When Joe Alleva elevated Coach O from interim to permanent head coach in 2016, most fans hung their hats on his recruiting prowess. Orgeron’s recruiting plaudits carry a lofty reputation, dotting the map with successes at Miami, USC and Tennessee. Since taking over the results are mixed. Here’s LSU’s final ranking in the 247 Team Composite Rankings every season since he took over as head coach:
Pretty good, but when everyone believes your best skill, maybe your only skill, is recruiting, it’s not overly impressive, silly as it sounds, to finish an average of 9th nationally.
Additionally, smartly or not, Orgeron blew up the roster. He took the calculated risk of shuffling his recruits into prominent positions and quietly shuffling more senior players out of the program or down the depth chart. He controversially let go of RB coach Jabbar Juluke, a move that was widely panned at the time, and replaced him with Mickey Joseph, a move that was similarly panned. Despite a strong finish to the 2017 signing class, move by move it felt as Orgeron may be dismantling the machine rather than enhancing it.
What we know now is that O set about stripping the machine down to its barest parts while attempting to orchestrate a simultaneous rebuild and maintenance of the status quo. It’s no easy feat but Orgeron managed it and the 2019 Fiesta Bowl is the first major dividend to the approach. What was O’s plan for taking LSU to the next level? Well that’s in the binder, duh.
He started by re-architecting Louisiana HS relationships. O took over a fractured landscape. Miles had his strongholds, but LSU began to hemorrhage prospects in the NE part of the state along with a slow drip in NOLA. O took the show on the road and got to work building relationships state-wide. He spent Friday nights at HS football games and made mid-week visits to schools just to build rapport. I dare say he even invested in lesser local recruits, playing the long game. It was a singular, dedicated, focused marketing message: “We are going to take care of our own.” Mickey Joseph became a key figure in that endeavor and then delivered on the promise landing Jamarr Chase and John Emery Jr., who both might otherwise have shipped off to elsewhere in the conference.
Simultaneously, he extended his tendrils into longtime LSU recruiting footholds: Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, and Texas.
Orgeron rightly assessed that to expand his recruiting base, he needed first to lay a solid foundation. It doesn’t mean he’s built an impenetrable wall. It means he’s returned LSU back to the days of largely picking and choosing who they want in-state and targeting and landing key talents out of state.
But in the 2020 cycle, Orgeron is truly spreading his wings and tapping into a new pipeline of talent where he’s long held relationships, the West Coast. LSU’s rarely extended their recruiting map that far West and often with little success. Last year, when they nabbed Siaki Ika from Utah, it felt definitively like the exception, not the rule.
Not even six months later and LSU is making some serious headway out West. Just take a look at the progress:
West Coast LSU Recruiting Targets
|Elias Ricks||Santa Ana, CA||5 star||Committed||2020|
|Jermaine Burton||Calabasas, CA||4 star||Committed||2020|
|Jordan Berry||Harbor City, CA||3 star||Committed||2020|
|Lathan Ransom||Tucson, AZ||4 star||Official visitor||2020|
|Kendall Milton||Clovis, CA||5 star||Official visitor||2020|
|Justin Flowe||Upland, CA||5 star||Planned Official Visit||2020|
|Justin Houston||Gardena, CA||4 star||Unofficial Visit||2020|
|Jaden Navarrette||Norco, CA||4 star||Unofficial Visit||2020|
|Jake Garcia||Harbor City, CA||5 star||Offered||2021|
|Beaux Collins||Bellflower, CA||4 star||Offered||2021|
|Cristian Dixon||Santa Ana, CA||4 star||Offered||2021|
|Bram Walden||Scottsdale, AZ||4 star||Offered||2021|
|Victory Vaka||Westlake Village, CA||4 star||Offered||2021|
|Braezhon Ross||Las Vegas, NV||3 star||Offered||2021|
|Raesjon Davis||Santa Ana, CA||5 star||Offered||2021|
|Jonathan Flowe||Upland, CA||4 star||Offered||2021|
|D.J. Harvey||Chatsworth, CA||4 star||Offered||2021|
|Emeka Egbuka||Steilacoom, WA||5 star||Offered||2021|
|Ethan Cavlert||Westlake Village, CA||4 star||Offered||2021|
|Anthony Beavers Jr.||Harbor City, CA||4 star||Offered||2021|
20 offers, three commits (two in the top 40) and a load more visitors and planned visitors. The staff is absolutely doing work out West in a way we haven’t seen in previous years. It’s not that we’ve never pursued prospects from the West Coast, it’s that we’ve never found success. Suddenly, the landscape it changing.
There’s a few factors here contributing. Firstly, the rise of the SEC to such national prominence. Yes, this is largely Alabama, but SEC programs are regularly featured in prominent game time slots, available to eyeballs nationwide. Compare that to the lack of available coverage of the Pac-12 nationally and you can see why it would appeal to a young prospect with big dreams of playing on national television.
Secondly, Orgeron and his staff’s ties to the West. Coach O spent nearly a decade of his professional career recruiting kids out West. He built relationships with HS coaches that endure, even over half a decade later. On top of that, both Dave Aranda and safeties coach Bill Busch have ties to the West as well.
Finally, the fall of the West Coast schools. USC is on the brink of firing yet another coach. UCLA is still rebuilding under Chip Kelly, who isn’t exactly a premier recruiter. Washington is recruiting well, but not quite in that premier class of schools that every top talent considers. Suddenly, the West looks much more open.
Those three factors thrust LSU into the national recruiting landscape in a way they’ve never been before. LSU’s historically relied primarily on in-state talent and secondarily on Texas and the Southeast. Now, they are taking the step to become Alabama, Oklahoma, Michigan or Ohio State-esque in their reach.
Will it hold? It’s hard to say. I’m inclined to say no, but take a look at that list and you see multiple high ranking prospects from the same schools. If LSU can find early success with Ricks, it might blow the doors open for Raesjon Davis. If Jordan Berry is successful, does 5-star QB Jake Garcia start to listen? It’s way too early to call it a pipeline and by nature of distance alone, it likely won’t ever be.
But right now? Orgeron’s got a sound message to sell and these recruits... are buying it.