LSU has its coach in Ed Orgeron, but how will Coach O fix the offense?
BATON ROUGE, La. — The question was presented to LSU’s new head football coach Ed Orgeron like this:
“There are 4 million people in Louisiana and millions want to know what exactly are you going to do with the offense?” the reporter asked.
That was probably the single biggest inquiry presented to Orgeron at his introductory news conference Saturday afternoon at LSU. In Orgeron, LSU hired a favorite son, a first-rate recruiter and a guy with a defensive background. He was brought to LSU as defensive line coach and later added recruiting coordinator to his role.
Orgeron has those angles covered. But what the Tigers need, conventional wisdom says, is an offensive fix.
How does Orgeron address those needs?
That was the culprit that led to Les Miles’ dismissal after a 2-2 start. It’s why LSU went after offensive gurus Jimbo Fisher and Tom Herman before turning to Orgeron, the interim head coach, the guy athletic director Joe Alleva made his first official offer to early Saturday morning.
LSU’s offense since 2011 has been middling. Against top defenses, particularly Alabama, which shut down the Tigers 10-0 this season, it has been putrid.
So how will Orgeron fix it?
“We’re going to look at recruiting the best offensive coordinator in football and bring him to LSU,” he said.
Who that might be, Orgeron was coy about. He said there were a “couple” of candidates in mind. Asked directly about Orgeron’s friend and former boss at Tennessee and USC, Lane Kiffin, Orgeron declined to get specific, reiterating it would be the best available coach out there.
But reports are already out that Kiffin is exactly who Orgeron is targeting. And with Orgeron’s salary set at between $3-4 million, according to reports, it makes sense that he’ll have the resources to make Kiffin the highest-paid assistant in college football.
Miles was making more than $4 million a year and LSU seemed willing to pay Fisher and Herman much more. With what Orgeron is making, LSU should have money in its budget to spend on a high-priced coordinator.
He already said he expects defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, who he called the “best coordinator in football,” to return. It’s completely within LSU’s budget to have the first two, $2 million assistant coaches in college football in Aranda and a potential offensive coordinator.
Regardless of who it will be, Orgeron was clear that it was a priority. And he was also clear that what he thought would constitute a good fit has changed.
When he became LSU’s interim head coach, he endorsed a pro-style offense that was similar to what was run at USC under Pete Carroll, sort of a West Coast-style offense that leaned on talented running backs like Reggie Bush and LenDale White and accurate, but not necessarily strong-armed, passers like Matt Leinart and Mark Sanchez.
But Saturday, Orgeron seemed to do an about-face on that.
“I do believe that nowadays, you have to run the spread offense,” Orgeron said. “You have to have dual-threat quarterbacks that can run the ball and throw it. You have to have somebody who knows how to run it.”
So who’s a fit for that? Obviously, there’s Kiffin, who comes from a similar offensive background as Orgeron, but has embraced the spread this year with Jalen Hurts at quarterback. How about Herman’s offensive coordinator, Major Applewhite. a Baton Rouge native who, like Kiffin at Alabama, has rehabbed his good name as an up-and-comer at UH?
How about Steve Ensminger, the guy who called plays during Orgeron’s 5-2 run as interim coach? Reports are, he plans on remaining on staff, but returning to his former role as tight ends coach.
Truth is, Ensminger did an admirable job with the offense. His issue might be based more on perception — is he the offensive guy a 5-star recruit is going to want to play for.
Let’s be honest here: Orgeron was not the big-name head coaching hire for national recruits. So he needs to bring in the big-named coordinator to bring in the studs and that’s not Ensminger.
Whoever that coach will be, Orgeron and LSU need to hit a home run.
Orgeron is a recruiter and he knows a big part of the pitch to offensive players will be the offensive coordinator and system he’s running.
He acknowledged that he felt there were areas where LSU was lacking in offensive personnel, particularly relative to what Alabama had on defense.
“There were a couple of pieces missing,” he said of this year’s 10-0 loss to Alabama. “We plan on fixing those pieces so we can get that job accomplished.”
If that piece is from Louisiana, there’s more than a decent chance he’ll be attracted to LSU based on Orgeron and home-state loyalty. But if he’s not from the state, what offensive coordinator he’ll be playing for might make a difference.
“LSU deserves the best, the best in all coordinator positions,” Orgeron said. “I plan on doing that.
“The offensive coordinator that we’re going to bring here, we have a couple guys in mind that’s going to be able to do that and more that you ask.”
How that hire goes might define whether the Orgeron era will be remembered as a success, or as a weak hire where Alleva settled for less and got it.