BATON ROUGE, La. — By now, it is obvious to everyone that Ed Orgeron made a poor choice in hiring LSU’s offensive coordinator. But most folks are focused on the wrong guy.
Orgeron’s promotion of Steve Ensminger is being pilloried by what appears to be the majority of LSU fans, many of whom already have written off next season. Granted, there is a good chance those folks will be proven right. However, Ensminger might not be the reason why.
The Tigers are replacing 93 percent of their passing yardage and 92.4 percent of their rushing yardage next season. They’ll also be without their starting center and right tackle. Logic dictates the offense will take a step back. Ensminger’s task is to minimize the sting for his young offense and put them in position to take a huge leap forward in 2019.
The fact that Ensminger hasn’t been a full-time offensive coordinator since 1998 makes it easy to see why he is being viewed as Orgeron’s Folly. But the reality is Coach O’s biggest mistake was already made a year ago — bringing in Matt Canada.
Looking back, that arrangement was never going to work out because it was never natural. In order to secure LSU’s coaching job full-time, Orgeron had to try something flashy rather than what he really believed in. Hiring Canada was more about giving in to what looked good to the public than what was good for his football team.
Ensminger made that pretty clear just a couple weeks after Canada was hired instead of him.
“I’ve been in this business long enough. I know what everybody wants. They want a splash,” Ensminger said in the lead-up to LSU’s Citrus Bowl win over Louisville. “I said, ‘You know what? Do what you’ve got to do.’”
Orgeron did what he had to do. He made a splash. Unfortunately, it was a belly flop. Now he’s able to do what he really wanted to do.
There are plenty of reasons the move to Ensminger might not work. It has been awhile. But I daresay he has more chance to succeed at LSU than Canada ever did.
Sure, coaches have found a way to persevere through mutual disdain before. The 1985 Chicago Bears are the perfect example, putting together one of the best seasons in football history despite the fact that coach Mike Ditka and defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan rarely talked unless it was to fight. But Canada’s offense certainly wasn’t the equivalent of Ryan’s defense, so the added drama was not worth the price. If it were, someone — anyone — would have come calling by now.
Instead, schools such as Illinois and UTSA have looked elsewhere to hire coordinators in the time since his divorce from LSU became official. There’s a chance Canada isn’t moving aggressively for a new gig since he just came into $1 million the easy way, but the lack of demand feels telling.
So yes, LSU fans should be frustrated with Orgeron’s offensive coordinator hire — the one who’s already gone. Canada was the mistake. Ensminger is the one tasked with cleaning it up.
He may or may not get that job done, but he shouldn’t be written off before he gets the chance.