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ATVS Roundtable: LSU’s Coaching Search, Part 1

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Billy, Dan and Poseur discuss some of the qualities they are looking for in LSU’s next head coach.

Mississippi v LSU Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

If you had to lay out a job description for LSU's head coach, or a list of qualities you're looking for, what would they be?

Billy

Personally, I've always looked at coaching as a very job-specific task. Not every job works for every coach, which is why "fit" gets thrown around so much in these processes. You can't win (or win enough) at LSU trying to do the things that work at some other jobs and vice versa. And make no mistake, the goal for this hire has to be to come out of this with a program that will consistently compete for championships. Going 9-3 isn't good enough, and if it happens you'd better be building towards something better coming behind it.

So the backbone question of this whole process is "how do you win at LSU?" Well for starters, you're competing year in and year out with college football's equivalent to Walmart. And you're going to be doing it with a smaller (it's close, but there's still a difference) budget. LSU can't build you a Death Star, but they can give you a pretty nice-sized armada. It's up to you to use it.

Head coaches tend to fall into three groups: the tacticians that specialize in one side of the ball or another, the CEO types who can set the overall direction of a program and direct the pieces appropriately, or the very rare types that can do both -- and really, only Nick Saban and Urban Meyer have pulled off both at the same time at the highest level.

A "tactician" type gives you a higher rate of variance. You might excel at one side of the ball but be deficient on the other. Think Will Muschamp for defense or Kliff Kingsbury for offense. And while that can be a little more entertaining at times, especially with an offensive coach, I put more value on a coach that can find both ways to win consistently.

A CEO type, ideally, makes use of LSU's high budget for assistants to bring in (or in this particular case, retain) the right mix of recruiters and teachers/talent developers. We all know that Louisiana produces quality players, but it's not going to produce enough of them every year to fill your needs, and the competition for them has never been greater. And you'll still have to use the surrounding states to fill the rest of your needs, particularly Texas and Florida. I'm of the opinion that you can no longer afford to have any staff members who do not add value in some form or fashion in recruiting -- whether it's an eye for talent, valuable relationships or being a flat-out go-getter that will pound the pavement and press the flesh to get kids on campus. The head coach has to understand this, and add value to it himself.

A good CEO will also work to make sure has the right coordinators in place and give them the tools to implement their ideas. That means the right position coaches, the right talent and the freedom to do their job.

There are other valuable qualities, like the ability to foster relationships with community and other program stakeholders, like former players, university leadership, etc... And the foresight to understand the other challenges and crises that can come with this job, but for now I'll focus on the football-direct responsibilities.

Dan

My a number one quality is the ability to recruit at an elite level. Quibble about recruit rankings all you want, I'm a firm believer in Bud Elliott's blue-chip ratio, and, frankly, a large part of why Miles is now job hunting is because he couldn't deliver better results on an elite recruiting ratio. You want to win big? Recruit big.

Where it becomes difficult is evaluating coaches in tough positions. It's not easy to recruit at, say, NC State. So is that on the coach or the program? Are you hiring a guy that's gonna hit the ground and win over momma on the Wednesday before National Signing Day? Miles was good at that. And there were signs of it at Oklahoma State, where he reeled in a couple of pretty high profile recruits to a program that was really much more on fringe of national relevance without a ton of draw prior to major T Boone Pickens investments.

Some might say it's okay to staff up with elite recruiters to account for this if the coach lacks it, but I'm not sure that's a great model. For all the credit we should given Saban and Meyer for being tactical whizzes, they are even better in living rooms and at high schools and on campus, convincing elite talent that there is certainly a role for them, even though their depth chart is swimming with equal or greater talents.

Recruit Big. Win Big.

Poseur

The biggest thing both parties need is flexibility and adaptability. LSU needs to have a list of qualities in my they want in a new coach, but at the same time, not be so bound to that list that they can't hire the right guy even if he doesn't check every single box. From the candidate standpoint, you want a guy who has shown he can adapt to the changing circumstances of college football and not too wedded to a single idea. Everybody gets figured out, it's what you do once you get figured out that makes you great.

I don't want the coach that can beat Nick Saban's Alabama dynasty. in all likelihood, that monster has reached its peak and will begin to ebb, as all dynasties do. No, I want the coach who can see the football landscape once Alabama is only a 700-pound gorilla instead of 800 pounds. I want that guy who is thinking ahead to what the future is going to look like, and how can we start preparing for it. What does LSU football look like in 2020? I want a candidate who can answer that question.

As for the wish list itself, y'all hit on the big ones. Know this job, and get a coach with skills for this job. Fit matters. We need a guy who can recruit, as LSU has one of the best recruiting footprints in the nation. You can't let an advantage like that slip through your fingers. You want a guy who can navigate the politics of Louisiana. LSU Football Coach is a political appointment. And given the last few years, you likely want a guy who can open up the offense. That would go a long way to winning some goodwill. I'm arguing for a lot of soft skills here, and those are the hardest to evaluate, so throw your Excel spreadsheets out on this one. There is no scoring rubric.

Dan

Political skills are a big one. Charlie Strong's ship is sunk because he absolutely refuses to play the game. That only works if you are winning, not firing both coordinators in 3 years. You gotta grease the right wheels. Saban's a master at rallying all to his message. And LSU's political situation right now is a bit... convoluted. They probably need a steadying voice. In that sense, trying to hire someone making a big leap may not be so wise...

Billy

It's definitely an important administrative function, especially with regards to managing relationships, and it's one of the bigger challenges of this job due to some of the egos involved. We saw this with Les Miles and high school coaches in the Monroe/West Monroe area, which affected recruiting, and we've also heard about it from some former players. It's no secret that a big reason Ed Orgeron immediately made it known that he wanted those former players back around. Miles never barred them or prevented their access, but he never made it a point to reach out to them either.

I'd also like to lay out a requirement that's more personal for me, and less of a real expectation -- let's stay fun. LSU football has been a lot of things over the last 12 years, but the ride was always fun, and I hope that continues. I'm not saying the next head coach has to throw caution to the wind as much as Les Miles, or call fake field goals or any of that. Although that would be great. On the field, the goal should be to improve. But off the field, I hope he shows a little personality. Kiss the occasional pig. Show a little personality. I don't want to wind up with a dictatorial tyrant who wants to try to out-Nick-Saban the real thing.

Remember, this is all supposed to be fun.

What are some of the things you want to see LSU avoid in this search?

Dan

Honestly, any effort to "recreate" Saban is a pitfall to me. Georgia's biggest mistake wasn't so much that they fired Richt (though I think there's plenty argument against that too), it's that they tired to hire a Saban acolyte to replace him. It's like they thought they were just getting a younger version of Nick. Maybe they are, but odds suggest not so much. So don't make the same mistake. Don't hire Lane Kiffin. He's damaged goods. I don't care if Alabama scores 300 points a game for every game for the rest of the season. Let someone else jump on that landmine.

Jimbo Fisher almost falls under this tree, but he's at least done his own thing for the past decade or so.

Billy

Jimbo's Saban ties get a bit overstated sometimes, I think. He spent five years with him here, but spent the next five working under Les Miles and then Bobby Bowden. I'm sure he drew a lot of influence from Saban, but I wouldn't compare him to Kirby Smart. Plus, he's got his own seven-year track record as a head coach.

One of my bigger concerns is the "rebound" hire, where an AD over-prioritizes getting away from the previous coach. Like moving from an offensive coach to defensive, or vice versa. Or moving from an affable, more fatherly type like Miles to more of a dictator/bully type. Just like in dating, if you can't see the positives in the relationship you just got out of, you won't really know what to look for in your next partner.

Poseur

It's not that Jimbo actually has Saban ties, it's that he's PERCEIVED to have Saban ties. It's trying to recreate the Saban alchemy, and badly at that. It's why I'm so reflexively against a Jimbo hire. It's chasing a phantom. But the Saban ties leads to an even bigger point...

THIS HIRE IS NOT ABOUT FINDING A GUY WHO CAN BEAT NICK SABAN. Seriously. Stop it. Saban is on an incredible run, one of the very best in the history of college football. It is also almost certainly closer to its end than its beginning, because that's how dynasties work. He's getting up there in age and while he's not going to retire after this season, the day is coming. The idea is to find a guy who will be able to imagine and shape the coming power vacuum and shifting landscape. Don't tell me how you can beat Alabama. Tell me your vision for shaping the SEC in your image for years to come.

Do not be obsessed with the present. And certainly don't be obsessed with the past. There's a common belief among pro GM's to let someone else pay for past production. It's what makes the Patriots so good: they are ruthless when it comes to future production and lack of sentiment. They do not care what you've done for the team, they care about what you will do. You need to approach coaching hires the same way. I don't want to pay a guy for his prior success, I want to pay a guy for his future potential.

Billy

To be clear, when I talk about competing with college football Walmart, it's not so much the direct Bama competition so much as just the general apparatus of what a successful program has become in this day and age. You have to be so much more than "just" a football coach these days.

And not to get too far into the weeds on specific candidates, the Saban specter colors Tom Herman a little for me as well. Because aside from his success at Houston, one of the first things that people bring up is "look at what he did to Bama," which kind of ignores the fact that he had a transcendent running back and a ton of stud talent at other positions as well. Herman's a great coach, but he was also operating the machine that Urban Meyer built at Ohio State. I want the guy that can build a machine like that and find a Tom Herman to run it.

The other key for me is to keep an open mind. A lot of people like to talk about the "type" of hire this needs to be, and that's the kind of mindset that wins a press conference but doesn't always get you the best coach. Alleva needs to detach himself -- you almost have to be able to listen to the plans involved without knowing the name giving them. The only thing that really matters is "is this guy the best coach for the job?" I've seen a lot of people say that you don't "fire a head coach to replace him with one of is assistants," or "fire somebody as successful as Les Miles and replace him with some mid-major coach," and that's a stupid way to approach this.

There's a long list of "on paper" hires that make all the sense in the world and then just don't work. That's something Alleva should know just based on two of the basketball coaches he's hired: Trent Johnson and Nikki Caldwell.

Dan

A lot of this, too, will be tough for us to know as outsiders.

On the surface, let's take P.J. Fleck, for example. I bet we will have some interest. He's doing great things at Western Michigan, a school that's never achieved much. But... it's Western Michigan and the MAC. Now, that should not, by any means, disqualify him. But you gotta clear those interviews and see. What's his plan? What are his connections? What direction does he want to take the program? In other words, does he have a road map? Because just being excited about the job isn't enough to warrant being hired.

But again, that's stuff we're not really going to know. Conversely, if they limit it to "I want someone who has done it before" I think you really shrink your pool and risk making a re-tread hire.

Billy

And that's the kind of thing you have to figure out in an interview.

Quite frankly, if Ed Orgeron's not getting this job beyond this season, one of the first things you're going to want a new coach to do is try and find a way to keep him on staff. After that, you get into the meat of how he'll build a staff -- it's always good if you can name names -- and attack recruiting. And then you get into the meat of offensive/defensive style and talk about all of the outside situations that are relevant to this job: dealing with boosters/politicians, selling the program, etc...

A guy from a smaller program has to come in with an idea of how to take his smaller-scale success and translate it, and how to sell that idea convincingly to Joe Alleva and whatever other stakeholders are involved. A coach with more of an established track record at a bigger school just has more tangible results he can point to. Maybe somebody that we think of as more of a “tactician” type, like a Kliff Kingsbury, comes in with an amazing detailed plan about how he’ll also build a defensive staff? Never know til you talk to them.

You can't fall into the trap of thinking jobs are linear. Yeah, a coach might have a system that translates really well with certain talents, or he might even have a knack for finding the undervalued talents. But that's not what works here. At LSU you have to recruit the best of the best, against the best of the best, and then develop and deploy those talents. Another obvious mistake is assuming "well if he could do X with Y and school Z, he can do so much more here." That's not how it works.

Dan

I think we can also agree that the new coach will almost 99 percent be tasked with keeping Aranda on staff too, right? That seems almost a given. If it's an offensive guy that's not Orgeron, that's probably not a huge. But if it's a guy with a strong defensive background... is it problematic?

Billy

I would hope that isn't "forced" but I would also hope that it doesn't really have to be. A smart coach will understand the importance to keep a guy like Aranda around. Likewise, Corey Raymond. There's going to be some staff changes, but not necessarily a ton, depending on who gets this job.

Likewise, you have the support staff to manage, particularly Austin Thomas, who is nearly as valuable as anybody. I would practically expect him to play some role in vetting potential coaches at this point. Steve Kragthorpe has been decently valuable in his role as well, and you could also use that to create additional roles for coaches like Bradley Dale Peveto and Steve Ensminger, who have real value in recruiting.

Poseur

I do think you need a guy who can hold together much of the staff. If Orgeron doesn't get the head job, it's almost certain he will move on, which is understandable. You want to keep him, but the focus should be on keeping Aranda in that case, as it's hard for a guy to accept a demotion like that. He was the head coach, and now he has to go back to being a position coach? That's a tough sell. I think you have to consider Orgeron the cost of getting a new coach (which is certainly a consideration in hiring someone other than Orgeron).

At the same time, the new guy gets to bring in some people to make the staff in his own image. You can't make every coach off limits, but...Raymond is off limits. If he wants to stay, he has a job. Period. But if you're forcing a DC on the new coach, albeit a very good one, it's hard for me to say they can't bring in their own OC. Otherwise, why are we making a coaching change?

Billy

I think Orgeron’s future will depend on what happens over this final month and A) if Orgeron comes away feeling like he got a fair shake, and B) who the new coach is. The way things ended for him at USC, he felt like they had kind of bait-and-switched him on the job based on his record, and then they replaced him with Seve Sarkisian. Kind of a "Really? Y'all are dumping me for that asshole?" deal. If Orgeron keeps this momentum going, then yeah, he's going to think he's earned the job. They lose three out of this last four, I would imagine he'll be a bit more understanding, depending on who gets the job.

We kind of saw this play out last year at Virginia Tech. Bud Foster wanted that job, and the AD went with Justin Fuente. But the first thing Fuente did after he got the job was drive to Foster's house and sell him on staying. If Orgeron's not getting this job, you'd hope the new coach would be the type of guy that A) is smart enough to know how important keeping him would be and B) is the type of salesman that can make it happen.