As Brian Kelly takes over in year one at LSU, there’s no denying how far this football team has to go to reach the stability built in Tuscaloosa under Nick Saban. Arguably the most incredible run in college football history, Alabama’s 13-year journey has been at the apex of winning in the toughest conference in all college sports.
Sustained winning in the SEC is the ultimate goal for Kelly as the winningest coach in the sport takes over a job in Baton Rouge that in many respects, is waiting for a coach exactly like him. LSU has had good years, strong national championship runs, and rarely-matched talent. But what it has lacked is consistency from year to year.
That’s what Saban has brought to Alabama and what Kelly hopes to achieve now that he’s at LSU, but the most significant part of it is building through recruiting. Programs don’t sustain winning without finding the right talent, and Alabama has done that at an elite level since Saban took over.
Now Kelly must prove he can have a similar impact on the recruiting trail at LSU, and it all starts with protecting the Tigers’ home turf.
“I think it starts with pulling your base. I think our base extends all the way up to the border north of Baton Rouge,” Kelly said. “So I think there’s been a heightened focus that making sure in the state of Louisiana we’re not myopic in the sense that we’re just in one geographical area. It’s got to really focus on the entire state.”
In what has been LSU’s first full year recruiting a class in 2023, the Tigers’ staff jumped on a lot of talent in the offseason, securing 22 commitments, nine of which have come from inside the Louisiana borders. Now up to 23 commits as these final two crucial months before the early signing period in December, LSU is trying to build for next year and in future seasons as well.
The focus has veered towards maintaining strong relationships with the current commits in 2023, spreading out for some of the highly touted national prospects in this class, but more than anything, also getting a good jump on 2024, 2025, and even 2026. Knowing the personnel in this state is crucial no matter how far down the line these players will ultimately be getting to campus.
Kelly compared identifying players in Louisiana and keeping them in the state to being a lockdown cornerback.
“So, look, this adage of locking down the borders is like being a lockdown corner. You know, there are no lockdown corners, okay? There are good corners, and there are corners that are elite,” Kelly said. “We can be elite in the state of Louisiana, and that’s what we need to do. I think you start there.”
Building those relationships as early as possible is extremely important when building out the program’s future. Just this week, 247Sports recruiting director Steve Wiltfong crystal balled 2025 quarterback Colin Hurley to the Tigers’ program. One of the premier talents coming up the high school ranks, Hurley, a Florida native, has already been on LSU’s campus four times this year.
Kelly wants to build this program through elite freshmen classes ultimately and that’s how you start going about it. But this will take years to achieve, which is why in the short term the Tigers will be leaning on the transfer portal plenty.
“It’s about filling the needs that we have currently in our program. We’re not there yet. Unfortunately, we’re probably going to have to dip back into the transfer portal a little bit,” Kelly said. “We have some really good young players, and we’re not going to forsake them. That’s where we want to build this program. This program will be built on freshmen, but a couple of positions still have holes in them that need to be supplanted with some transfers.”
Alabama has built a structure where it recruits young talented players to take over for the other really gifted veterans it’s recruited in previous years. That’s where LSU hopes to be one day but it will take a ton of time, while also needing to hold off the likes of Alabama or Georgia.
“We’re much better than we were last year. We’ll get better this year, and then hopefully in another year this is just about player development and bringing in freshmen,” Kelly said. “That’s stage two in terms of getting to where we need to be to hopefully get to that final narrative of upstaging Alabama. But we’re certainly not there yet.”