LSU football coach Brian Kelly seems to have his priorities in order.
With the end of the regular season following a 42-30 victory over Texas A&M on Nov. 25, Kelly and his coaching staff turned their attention to their current players and the process of trying to attract future players on the recruiting trail.
Exit interviews that included current team members took place last week, for among other things, gauging their interest in playing in a bowl game. No. 13 LSU (9-3) accepted a bid to the ReliaQuest Bowl against Wisconsin (7-5) at 11 a.m. on Jan. 1 in Tampa, Florida.
Recruiting continued toward the NCAA’s early signing period on Dec. 20. where Kelly and his assistants have until the Dec. 18 dead period to maintain communication with prospects and conduct official visits.
Not until then can you expect Kelly to conduct a thorough evaluation of his entire coaching staff. He knows there’s been plenty of outcry about defensive coordinator Matt House and the team’s defense, a unit that played far below his standards.
“Look, 9-3, we’re here to win championships and so our defense did not play to the level that our standard is set at,” Kelly said Tuesday during a press conference. “Nobody is happy, including everybody on the defensive side and the head football coach, that we didn’t play the kind of defense necessary. I’m not happy about it, nobody’s happy about it. Our fans shouldn’t be happy about it, and we have to do things to make sure that doesn’t happen again.”
Kelly was quick to point out the discussions that will take place with defensive staff members won’t be the first.
Since LSU’s historically worst performance in a 55-49 loss at Ole Miss, a game in which the Tigers surrendered a school-record 706 total yards, Kelly said the wheels of change were put into motion.
“That’s when addressing our defensive shortcomings began, and so this process has been ongoing,” Kelly said. “It’s not like all of a sudden, ‘hey, by the way, you’ve got to fix the defense’. This has been ongoing, and this process has been one where we feel the pain of everybody because we feel it to do. It cannot be the kind of defensive performance we had this past year. It’s got to be better, and it will be better.”
LSU’s defense in 2020 became the school’s benchmark for futility. The Tigers allowed program worst totals in points (34.9) and total yards (492.2).
This year’s unit mirrored that group by ranking next-to-last in three major categories: scoring (27.75), rushing yards allowed (163.8), total defense (409.2) and turnovers gained (13).
LSU was 102nd and 101st nationally in turnovers gained and total defense, 89th in rushing defense and 77th in scoring defense.
This year’s defense allowed the third most points per game (27.8) in school history and became just third the unit in school history to yield more than 400 yards of offense (409.2) per game.
To give perspective on the timing of such decisions involving his assistants, Kelly said when he fired defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder during the 2016 season at Notre Dame, the Irish were 1-3 and allowing more than 37 points a game.
VanGorder was a groomsman in Kelly’s wedding, he said.
“Those aren’t easy decisions,” Kelly said. “I’m not afraid to make those decisions and I’m going to do what’s best for LSU’s football program and the pursuit of a national championship. But I’m going to do it informed, I’m going to do it for what’s best for the program because it’s involving players, it’s involving coaches.
“It’s involving all things as it relates to being more successful as a defense,” Kelly said. “So, it’s not on one person. It’s collectively and so if it was that easy, we would have been in a different place. Like I said that I went three games into a season and made a change in the leadership. If it was that easy, those decisions are a lot easier.”
NOTES: Kelly said the team, which is in the middle of final exams this week, will begin the first of 15 bowl practices on Monday … He also said that Daniels returned to his native California to attend the death of a family member … Transfer portal cornerback signees Duce Chesnut and Denver Harris, who haven’t played or been part of the team since the loss to Ole Miss, are scheduled to meet with Kelly after exams to determine their future with the program … Iowa defensive coordinator Phil Parker was the recipient of the Frank Broyles Award, symbolic of the nation’s top assistant coach, over a group of finalists that included LSU offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock.