Ed Orgeron’s coaching life is dependent on making good hires

LSU head football coach Ed Orgeron sends his 3-1, 1-0 Tigers against No. 22 Auburn (3-1, 0-0) at 8 p.m. Saturday in Tiger Stadium. PHOTO BY Jimmie Mitchell/SEC)

HOOVER, Ala. – One endearing trait about LSU football coach Ed Orgeron, for better or for worse, is he readily admits mistakes he’s made.

Like his coaching hires or maybe his process of hiring coaches.

There was his admission at the SEC Kickoff Media Days in Atlanta in July 2018 that his 2017 hire of Matt Canada as offensive coordinator was ill-conceived.

“It’s tough when you make a mistake, but it’s even tougher not to admit you made a mistake and it’s just not a good fit,” Orgeron said

What happened? Orgeron didn’t do his due diligence. Canada’s name was recommended to Orgeron, who failed to thoroughly check out if Canada’s offensive philosophy fit Orgeron’s vision. Canada’s system of shifts and motions looked more like the Harlem Globetrotters weave offense than an SEC offense designed to win.

Orgeron fixed his mistake by moving former interim O-coordinator Steve Ensminger in 2018 to replace the fired Canada and added whiz kid Joe Brady as passing game coordinator in 2019. The Tigers’ offense, led by Heisman Trophy winning QB Joe Burrow, blew through 15 straight opponents to win the national championship.

Shortly after the national title game win over Clemson, Orgeron had to shop for a new defensive coordinator since Dave Aranda left to become Baylor’s coach. He also had to replace Brady, who became O-coordinator for the NFL’s Carolina Panthers.

Orgeron hired Bo Pelini and Scott Linehan as replacements for Aranda and Brady respectively.

Like Canada, he fired them after one season. Like Canada, he failed in the interview process.

“There were some interviews that were not face to face,” Orgeron revealed on Monday’s opening day of the 2021 SEC Kickoff Media Days here at the Hyatt Winfrey. “There were some hires that were made. I know the guy, he knows me, let’s talk about it. Hey, this is what we’re going to run, stuff like that.

“When I hired Bo, it was not a formal interview. That’s probably what you’re asking. I believed in him, and it just didn’t work. I said I would never do that again.”

It seems one of the lessons Orgeron finally learned after last season’s 5-5 disaster of one problem snowballing in another is trust no one’s word when it comes to hiring coaches.

So, when it came time to hire six new assistants (including new offensive, defensive and pass game coordinators), the latest on June 1 when Orgeron unexpectedly fired offensive line coach James Cregg, he took no shortcuts.

“Every one of these guys, I interviewed them in person,” Orgeron said. “I had a long interview with them, specific questions that I asked, things that I maybe should have asked or shouldn’t have.

“When I was interviewing them, I was pretending I was one of our players, and I wanted to see how well they would communicate to our players. Coaches are going to know a lot of football, but it’s how much that they can get to our players and how much our players will know. Every one of these coaches made an A-plus in communication with our players.

“Every one of these guys that I interviewed, I specifically told them what I wanted done, and they specifically agreed to that.”

So far, at least through spring practice and into the off-season workouts, LSU players like junior cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. and sixth-year senior offensive tackle Austin Deculus give high marks to the younger coaching staff.

Stingley said new D-coordinator Daronte Jones, who had been an NFL defensive backs coach five seasons (Vikings, Bengals, Dolphins), “gives us energy” when he walks into a room.

“Coach Jones brings a lot of stuff from the NFL,” Stingley said, “and whenever he introduces something new to us, he breaks it down on an NFL level, and he shows how they did it when he was at the Vikings. He shows clips from that, or he shows clips from the Bengals and stuff like that.

“When we see that, we’re like, okay, we can do it. They’re making it look simple, so we can go out there and do it too.”

Deculus said new offensive coordinator Jake Peetz, who was quarterbacks coach with the Panthers last season under Brady, also knows how to raise the intensity level.

“We had a scrimmage this past spring and he (Peetz) comes into the O-line room,” Deculus said. “He says` Let’s go, let’s go.’ He flips one of the tables and starts flexing on everybody. We were like, ‘Yeah, this dude has got some energy to him.’ He’s like an energizer bunny.”

Even though live bullets won’t be fired until the Sept. 4 season opener vs. UCLA in Pasadena, Oregon has been generous in praising in new hires.

“I think that those guys have done a good job since they’ve been hired,” Orgeron said. “They understand the format. They understand how we’re going to practice. They understand what I want, and they’ve done a good job with it.”

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Ron Higgins

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