Here's what I think Scott Linehan's hiring means for the present and future of LSU
No matter who filled Joe Brady’s shoes, it was always going to be viewed as a step back. At least it was always going to be viewed that way in the general public. That’s what happens when your 30-year-old offensive coordinator leaves after engineering one of the best offenses in college football history. LSU could’ve hired Steve Spurrier himself and there would’ve been a solid portion of the fanbase that would’ve asked “well, let’s hope he can scheme as well as Brady did.”
That’s reality for LSU. Now, the new reality is that longtime NFL assistant Scott Linehan is coming to Baton Rouge to take Brady’s position. The 56-year-old passing game coordinator will work alongside Steve Ensminger to make sure the Tigers don’t take that step back.
Understandably so, there’s already some concern about that. After all, it’s not like Linehan was poached the way that Brady was as an up-and-coming offensive mind with the New Orleans Saints. Linehan took a year off coaching after he was fired from the Dallas Cowboys for running the NFL’s No. 22 scoring offense.
But while Linehan’s hiring doesn’t qualify as “splashy” and it might make LSU fans nervous about what lies ahead, the move says a lot about the current state of the program.
As I’ve said/written a lot lately, Ed Orgeron has earned the right to get the benefit of the doubt when it comes to hiring assistants. His track record, with the exception of Matt Canada, has been phenomenal so far. That logic was worth remembering with the Bo Pelini hire, and it’s worth remembering now with Linehan.
As I’ve also said/written a lot lately, LSU wasn’t looking for someone to come in and reinvent the wheel. Brady already did that. The spread offense is in place and it didn’t leave when Brady did. The expectation was always going to be that Ensminger was going to have significant play-calling duties and Brady’s replacement was going to have an NFL background.
Why was the NFL background important? Shouldn’t the Tigers have filled that position with someone who spent the 21st century in the college game instead of the NFL? That’s debatable, but I’d argue LSU already had that covered with Ensminger.
Seeing something like this puts the move in perspective:
Recruiting Pitch: (Scott Linehan)
If you choose (#LSU) our Passing Game Coordinator Has worked with…
– Daunte Culpepper
– Mark Bulger
– Tony Romo
– Mathew Stafford
– Dak Prescott
– Calvin Johnson
– Dez Bryant
– Torry Holt
– Randy Moss
— Josh Lemoine (@LSUTruth) February 11, 2020
I can see that on an LSU graphic, like, yesterday.
That’s how LSU is trying to build this thing. Orgeron saw what it meant to finally prioritize the passing game with modern concepts. By bringing in Linehan, you have someone on staff who knows what it takes to succeed in the NFL. For the type of offensive skill players that LSU is going to continue to recruit, that’s going to matter. A lot. Sitting down with the next 17-year old Ja’Marr Chase and playing that card is going to benefit LSU.
Orgeron’s goal is to have the best of both worlds on his offensive staff. He’s got the longtime NFL veteran with the aforementioned résumé working with All-Pro talents, and he’s got the longtime college coach who has experience calling plays in this system and understands what LSU is all about.
There’s obviously no guarantee that Ensminger gels with Linehan the same way that he gelled with Brady. That, more than anything, could determine how well this move works (getting on the same page with Myles Brennan also seems pretty important). Linehan is a former NFL head coach who figures to defer to Ensminger more than the other way around. How they both handle that remains to be seen.
But I tend to think Linehan wouldn’t have come on board if he didn’t understand the dynamics in place. This is, in every way, a swerve for his career. It’s been 19 years since he worked with college athletes. He’s now working with a first-time starter in Brennan who is obviously not at the level of a Stafford, a Prescott or a Culpepper. All 3 of those quarterbacks developed under Linehan, though they were at different phases of their careers than Brennan. Upperclassman or not, he still needs to be developed.
That, more than anything else, was what Linehan was brought in to do.
LSU wants to continue this identity shift by not just having the Danny Etlings and Zach Mettenbergers who were deemed late-round fliers after decent college careers. The hope is that with LSU’s system and coaching staff in place, Burrow won’t be the outlier 10 years from now.
Instead of the 2010s trend of NFL front offices wondering how much LSU’s offense held back the quarterbacks and receivers, the new trend could be them wondering how much LSU’s offense vaulted the quarterbacks and receivers. But unlike a program who could be subject to that same scrutiny like Texas Tech, LSU would be doing this with blue chip recruits at quarterback and receiver.
That’ll obviously be easier said than done. If that model was so easy, everyone would be doing it. Alabama and LSU are starting to do that, as is Clemson. It takes the right current coaching staff, the right recruiting abilities and the right offensive system. Orgeron believes LSU has all of those things, and that Linehan’s hiring will allow LSU to keep sailing among the college football elite.
It’s understandable why LSU fans would have concerns about Linehan coming in and rocking the boat. We tend to judge coaches by the way they left their previous jobs. Orgeron is living proof of that. But he had big-picture things in mind by bringing Linehan down to Baton Rouge, just as he did when he brought Brady to LSU a year ago.
There’s no guarantee that Linehan’s hiring results in another national title, and there’s no guarantee he sinks LSU’s ship.
All I know is that doubting Orgeron’s vision seems like a foolish endeavor these days.