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The New Brian Kelly Era Begins

A clean break from the past

LSU Introduces Brian Kelly as Head Football Coach
Your guess is as good as mine
Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

Ripping off the Band-Aid is never fun, but I’m glad LSU finally got around to it. And now, as the college football season officially comes to its conclusion, LSU already has its 2022 staff in place.

And with it, an era of LSU football comes to its inevitable close.

You could trace the revival back to Dinardo, but he is more commonly placed in the Dark Ages. A little unfair for a guy who Brought Back the Magic, but he did also go 3-8, and history can be a cruel mistress at times. But the Golden Age of LSU Football is rightly traced to the hiring of Nick Saban.

We’ve been fighting about it ever since. Les Miles was not Nick Saban, and no one in Baton Rouge ever forgot. Yet, once Miles was shown the door, LSU hired one of his assistants and kept virtually the entire staff in place. It was a mere continuation of the previous era, only with a new face to the program.

That’s over now. Brian Kelly has no connection to LSU or Louisiana, and his first order of business was cleaning house. He only kept one member of the prior coaching staff, interim coach and offensive line coach Brad Davis. He even went so far as to fire longtime strength coach Tommy Moffitt and then general manager Austin Thomas.

This was a total teardown, stripping the program down to the floorboards. Good. Look around, the team only fielded 38 scholarship players for its bowl game. It’s already been stripped down to the tacks, this just fessed up to the reality of the situation.

The fact that when Orgeron stepped down as coach there was no viable contender to become the interim coach on staff was an indictment of the hiring practices. The absolute decimation of the roster over the past two seasons speaks ill of both the roster management and the team conditioning. Maybe they don’t deserve the bill for it, but… change is hard, and when you have a window to make it, you should go forth and do it.

After a decade of half measures and minor tweaks, LSU has finally turned the page. We are in a definably new epoch for the program, and anything is on the table from building a new dynasty to complete failure. I don’t know about you, but I find that terribly exciting. The sheer range of possibility and the lack of certainty makes this one of the more interesting offseasons of recent vintage.

Which brings us to the hires themselves. By and large, I’m happy with them, with the honest caveat that I know next to nothing about the positional coaching market. It looks like Kelly shored up his weakness of a lack of Louisiana ties, and also drew on guys that had some NFL experience. But at the end of the day, I don’t much care who the receivers coach is.

Yes, Corey Raymond became a star as our DB coach and I am sad to lose him, but we also made it clear that we were never going to make him the defensive coordinator, making it clear that it was time for him to leave. Honestly, the only coach I’m sad about losing is Daronte Jones, who I think showed his ability over the second half of the season and earned himself an extension.

Instead, Kelly brings in Kansas City Chiefs linebackers coach Matt House. House is a former Broyles Award finalist for his work as the DC at Kentucky. Sure, he had Josh Allen, but anyone who makes Kentucky a great defense can coach. I’m sad to lose Jones, but House has a fairly impeccable resume.

Mike Denbrock gets the nod as the offensive coordinator, which feels like a comfort hire. Kelly is walking into a new place and a wildly different culture, so he reaches a bit into his past and grabs one of his former assistants who has gone on to big things at Cincinnati. He runs a spread (who doesn’t?) and has a great track record with tight ends, but what I like best about him is this quote from an old Football Scoop profile:

“I think more than anything just continuing to try to be open to new perspectives, techniques and new ways of enhancing your core beliefs. I don’t know that your core beliefs as a coach necessarily change all that much year to year, and it starts with building meaningful relationships, but I think your approach as to what style of play, what fits each particular team the best. How do we get to be even better or on a higher level? How do you get there?”

“One thing I spent a bunch of time on was just watching and studying some of the best coaches that are out there and the way they do their business. If you find one thing, or three things to add to what we’re doing here, and then getting together as an offensive staff, and we’ve really got a great staff and all our coaches did a nice job of doing that.

Is he the hotshot young genius? No. But he is a football lifer who has demonstrated philosophic flexibility, which is what you need to be successful. He’s not married to a system. And he guided Cincinnati to the 11th ranked scoring offense and 9th in yards/play. His teams performed.

Special teams coordinator is one of those jobs which isn’t a big deal until you have a bad one, but I will say that I love the Brian Polian hire. He’s coming from the Notre Dame staff, but he’s a former head coach himself (Nevada), and I’m a big fan of having another former head coach on staff.

But the gem of the new staff, speaking of former head coaches, is Frank Wilson. Wilson is one of the greatest recruiters in LSU history. He recruited such talents as Leonard Fournette, Anthony “Freak” Johnson, Tyron Johnson, and Jarvis Landry to LSU. He has a demonstrated track record of signing five star talent.

Also, with a 26-40 alltime record as a head coach, he might not feel the need to scratch that itch again. Kelly wisely made him the associate head coach, giving him the title bump he deserves. Because Kelly’s success is going to depend on how well Wilson can go into New Orleans and sign elite talent.

Kelly may have cleaned house, but he also knew who he needed to bring back in the fold. It’s a good staff, but mainly, it’s a whole new start. LSU is at ground zero right now, and the rebuild starts now. Because you don’t get plaudits for your coaching staff, fans care about wins. He’s got to do that right away.