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The Trouble With Steve Ensminger

Chattanooga v LSU Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

LSU is yet to hire a replacement for the recently departed Matt Canada, but if you follow the tea leaves, it seems this is all leading toward a promotion of Tight Ends coach Steve Ensminger. Ensminger, of course, played at LSU, and was the Interim OC during Orgeron’s interim head coaching gig that eventually earned him the full-time position in 2016. So first, let’s backtrack a minute.

The offense showed tremendous improvement under his watch in 2016, after struggling through the first four weeks of the season under Miles/Cameron. Each week it seemed some new record was being broken (though admittedly, at times, it seemed Orgeron went hunting for records to make the claim). The fans were pretty energized over the insertion of Danny Etling at QB and the improvement he brought to the position. Derrius Guice was doing Derrius Guice things. Hell, I was tweeting things like this:

The offense, of course, sputtered vs. an Alabama team that would wind up losing a heartbreaker in the National Championship, but that’s hardly a condemnation for a unit that more or less took what they wanted otherwise.

Ensminger, who has been a message board whipping boy for the bulk of his tenure at LSU, was suddenly praised for what he brought to the team. Still, LSU fans hungered for a prime time hire. So Orgeron delivered on the promise, tabbing Pittsburgh OC Matt Canada, a Broyles Award finalist.

Canada brought fun innovation to Pittsburgh using pre-snap motions to create mismatches which opened space for talented playmakers, eventually leading to an upset of Clemson. Fans dreamed of what he could do with athletes the caliber of those in Baton Rouge. Canada still emphasized running the ball. It all felt like a dream scenario. Fans also casually ignored that Canada’s coaching career had a winding trajectory and a mixed track record. His offenses weren’t consistently top performers and he also had a history of quarreling with his superiors. Matt Canada is a good coach, but much like any coaching hire, he had plusses and minuses and we all latched onto the positives and skipped over the rest, believing in the best.

What interests me here is the perspective. Canada was a press conference winning hire that didn’t really deliver on the promise. Of course, he had only one year, but most thought LSU would put forth a top 25 offense and instead wound up with about the same production from the previous season, if not a small regression. Admittedly, injuries played a part here too.

Ensminger, after delivering solid results running another person’s playbook is widely being met with disdain or, my favorite, the coming demise of the program, which has now been prophesized every season since 2004. Reality says, with LSU’s talent level Ensminger will probably deliver about the same offensive product we’ve seen the last decade.

So then why all the gnashing of teeth? The simple answer is that it feels like a betrayal of campaign promises. The Orgeron model pushed so heavily is that Coach O would be the figurehead of the organization, responsible for doing what he does well: recruiting and buttering up local boosters. And he would delegate the football pieces to the “best staff in the country.” Aranda clearly represents that. Canada seemingly did as well. This is a trust violation.

Ensminger hasn’t been a full-time coordinator in nearly 20 years, and in that span, hasn’t even been coaching a premium position. Perhaps if he spent the last several years grooming talented QBs that excelled, people would be more lenient but as is we have about an 8-game sample of what a 60-year-old position coach can do running an offense. It’s not the type of move that inspires confidence.

But the issue really isn’t with Ensminger. It’s with Orgeron and the feeling that he’s not delivering on what he promised to earn himself the job at LSU. I’m not going to say anything to convince you that Ensminger is the right man for the job. Hell, I don’t even believe he is the right man for the job. But we should step back and acknowledge that all roads don’t lead to disaster. Ensminger may not be what you want, but what you want may not always be the right thing. See Canada, Matt.