LSU football: Ed Orgeron completely comfortable with contrasting coordinators
LSU coordinators Dave Aranda and Steve Ensminger are as different as defense and offense.
Defensive coordinator Aranda is the one of the highest-paid assistants in the country ($2.5 million annually), a rising star who regularly receives offers to go elsewhere and will almost certainly get a chance to be a head coach or to coach in the NFL, or both, if he so chooses.
Offensive coordinator Ensminger is more moderately compensated at $800,000 per year, a reluctant coordinator who isn’t likely to become a head coach or join the NFL, and who isn’t particularly interested in doing either.
But despite those stark contrasts, they have much in common as well.
Both have head coach Ed Orgeron’s complete trust. When Orgerson was named interim head coach two years ago he immediately fired offensive coordinator Cam Cameron and promoted Ensminger from tight ends coach to replace him.
On his way to becoming full-time head coach a few months later, Orgeron made sure to get Aranda a pay raise and a contract extension so he wouldn’t go anywhere, then got him another raise and extension a year later when new Texas A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher came courting.
Orgeron is convinced he has the best defensive coordinator in the country. He also seems convinced that he has the offensive coordinator who is the best fit for him and the Tigers after bringing in Matt Canada to be coordinator last season, then dismissing Canada and restoring Ensminger as coordinator after last season.
“We feel we’ve go the best defensive coordinator in all of the land,” Orgeron said at SEC Media Days. “You’ll see more of Dave’s defense this year, more of a blitzing, attacking style.”
The stability of the LSU defense going into Aranda’s third season as defensive coordinator is expected to be one of the team’s strengths this season.
Aranda said he feels more comfortable expanding the playbook this season after focusing on basics and technique early in his tenure.
On the other side of the ball Ensminger isn’t expanding the playbook, he’s throwing out last year’s and bringing in a new one. He wasn’t able to scrap Cameron’s offense four games into the 2016 season, so this year’s version will be his (and Orgeron’s) offense.
When Ensminger took over as coordinator two years ago, the Tigers had averaged 18 points and 339.5 yards while splitting their first four games.
In Ensminger’s first game as coordinator, they set a school record for yards in an SEC game (634) in a 42-7 victory against Missouri. LSU went on to average 32 points, scoring 38 or more five times, and 464.9 yards while winning six of its last eight games.
But when the season was over and Orgeron was named full-time head coach, he asked Ensminger to return to being tight ends coach and hired Canada away from Pittsburgh.
“Circumstances were different when I got the job,” Orgeron said. “I went out and tried to get the best coordinator in the league and possibly for our football team. It didn’t work.”
Orgeron never felt comfortable with the shifting and misdirection that Canada emphasizes in his scheme.
The conflict came to a head during a 24-21 loss to Troy that dropped the Tigers to 3-2 last season. Though LSU went on to win six of its final seven games, it did so despite ongoing conflict between the head coach and the offensive coordinator.
“All the while I was saying, “You know what? Steve Ensminger is the guy and if I have the chance I’m going to hire him,’” Orgeron said. “I have complete confidence in the direction that he’s going to lead this offense. He and I are on the same page.”
Though the Tigers haven’t settled on a starting quarterback or a starting running back, they do have an identity on offense. They will be multiple, utilizing a short, quick passing game, occasional quarterback runs and spread formations featuring one back.
“Steve runs more of the offense that I’m used to,” Orgeron said.
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