When you are the interim head coach who is promoted, you are fighting a perception problem. For the last 21 games, LSU’s Ed Orgeron has fought that battle.
As so it is for new offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger.
He was the interim offensive coordinator for the interim coach in 2016.
Perception says that there is no way he can be better than Matt Canada, even though in 2016, running Cam Cameron’s offense, Ensminger’s LSU offense averaged more points and more yards than Canada’s.
Perception says that new passing-game coordinator Jerry Sullivan has lost his fastball. The 73-year-old Sullivan returns to LSU as passing-game coordinator. He was the offensive coordinator for the Arizona Cardinals in 2003. He also served as wide receiver coach for the Chargers, Lions, Cardinals, Dolphins, 49ers and Jaguars.
Perception is that LSU has fallen behind in recruiting. Yet, reality is far different. LSU has signed or has a verbal commitment from eight of the top 10 prospects in Louisiana in the class of 2018. That number will go to nine if the Tigers can land Archbishop Rummel wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase.
At the press conference to announce his hiring, Ensminger said all the right things, and some funny things, too. He spoke of the LSU offense using RPO (run-pass option) and a no-huddle offense.
He said we have to be more of “fast-break team.” He said he wasn’t worried about what the media said and wrote about him.
“I had a guy call me and say, ‘You read the paper?’” said Ensminger. “I said, ‘I haven’t read the paper in 20 years.’”
His boss chimed in with assurances that LSU will cure its ailments at the most important position on the field.
“At LSU, we must and will develop championship quarterbacks,” Orgeron said.
They certainly help. In the CFP championship, a change by Alabama at quarterback to a freshman with the first name of Tua changed an entire game. In LSU’s loss to Notre Dame, a change to a backup quarterback who can run and throw changed the game.
Another interim coach understands what one great quarterback can do for a football program. He was 4-3, 9-5, 6-7, and 10-4 in his first four years at his current school. Then along came Deshaun Watson, who in two seasons threw for 76 touchdowns and ran for 21 more. Suddenly, Dabo Swinney’s Clemson Tigers were playing in two national championship games, winning the second.
If Orgeron and Ensminger are to succeed, either Myles Brennan and/or Lowell Narcisse must be the answer at quarterback. The quarterback at LSU can no longer be a game manager.
Like the two freshman quarterbacks at Alabama and Georgia, he must be a difference maker. This is Ensminger’s biggest challenge.
Ensminger said this was his opportunity, and the former LSU quarterback said “he wanted to make this state proud.” Beating Alabama or Georgia at Tiger Stadium this fall would be a good place to start changing the perception that LSU football is solid but no longer special.
Ed Daniels is sports director of ABC26 WGNO. He can be reached at email@example.com.