I think we all know what’s coming for the rest of the season at LSU, right? We can more or less skip the debate at this point and recognize that barring something very hard to predict, there is going to be a coaching change in the football program.
On Saturday, a putrid performance leading to the first home loss to Auburn since 1999, which was the year Gerry DiNardo earned a firing, dropped Ed Orgeron’s Tigers to 3-2. They could easily be 2-3, a three-point win at Mississippi State coming largely due to a host of mistakes the Bulldogs made which cost them the game.
LSU has the worst rushing offense in school history at this point. LSU’s offensive line, which starts three players who either started or played key roles on the 2019 national championship line which was rated the best in college football, has regressed to the point where it can’t even give the quarterback a clean pocket for two seconds, much less open any holes. Auburn was showing LSU a three-man line and dropping seven or eight players into pass coverage every play, and still they couldn’t run the ball.
And the quarterback, Max Johnson, clearly lacks confidence in both the protections and the route tree. Johnson is bailing out rather than going through his progressions, and it’s quite obvious that when opposing teams make defensive adjustments LSU’s coaching staff can’t match those to give Johnson the direction he needs. In all three of the competitive games LSU has played this year, the losses to UCLA and Auburn and the win over Mississippi State, Johnson and LSU’s passing offense have fallen off badly as the game has gone on.
This post is not going to dump on Johnson. He’s a sophomore who’s made just seven starts in his career. All things considered he’s not the problem. He has a terrible offensive line, no running game to stabilize the offense, most of his receivers are freshmen and LSU’s offensive design doesn’t fool anybody.
Defensively, LSU made a bad quarterback look like a Heisman candidate on Saturday. Bo Nix has been rotten ever since he’s been Auburn’s quarterback, and the previous week against Georgia State, a bad 1-4 Sun Belt team which was blown out 45-16 by Appalachian State Saturday, Nix had to be pulled for LSU castoff T.J. Finley, who engineered a touchdown drive to snatch victory from defeat. But against LSU Nix scrambled around like Fran Tarkenton against an undisciplined pass rush and managed to throw for more than 300 yards.
Fans are trying to look on the bright side about LSU’s defense, since it isn’t as terrible as the all-time-worst unit it was last year. But it’s still a terrible defense, and talent-wise it shouldn’t be. LSU runs a vanilla, high-school scheme which rarely blitzes and almost never even walks players up to show blitz. Opposing quarterbacks don’t get complicated pre-snap looks, and that’s why in all of the competitive games LSU has played, those quarterbacks have gotten more and more effective as the games have gone along because they’ve realized how basic the defense is.
In short, it’s all coaching. And Orgeron said after the Auburn game, when his staff had their rear ends handed to them, that he was going to further simplify things.
You can’t simplify it any more than you’re already doing, and the simplistic quality of your game plan on both sides of the ball is why you’re losing.
LSU faces a much upgraded schedule over the next several weeks. It might be the UL-Monroe game, in the 11th game of the season, before LSU is favored to win again.
And it’s very obvious that athletic director Scott Woodward wants to make a change.
Woodward has kept very quiet about Orgeron as fan pressure has mounted. He hasn’t even given Orgeron the dreaded “vote of confidence.” He’s just letting Orgeron twist in the wind. It’s known Woodward doesn’t have a high opinion of his football coach.
Insiders say Woodward has been making a file on Orgeron since last year, when a host of personal conduct issues began surfacing following the national championship miracle season of 2019. There was the failure of Orgeron’s marriage, some highly-visible romantic interludes with women far younger, a few incidents in which the coach’s personal judgement were at issue and of course the catastrophic program management and crash of the 2020 team to a 5-5 record.
And Orgeron’s hands aren’t completely clean with respect to the Husch Blackwell report on sexual assault allegations involving the football program, though one could make a reasonable defense for his actions (most of those allegations cast his predecessor Les Miles in a worse light than Orgeron).
We could go on. LSU isn’t likely to stay above .500 this season for very long, and anything short of a dramatic righting of the ship means a coaching change is coming. One day we can chronicle all of the problems which are leading to Orgeron’s demise, but the above will suffice for today’s purposes.
So what’s next? Well, it’s interesting that while you usually hear a robust defense of hot-seat coaches in the national sports media, particularly those with titles in their curriculum vitae like Orgeron has from just two years ago, none of that is in the mix now. One after another, reporters like Bruce Feldman, Josh Pate and Pete Thamel are saying he’s gone and essentially reporting it as an obvious fact rather than remarking on the unreasonableness of fan anger or any of the usual stuff.
They all expected Orgeron to fail and they see he’s failing. And what they’re saying, unanimously, because they’re hearing it from agents and coaches, is LSU is a top five college football coaching job and they’ll be able to get pretty much whoever they want.
The question, then, is who that’s going to be.
The top name likely to be bandied about is Urban Meyer, whose first-year experiment as the head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars is off to a rocky 0-4 start and whose personal behavior over the weekend looks like a more intense problem than Orgeron’s. Meyer’s body of work at Bowling Green, Utah, Florida and Ohio State make him a potential blockbuster hire, but getting lap dances in barrooms rather than returning home with your team that lost the night before is poison. It’s hard to see Meyer as LSU’s best coaching prospect.
But Meyer’s old defensive coordinator at Ohio State, Luke Fickell, might be shooting to the top of the list. Fickell’s Cincinnati team just went to Notre Dame and laid a convincing victory on the Fighting Irish, giving the Bearcats a legitimate opportunity to emerge as the first non-Power 5 playoff team. Fickell is a far more stable personality than Orgeron and the kind of coach who seems as though he’d be capable of long-term success at a program like LSU. He’s not overly flashy, but it looks clear he’d win. He’s 39-14 at Cincinnati, including 35-6 over the last four years.
There are a host of other names. It’s said Woodward had expressed interest in Alabama offensive coordinator and former Houston Texans head coach Bill O’Brien, as well as Ole Miss head coach Lane Kiffin. Kiffin is a hot name and certainly an offensive innovator, but he doesn’t seem like the kind of coach who fixes the problems Orgeron presents – he’s another whose personal judgement is suspect. The fact that he’s hopped around throughout his coaching career, never staying in one place very long, makes him suspect. O’Brien is much more solid, though less sexy. He’s had some issues with player relations while in Houston – but those suggest he might be better suited as a college coach.
O’Brien’s record as an NFL head coach, before the disastrous 0-4 start to last season which led to his firing, was pretty good. He struggled to make much headway in the playoffs, but he usually managed to get there.
And while he might not be the perfect hire for LSU, the model he presents could well be.
Think about this: the two most impactful college football coaches in this century are Nick Saban and Pete Carroll. The two most impactful coaching hires LSU has made in the past 40 years were Saban and Bill Arnsparger. What do they have in common? When hired for their last college coaching jobs, they’d been less-than-successful as NFL head coaches. Arnsparger had suffered through a short-lived disaster stint as an NFL head coach, Carroll had been somewhat successful as a head coach in New England, with two playoff appearances in three years, and Saban had lasted only two mediocre years in Miami before jumping back to college coaching at Alabama.
Hiring an NFL coach who’s a very good football man but perhaps didn’t have the greatest success as a head coach at the top level seems to be a good way to go. O’Brien could be that.
But there are some other possibilities who could be that as well.
If you watched the New York Giants shock the New Orleans Saints in overtime at the Superdome on Sunday, what you saw was a very impressive offensive game plan. Frankly, it was masterful – with the Giants’ top two receivers out for the game they managed to cut a good Saints defense to shreds, and got better as the game went along by making adjustments. Who was responsible for that? Giants offensive coordinator Jason Garrett, who spent 10 years as the Dallas Cowboys’ head coach. Garrett’s record as a head coach is 85-67, which is a better winning percentage than Saban, Carroll or O’Brien had.
Garrett is an example. Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen, who’s an excellent X’s and O’s coach, might be another.
It’s time to start vetting some of these guys in any event. Because the coaching change is coming at LSU. That’s obvious now.