Hold That Tiger
Did Dave Aranda cement himself as LSU’s next head football coach?
Another offseason, another coaching controversy for LSU football.
After years of hand wringing over whether they should or shouldn’t replace head coach Les Miles, he was fired mid-season and replaced with interim Ed Orgeron. Coach O, as supporters affectionately call him, landed the fulltime gig, but the ground he stands on seems as stable as Louisiana swamp mud. As part of his hiring decision, he agreed to employ highly revered coordinators to run the team’s offense and defense. He reeled in offensive coordinator Matt Canada and defensive coordinator Dave Aranda with deals that made them among the highest paid coordinator in the country.
LSU fans were happy. They had a Cajun in charge of their beloved program, two rising stars to help run the team, and excitement about returning to the pinnacle of college football.
Unfortunately, fractures started to appear in LSU coaching staff within the first month of the 2017 season. Whispers out of Baton Rouge said Orgeron and Canada didn’t hit it off and had an icy relationship. The Tigers started 3-2, with losses against conference foe Mississippi State and the Sun Belt Conference’s Troy University. Losing to the Bulldogs, although rare, does happen and is comprehendible. Losing to the Trojans – at home – however was an eye-opener.
After the second loss, word leaked that Orgeron asked Canada to limit his offense by reducing pre-snap shifts and jet sweeps from his play calling. Troy’s defense attacked and left the Tigers scoreless at halftime, down 10-0. After Canada was able to apply his offense in the second half, LSU scored 21 points, but the Trojans put up two touchdowns, too, and walked away from Baton Rouge with a 24-21 upset.
The next week, athletic director Joe Alleva called Orgeron, Canada, and Aranda into his office to “get on the same page.” LSU went 6-1 the rest of the way, finishing 9-3 and earning a Citrus Bowl bid. Although the Tigers’ offense wasn’t flashy, it appeared things on the Tiger sideline had begun to jell, especially as star running back Derrius Guice tore up the gridiron.
Whispers turned into roars a week ago ahead of the Citrus Bowl as word leaked that LSU would likely drop Matt Canada after just one year and are on the hook for roughly $3.3 million to buy out the final two years of the deal.
This week, SEC West rival Texas A&M’s new head coach Jimbo Fisher, coveted by LSU to replace Miles, made a run at stealing away Aranda. Had the Aggies landed Aranda, it would have been a huge black eye for Alleva and Orgeron and likely diminished public opinion of LSU football.
The Tigers scrambled to stay ahead of A&M by offering Aranda a new four-year, $10 million ($2.5 a year) deal to stay. As the Advocate’s Scott Rabalais reported, his 2018 salary will jump from $1.85 million to $2.5 million. That’s $208,333 a month, $48,077 a week, and more than 80 of 130 (62 percent) head coaches in college football’s top division made last year.
That put’s Orgeron in a bit of a precarious position. While many love Coach O and many point to his success in rallying players as an interim, many believe he isn’t capable of performing the duties required as the head ball coach for a full season. He has had success at USC and LSU when he’s stepped in midseason, but his stint as head coach at Ole Miss, where he went 10-25, was a disaster. Orgeron hired Canada, 45, whose offense features pre-snap movements and jet sweep motions, yet the LSU head coach says he wants an offense like USC had 15 years ago. That’s comes across as indecisive. He seems set to promote tight ends coach Steve Ensminger, 59, who served as his interim OC in 2016, to the full-time position in 2018, and add Jerry Sullivan, 73, as a consultant.
If the Tigers have another disappointing season in 2018, it will fall squarely on Orgeron, and it’s not likely he’ll survive. The search to replace him shouldn’t take long. Aranda, 41, is on staff, taking on more responsibility for hiring his assistants, and very likely being groomed to be the next head football coach at LSU.