By CODY WORSHAM | Tiger Rag Editor
Three qualities stood out to Joe Alleva when deciding to hire Ed Orgeron as LSU’s 33rd football coach.
His ability to motivate his players. His experience under a series of elite mentors.
Last, and certainly nowhere even in the vicinity of least, his ability to recruit.
“He’s one of the finest recruiters in the country,” Alleva said of Orgeron. “When you put together the talent that we can gather here at LSU, with the coaching staff he’s going to put together, it’s a formula for championships. That’s our goal here, is championships, to compete at the highest level.”
The word ‘recruit,’ or some variation of it, was mentioned, by a quick calculation, 30 times by Alleva or Orgeron at the latter’s introductory press conference Saturday afternoon. Unquestionably, Orgeron — once named the National Recruiter of the Year by Scout.com and promoted during the offseason to LSU’s recruiting coordinator under Les Miles — knows how to get top-flight prospects on campus.
Now that the job he’s long dreamed of is his, without the interim tag, he’ll have to prove his ability to reel in talent extends beyond prep stars.
The first and foremost task for Orgeron will be, in his own words, to “assemble the best staff in America.” That includes convincing defensive coordinator Dave Aranda to stick around Baton Rouge after an incredible debut year that saw LSU give up just three touchdowns, combined, in its four losses.
“He is the best coordinator in football,” Orgeron said. “We plan on him being with us. I spoke with him this morning. We’re happy that Dave is an LSU Tiger, I promise you that.”
Aranda could be in for a big pay day this offseason. He’s already due $1.3 million over the next two seasons, but Alleva could take the savings from hiring Orgeron at a lower rate — a reported $3 to $4 million, versus the reported $5 million for Tom Herman or $6 million for Jimbo Fisher — to make Aranda the highest-paid assistant in the country.
“I think the world of Dave Aranda,” said Alleva. “It’s our full intent to keep him here.”
Orgeron’s next task will be to hire a coordinator of Aranda’s caliber for the offensive side of the ball. Current interim offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger will stay on the staff, Orgeron told reporters after the press conference, in some capacity, but despite leading LSU’s offense to record outputs in four contests — most yards by LSU in an SEC game vs. Missouri, most yards per play in school history vs. Southern Miss, most rushing yards by an LSU player (Leonard Fournette, 284) versus Ole Miss, and the first 300-yard passer (Danny Etling) and 200-yard rusher (Derrius Guice) tandem in a single game in school history — LSU will look to bring in a new play-caller.
The name thought to be at the top of Orgeron’s list? Alabama coordinator Lane Kiffin, a long-time friend of Orgeron’s dating back to their days at USC and Tennessee. Neither Orgeron or Alleva would mention Kiffin or any other target by name on Saturday, but the message was clear.
“All I’m going to say is I’m going to go out and try to get the best coordinator in football,” said Orgeron. “LSU deserves the best, the best in all coordinator positions. I plan on doing that…We’re going to look at recruiting the best offensive coordinator in football and bring him to LSU. I do believe that nowadays you have to run the spread offense. You have to have dual-threat quarterbacks that can run the ball and throw it. But you have to have somebody who knows how to run it.”
There are other hires to consider, as well. Pete Jenkins will stay as defensive line coach for a year, Orgeron said, but special teams coordinator could be a spot for an upgrade, and other coaching vacancies are likely to emerge on either side of the ball.
Alleva, who said he expects Orgeron to land at least 90% of the names he presented in Friday’s meeting as potential staff additions, said, “I know we’re going to assemble a great staff. I’m telling you, the names are phenomenal.”
Those phenomenal names, whoever they turn out to be, will need phenomenal talent to have success. Keeping Orgeron on board should help solidify a recruiting class ranking in or near the top five by every major service.
Since I cover recruiting, I'll say this: this is a big win for #LSU recruiting. Tigers are all but guaranteed to finish with a Top 5 class.
— Shea Dixon (@Sheadixon) November 26, 2016
Orgeron said he had already called recruits today and would hit the road Sunday “seeing the best players we can.” Long term, his vision of recruiting at LSU involves staying close to home.
“State of Louisiana first,” he said. “One star, two star, three star, four star, five star, any star, I don’t care. We going to get them. If we think they can be an LSU Tiger and they can perform like we want to, they can perform in the classroom, have a high character, have the skill sets to be a Tiger. We’re starting off with Louisiana first. Then we’re going to go outside our borders to get potential first-round draft picks. Mainly going to stay in the South. If there’s a person of interest from the Northeast or California, we will go there. We know we’re going to stay along the I-10 corridor and get after it as much as we can. LSU has done a tremendous job of recruiting. We look to do a better job in recruiting at some specific areas. But LSU will always be Louisiana first.”
Finally, Orgeron will look to turn up the heat on LSU’s draft-eligible juniors. He’s aware that some guys — Leonard Fournette, perhaps — will be nearly impossible to retain, but Orgeron’s already had conversations with more borderline juniors whose return to LSU for another year could be mutually beneficial for both program and player. Orgeron said he would continue those conversations “today, right after I finish this.”
“I’ve been recruiting, I promise you that,” he said. “Some are recruitable, some are not so recruitable. You have to understand that. But I’m going to take a shot at all of them.”
He’ll have a good chance at most of them, too. He’s a hell of a recruiter, after all. Alleva, the latest to succumb to Orgeron’s persuasions, knew that the moment he offered him the job.
“When you talk about recruiting, sometimes your best recruiters are the players on your team,” said Alleva. “When you bring a kid on your campus, and they talk to the players, and they say how positive things are, it goes so far in recruiting. The players on this team have really bought into him and what he does and how he’s running the program. That’s really important. And not to be discounted. Plus, the continuity we have in recruiting. We have a very good class going right now. And I think it will get better.
“Ed is the best recruiter in the country, demonstrated his unbelievable ability to motivate the kids, and I know we’re going to assemble a great staff,” he added. “I’m telling you, the names are phenomenal. When you put that combination together, it was the best situation for us here at LSU, and there’s no doubt in my mind. He’s going to hit the ground running.”