As Joe Alleva detailed when announced Ed Orgeron as LSU’s new head coach on a full-time basis, a big part of Coach O’s selling point was a massive, extensively detailed plan for the kind of program he wanted to run here at LSU, and that included a list of potential names to replace Steve Ensminger as LSU’s next offensive coordinator.
“We're going to look at recruiting the best offensive coordinator in football and bring him to LSU,” Orgeron said in his opening press conference. “I do believe that nowadays you have to run the spread offense. You have to have dual-threat quarterbacks that can run the ball and throw it. But you have to have somebody who knows how to run it.”
It’s been widely reported that the top of Orgeron’s list is Alabama’s Lane Kiffin, and I have no doubt that’s whom Coach O was referencing in that statement. Does that mean it will happen? It remains to be seen.
For starters, Kiffin’s contract with Alabama is expiring, and reportedly he’s been telling multiple people that one way, or another, he will not be back in Tuscaloosa next year. Some of it may be chaffing under Nick Saban’s rule, some may just be a desire for a new challenge. Saban, for his part, isn’t talking about it.
Kiffin’s success is well-known at this point, the question is more whether or not he’ll get any interest for head coaching vacancies, or maybe even some NFL jobs (I’ve always been told he sees himself in the professional ranks eventually). I do know that Orgeron and Kiffin are very good friends, and they have certainly discussed the potential move. Still, I would imagine Orgeron has some fall-back names on his list as well.
Now what’s interesting is the second part of Orgeron’s statement regarding the spread offense.
For starters, until this year, Kiffin wasn’t what you would call a “spread offense” guy. While his offense used some concepts, its more rooted in the Norm Chow style of West Coast Offense. If anything, his attacks have more featured individual talents, whether it was talented receivers like Marqise Lee or Amari Cooper or a workhorse running back like Derrick Henry. It was actually Saban who pushed Kiffin to adapt to the up-tempo spread this season, in keeping with college football trends.
Orgeron had previously shown preference for more of a pro-style approach, although that might have changed over the last two months in seeing how that attack struggled against the Tide. It also changes the list of potential coaches that Orgeron might consider, should Kiffin not be an option. Here is a guess at a few names that might be on that list. Orgeron will want to make a splash with this hire, so I focused on some bigger names.
Steve Sarkisian – Offensive Analyst, Alabama
Sark, the man who took Orgeron’s place at USC before famously flaming out amid substance-abuse problems. Since, he’s sued his former employer for wrongful termination, and is currently hanging out on the infamous Alabama “shadow staff,” doing work for the actual assistants. And of course, it’s generally believed that he’ll move into Kiffin’s offense once he finds work elsewhere. But I can confirm that Sark has expressed some interest to Orgeron in a job here. Whether the interest is mutual, I can’t say, although I understand the two have a decent relationship. Whether Sarkisian would pass Joe Alleva’s muster with his substance issues is an unknown. Alleva is a straight-arrow when it comes to off-field stuff like that.
Now, Sark’s offensive bona fides are not in question. He ran the USC attack through the later years of the Pete Carroll Era, and then moved on to put up strong numbers at Washington as head coach as well. Now, I’d classify his offensive style as more pro-style/West Coast, although he’s never shied away from spread concepts. But then, as we discussed, Kiffin was never really a “spread offense guy” until this year either.
Mike Sanford – Offensive Coordinator, Notre Dame
He’s run Notre Dame’s offense for the last two years and given a lot of credit for DeShone Kizer’s development as a quarterback prospect. Granted, he works for an offensive-minded coach in Brian Kelly, but Sanford has drawn a lot of praise for his QB work in particular, and he’s worked at places like Boise State and Stanford as well, so there’s some pro-style background as well. And given Kelly’s tumultuous relationship with his employer, Sanford might be open to a move to a more stable situation.
Todd Monken – Offensive Coordinator/WR Coach, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Monken is a known name in Baton Rouge due to serving as receivers coach/passing game coordinator for Les Miles’ original staff. He spent a few years with the Jacksonville Jaguars, and then as OC/QB coach at Oklahoma State, where he led the Cowboys’ super-productive attack with Brandon Wheden and Justin Blackmon. From there he took over as head coach at Southern Miss, and appeared to have things moving up with an up-tempo, packaged-spread attack, but after just three seasons he abruptly quit and took a job on Dirk Koetter’s staff in Tampa. There were some funding issues at USM. If Monken would like to try and grab another college head job, a stint here would certainly help raise his profile.
Matt Canada – Offensive Coordinator/QB Coach, Pittsburgh
His Pitt offense averaged 42 points per game this year, lighting up Clemson’s outstanding defense and then dropping 76 points on Syracuse in the finale. Canada runs more of a run-oriented, power type of spread offense that rushed for more than 220 yards per game this season, but still coaxed a strong year out of Tennessee castoff Nathan Peterman at quarterback. He also led the Northern Illinois offense with Jordan Lynch in 2012 when the Huskies crashed the BCS in the Orange Bowl. Canada’s style is creative and utilitarian, playing with different unbalanced sets and other ways to gain blocking advantages. He even had an offensive lineman score two touchdowns this season on designed screen/lateral plays.
Lincoln Riley – Offensive Coordinator/QB Coach, Oklahoma
Riley, at 33 years old, has become one of the hotter names in the business over the last few years, first for running some high-scoring attacks at East Carolina and then taking that show to OU, where his version of the Mike Leach Air Raid has put up some huge numbers for quarterback Baker Mayfield as well as tailbacks Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine. Riley is in the position to kind of wait on his chance to be a head coach, so this seems unlikely. It is true that he makes around $800,000 and LSU could throw more money, but Oklahoma would likely match any raise.
Brian Lindgren – Offensive Coordinator/QB Coach Colorado
Lindgren has worked with Mike MacIntyre at both Colorado and San Jose State. In Boulder, he recruited and developed Sefo Liufau into one of the more enjoyable QBs in the country this season. His San Jose QBs put up impressive numbers as well. He’s largely a West Coach guy though, and has been with MacIntyre for a while now. Unknown how he’d fit or if he’d even be interested in making the move.
Sterlin Gilbert — Former Offensive Coordinator/QB Coach, Texas
Gilbert is a free agent after not being retained by Tom Herman, but he did a solid job with Texas’ offense in a transition year. He runs the Art Briles/Baylor version of the Air Raid, a unique animal unto itself among spread attacks. One that only Briles and his assistants know inside and out and one that isn’t readily shared the way other offenses typically are. But it’s a multi-faceted offense, as Texas ran for some 230 yards per game this year in addition to nearly 3,000 passing yards with freshman quarterback Shane Buechele.
Jeff Brohm — Head Coach, Western Kentucky
If we’re going to dream, dream big, right? File this as extremely unlikely, as Brohm is not just a sitting head coach, but one who should be on his way to a bigger job any day now. That said, if Brohm doesn’t get enough interest through this coaching cycle, it might be worth a call. He’s only making $800,000 at WKU, a number LSU could easily double. What’s more, it would be something of an “in” to the SEC. Come to LSU, rock and roll and the experience could help get Brohm on more athletic directors’ lists when the next in-conference job opens up.
Bob Stitt — Head Coach, University of Montana
He’s become one of the more exciting offensive minds in the game in recent years, with an up-tempo, spread-the-field passing game that makes use of every inch of turf. He’s progressed from a near mythical stint at the Colorado School of Mines to one of the top FCS powers, and much like Brohm, could use a move here to increase his profile for his next move.
I would note that from a logistics standpoint, Ensminger will likely stay at the OC position through the bowl game, as a reward for a job well done and because the successor would likely have to finish his responsibilities to his own current team as well. I would imagine that Orgeron would want to announce a move shortly after the bowl season wraps, but it could even stretch through National Signing Day depending on how things set up with contracts and recruiting.