. And LSU, with as desirable and lucrative a job as can be found anywhere, is hanging a “vacancy” sign on the defensive coordinator’s door once again.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter, @RabalaisAdv.