Ed Orgeron finds solutions, but he better get LSU's QB competition right
HOOVER, Ala. – He’s used to it by now. Mistakes are magnified, success is fleeting.
So when the next failure arrives, there’s only one solution.
“I don’t have time to hope it works out,” says LSU coach Ed Orgeron.
Because hope, everyone, isn’t a plan.
You know what is? Moving on.
“He’s that way with us, too,” LSU offensive tackle Austin Deculus said on the first day of the carnival that is SEC Media Days. “If you’re not performing, or you’re hoping to get better, he’s going to the next guy.”
When Bo Pelini didn’t perform last year as LSU’s defensive coordinator, Orgeron fired him.
When Matt Canada flopped as offensive coordinator in 2017, Orgeron cut him loose.
When it was clear young quarterback Myles Brennan wasn’t ready to play in 2018, Orgeron plucked a no-name fourth-year transfer from Ohio State and told him he could win it all.
Two years later, that quarterback, Joe Burrow, won a national championship by producing the greatest single season in college football history. And did so with the very guy (passing game coordinator Joe Brady) Orgeron hired to make it all work.
Yet those changes for the better are constantly overshadowed by the narrative of failure.
“I can’t worry about what people say,” Orgeron said. “Look, if something doesn’t work in this league, you better be man enough to say we made a mistake – but here’s how we’re going to fix it.”
That leads us to this season, where Orgeron’s latest iteration of LSU football includes two new coordinators with specific intention.
Orgeron wanted the offense to return to the 2019 season of RPO-based sets, and asked Brady (now with the Carolina Panthers) for a recommendation. The immediate response: Jake Peetz, a fast-rising young coaching star in the NFL.
Orgeron fired Pelini because he saw how the vertical passing game was stressing defenses. He then talked to Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer — a defensive-minded coach whose expertise is secondary coverage – and Zimmer told him to hire longtime NFL assistant Daronte Jones.
“I got tired of watching us give up big plays in the back end, and watching guys run free back there,” Orgeron said. “It’s my job to find the guy who can put our players in the best position to win.”
Yet somehow, even after winning a national title in 2019 and after a 45-14 record in four full seasons as head coach and a half-season as interim coach, panic overtook Baton Rouge after last year’s 5-5 season.
Forget that LSU had 14 players from the 2019 team drafted by the NFL, 5 in the first round. Or that 20 players signed NFL contracts.
Or how that number grew to more than 30 when pandemic opt-outs, transfers and players dismissed from the team are factored into the equation. That, and the one position that must be settled wasn’t: quarterback.
Now does that 5-5 record really surprise you?
“A lot of craziness last year, a lot of things going on,” All-American cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. said. “We’re not making excuses, but yeah, that’s a lot for one team to handle. Coach O did a fantastic job keeping us focused, and we built a lot of momentum at the end of last season.”
That momentum was built around a freshman quarterback (Max Johnson) who beat two of the hottest teams in the SEC over the final month of the season (Florida, Ole Miss). But the position still isn’t settled.
Brennan, now a senior, played well in the first 3 games of 2020 before sustaining a core injury and was on the verge of a big season. Both Johnson and Brennan will compete for the job next month, and Orgeron made it clear Monday that neither is leading the competition.
A year after all that uncertainty, and after enough failure led to more change, 18 starters return and the man who has made a brief career out of moving on and moving up is at it again.
“You can’t stand still in this business,” Orgeron said. “Good or bad, what you did last year doesn’t mean a thing.”