MORAN: Promoting Steve Ensminger is Ed Orgeron’s big gamble, but only time will tell if it’s a good one

By JAMES MORAN | Tiger Rag Associate Editor

It probably wasn’t necessary to make “The Godfather Part III” in the first place. It’s an average film compared to the cinematic masterpieces that preceeded it, but for all the over-complicated plot points and excessive yakking about geopolitics, the final installment did give us one of the most quotable lines of the entire trilogy.

An aging Michael Corleone, played by Al Pacino, has devised a way out of the family business in hopes of gaining legitimacy — both financial and social. In the scene he’s just found out that his old mafia associates have double-crossed him to block his exit from the world of organized crime.

Fresh off surviving an assassination attempt, Corleone sits in his ritzy kitchen surrounded by family and his inner circle. His face contorts as he becomes resigned to the fact that he’ll never leave his old life behind for greener, less-stressful pastures.

“Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!” he exclaims as he pulls his clenched fists toward his chest.

Now imagine Steve Ensminger reenacting the scene — albeit with a thick Cajun drawl — while re-setting up the temporary bed in his office for 2018.

The long-time assistant and former Tiger quarterback is taking over as Ed Orgeron’s new offensive coordinator as part of a staff shakeup after LSU parted ways with Matt Canada. He’ll be formally introduced (or re-introduced?) at a press conference Thursday set for noon in the Team Room at Football Ops.

Orgeron is turning over his offense to an assistant who hasn’t been a full-time coordinator in two decades. Ensminger’s most recent stint as offensive coordinator came at Clemson from 1997-98, with previous tenures as OC/QB coach coming at Texas A&M, Louisiana Tech and McNeese State.

Of course none of those entries on Ensminger’s résumé carry as much weight with Orgeron as the job he did as interim coordinator in 2016. Orgeron has stated repeatedly that he would never have landed the full-time gig were it not for the job Ensminger did breathing life into a stagnant offense with more aggressive play calling and an emphasis on play-action passes.

LSU averaged 32 points and 464.9 yards of offense under Ensminger while going 6-2 in eight games, scoring 38+ points in five of those contests. On the flip side of the coin, his offense scored just 10 points between losses to Alabama and Florida, the two stingiest defenses on the schedule.

Ensminger never publicly expressed any interest in the full-time gig as Orgeron set off to hire “the best offensive coordinator in the country.” That meant making a splash, and once hiring Lane Kiffin — boy, what a splash that would’ve made, huh? — proved a vain task, LSU quickly turned its attention to a hot commodity in Canada.

Does that mean Ensminger didn’t at least covet the job at the time? Only he knows that answer for sure, but the media-shy assistant did state publicly that Orgeron had to convince him to even take the interim gig in the first place after he initially turned it down.

“I told Coach O, ‘I’m doing this for you. I think you deserve this job. I mean that,'” Ensminger said at a press conference prior to the 2016 Citrus Bowl, his most-recent meeting with reporters. “I’ve known him for a long time. I said, ‘I’m going to do everything I can to make you the (full-time) head coach right here and make the Tigers win again, and that’s it.’

“I was doing it for our school, our state and Coach O. That’s it. I could care less about being the offensive coordinator at LSU. I told him that.”

A year later he’s exactly that.

Public reaction of the news has ranged from apocalyptic predictions to outright outrage. A vocal subsection of the fan base charges that Orgeron sold them a bill of goods as a populist coaching candidate and is breaking a primary campaign promise now that he’s in office. Outwardly, a case can be made Orgeron appears to be shelving the CEO approach to get the band back together under the guise of hiring loyal coaches he can trust.

The people were promised state-of-the-art sizzle and a splash. Instead they’ve got the 59-year-old Slinger, and most aren’t happy about it.

Here’s the thing: that doesn’t mean it won’t work out.

There are far more important factors into making a successful hire than winning the introductory press conference, so to speak. You may remember that, aside from Canada and Dave Aranda, the most lauded hire LSU has made in recent years was Cam Cameron. That adulation didn’t exactly age well after a promising start.

The only thing that matters in the long run is how many points are put up on the scoreboard and how many tallies are entered into the win column. Everything else is public relations window dressing.

For better or worse, Orgeron has hitched his wagon to Ensminger and this new-look staff. Aranda’s retention and a loaded defense should keep the bottom from falling out in 2018, despite doom-and-gloom prognostications and a brutal schedule, but Orgeron won’t be long for the job if the offense reverts into the kind of uninspiring train wreck that eventually caused the Les Miles Era to end.

That’s his gamble. Ultimately the success or failure of Orgeron’s plan will come down to how well Ensminger and the rest of this staff develop quarterbacks Myles Brennan and/or Lowell Narcisse.

If one of them becomes a legitimate, better-than-average SEC quarterback, everything should work out just fine. LSU has restocked its depth along the offensive line and at wide receiver through recruiting. There won’t be a Leonard Fournette or Derrius Guice at running back in 2018, but a viable passing game and strong offensive line would allow LSU to get along just fine relying on a rotating stable of backs.

And if they don’t, Orgeron is the one who will take the hit. This staff is now full of his guys working to execute his vision. That’s the prerogative and the onus of being head coach, and there’s nobody left to get thrown under the bus if it blows up in spectacular fashion.

One more thing: Michael Corleone suffers a diabetic stroke and is hospitalized right after uttering the famous line referenced above. Orgeron and Co. are betting this return to the high-stakes game works out a bit better for Ensminger.

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James Moran
James Moran was Editor of Tiger Rag from August 2018 to October 2019. He previously served as the associate editor since 2014. He is a graduate of the LSU Manship School of Journalism.
About James Moran 1377 Articles
James Moran was Editor of Tiger Rag from August 2018 to October 2019. He previously served as the associate editor since 2014. He is a graduate of the LSU Manship School of Journalism.

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