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The Strategy of Building the Staff

NCAA Football:  Florida at Louisiana State Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Coach Orgeron finalized a major piece of his coaching staff last week when he tabbed Pittsburgh offensive coordinator Matt Canada to fill the same role at LSU. We know with 100% certainty that Canada and Dave Aranda will fill the offensive and defensive coordinator positions. Orgeron’s mentor, Pete Jenkins, will serve as DL coach in 2017. Corey Raymond just signed an extension, with a raise, to remain at LSU. Important because Raymond was very much at risk for leaving. Beyond that, seemingly no assurances have been made.

If all current non-GA members of the coaching staff were retained, LSU would have 2 additional vacancies to fill, one of which will be the Special Teams Coordinator. The additional spot is due to the NCAA’s recent rules amendment, which allows for an additional on-field coaching staff member, bringing the total to 10.

More interestingly will be if changes are made, either by coaches leaving or Orgeron opting not to retain them. Here are some rumored possibilities:

Jabbar Juluke: There’s some murmurings that he’s been given no assurances of being retained, which may be a concern for 5-star RB Cam Akers. Maybe Orgeron is using that as incentive and wants to see if Juluke can go out and win a big-time out of state recruit?

Jeff Grimes, Dameyune Craig, Steve Ensminger: It’s unclear whether or not Matt Canada will get a say in his position coaches, nor if he’d even want to make changes. For the record, no changes were made to Pittsburgh in his single season there.

Eric Mateos, Dennis Johnson, Carter Blount: These are the three GAs currently serving as position coaches due to the shuffled staff. Mateos took over TEs when Ensminger was promoted to interim OC. Johnson took over LB duties when Orgeron stripped Peveto of those duties and designated him to ST only. Blount will coach STs during the bowl in place of Peveto.

Orgeron has some interesting decisions to make. Juluke doesn’t have a long track record at the collegiate level and he was largely thought to help solidify efforts in New Orleans in the post Frank Wilson era. 2016 isn’t a banner year in the state of Louisiana, nor New Orleans specifically, so there’s no advantage there this year. Could his job really be linked to landing Cam Akers? I’m speculating but it’s not as outlandish as it may seem on first blush. The ability to lure Akers shows Juluke can go out and win a recruiting battle against Jay Graham (FSU), Tony Alford (Ohio State), and Derrick Nix (Ole Miss). It’s less, “can you get X prospect” and more “can you win a recruiting battle in the trenches?” Frank Wilson could.

Grimes is a guy Orgeron poured a lot of praise on during the season, at times calling him the best offensive line coach in the country. He’s also a guy that a lot of coaches seem to hold in high esteem, and he has a reputation of being tremendous to work with. Grimes is an A+ OL recruiter and plenty of advanced analytics suggest LSU’s OL was excellent last season, even if a lot of fans craw against him. Him leaving doesn’t seem likely, but who knows.

Craig has been absolutely killing it on the trail, as advertised. He also provides a valuable in into the state of Alabama, specifically Mobile, where LSU has lost any footing in recent years. He was also tabbed the recruiting coordinator once Orgeron became the interim coach. It’s easy to see him filling that role on a full-time basis.

Ensminger is one of those legendary behind the scenes guys that never really received any plaudits. In fact, most looked at the production of the TEs and considered Ensminger a liability, if anything. Yet, Ensminger admirably filled as interim OC, guiding the LSU offense to set records in three straight games. He and O also seem to have a bond, and I don’t think Ensminger is looking to make any more career moves. I’m guessing Ensminger remains on staff until he retires from LSU. At worst, he may get shifted to an off the field analyst role, which really would seem to suit him.

As for the GAs, I’m not sure. Johnson seems the most likely to land a FT gig, but I say that only because he’s an alumnus and from the Southeast.

For the sake of discussion, let’s say none of them are retained. Ensminger returns to his role coaching TEs, but LSU would still need to hire a ST Coordinator and OLB coach.

The biggest gap in LSU’s recruiting footprint is the presence in Texas, specifically East Texas, delivered from Bradley Dale Peveto. Look now at what’s going on in the state of Florida. Charlie Strong, Lane Kiffin, Butch Davis are added to a mix that already included Jimbo Fisher and Mark Richt. Toss in the natural appeal of UF (though their recruiting is tanking), and then Muschamp, Dabo, Kirby, Harbaugh, Meyer and Saban trying to pry in and you’ve got a crowded market for talent in Florida.

Perhaps, instead of doubling down on someone with SE connections, Orgeron should build West? He must hire someone with strong ties into Texas high schools, particularly the Houston area. Tom Herman to Texas is interesting due to his ties to the city of Houston. Houston doesn’t typically feed many prospects to UT, most opting instead for LSU or A&M. Can he shift that landscape?

How a coach builds his staff is an interesting exercise. Les mostly stuck to guys he knew quite well and rarely branched too far out. Orgeron’s first hire was a coach he’s never worked with before and has no ties to LSU or the Southeast. Les’ staff the past two seasons were heavily recruiting based: Grimes, Steele, Orgeron, Peveto, Craig, Juluke were all hired for recruiting acumen. It was clear he saw the gap widening between LSU’s roster and Alabama’s and was seeking to close that. That widening happened while coaches like Studrawa, Chavis, McGaughey, Haley and Ball failed to consistently lure top talent to Baton Rouge.

Or could O go in the other direction? ST production has been a sore spot in recent years, but it’s typically a coaching position given to a young up and comer that can provide impact on the recruiting trail. O fired Peveto for the poor performance, so it doesn’t seem like he may want to go right back to a pure recruiter? Or perhaps he and Peveto just didn’t see eye to eye. Rumors were he may want someone with NFL experience, but don’t get your hopes up for a return of McGaughey. He’s a ST Coordinator in the NFL and has no real reason to leave for a collegiate job. It’d be more likely to be someone in McGaughey’s position a few years back: ST Assistant. Then again, the hiring of Bobby April might salve that need so that you can hire another able-bodied recruiter, like Jeff Traylor.

What about OU’s Jay Boulware? He’s coached, at various stops with the following LSU coaches: Matt Canada, Jeff Grimes, and Dave Aranda. He’s got Texas ties (UT Alum) and can recruit. Question is, why would he take a lateral move? That said, he did leave Wisconsin after two months to join OU. He’s only making 355K at OU. LSU paid Peveto 100K more than that. OU didn’t have a single kickoff go out of bounds, so that’s a plus. The catch here is Boulware has been a RB coach, primarily, in addition to his ST role. So there’s not a natural fit unless Juluke is sent packing.

For OLB, it’s hard to know. I imagine Aranda would get heavy input here. Tim Tibesar is Wisconsin’s OLB coach and was hired on to work under Aranda in 2013. He’s got a decidedly Midwest background and doesn’t seem like much of a recruiter, but no one ever does coming from Wisconsin. A lot of people will say to go get Tosh Lupoi from Bama, but he might be in line for a DC job (maybe Florida) and if not, why would he leave for a lateral move to LSU?

There’s also the possibility he goes in another direction entirely. Perhaps the ST coordinator does coach OLB and he uses that final spot on a pure recruiter. What happens with Ensminger and Juluke will dictate a lot of the staff going forward.

It’s worth stating that keeping the whole staff intact would seem curious coming off a season we all deem a failure. Obviously there’s a change in the Head Coach and Offensive Coordinator, but retaining the remaining staff would be a sure signal that O believes Miles and Cameron were the primary culprits for LSU’s failure.

Of course, there’s always the long list of coaches Orgeron has worked with in the past.

Will Orgeron keep most of the staff intact? Could he blow up the offensive side? Where does he turn for STs? Who coaches the OLB? One thing is for sure: he needs to get into Texas.