Alright, now that Matt Canada is, or will be, officially out as LSU’s next offensive coordinator, what’s next?
To rehash: the bad news is that Ed Orgeron has already burned through his biggest marquee hire, one of his main selling points as a head coach.
The good news is two-fold: A) Canada didn’t exactly light the world on fire this year, and B) in general, it’s much easier to find a very good offensive coordinator than you think.
So where does Orgeron go next? Let’s look at the factors in play:
- Trust. At this point, safe to say this is probably the biggest one here. Orgeron didn’t trust Canada to do his job to Orgeron’s satisfaction. He went in with a coordinator he had no history or even a second-hand connection with, and it burned him. I’d be very surprised if that wasn’t a major consideration the second time around.
- Recruiting. Canada proved to be a net negative on the recruiting trail, and with him at the helm LSU was almost certainly going to miss on a quarterback in this cycle. That would be a big negative for this class and it’s not something Orgeron was okay with.
- Style. From a nuts-and-bolts standpoint, I don’t believe Orgeron had any particular problem with Canada’s offense, outside of teaching issues. That said, I don’t think Orgeron wants to radically take the offense one direction or another — LSU isn’t about to become a pass-a-minute Air Raid team, anymore than it’s about to move to the triple-option. Orgeron does want to be more consistently explosive, though.
So what direction will LSU go? Let’s look at some potential options.
First, let’s get one rumor completely and totally out of the way: Hugh Freeze.
No way, never, not gonna happen.
Simply put, from a very reliable #sauce, Orgeron and Freeze, despite what has been said publicly, neither like, nor trust one another. Yes, Orgeron hired him at Ole Miss, as part of the whole Tuohy-Michael Oher package. After that, the relationship was never particularly cordial. Orgeron also believes that Freeze politic’d with Ole Miss power brokers behind his back — I can’t speak to the truth of that one way or another, only that it’s what Orgeron believes.
And if there’s one thing that’s clear in this, Orgeron isn’t going to hire anybody he doesn’t trust.
If that wasn’t enough; even if Orgeron did want to hire another former Ole Miss coach, his bosses would almost certainly never go for it. For one, Freeze was just fired for a pretty dang big, and pretty dang stupid, no-no. For another, NCAA reports aside he certainly still bares some of the stain of Ole Miss’ NCAA issues. I’d be very surprised if anybody in the SEC brought Freeze on in a full-time coaching capacity right away, to say nothing of a coordinator position.
Next up, the name that will almost certainly dominate the headlines, and absolutely be on Orgeron’s list: LSU tight ends coach, and 2016 interim offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger.
It’s a move that would, without a doubt, be unpopular. Orgeron promised a flashy, high-powered offensive coordinator. Ensminger is an old hand who’s time as being considered innovative was 20 years ago, or even longer. As our own Dan has discussed on Twitter, there would certainly be a perception that Ensminger would be a puppet. A yes-man in a position strictly do do things the way Orgeron wants, come hell or high water.
In speaking with a source this morning, the Ensminger-Orgeron relationship was described as very much the opposite — Orgeron trusts him specifically because Ensminger will tell him what he thinks, unvarnished.
It is also worth pointing out that Ensminger produced some very real results in his eight games as offensive coordinator in 2016: the offense spiked from 5.7 yards per play to 7.1 and scoring jumped from 21 points per game over the first four games called by Cam Cameron to 32 per game under Ensminger. He had a very common-sense approach that, for the most part, fit Cameron’s offense to LSU’s personnel.
And more than one person asked me, especially early in 2017, why the offense looked “better under Steve than under the guy we’re paying all this money to?”
That said, calling plays from somebody else’s playbook, with fresh eyes on what you think the players do and don’t do well, is entirely different from designing and implementing one’s own offensive vision.
What’s more, promoting Ensminger could take one of LSU’s more valuable recruiters out of a position where he can be on the road and on the phone more regularly. Coordinators need more limited recruiting responsibilities in order to handle game-planning responsibilities.
There’s also still a chance Ensminger just plain doesn’t want the job. He’s the old lieutenant taking a battlefield promotion. He knows the responsibility and he knows the stakes, and he’s just a short time (maybe not two weeks, but just a few years) from retirement. Although I would expect Orgeron to appeal to Ensminger’s vanity to prove that he can do the job, and get one last pay day.
One way or another, Ensminger will almost certainly play a role in this hire, just due to his counselor position with the head coach. Promoting him would also create another offensive staff opening — the potential of working with a young quarterbacks coach in some sort of “running/passing game coordinator” role could also be in play.
So who are some realistic names to know? Let’s start with coaches we know have a connection to Orgeron:
- Steve Sarkisian: currently the offensive coordinator with the Atlanta Falcons, long-time USC assistant with Orgeron. Once upon a time, he was considered one of the best play-callers in the sport. His year in Atlanta hasn’t exactly gone smoothly, and he may desire to return to the college game. He definitely expressed interest in a job with LSU and Orgeron last year.
- Tee Martin: USC offensive coordinator, worked with Orgeron as an assistant in Troy. While it seems unlikely that Martin would take a lateral move from a higher-profile job, the fact that he seemed to get almost no traction for the Tennessee job could push Martin back to the SEC, where he could prove himself working under a non-offensive-minded head coach.
- Matt Lubick: co-offensive coordinator, Washington. Lubick served as receivers coach with Orgeron at Ole Miss, and has long been considered a rising star as a position coach, and a very strong recruiter.
- Dan Enos: the former Arkansas OC runs a style that is very similar to Canada’s and did some great work with the Allen Bros. in Fayetteville. His play-calling also gave the Tigers some fits this year, even if the Razorbacks never seriously threatened to win the game. Enos is currently unemployed, although he’s been rumored for a number of jobs, including both Tennessee and Missouri.
- Brennan Carroll: currently the Seattle Seahawks assistant offensive line coach, Carroll, the son of Pete, has worked in a variety of offensive rolls at Miami and USC over the last few years.
- Gunter Brewer: North Carolina’s co-OC/receivers coach has a strong rep as a recruiter, and worked on the offensive staffs of Mike Gundy in addition to Larry Fedora over the years.
- Dan Werner: former Ole Miss offensive coordinator under both Freeze and Orgeron, now an analyst with Alabama. Has family issues that have limited his recruiting responsibilities in recent years. That alone would probably limit his chances.
- Noel Mazzone: the former Texas A&M offensive coordinator worked with Orgeron at Ole Miss, although reportedly not on good terms. He’d arguably be less popular of a hire than Ensminger, to be honest.
And now, if we’re just throwing out a wish list of names, here are a few. As far as I know, none have direct connections to Orgeron, although there may be degrees in play, which can help.
- Brian Wright, offensive coordinator at Toledo: his offense under Jason Candle averaged 36 points and 6.9 per play. Also relatively balanced, at some 3,900 passing yards against 2,800 rushing.
- Mike Yurcich, offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State: when things were clicking for the Cowboys this season, they had one of the most fun, explosive passing attacks in the country.
- Phil Longo, offensive coordinator at Ole Miss: he succeeded in adding a strong running game to the Rebels this year. LSU can offer a raise and a chance for more upward mobility.
- Todd Monken, receivers coach for the Tampa Bay Bucs: Monken would be wise to get away from the sinking ship in Tampa (groan). He has history at LSU as Les Miles’ receivers coach early on, and has run some spectacular offenses at Oklahoma State and Southern Miss.
- Keith Heckendorf, quarterbacks coach and recruiting coordinator at North Carolina: strong reputation from working with Larry Fedora, and a solid recruiter, particularly of quarterbacks.
- Sterlin Gilbert, offensive coordinator at South Florida: Gilbert comes from the Art Briles Bear Raid tree, albeit one of the longer branches, a few degrees removed from the issues with sexual assault at Baylor. Gilbert’s done some impressive work the last few years with Charlie Strong at both Texas and South Florida.