News broke today that LSU General Manager, Austin Thomas, is leaving the program to head to the University of Tennessee:
Thomas is from Tennessee and started his career in Knoxville, ironically being hired by the man, Ed Orgeron, who he is now leaving to return home. Reports indicate LSU did try to sweeten the pot on money, but it wasn’t enough to keep Thomas in Baton Rouge.
Rumors of Thomas departing have been circulating virtually since the Tennessee coaching search started in earnest. Even through all the drama in Knoxville, it seems those rumors are now proven true. It’s also been rumored that this may have been tied to a money issue, and LSU couldn’t meet his demands. Even rumors that Orgeron tried to offer up part of his salary to help meet the demands.
I don’t know the validity of any of that, but the fact that he would still be willing to head to Tennessee, as rumored weeks ago, despite all the drama in their athletic department, suggests to me this may not really be a money issue. Especially with reports that LSU met and exceeded Tennessee’s offer. Home is a powerful calling card, especially with, what I imagine, are deep family ties.
This is a significant blow to LSU’s recruiting operations. If you aren’t familiar, read Tiger Rag’s Cody Worsham’s excellent profile on him here. Thomas was a key piece, not just in evaluating prospects and building LSU’s board, but he even served as an active recruiter, via a waiver, while Pete Jenkins was on staff. Thomas’ efforts lead to LSU landing Jacoby Stephens and Jacob Phillips last year.
In the short term, it doesn’t seem this will have impact on the 2018 signing class, even with signing day just 7 days away:
Since it's being asked plenty, I don't expect the Austin Thomas news to shake up #LSU's current 2018 class at all.— Shea Dixon (@Sheadixon) December 13, 2017
Tigers sitting at 20 commits with 12 official visitors coming this weekend. NSD begins in 7 days.
It’s tough to really know where LSU will turn. Thomas hired Derek Miller, from USC, last year, and he’s currently the Assistant Director of Player Personnel. He’s young and hungry, but with aspirations of being a Head Coach, he may not be the heir apparent. There’s also Brian Squeglia, the former Assistant Director of Player Personnel, who departed this summer for a scouting job with the Jacksonville Jaguars. He’s a Florida native, so who knows if his aspirations are to be close to home or be in the NFL, but I imagine that’s two names that will draw some consideration.
I’d give Ed Marynowitz, from Alabama, a call. His title right now is Associate Athletic Director, but there is additional personnel infrastructure there and perhaps LSU can offer him a bit more. He’s worked with Bill Parcells, Chip Kelly and, of course, Nick Saban. There’s also the angle of weakening your division rival.
I’m not sure where LSU will turn, but I’m fairly confident that person will be a downgrade from what Thomas offered LSU. Orgeron trusted Thomas as a right-hand man operations wise, so it will take time to build that same rapport with someone else. Or, it’s possible they break up the salary into multiple roles for more support staff in recruiting.
One other factor to consider is that LSU will be down to just eight on-field coaches after the bowl game, when Pete Jenkins officially retires, again. Orgeron has already slotted Dennis Johnson into the defensive line role, but he will need to hire two more assistants to get to the full 10 allotment. One of those is widely expected to be special teams analyst Greg McMahon. It’s unclear yet what direction O will go to fill the other spot.
Finally, there’s also the lingering rumors of Matt Canada’s potential departure. There are number of head coaching jobs still in the balance, and ULL has been a rumored landing spot. Those rumors won’t go away until every coaching spot is sufficiently filled.
Orgeron had a solid showing in year one, but these type of managerial issues will be what ultimately determines how his tenure at LSU will go, probably more so than any in-game strategic decision. To compete at an elite level, you must hire the best and brightest across the board and Orgeron suddenly has multiple spots to fill.