BATON ROUGE, La. — For the second time in two years, LSU finds itself in search of a new offensive coordinator.
The Tigers parted ways with first-year coordinator Matt Canada over the weekend, bringing an end to a tumultuous tenure rumored to be highlighted by disagreements and dysfunction between Canada and LSU head coach Ed Orgeron. This leaves a gap on LSU’s coaching staff heading into a pivotal National Signing Day on Feb. 7 and a spring where the Tigers will look to crown a new starting quarterback.
As with any coaching search, there are favorites and there are long shots. As was the case with Canada, there’s a good chance LSU ends up going after a candidate with no connection to Orgeron or Louisiana, but rather someone who appears to be on the cutting edge of offensive philosophy.
That said, after separating from Canada so quickly, Orgeron might want to pursue a more familiar successor.
Here are 10 ways LSU could go with this coaching search, as compiled by SEC Country:
1. Steve Ensminger
It’s the obvious choice, one that will make most LSU fans roll their eyes. Tight ends coach and former LSU interim offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger has to be considered the odds-on favorite to win the job.
In eight games under Ensminger’s lead in 2016, the Tigers averaged 32 points per game, despite a shutout loss to Alabama. The good games were great, with LSU dominating the likes of Missouri, Arkansas, Texas A&M and Louisville. But poor scoring performances against Alabama and Florida may have left a less-than-stellar impression on the fan base.
Ensminger’s last full-time stint as an offensive coordinator was 1997-98 at Clemson.
2. Jerry Sullivan
LSU’s other internal option is wide receivers consultant Jerry Sullivan. A longtime NFL veteran, Sullivan worked as a wide receivers coach for 24 years in the pros for the Chargers, Lions, Cardinals, Dolphins, 49ers and Jaguars.
Sullivan only worked once as an offensive coordinator, leading the 2003 Arizona Cardinals to the NFL’s worst scoring offense. Since then, Sullivan has helped train talented receivers, most notably Michael Crabtree with the 49ers and Allen Robinson with the Jaguars.
It’s not likely that Sullivan will make the jump from consultant to coordinator. But do expect an expanded role for him in 2018, potentially as a full-time staff member.
3. Hugh Freeze
This seems to be the candidate every LSU fan would be OK with. Hugh Freeze, the former Ole Miss head coach, is being sanctioned by the NCAA for improprieties in Oxford. As a result, he’ll have to be an offensive coordinator in 2018 if he wants to coach in college.
Orgeron and Freeze have history together, as Orgeron gave Freeze his first college coaching job while Orgeron was the head coach at Ole Miss. Freeze has referred to Orgeron as “the most passionate” coach he’s ever seen, and Orgeron said Freeze “did a great job at Ole Miss,” but hasn’t confirmed or denied any contact between the former co-workers.
Freeze’s offensive knowledge is highly regarded. Along with Les Miles, he is one of two coaches to beat Nick Saban’s Alabama dynasty in back-to-back seasons. But Freeze would be a rental. As soon as he’s eligible to be a head coach again, he will want to be. That could mean another one-and-done for LSU if it hires Freeze.
Further, it’s widely speculated in media circles that Orgeron and Freeze aren’t exactly on the best of terms. That might be the most important factor here.
4. Tee Martin
One of the few offensive coordinators named a semifinalist for the Broyles Award in 2017, former Tennessee quarterback and current USC offensive coordinator Tee Martin is a trendy name in the search. Martin and Orgeron would’ve crossed paths at USC in 2012-13 when Martin was the receivers coach and Orgeron worked as defensive line coach and interim head coach.
USC has averaged more than 30 points per game in each of Martin’s two seasons as offensive coordinator. And given Martin’s SEC roots, it wouldn’t be a shocker for him to want to move back down South, especially if it meant working for a coach he’s already familiar with.
Given USC’s status as a private college, Martin’s salary information isn’t made public. But coming to LSU would almost certainly come with a raise. Whether Martin wants to leave Southern California is up for debate. But stealing him away from the Trojans would be a huge get for Orgeron.
5. Steve Sarkisian
Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian, like Orgeron, is a veteran of Pete Carroll’s USC coaching tree. Sark is a former college head coach, having led Washington and USC in the past, and he has also worked as an offensive consultant and interim coordinator under Saban at Alabama.
There are two obvious roadblocks impeding LSU from courting Sarkisian. First, the Falcons are still alive in the playoffs. Second, there’s the question of whether Orgeron would want to hire the man USC chose as its full-time head coach instead of him. There’s no reason to believe Orgeron would be that petty, but that is a serious question.
6. Raid the Arizona staff
With Rich Rodriguez’s dismissal as head coach at Arizona, the staff of an offensive juggernaut suddenly comes open. Arizona finished fifth in the nation in scoring offense in 2017, averaging 41.3 points per game.
Is Rodriguez a believable candidate? Probably not. He’s carrying the baggage of his dismissal, and he’s an accomplished head coach who probably wouldn’t want to settle for a coordinator job. But his offensive coordinator? Long-time Rodriguez assistant Rod Smith might be available.
Smith worked under Rodriguez at West Virginia, Michigan and Arizona, the latest of which as offensive coordinator from 2012-17. Being the quarterbacks coach who helped teach the craft to Pat White, Denard Robinson and Khalil Tate is an exciting proposition, especially with a dual-threat player like LSU’s Lowell Narcisse.
7. Pull a coup
Stealing an offensive coordinator away from another college for more pay is one of LSU’s best options. The Tigers could try to lure someone such as Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich out of Stillwater on the heels of his 45-points-per-game season.
Or perhaps the Tigers would go after Memphis’ Darrell Dickey after the Tigers’ impressive season in the American Athletic Conference. Newly minted Houston offensive coordinator Kendal Briles fits in this category too, though he’s less than a week removed from accepting the Houston job and carries the stigma of his father’s Baylor scandal.
8. Former head coaches
If offensive-minded former head coaches are looking to get back into the game, LSU could be a landing destination. That could mean former Oregon coach Mark Helfrich, who’s currently working with Fox Sports. But he’s been connected to the offensive coordinator job at UCLA under former boss Chip Kelly, and the openings at Arizona. So the field might be competitive.
There’s also recently fired SEC coaches. Former Florida coach Jim McElwain worked as Alabama’s offensive coordinator before he became a head coach, giving him further SEC background. Former Tennessee coach Butch Jones comes from an offensive background as well. While those two flamed out as SEC coaches, they have experience recruiting the region, which gives them an advantage over many other candidates.
9. More former USC options
Sick of hearing about guys Orgeron used to work with at USC? Apologies, but here are two more.
Orgeron and New York Jets offensive coordinator John Morton worked together under Lane Kiffin at Southern California. Morton was USC’s offensive coordinator from 2009-10 and has history in Louisiana after working two stints with the Saints as an offensive assistant, in 2006 and 2015-16.
There’s also Minnesota Vikings running backs coach Kennedy Polamalu. Polamalu and Orgeron overlapped at USC multiple times, and Polamalu has history as a college offensive coordinator, having held the job previously at USC and UCLA.
10. An absolute long shot
LSU’s coaching platform is built around the intention of hiring the highest-profile, biggest-named coordinators. Dave Aranda satisfies that goal on defense. Offensively, LSU probably wants someone as prominent as Freeze or Helfrich or Sarkisian to hold up the bargain.
But perhaps LSU could go young with its next offensive coordinator, a rising star who can energize the Tigers’ offense. It’s difficult to single out an up-and-comer, because by definition they are under the radar. But one name to throw out is Louisiana-Monroe offensive coordinator Matt Kubik. In two years at ULM, Kubik has catapulted the Warhawks offense from 110th nationally in scoring to 25th in 2017, averaging 33.9 points per game.
Before ULM, Kubik worked for two years as offensive coordinator at Stephen F. Austin. He has Baton Rouge roots as well, as his first coaching stint was at Catholic High right here in Louisiana’s capital.
Would LSU look to swipe an offensive coordinator away from a smaller in-state school? Probably not. It’s not nearly splashy enough. But if you’re looking for a dark horse, Kubik might be the man.