With Lane Kiffin out of the picture, where does LSU go next?
BATON ROUGE, La. — With Lane Kiffin out of the picture for the LSU offensive coordinator job, the question becomes: “Who’s next?”
The speculation of candidates when Ed Orgeron got the head coaching job Nov. 26 was all a bit premature, considering that reports identified Kiffin as Orgeron’s primary target. The other candidates didn’t matter until that process played out.
Now, the process has played out.
But, in the meantime, a lot of coaches on the original “speculation” lists have moved on before they could ever really become candidates. Among them:
- Major Applewhite was promoted to head coach at Houston
- Jeff Brohm left Western Kentucky to be the head coach at Purdue.
- Willie Taggert left South Florida to be the head coach at Oregon.
Maybe these guys were never serious candidates, but their removal from the “potential” list also brings up this point: The level of coordinator Orgeron is interested in — “The best offensive coordinator in football,” as he put it at his introductory news conference — and LSU’s ability to pay said candidate a premium rate, thanks to savings from hiring Orgeron for about $3.5 million a year, has LSU looking in a pool of candidates who might also be head coach candidates.
But who might those candidates be?
The Baton Rouge Advocate reported Sunday that LSU was down to four candidates for the job, including Kiffin.
So with Kiffin no longer available, we’ll look at the published candidates, and touch on some others, breaking them down by categories.
The ‘new’ leader?
Potential candidate: Matt Canada, Pitt OC
Canada’s resume took off this year when he led a balanced Pitt offense that averaged 42 points per game.
Why he fits: He’s a fast-rising name in the profession who has been offensive coordinator for conference championship teams at Northern Illinois (MAC in 2011) and Wisconsin (2012). He led Pitt’s offense to 42 points per game this season with a run-pass balance that goes well with what Orgeron is looking for.
Why he doesn’t fit: He’s never done it in the SEC (of course, neither had Dave Aranda before this season). He was fired after three years at N.C. State despite having led some good Wolfpack offenses.
Potential candidate: Mark Helfrich, former Oregon HC.
With Kiffin gone, Helfrich is probably the biggest name out there. And with Orgeron having a stated interest in making LSU a spread team, what better than bringing in a guy who helped define Oregon’s offensive identity for the past eight years?
Why he fits: Orgeron wants spread, what better guy that one who coached Darron Thomas in the Ducks’ January 2011 BCS Championship Game run (as offensive coordinator) and Marcus Mariota (as head coach)? Oregon built a spread system based on speed and athleticism and did it without having the recruiting access to elite speed LSU does. If he can make it work in Oregon, certainly he’ll find the athletes to make it work in Louisiana.
Why he doesn’t: It might be one thing to spread out West Coast teams and beat them with speed, it’s another thing to try to do it in the SEC, where every program has NFL speed on the back end. With no SEC ties, will he fit in culturally?
The Candidate: Steve Sarkisian, Alabama staff, former Washington, USC head coach.
If you can’t get Kiffin, how about another Alabama guy who used to be a head coach at USC? The offensive consultant was a fast-rising name in the business before he was fired at USC because of issues with alcohol.
Why he would fit: If anybody can deal with a guy with substance abuse issues, it’s Orgeron, who has said he had to change his lifestyle as a young coach to salvage his career. And there’s no doubting Sarkisian’s record as an offensive mind. He had successful runs as offensive coordinator at USC under Pete Carroll and with the Oakland Raiders before having a nice run as a head coach at Washington before taking the USC job (he was picked over Orgeron).
Why he doesn’t fit fit: LSU needs somebody to resurrect the offense’s good name. It may be a bit much for it to be a guy who’s trying to resurrect his own good name. Certainly, he would be a more sympathetic figure than if LSU were to go after, say, an Art Briles, but does his past distract from LSU is trying to do at the present?
Other potential candidates
Explosive Big 12 guys
Potential candidates: Lincoln Riley, OC, Oklahoma; Sonny Cumbie, OC, TCU; Kendal Briles, OC, Baylor; Eric Morris, OC Texas Tech.
Look, if you want offense, you’ll find it in the Big 12, where basketball on grass is the norm. Three of the nation’s top five offenses — Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Baylor — are all in the Big 12. Wouldn’t it make sense to bring in one of the offensive minds from the country’s most offensive league?
Why they would fit: If you are committed to the spread — and Orgeron said he was at his introductory news conference — then he can’t do much better than a Big 12 guru. They all come from the Mike Leach coaching tree, so they will bring up-tempo, offensive football
Meanwhile, Briles gives LSU an opportunity to tap into his father’s offensive mind without the baggage (more on that later).
And if you think it would be a lateral move for Riley (below), consider that Oklahoma paid him about $900,000 this year and the LSU job could pay double that.
One more plus: Every single one of them would bring to LSU another recruiter with Texas ties. Baton Rouge sits just over two hours from the Texas state line and four hours from Houston. With the recent firing of special teams coordinator Bradley Dale Peveto, LSU lost its primary Texas recruiter.
Hiring one of these guys knocks out two birds with one stone. And make no mistake, with Texas’ football culture so much about high-powered passing games (7-on-7 leagues have pretty much become the fourth sports season after football, basketball and baseball in the Lone Star State), LSU will want to be able to take advantage of the Texas offensive talent pool.
Why they don’t fit: Here’s the thing about all of these guys: How much do you trust stats piled up in the Big 12? That everybody is pretty good at offense in that conference might suggest that nobody is very good on defense.
LSU’s experience in last year’s 56-27 rout of Texas Tech in the Texas Bowl might pound that point home a little bit. That wasn’t a very good LSU offense that put up Big 12-type numbers (638 yards) against a bad Red Raiders defense.
Is that worth the money? Especially if you have to outspend OU for Riley, who surely would be able to leverage a substantial raise in Norman if LSU comes hard.
Also, in the case of Briles and Morris in particular, are these guys seasoned enough to be ready to go toe-to-toe with defenses coached by the likes of Alabama’s Jeremy Pruitt and Auburn’s Kevin Steele?
Maybe it’s why none of these guys were on the Advocates’ list of final candidates.
Poaching the big names
Potential candidates: Jeff Scott, Clemson Co-OC; Tee Martin, USC OC; Rhett Lashlee, Auburn OC.
LSU’s throwing out a lot of money, so why not go after some big names?
Jeff Scott is young (35) and tied to Dabo Swinney’s highly-successful spread offense at Clemson. Lashlee runs a version of the spread at Auburn that might fit LSU’s power-based personnel. Martin has ties USC ties with Orgeron and SEC ties as a former Tennessee quarterback.
Why they fit: Scott gives LSU a guy proven to be able to run up big numbers with the spread while not piling up those numbers against Big 12 opponents. Martin briefly worked with Orgeron at USC and brings the credibility of having been a national championship quarterback in the SEC. And USC was a hot team at season’s end. Auburn’s system fits LSU’s personnel well while still allowing for the potential of a wide-open passing game. He already should have chemistry with LSU wide receivers coach Dameyune Craig from when they worked together in the Plains.
Why they don’t: LSU would probably pay more than any of their current employers, but given that they are in pretty good situations, why would they leave to start over? These are guys who would likely test LSU’s budget if they were to come.