Never has a firing been so presaged with discussions about Ed Orgeron’s departure from LSU raging for weeks. Part of it is cruel and speculative. The other part, a certainty because of the way the wind was blowing in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Orgeron’s separation from the Tigers is both shocking and not surprising at all. Shocking because, less than two years ago, he was the national coach of the year who led LSU to 15-0 national championship season. Not surprising because things started to unravel quickly.
An upset loss at Missouri in 2020 set the tone for a 5-5 season. The Tigers had to win their final two games just to get to .500. They are 9-8 (7-6 SEC) overall since that championship win with a 2-3 record against Power Five opponents this season.
Orgeron admitted he didn’t interview defensive coordinator Bo Pelini in 2020 prior to hiring him. The defense was a disaster. The feeling of the administration was that the talent was too good for LSU to ever be that bad.
Orgeron has never been able to outrun his reputation as mostly a master recruiter who would tear his shirt off to fire up his team — even after winning a national title.
In the end, he became a loose equivalent of Gene Chizik, the former Auburn coach who lasted just two full seasons after leading his Tigers to the 2010 championship. Orgeron will play out his second post-title season as well, according to reports.
As far as hiring Coach O’s replacement, start with the reality that athletic director Scott Woodward is aiming high. That means trying to go “big” and not putting faith in an up-and-comer with promise.
Let’s take a look at which coaches may step in at LSU ahead of the 2020 college football season.
James Franklin, Penn State coach: Franklin checks all the boxes at two huge openings: LSU and USC. Does it become a bidding war now, and does he leave Penn State at all? Franklin is a master recruiter with the personality to win the press conference and an record of on-field success having led Penn State back to national prominence. He also has a Big Ten title (2016) in his back pocket. Franklin’s candidacy comes down to one question: Is it easier to win the Pac-12 South than the SEC West. If he leaves, I think we all know the answer to that question.
Luke Fickell, Cincinnati coach: If moving to Los Angeles for a native Ohioan with six kids is an issue, think about Fickell going to LSU. If “it just means more” in the SEC, it’s just different at LSU. Don’t dismiss Fickell totally because his arrival would stabilize the program. You’d better believe the guy can coach. But Fickell’s future seemingly is down to two scenarios: continue to win and build and wait for the Big 12 at Cincinnati or go to USC where he would reunite with athletic director Mike Bohn, who hired him at Cincy.
Joe Brady, Carolina Panthers offensive coordinator: The risk here is that Brady has never been a head coach. Not even close, really. In that magical 2019 season, Brady shared play calling duties with Steve Ensminger. He got the job after spending two seasons as an offensive assistant with the New Orleans Saints, and now he’s in his second season with the Panthers. Is he too young at age 32? It might not matter if Brady gains traction among Tiger Nation. Think of David Lee Roth coming back to Van Halen. Sammy Hagar just didn’t get it done.
Billy Napier, Louisiana coach: Since taking over the Ragin’ Cajuns, Napier has led them to a 33-12 record with three Sun Belt West division titles and a conference co-championship last season. Louisiana is 26-5 since the start of the 2019 season, and LSU has been able to watch its success from close range with Napier is getting it done less than an hour away in nearby Lafayette. It’s long been believed that Napier has been biding his time waiting for LSU — or a similar top-tier Power Five job — to come open while turning down overtures from other programs. Where he may be on the Tigers’ candidate list remains to be seen.
Lane Kiffin, Ole Miss coach: Hey, he’s done it once; why not again? It’s one thing, though, leaving Tennessee for USC. What about dropping one SEC West program for another? Kiffin survived a trip back to Tennessee — barely — where he was one and done. A move to LSU might be more outrageous considering it would be within the division. Here’s how the talks move along quickly: Kiffin promises Spencer Rattler will arrive via the transfer portal.https://playlist.megaphone.fm/?e=CBS2317895100&start=109
Bob Stoops, Fox analyst and former Oklahoma coach: Stoops is a factor at USC as well. The 61-year-old semi-retiree certainly knows the SEC culture having spent four years with Steve Spurrier at Florida. There were 18 more years chasing championships at OU. Stoops has been out of the game five years. Should that make a difference? The thinking is that Stoops would entertain interest from a program set up to win. USC and LSU, both wounded but proud, qualify.
Bill O’Brien, Alabama offensive coordinator: This job might fall right in Obie’s lap. The accomplished college (Penn State) and NFL (Houston Texans) coach has enhanced his reputation in half a season at Alabama. Quarterback Bryce Young is third in touchdown passes (24). The offense he leads is No. 1 in SEC scoring (45 points per game) and touchdowns (41). O’Brien is having a magnificent bounce-back year after being fired by the Texans. If the bigger college names fall through, O’Brien would be a value hire.
Mel Tucker, Michigan State coach: A Saturday report from Fox’s Bruce Feldman indicated that LSU types are interested in Tucker, who has the Spartans undefeated halfway through his second season. This move would make Kiffin look stable. Tucker would be leaving Michigan State after two seasons; he joined the Spartans after just one season at Colorado. As an assistant, Tucker was known as the SEC’s best recruiter. At Michigan State, he has used the transfer portal to quickly flip the roster with MSU off to a 7-0 start.https://b3dae5d92006231dff935402a520492d.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html
Dave Aranda, Baylor coach: The defensive coordinator for the 2019 national champions has to at least be in the conversation. While quarterback Joe Burrow and crew were setting offensive records, Aranda coached freshman All-American cornerback Derek Stingley Jr., All-American safety Grant Delpit and linebacker Jacob Phillips (SEC leader in tackles). After Saturday’s win against BYU, Baylor is 6-1. Aranda is one of the brightest defensive minds in the game, but is he magnetic enough for this job?
Matt Rhule, Carolina Panthers coach: If Rhule (8-13 in the NFL) is disillusioned with professional game less than two years into it, LSU would be a logical landing spot. Remember, also less than two years ago, Baylor was an overtime loss away to Oklahoma away from going to the College Football Playoff. Rhule is a master rebuilder. All the pieces are already in place at LSU.
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