As we prepare for LSU to move forward from the ugliness of the season's end, there are number of questions for the program going forward that we've brought up to some degree, but will try to dissect in more depth as the weeks unfold.
We'll start with the offensive coordinator question. Will LSU be making a change with Cam Cameron, whose contract will end in March? I can't say for sure, but it's certainly a strong possibility, although it's not likely until after the bowl game, at minimum.
The path after that is kind of unclear, for a number of reasons. There are a lot of options to consider, from a scheme standpoint, a style one, coaching background, etc... and all of those have to be considered before we even really start talking about a list of names.
So with us having some weeks to work with, I thought I'd dive into them at length a bit starting with a different angle on how hires are viewed. With some help from a few other local minds:
What background should LSU look for in an offensive coordinator? Do they need a younger, more up-and-coming coach, or should they look for somebody with more of a proven track record?
What's the value in trying to get somebody that's more established, versus the young up-and-comer. Some prefer the proven commodity, but one fan's veteran coach is another fan's retread.
So I'm of two minds on this. Torn, really. Infusing the staff with some youth could be helpful. We have a pretty loaded recruiting staff right now, but Les' last few hires have mostly been more geared that way (Grimes, Orgeron and Steele), while Tony Ball is more of a respected teacher/coach.
I would argue the biggest black eye on Les' tenure is poor QB recruiting. Development hasn't been great either, but I still think the recruiting is the bigger burr. If you look back, guys like Jefferson and Lee didn't post horrendous numbers as they matured. They weren't dynamic, by any means, but they were sufficiently league-average type QBs. Mettenberger was near the top of his class. Harris has been up and down, but he's also very young. Harris seems to be the best high school QB Les has landed (Perrilloux aside).
But now, we're about to be right back where we started. After Harris you have Etling (an unknown) and McMillan, who is more a developmental, program type. Franks flipped so the class is currently without a QB. LSU simply can't be in the business of not taking a QB every year, especially when the previous year they only landed a project.
Now, all of this to say, would it be better to have an up and coming coach or a more grizzled veteran type? I think your odds are much better at getting a young guy. Why? Because what you are looking for is three things here:
a) A guy that can properly evaluate
b) A guy that can recruit well
c) A guy that can develop the talent he recruits
Guys like that typically already have really good, established jobs. So maybe you gamble on a guy who has a lot of A and C but maybe not B? LSU has a staff chock full of recruiters, so you might feel you can cover there, if you can get a guy in that does a great job of hand picking who these top talents are.
If there's an older guy like that available, I don't think there's any reason to hesitate because he might be a "retread." A good coach is a good coach. The counter here is if Les brings in a new guy, will he have the backbone to stand up to Les? I don't know how much Les "puts his coordinator in a box" but you'd think a veteran might be more willing to fire back. Especially someone with cachet... like Jeff Tedford.
There's more to consider here than it seems at first glance.
A younger coach doesn't necessarily have the experience and the recruiting connections that you want -- and there was a time when that didn't matter for a coordinator, but that time has passed. On the other hand, younger guys tend to be the kind of go-getters that will hit the trail and establish those ties in places where they didn't have them.
For an older guy, it's great to be able to point to a track record, like Cam Cameron with Drew Brees and Joe Flacco. I don't doubt that played well with some kids. But those guys are also more likely to be kind of set in their ways, and I don't think you can be that way in college football anymore.
I think Dan's point about energy is a good one as well, and Les Miles has definitely moved that way in recent years. Frank Wilson and Austin Thomas made some major shifts in recruiting for LSU a few years ago and then we saw that again this past cycle with Kevin Steele and Ed Orgeron. Steele seemed to have a more defined style than Chavis, and really kind of turned Orgeron, Corey Raymond and Bradley Dale Peveto loose to do their thing, and that seems to be paying off.
Although Steele would certainly be more in the "retread" category as opposed to an up-and-comer.
And there's the factor of Les Miles here. While none of us know exactly how much he's involved in the offense, he certainly has a style that he wants to play towards, and any coordinator under him is going to have to fit to that. A young guy can be domineered and beaten down, or a more established guy can become combative if it's not the right fit. Although a young guy may also see it as an opportunity to learn, and be more adapt to mesh his style with the mold of this program.
I honestly think the type of hire could go either way and work out. Like Billy said, Les has moved towards high-energy guys with recent hires, possibly looking to inject a little life where it feels we've recently grown stagnant. You don't necessarily need a young hire, but I can't deny the correlation that youth and energy seem to have. I think players would feed off the energy younger guys bring to the table. It's hard to deny the passion and vigor teams with younger head coaches tend to play with. I know Western Michigan and Northwestern aren't exactly annual powerhouses, but coaches like PJ Fleck and Pat Fitzgerald have injected those programs with life. If we can get someone (anyone) to replicate that on an offense that can look and feel listless at times, great. Doesn't matter if the hire is young or old, but youth and the energy Billy speaks of seem linked to me.
That being said, placing the potential hire in the context of Les' contract ending in 2019, we're in "win now" mode. I'm not sure any of us think Les will be here after then, and I'll be surprised if he is. However, that desire to win and the window closing on the Miles Era allows us some leeway to go in on a younger, potentially more innovative guy who's looking to climb the ladder without it hurting too much, since we're likely looking at near-complete staff turnover within the next four years. As weird as it sounds, and as unlikely as it is, I think it offers us the chance to make something other than the "safe" hire. When you think about it, it wouldn't be a huge step outside of Miles' character to take that kind of calculated risk, considering the timing. I don't think you go straight schematics and do away with considering their recruiting bona fides completely, but I do think they may come into play less.
Now obviously you don't want to stray from your identity dramatically (hi 2008 Auburn!), but someone who can provide the offense something to feed off of, and pull that extra 2% out of our personnel while still operating within some kind of reasonable constraints would be the ideal. For that, I think we might If a need to look to a young OC, who can not only teach the current personnel what they need to know, but hopefully give them the extra push we've seemed to be lacking. If they can recruit and develop, all the better.
Marcus Rodrigue (currently of The Advocate)
The sexy pick right now is to go with the young, up-and-coming coaches. Look no further than how this year's coaching carousel has spun: Justin Fuente, D.J. Durkin and Matt Campbell (all of whom are younger than 40) landed Power 5 Conference head coaching gigs, hires that were widely celebrated. Its obvious fans and administrators are becoming more and more wary of retread coaches, as evidenced by the trepidation toward South Carolina's hiring of Will Mushcamp. That sentiment is more prevalent in the NFL, but most college programs are leaning toward the young, forward-thinking coaches who often come part and parcel with newfangled offensive schemes.
Despite the trend, this debate definitely varies based on the needs of the team in question. What does LSU need? While we're not exactly sure how or with whom Les Miles plans to carry out these offensive alterations he has been promising, I'd wager the changes won't have to be as drastic if LSU gets better quarterback play. Perhaps the biggest knock on Miles is his inability to develop quarterbacks, which is a justified complaint. Cam Cameron, who mentored several successful pro signal-callers, just hasn't gotten the job done during his three years in Baton Rouge. Cameron fits the bill of a retread coach, so I could see the Tigers following the trend and scooping up a younger, spread-oriented offensive coordinator to revitalize the unit. But Miles seems reluctant to overhaul the offense to such a degree, and who could blame him with another year of Leonard Fournette and Derrius Guice in the backfield? LSU should be most concerned about recruiting and developing quarterbacks to complement its ground-and-pound philosophy, and that's where a seasoned coach would come into play.
Cody Worsham, Tiger Rag Magazine
I think there's value in both approaches, and it's really ultimately specific to the coach. Obviously, a more veteran coach may have more first-hand knowledge and experience to draw on in any particular circumstance, but he also would likely have more hardened habits, habits that may require breaking or adaptation if he's to have success in an evolving game. Old dogs don't usually want to learn new tricks, even if they can.
In general, I like the idea of the young up-and-comer simply because he's constantly trying to stay ahead of the curve. He's an adapter by nature. The main criticisms of LSU's offense over the years under Les Miles has been its stubbornness and its passivity. When things go bad, the Tigers go into an offensive shell, relying heavily on the same, safe power runs and getting into a grinding contest, sometimes wearing themselves out in the process.
That said, I'm the rare believer in Cam Cameron. I think his ideas can work. We've seen them work in chunks this year. We've seen them work exceptionally in 2013. For every uninventive play call fans grumble about, there's an end-around to Derrius Guice for a 50 yard touchdown against Texas A&M. The issue with LSU this year has been inconsistency in execution, or, more directly, player development, which boils down to both players and coaches. Both are responsible for player improvement.
Regardless, if LSU goes in a different direction, I'm a firm believer that it would be wise to go far outside the box and look for a balance of both worlds. Tony Petersen at Louisiana Tech, for example, who made Jeff Driskel into an efficient, effective quarterback. He's both up-and-coming, if you look at his job trajectory, and still proven, with a consistent record of quarterback development. He also will have some Midwest recruiting ties and probably some in North Louisiana, as well, and he coordinates offenses that can run and throw.
The key to a good offense and a good offensive coordinator are the same: balance. I don't think it's a matter of young vs. old, proven vs. green. I think you can find a happy middle ground, bringing a new dimension to LSU's offense without throwing out the bath water.