Who among us wouldn’t like to go back to 2019? For a lot of reasons?
LSU coach Ed Orgeron certainly does, as evidenced by his hires Wednesday of offensive coordinator Jake Peetz and passing game coordinator DJ Mangas.
Welcome to LSU football’s “Back to the Future” Tour 2021.
Orgeron can’t get the band back together from the Tigers' record-breaking offense of two years ago. Joe Burrow is quarterbacking and rehabbing his knee with the Cincinnati Bengals. Offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger is transitioning into a long-awaited semi-retirement as he moves into an analyst’s role. And 2019’s passing game coordinator, Joe Brady, is riding a Saturn V-sized rocket of career momentum as he leapfrogs from LSU to being the Carolina Panthers’ offensive coordinator to possibly being head coach of the Atlanta Falcons, Houston Texans or San Diego Chargers.
I’d like to buy some stock in Brady right now and sell it just before Labor Day, just in case the bubble bursts.
Carolina Panthers quarterbacks coach Jake Peetz has been hired as LSU's next offensive coordinator, the university announced Wednesday.
With all that Brady touches turning to gold, or at least white-hot oceanfront real estate, it isn’t surprising that Coach O would go back to his most brilliant assistant coaching hire for help in hiring the leaders for the next generation of LSU’s offense. Or, to be more precise, for an offense that as closely as possible resembles the FBS-leading points and yardage machine that was the driving force in the Tigers’ march to a 15-0 season and the 2019 national championship.
It won’t be that. It can’t possibly be that. Because the special alchemy of Burrow and Brady and Ensminger (who, let us remember once again, called the majority of the plays) can’t be repeated. And figuring out just who was the most important element in all that, the true straw that stirred the drink, is a subject for endless debate.
But Orgeron wants the nearest possible facsimile. Who could blame him? So he gets Peetz, who worked alongside Brady in Carolina this season, and Mangas, who did the same and also has some previous ties to LSU’s program, where he served as an offensive analyst.
One guess which season that was.
One can make easy arguments that these are nervy hires for Orgeron. Peetz has never been an offensive coordinator at the major college or NFL level. Mangas was an offensive coordinator, but at William and Mary, where he and Brady were also teammates. Orgeron had special assistant Derek Ponamsky ask Brady who could run his offense, and these were the two names he mentioned.
A right-hand man in Carolina and a former teammate? Who else might he recommend? Orgeron is putting his faith, his future in the hands of a mighty young brain trust. He must hope that if the two men are not the wunderkinds that Brady was, at least wunderkind-lite.
Thursday, 34-year-old University of Cincinnati defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman will reportedly be in Baton Rouge to interview for that same job. Orgeron has had mixed results with people from Ohio — thumbs up on Burrow, thumbs down on former defensive coordinator Bo Pelini.
Whether Orgeron can wrest Freeman, an Ohio lifer who was born just north of Cincinnati and played at Ohio State, away from Cincy is questionable. And whether Freeman is ready to make the jump to defending increasingly potent and prolific Southeastern Conference offenses is unknown.
But say this for Orgeron: He knows what he wants. Peetz and Mangas were the two top names on his board and he got them because he wants a Brady-style prolific offense back. Freeman is probably of the same rank. One may question Orgeron's formula, but the head coach must still establish a vision and direction for the program. Orgeron has done that, in a way Les Miles was long criticized for not doing.
In the end, we must be remember that virtually every coaching hire is a gamble, a roll of some pretty big dice. Consider Tom Herman.
In 2016, both LSU and Texas were tripping over themselves to hire him. He was that year’s golden boy (or, to be a bit uncharitable, that year’s Brady). Now Herman is out of a job after going a mighty mediocre 32-18 in four years in Austin, and replaced by Alabama offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian. He has an even more mediocre record of 46-35 in seven combined seasons at Washington and USC. But Sarkisian got hired in large part because he has touched the hem of Nick Saban’s garment at Bama and has been transformed. Apparently.
Orgeron is hoping for the same Midas touch with Peetz and Mangas, and either Freeman or whoever winds up as LSU’s defensive coordinator. It isn’t necessarily a time for worry, or a time to set off a barge full of fireworks, but to wait and observe and judge the product on the field.
In college football, that’s the hardest game of all.