Well, now that we know that Les Miles will be sticking around as LSU's head coach for at least one more season, what are the next steps for the Tiger football program? How do we heal from the wounds caused by the fiasco of the last two weeks?
It's no easy task. In fact, in some ways, the prospect of keeping Miles following the weeks of speculation and nasty leaks may have been the worst possible choice LSU had. Not that I wanted Miles out, but now he has to try and carry through an offseason that would have featured some degree of change regardless of his job status with that extra uncertainty hanging over his head. That's a lot to ask of any head coach. A successful program needs to have everybody involved, from fans to secretaries to coaches to players to administrators, pulling in one direction. We now know that has not been the case at LSU for some time. And Miles will have to begin working to dial that back.
This week, the staff is hitting the road in recruiting, working to finish up on what is likely still a top-three class nationally, even without quarterback Feliepe Franks (although Miles and Cam Cameron have not given up on Franks or other quarterback targets). Staff changes are almost certainly coming for several reasons. With so many major college openings and more to come, most likely (I think at least one more major job will open up in the next two months), some staff members may receive other offers. Others may not be retained, particularly Cameron and special teams coach Bradley Dale Peveto.
First and foremost, Miles and LSU would be very, VERY wise to extend and augment defensive line coach Ed Orgeron's contract. As FootballScoop.com's Scott Roussel reported yesterday, newly minted USC head coach Clay Helton has reached out to Orgeron regarding a return to Los Angeles. Orgeron isn't necessarily looking to leave, but he's close to Helton and he's never hid how much he loves Southern California. LSU got Orgeron at a discount of $450 grand last season due to an offset from his last contract with USC that was still in play. That runs out after this year, and Orgeron's certainly worth more than a half a million bucks. I don't know that he's likely to pursue any open head coaching jobs, as none of the better jobs available appear to have much interest in him, and he's not going to just take anything just to be a head coach.
Orgeron's the canary in the coal mine here. If he leaves...the 2016 season will almost certainly be Les Miles' last here.
I can't say for sure, but I don't think defensive coordinator Kevin Steele is going anywhere. Some may disagree, but I think there were more talent deficiencies on this defense than we realized, and Miles will likely want to give Steele a chance to coach a very talented defensive class that he's played a very large role in recruiting.
Likewise, Peveto has played a very large role in 6-8 prospects in this class. He's not likely to be moving on until that hay is in the barn, although we may see LSU begin to lay the groundwork for that in the next week or two. Not so much tell players he's recruiting, "hey, he won't be back," but begin to develop relationships independent of Peveto.
As for Cameron, his contract will end before next season. There's no way of knowing for sure, but I believe that if he was intent on staying, that would have been worked out for now, at least with an additional year. That also likely played a role Franks' decommitment. Which had been rumored for some time. Cam's health may play a role as well. He may be cancer free, but some time off, or a lower-stress job without the travel requirements of college, may be a better fit.
I don't think anybody questions that Cam hasn't had the same teaching success with LSU's younger offense the last two years that he had in year with Zach Mettenberger and Co. You just can't coach a fifth-year senior with a very low class load the same way you would a freshman and a sophomore. And even among elite talents, wide receivers like Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry are rare in their polish, minds for the game, and work ethics. There are guys who work hard, and there are players who decide they want to go catch 100 balls out of the jugs machine at 2 a.m.
And I do believe that at its heart, LSU's problem is a teaching one, not a philosophical one. An offensive philosophy, a style, what have you, is just that. LSU can run whatever style they want. Be pro-style, be spread, be both -- the distinctions are ultimately arbitrary if it works. Whatever you do, it has to be something that can be taught easily and transition well to younger talents as they arrive. That has been a problem under Cameron, for sure. And when Les Miles says that any offense this team runs will have an engine of Leonard Fournette and this offensive line, he's talking sense.
But that doesn't mean changes aren't coming.
Of course, change can mean any number of things. LSU could start fresh with a whole new OC. It could promote from within, such as running backs coach Frank Wilson (and while his merits for the position can be debated, nobody would argue that Wilson hasn't earned a promotion) with a new hire of a quarterbacks coach. If LSU wanted to hire an OC without a direct quarterbacks background (and we'll throw out a few names in a bit), tight ends coach Steve Ensminger has some history there and could always slide over.
I wouldn't get your heart set on Mark Richt coming over, despite his talk about getting back to coaching QBs/calling plays. For one, he'll have his choice of any number of East Coast head jobs, from Maryland to Virginia to possibly Miami. Many think he'll likely accept the fundraising job Georgia has mentioned, and take some time off to recharge his batteries a bit. As Roussel put it this morning on Culotta & the Prince, Richt truly LOVES working with college kids, and if that means working with a room full of QBs, if that's how he feels called, he'll do it. The head jobs will want to be filled quickly, so if this lingers, there's a shot. But I think it seems very unlikely.
A couple other names that might fit:
- Mizzou OC Josh Henson. He's a former assistant here with Miles, and while he wouldn't be very popular, that's never really been something Miles has cared about. He's a former tight ends and offensive line coach, so without the QB background that would put the Ensminger scenario in play.
- Houston's Major Applewhite. A Baton Rouge native that has been working to rehab his reputation at Houston. Although it's questionable how much of a role Applewhite has working for Tom Herman, who calls his own plays.
- Notre Dame's Mike Sanford. The 33-year-old has done one helluva job with the Irish QBs this year, and if Brian Kelly is looking to move to the NFL, he could be available.
- Tyson Helton, OC at Western Kentucky. The Hilltopper offense has a very similar makeup to LSU.
- Ralph Friedgen. Formerly of Rutgers (and of course, Maryland's very successful head coach), but now available with Kyle Flood's departure.
- James Coley, Miami. His name was linked to the Jimbo Fisher rumors, and he is a former GA at LSU in the early aughts.
Should Miles decide to move in a different type of direction (and if that's going to happen, it does need to come from Miles. Bad things happen when these situations are forced), that could lead to names like Sean Lewis of Bowling Green, Indiana's Kevin Johns or North Carolina's Seth Littrel. Oklahoma's Lincoln Riley will get brought up, and it is true that he's not making a ton at Oklahoma, but I wouldn't bet on him leaving until a head job is offered.