With Lane Kiffin gone, LSU now competing with Alabama for OC hire
Last week, it looked like LSU was going to lose Lane Kiffin to Houston. This week, it appears that the Tigers will lose him to FAU.
According to multiple reports, the Alabama offensive coordinator has agreed to become the new head coach at Florida Atlantic. The plan is for Kiffin to continue calling plays for the Crimson Tide through the College Football Playoff.
The Bayou Bengals have been rumored to be pursuing Kiffin for a lateral move to Baton Rouge as OC under new full-time coach Ed Orgeron. The two go back to their days at USC — Orgeron actually took over as interim coach of the Trojans when Kiffin was fired in 2013 — and remain good friends.
LSU, desperate to reinvent itself offensively after moving on from the Les Miles era, apparently couldn’t lure Kiffin from Tuscaloosa.
Kiffin, still just 41 years old after already being head coach of Southern Cal, Tennessee and the Oakland Raiders in the NFL, obviously wanted to be the top face on the totem pole again. FAU went 3-9 this past season in Conference USA.
Understandably, decision makers at Power 5 programs are hesitant to put Kiffin in charge despite his best efforts to rehabilitate his image at ‘Bama. Nobody doubts his reputation as an offensive mind — what he’s done with the Tide is awfully impressive — but the bridges he burned in places like Knoxville are yet to be put out completely.
Just when we thought Kiffin was on his way to H-Town, somebody in a position of power stepped in and put the kibosh on that idea.
Once Kiffin-to-the-Cougars was debunked, the Baton Rouge faithful got their hopes up again that he could wind up with the Tigers after all. But in the end, his three-year tour working for Nick Saban was long enough as a No. 2.
Even if Kiffin (above) and Orgeron are indeed close, remember it was the latter who worked for the former when they were in Los Angeles. Even in Corporate America, rarely does it work well when bosses and subordinates — be it in the mail room or the board room — end up switching positions. It can be awkward.
Bayou Bengal backers are still thrilled with the decision to remove the interim tag from Orgeron’s title, but there is work to be done.
Toward the end of the Miles regime, it was clear this team needed a new identity on offense. The scheme was antiquated. Quarterbacks weren’t developing. Talented skill-position players were being wasted.
The brain trust on the bayou tried unsuccessfully to pull the plug on Miles in 2015. Finally able to tip over the vending machine this year, at this point they’ve done little more than promote a popular — which is important, but not most important — defensive line coach. How that’s supposed to make the offense better is anyone’s guess.
What should be even more concerning is the fact that LSU will now have to compete with Alabama for its play-calling savior.
Assuming there is an ace candidate out there, the Crimson Tide have more to offer right now than the Tigers. ‘Bama can write as big a check as anyone in the country — maybe bigger. Six consecutive wins in the series are hard to ignore, too.
Also, Saban has a freshman quarterback in Jalen Hurts who just captured Offensive Player of the Year honors in the SEC. Presumably, he’ll be at the controls for the Tide until at least 2018. He’s already beaten the Bayou Bengals once — on the road, mind you — after throwing for 107 yards, running for 114 more and scoring the game’s only touchdown.
LSU’s incumbent QB, Danny Etling (below), is a nice player and will be a senior next season. However, if he hasn’t hit his ceiling yet, he’s close.
Making matters worse, Lowell Narcisse, a four-star recruit for the class of 2017 out of St. James (La.) High School, announced Monday that he’s decommitting from the Tigers. It’s fair to wonder if the current lack of an OC played a factor.
According to the composite rankings at 247Sports, the Bayou Bengals didn’t ink a Top 50 quarterback in the 2015 or 2016 recruiting cycles, plus the loss of Narcisse means 2017 is looking bleak, too. Four-star commitment Myles Brennan — ranked even higher than Narcisse — has been wishy-washy lately. Last week, Brennan told the Clarion-Ledger that the OC choice will determine whether he signs there or somewhere else.
Hiring Kiffin from Alabama would have been quite the coup for Orgeron and arguably upset the balance of power in the SEC West.
Forced to go into battle with three decidedly different quarterbacks in his three seasons with the Crimson Tide, Kiffin spun straw into gold. Blake Sims took the 2014 squad to the Final Four. Jake Coker helped the 2015 club win it all.
What Kiffin has done this year is even more magical, though. No Derrick Henry, no problem. What was once smashmouth football — 40-plus carries for the Heisman Trophy winner was the game plan more than once — has evolved into a no-huddle, hurry-up, spread-option approach accentuating what Hurts does well and hiding his lack of experience.
LSU needs this exact sort of about-face schematically. The Tigers are a lot of things right now on offense, but creative isn’t one of them.
In one of their most frustrating losses this year, 16-10 to Florida, they drove down to the Gators 1-yard line in the final minute. With two cracks at it from the shadow of the end zone, a pair of predictable up-the-gut runs went nowhere.
When Orgeron took over for Miles, he promised to open the playbook a little wider — there was a noticeable cracking sound when he did so — and not be so one-dimensional. While that might have been enough to hang 42 on Missouri, the Bayou Bengals were still shut out at Death Valley when hosting ‘Bama.
With Kiffin now off the board, it’s time for Orgeron to move on to Plan B. If he ever had one, of course.