Just When You Thought LSU Was Climbing Out Of The Football Woods…

…there comes yesterday’s Chris Landry podcast, in which the Louisiana native and former NFL scout, who spent quite a bit of time involved with the LSU football program in the 1980’s and 1990’s, brought out details of the infamous meeting between LSU athletic director Joe Alleva, head football coach Ed Orgeron and offensive and defensive coordinators Matt Canada and Dave Aranda.

You can listen to the whole 33 minute podcast here. If you don’t have the time or can’t do a podcast thing, there was a pretty comprehensive cliff notes posted at TigerDroppings here, which we’ll more or less crib, with some paraphrasing and additions for clarity, for our readers’ benefit…

  • Alleva has taken to watching film with Orgeron on Sundays.
  • It has not been well received by the other coaches.
  • After the loss to Troy Alleva was the one who suggested that they bring the coordinators in to his meeting with Orgeron.
  • Most athletic directors wouldn’t do that.
  • Wisconsin’s Barry Alvarez, who was a great head football coach and is not a great AD, would never meet with the head coach and coordinators together. If asked by his head coach, he would look at film independently and have a private conversation to discuss.
  • This doesn’t happen because it shows a lack of respect for the head football coach, who at most universities is the highest-paid employee on campus – which is what Orgeron is at LSU.
  • It’s Alleva’s right to point out things that aren’t going well, but for the AD to be the person that everything funnels through is not a good look.
  • At the infamous Monday meeting, the coordinators were affirmed in their belief that it’s their call to do what they want to. It’s one thing for the AD to remind the head coach that he’s got to let his coordinators do their jobs, which is not uncommon and can be chalked up to a competent AD “coaching his coaches” – it’s something else when the AD basically reprimands his head coach to that effect in front of the coordinators.
  • Saying the meeting worked because LSU beat Florida is shortsighted. That was one game, and there is still half the season left to go.
  • What happens when other problems take place? Do the coordinators go to the head coach or the AD? Again, that meeting doesn’t resolve what the power structure is with respect to LSU football.
  • Noted that this all should have been kept in-house. Leaking it to the media, which someone other than Orgeron did and then Orgeron confirmed it on last Wednesday’s SEC football coaches’ conference call, makes the head coach look weak in front of the team.
  • Why did the meeting take place? Orgeron felt that offensively, with youth on offensive line, pre-snap scheme and motions were too confusing. Canada believed just the opposite.
  • The short version of what makes Canada’s offense work is that his pre-snap motions mask deficiencies in the offensive line and hide a talent discrepancy between that line and the defensive fronts LSU faces this year. The offense’s success is predicated on making defenses defend the jet sweep – preventing them from teeing off on the quarterback in the pocket or overloading the front against the inside run.
  • Canada’s offensive theory is not Orgeron’s. The head coach believes in “good ol’ boy” toughness at the line of scrimmage, and he doesn’t emphasize getting “more out of less” from the offensive line.
  • Landry thinks LSU getting away from Canada’s offense, particularly in the first half, cost LSU the Troy game. Landry thinks, and can draw some evidence for his belief from the slightly better offensive performance in the Florida game, that Orgeron will refrain from meddling in LSU’s offense again.
  • The concern going forward is whether Orgeron will meddle the next time something is not working well.
  • Landry says he has three different sources who spoke to either Canada, Aranda, or both, and was told here’s why the meeting happened: Aranda and Canada are at LSU because they’d been promised they would be authorized to run their units as they see fit. At the meeting Alleva told Orgeron to let them coach the way they want to.
  • Landry says the pressure is on Aranda and Canada because of the structure – a weak head coach and an emphasis on the coordinators. They are coaching for future jobs as well as the current season. “Everyone’s reputation is at stake here.”
  • He says it’s a problem when the coordinators don’t respect the head coach’s acumen due to a perceived lack of knowledge of running an offense and/or defense. Orgeron has never been a coordinator in his career – only a position coach and a head coach.
  • Most situations include coordinators who “look up” to the head coach, who is recognized as the best coach on the staff, and are being empowered by the head man to take charge of the units they’re running, but those coordinators have the option to “tap in to” the head coach’s knowledge to help them grow as coaches. This is a “void” at LSU, and “is a long-term problem.” Nobody else in college football has a structure like this.
  • Alleva told Canada and Aranda “they are in charge in front of Orgeron.” The AD re-emphasized the lack of respect to the head coach by doing that, and in that meeting he enforced the fact that LSU football’s power structure gives the coordinators authority nobody else in football – college, pro or otherwise – does.
  • Why is Alleva so involved in football? Landry’s take is that it’s what he wanted and he could never get it with Les Miles, who famously shut Alleva out of any influence in football (those familiar with the John Chavis contract debacle, which ended up in court, can draw on that memory as a reference in this regard).
  • Landry thinks this undue influence by the AD has a lot to do with why Alleva hired Orgeron in the first place. Landry says Alleva wanted to have the ability to put his two cents in and run the football program as his toy – and no other coach would tolerate that level of micromanagement from above.
  • Landry says Orgeron listens to too many people regarding how his program should be run. Landry specifically thinks defensive line coach Pete Jenkins, who is a mentor of sorts to Orgeron, is too much in the head coach’s ear. He says so are the coordinators. And when the control is bottom-up rather than top-down, it creates a leadership vacuum in the program.
  • Going forward at LSU, it’s Canada’s offense and Aranda’s defense. If at some point that doesn’t produce satisfactory results, there could be another meeting and maybe there will be a whole new power structure implemented.
  • The word’s getting around across the country on what’s happening at LSU. Landry says the responses from AD’s, head coaches and assistant coaches is that this meeting was a “strong indicator” there is a lack of faith in Orgeron. So if the losses mount now that LSU is playing exclusively SEC competition in the second half of the season, you can bet this will be scrutinized a lot and Orgeron’s job security discussed constantly.
  • Landry says the win against Florida is not an indicator that long-term success is viable given all of the above.

It’s fair to say that if Landry’s sources have properly characterized that meeting a week ago, that LSU is trying something without a particularly strong track record of success. Football coaching staffs are not typically democracies – nor are any small organizations with a tight focus of activity. Strong leadership structures are almost always crucial components of success, and it’s apparent Alleva is attempting to make LSU football’s leadership structure as weak as possible, either for his own pleasure as Landry suggests, or because he has no confidence in Orgeron.

You can’t hire a football coach at a salary of some $3 million or more per year and then rob him of the ability to control his program. Or if you do set up so out-of-balance a structure, you certainly can’t do it on the basis of giving that coach a $12 million buyout which makes him unfireable. None of that makes sense in the slightest.

But in the short term, who knows? Canada and Aranda both have outstanding reputations as coaches, and it’s entirely possible that leaving them alone to design and execute schemes against LSU’s opponents will work fine. It’s worth saying that while the win over Florida was quite possibly a one-off achievement not duplicable against a better opponent like Auburn, and let’s face it, LSU won that game because a very good kicker missed an extra point thanks to a bad hold, Canada and Aranda both looked like they’d outcoached the competition on the other sideline. Maybe they can keep doing that, and maybe with LSU’s team looking a little healthier now than they were earlier in the season the team can muddle through without things falling apart.

But – again, if Landry’s sources are providing an accurate portrayal of what happened last week – this is not how a successful football program gets built. Successful programs are built on having a competent, charismatic leader at the helm in whom everyone has confidence and who exercises a firm hand of control over very good people he attracts and selects to work with him. And what LSU has instead is a weak leader under the thumb of an AD who has no football expertise of note, operating what amounts to head-coach-by-committee.

There is a reason nobody else does business like this, and it’s fair to say Joe Alleva is not smarter than all the other athletic directors who wouldn’t dream of running a program this way.

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