Amidst tragic circumstances, Steve Ensminger did the impossible for LSU
ATLANTA — Ed Orgeron was tasked with delivering Steve Ensminger the news.
It wasn’t like the news Orgeron gave the LSU offensive coordinator in the offseason when he said the Tigers needed to switch to the spread if they were ever going to get over the hump against Alabama. This wasn’t that kind of news.
It wasn’t the type of news that Orgeron expected to deliver a couple of hours before he was set to coach in a College Football Playoff semifinal. Or perhaps ever. It wasn’t about the health of Clyde Edwards-Helaire or about some last-minute tweak. This news was far beyond anything that happened in the eventual 60 minutes of football at Mercedes-Benz Stadium Saturday afternoon. It was different than anything he had to tell Ensminger in the 40 years that they had known each other dating to their days at McNeese State.
Ensminger’s daughter-in-law, Carley McCord, 30, was 1 of 5 people killed Saturday morning when a twin-engine plane hit a power line after trying to make an emergency landing in Lafayette, La. McCord was supposed to meet her husband, Steve Ensminger Jr. in Atlanta to watch LSU face off with Oklahoma.
It was Orgeron’s job to share the tragic news to Ensminger. What happened after that could only be described by Orgeron.
“(Ensminger) said, ‘Coach, we’re going to get through this.'”
What Ensminger did for LSU — amidst some stunning circumstances — Saturday won’t soon be forgotten.
He and Joe Brady called a game that yielded performance for the ages. A 63-point outburst from LSU was a fitting way for the historic Tigers offense to respond after their coach was dealt a tragic pregame blow. It was, by every stretch, peak 2019 LSU. Joe Burrow’s FBS bowl record 8 total touchdowns — 7 of which came in the first half — fueled LSU’s first national championship berth since 2011.
But the mantra on Saturday wasn’t exactly “let’s win for Coach Ensminger.” LSU players said they didn’t know about what happened until after the game when Orgeron addressed the locker room.
The subject, as expected, was still raw. Brady, just as he has all year, sat to Ensminger’s right in the booth. When asked about what happened, Brady didn’t want to share his feelings on the subject, but he did offer up what it was like in the booth with Ensminger.
LSU players didn’t have a chance to fully process the loss that Ensminger suffered. Roughly 20 minutes after learning of the news in the postgame locker room, they tried to offer up some perspective on what Ensminger did amidst crushing circumstances.
“It wasn’t something that was discussed before the game because they wanted us to be in a certain mind-set. And the way Coach E is, he wouldn’t want to put himself in front of our view,” LSU running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire said. “Afterwards, now, now that we understand what he went through, we understand how he feels, it’s gonna be hard to not feel for him. But Coach E, his family, they’re strong and I know they’re gonna get through it.”
Saturday was Ensminger’s way of “getting through it.” And whether he knew it or not, plenty of people shared in his loss.
McCord, 30, was a TV sports reporter for WDSU-TV in New Orleans. Her Friday was spent reporting on Antonio Brown’s workout with the Saints. She also worked with the New Orleans Pelicans doing in-game promotions on camera. The Pelicans released a statement and held a moment of silence for McCord. Saints players like Michael Thomas and WDSU sports director tweeted about McCord’s death. Co-workers called McCord “always pleasant, friendly and hard-working.”
One of the most amazing people to come into my life.
Smart, funny, hard working – a friend to everyone.
It was impossible not to like Carley McCord.
Still trying to process this.
Thoughts and prayers go out to her husband Steven, family and friends. https://t.co/Gzjm0Mr2F5
— Fletcher Mackel (@FletcherWDSU) December 28, 2019
The outpouring of support was there both externally and internally.
“I hope he knows that we’re here in this locker room with him the whole way,” LSU receiver Ja’Marr Chase said. “I just give him a blessing and I pray for him.”
Fellow receiver Justin Jefferson, who scored a Peach Bowl record 4 receiving touchdowns, said “it meant a lot” that Ensminger came out and still coached LSU the way he did. According to Orgeron, there was never any doubt about whether Ensminger would coach Saturday. And if you ask LSU players, there was never any doubt that they were going to show out the way they did.
The berth of the LSU offense was again at the forefront of the college football world. It’s something that Brady earned national praise for by earning the Broyles Award as the nation’s top assistant. But Orgeron said ahead of the Peach Bowl that Ensminger was “the MVP of this whole deal.”
“He means everything,” Edwards-Helaire said. “(Ensminger) is different as far as being a coach. He’s unorthodox. The way he coaches is different, but everybody understands him. That’s the biggest thing … for him to come game in and game out and not care what everybody else is seeing, it’s a big thing. Props to Coach E.”
Everything about Saturday was “unorthodox” off the field, yet everything was business as usual on the field. According to Chase, LSU knew it was in for a big day on the first possession. Three weeks of preparations clearly didn’t go to waste for the LSU coaching staff.
Now, though, Ensminger will experience a different kind of layoff. He’ll be tasked with “getting through it” differently than he did on Saturday. And he’ll do so while facing the task of trying to help LSU win its first national title in 12 years.
Asked if LSU has an extra source of motivation after Saturday’s news, Edwards-Helaire offered up a simple response.
Saturday, however, was a time to be in the present. In the postgame scrum on the field, Orgeron shared an embrace with Ensminger’s wife, Amy, following LSU’s win. As Orgeron accepted LSU’s Peach Bowl trophy, he announced that the game ball was going to Ensminger. Amy wiped away tears with tissues as Ensminger looked at the stage from field level.
“Callin Baton Rouge” blared from the Mercedes-Benz Stadium speakers and the tens of thousands of LSU fans who stayed for the postgame celebration sang along. Before TV cameras and players could surround him, Ensminger calmly turned away from the stage and walked back through the far-side tunnel. He didn’t have to stick around for the postgame celebration.
For Ensminger, Saturday was neither a day of celebration nor joy. It was a painful reminder of how precious life and family are.
Ensminger handled the day as few could. It’ll be a different challenge than tomorrow, and it’ll be a different challenge than the day after that.
One day at a time, they’ll get through it.