Man, that Ed Orgeron must be hard to work for.
Isn’t that the standard reaction when assistant coaches leave after a highly successful season? It’s a comment Nick Saban has heard often enough during Alabama’s run of five national championships, so surely it’s true of LSU, which has lost its defensive coordinator, its venerated passing game coordinator and, not coincidentally, an airboat full of players who opted for the NFL Draft with collegiate eligibility remaining.
Of course not.
LSU assistants are on the move because better opportunities came their way in the wake of a successful season. Joe Brady left, despite some strong LSU wooing, to become an NFL offensive coordinator and if his new boss, Matt Rhule is successful, Brady will be looking at an NFL head coaching position fairly soon. Dave Aranda, the Tigers’ defensive coordinator, is now the head coach at Baylor. Those were sensible moves, no different than Kirby Smart to Georgia, Jeremy Pruitt to Tennessee or even Jim McElwain to Colorado State.
That’s not to be disingenuous. Over the course of a decade, different personalities move on for different reasons. Sometimes, assistant coaches have been worn out by the Saban pace. Sometimes, Saban recognized that before the assistants did, sometimes not. One suspects that, over time, that will be the case at LSU. Orgeron is probably demanding as well.
The point isn’t to try and award some sort of “Boss of The Month” Award for SEC West coaches. But with the NFL Draft deadline upon us and nearly all the crucial decisions having been made, there’s time to consider what will happen in 2020 in college football’s toughest division. The two Mississippi schools and Arkansas will have new head coaches and, while any offseason that sees a division add both Lane Kiffin and Mike Leach to its coaching roster because an Ole Miss player went full St. Bernard and confused an end zone pylon with a fire hydrant doesn’t need any more intrigue than that, there is little likelihood any of the three will contend for a trip to Atlanta. Auburn and Texas A&M will try to establish identities that involve consistency.
The most intriguing question by far is this: whether LSU’s historically great 2019 season also represents a more permanent changing of the guard atop the division and, by extension, in the national landscape. Was it just a perfect storm — a great quarterback having a historic (and healthy) year, surrounded by tremendous talent? Was it something that LSU can sustain, or will the pendulum swing back to Alabama?
At the moment, with the season still more than seven months away, a best guess is Alabama will once again be the favorite to win the division. That assumption is based on returning talent, a smooth resolution at quarterback (whether that means Mac Jones or someone else) and the early caucuses known as “too-early Top 25 rankings.” Alabama’s schedule will be tougher — Southern Cal, Georgia, LSU in Baton Rouge. The question of whether Dylan Moses comes back at 100 percent (which he predicts he will) affects the defensive outlook.
Is LSU going away? Of course not. While the perpetual narrative is Alabama is the team that “replaces five stars with five stars,” the Tigers have an equal stockpile and have for years. One can scan NFL rosters and argue that no team has squandered more talent from 2008 through 2018 than LSU, but that’s a different column for a different day. That certainly wasn’t the case in 2019 — and the biggest question for 2020 is whether Orgeron can handle success, and the multitude of changes that come with it.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @cecilhurt
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