One year ago this week, LSU football coach Ed Orgeron was fired, effective at the end of the season for the delightful sum of $16.9 million in a contract buyout less than two years after leading the Tigers to their greatest season – a 15-0 national championship.
Then a few days later, on Oct. 16, 2021, Orgeron’s Tigers defeated Florida, 49-42, in probably their best game of the season to go to 4-3 and 2-2 in the SEC.
LSU finished the regular season on Nov. 27 at 6-6 and 3-5 – its first sub-.500 SEC mark since 2008 – as a coaching search went on.
Popular Coaching Names Surfaced
Among the names circulated the most by informed and guessing media were then-Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley, Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin, Baylor coach Dave Aranda, who was the Tigers’ defensive coordinator in the 2019 national championship season, Louisiana coach Billy Napier and Kentucky coach Mark Stoops.
LSU athletic director Scott Woodward, though, all but got his man – Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly – that October, unknown to most while the coaching candidate circus roared on. Lee Brecheen, a statewide recruiting expert for decades in Baton Rouge with close ties to LSU, reported Kelly as Woodward’s top target as early as Nov. 1. No other reporter saw him coming until the end.
Kelly was seen as and remains the blockbuster college football hire of 2021 because he was the first Notre Dame coach to leave for another job without being fired or retiring since Thomas Barry went to Wisconsin after a 6-0-1 season in 1907. LSU fans loved the fact that their school went and took Notre Dame’s coach, but that does not mean he was the best hire of 2021 or the best of the coaches Woodward could’ve hired. We will not find that out until years from now.
LSU fans probably weren’t thinking about lassoing Notre Dame’s coach during the 40-13 loss to Tennessee on Saturday in Tiger Stadium. That was LSU’s worst loss since a 55-17 home loss to Alabama in 2020 when the Tigers finished 5-5.
Ranking The LSU Coaching Candidates From 2021
Among all the coaches that were listed as possible LSU candidates last year – either real or imagined – Kelly is in last place, based on the Associated Press rankings and votes for the poll. But he could change that Saturday when he plays Napier, who was hired by Florida just a few days before LSU announced the hiring of Kelly on Tuesday, Nov. 30. LSU plays at Florida at 7 p.m. on ESPN.
Woodward was never interested in Napier, but he should have been enough for at least a look.
Riley, whom USC hired away from Oklahoma and – possibly – LSU the previous Sunday, leads the rankings. Riley was my No. 2 choice last year at this time after Kiffin, as either would have been the first true and progressive offensive coordinator ever hired by LSU.
Napier was never a favorite of mine as he was an offensive coordinator only briefly at Arizona State and Clemson, but he would have been a solid hire, particularly because he is young at 43 and a rising star who was courted by Missouri, South Carolina and Mississippi State. And he is of the Saban school.
Billy Napier Is 4-2 With Florida
Napier wanted the LSU job and basically campaigned for it as a frequent guest on Baton Rouge radio shows after Orgeron’s pending departure was announced. But that was before the Florida job opened. Had he been offered LSU and Florida at about the same time the way Tom Herman was offered LSU and Texas after the 2016 season and took Texas, Napier would’ve chosen Florida.
Equal jobs overall, but for Napier and his family, a move to Florida would have just been more attractive. LSU’s off-field issues with football players’ sexual assault investigations and other systemic corruption would have made Florida more appealing.
Brian Kelly Was The Stealth LSU Candidate
I never got to consider Kelly because he was off the radar until he became the radar, but I would not have had him as a favorite either because he was never an offensive coordinator and has tended to have game management or average quarterbacks and stodgy offenses (see LSU vs. Tennessee). In this day and age, it’s about the offense. And he will be 61 this month.
Still, I believe Kelly’s experience, organizational skills and ability to hire a quality staff will win him a national championship or two at LSU. He was easily Notre Dame’s best coach since Lou Holtz, who was the last two win a national title for the Irish in 1988.
Kelly got Notre Dame into the national championship game in 2012 and into the College Football Playoff in 2018 and ’20, so if he can do that at recruiting-challenged Notre Dame, he can win it all at LSU. He will need a better offense and better quarterbacks and may already have one in true freshman Walker Howard.
Kelly Should Give QB Walker Howard A Good Look
Considering how things are going this season with the pass offense, Kelly should consider a longer look at Howard than the four games maximum to keep his red-shirt.
Here are the complete 2021 LSU Football Coaching Candidate Standings with their records this season, current A.P. rankings and votes in the A.P. poll of those not ranked:
1.Lincoln Riley, USC, 6-0, 4-0 Pac-12 … No. 7.
2.Lane Kiffin, Ole Miss, 6-0, 2-0 SEC … No. 9.
3.Mark Stoops, Kentucky, 4-2, 1-2 SEC … No. 22.
4.Dave Aranda, Baylor, 3-2, 1-1 Big 12 … 91 A.P. votes.
5. Billy Napier, Florida, 4-2, 1-2 SEC … 56 A.P. votes.
6. Brian Kelly, LSU, 4-2, 1-2 SEC … 4 A.P. votes.
All the above likely would prove to be excellent LSU coaches. And the funny thing is, had Florida hired Kelly and LSU hired one of the above, LSU fans – and most fan bases – would be saying Kelly is too old and his offense is too stodgy, and the coach they did hire was the greatest.
Alabama QB Bryce Young On ‘Pitch Count’
Alabama coach Nick Saban was candid about injured quarterback Bryce Young likely not playing last week, and it came as no surprise that he did not play against Texas A&M because of his right, throwing shoulder sprain. Saban had said he didn’t know when Young would be able to throw in practice. That’s pretty honest.
And Saban is sounding more upbeat this week about Young playing. “He’s making progress,” Saban said on the SEC teleconference Wednesday. “He’s been able to practice some, and we’ll continue to evaluate him as the week progresses.”
When asked if Young could’ve played last week as he was dressed out for the A&M game, Saban said sounded more hopeful, “I didn’t think that he was in a position that he could go and effectively do his job the way he is capable of doing it. He’s made a lot of progress from that point, so hopefully, that will change in the near future.”
On Wednesday night, Saban said he expected more progress.
Bryce continues to practice a little bit more,” he said. “We’ve got him on a little bit of a pitch count, just to wean him back into it and see how it goes. So, we expect him to do even a little more tomorrow (Thursday).”
You can bet on it. He’ll play. And do not be surprised if backup Jalen Milroe gets a series as well to showcase his running ability.
K.J. Jefferson And Will Levis Expected Back
Arkansas junior quarterback KJ Jefferson was cleared for practice this week after missing last week’s loss at Mississippi State with a concussion. And Kentucky quarterback Will Levis (foot) has also been practicing after missing last week’s loss at South Carolina.
“He’s really had a good week,” Arkansas coach Sam Pittman said of Jefferson Wednesday. “In two-minute, he did a nice job running the team with that.”
Arkansas plays at Brigham Young Saturday.
Despite the 40-17 loss at Mississippi State, Pittman learned that he has a quarterback for the future in sophomore Malik Hornsby, who threw for 234 yards and rushed for 114 in Jefferson’s place. Hornsby had been wanting to play wide receiver only. He has two catches for eight yards this season.
“He has changed his mind about wide receiver,” Pittman said. “We’re going to play him only at quarterback. In all honesty, Saturday took a big weight off his shoulders, going out and playing well.”
Levis was missed in Kentucky’s 24-14 loss to South Carolina. The Wildcats host Mississippi State Saturday
“I do feel like barring any setbacks, he should be good to go,” Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said of Levis.
What A Difference Noise Makes
Less than a week after downplaying fans’ influence on a game, Alabama coach Nick Saban decided to re-butter his bread.
“External noise, whatever you want to call it – rat poison, whatever it is – absolutely has nothing to do with the outcome of the game,” Saban said of his team blowing a lead at Arkansas two weeks ago before winning comfortably. “Just like fans (on the road) have nothing to do with the outcome of the game. They don’t block. They don’t tackle. They don’t catch passes. They don’t make sacks. All they do is make noise. And if you want to take them out of the game, just play well, and they won’t be there. They’ll leave.”
But as far as his home fans during Alabama’s 24-20 win over Texas A&M Saturday in front of 100,077 at Bryant-Denny, Saban said they had much to do with the outcome.
“I think the fans were great,” he said to begin his opening statement. “I think the fans probalby had as much to do with us winning the game as anything. I think the atmosphere they created certainly kept the energy level up with our players.”
SEC Saturday Predictions (DraftKings Spreads)
Auburn at No. 9 Ole Miss (14.5-point favorite), Noon, ESPN. … Ole Miss 27, Auburn 14.
Vanderbilt at No. 1 Georgia (38.5-point favorite), 3:30 p.m., SEC Network … Georgia 41, Vanderbilt 7.
No. 3 Alabama (7.5-point favorite) at No. 6 Tennessee, 3:30 p.m., CBS … Tennessee 34, Alabama 27
Arkansas (1.5-point favorites) at Brigham Young (4-2), 3:30 p.m., ESPN … Arkansas 34, BYU 30.
LSU at Florida (3-point favorites), 7 p.m., ESPN … Florida 31, LSU 17.
No. 16 Mississippi State (7-point favorite) at No. 22 Kentucky, 7:30 p.m., SEC Network … Mississippi State 24, Kentucky 20.
1. GEORGIA (6-0, 3-0 SEC).
2. ALABAMA (6-0, 3-0).
3. TENNESSEE (5-0, 2-0).
4. OLE MISS (6-0, 2-0).
5. MISSISSIPPI STATE (5-1, 2-1)
6. SOUTH CAROLINA (4-2, 1-2).
7. KENTUCKY (4-1, 1-2).
8. FLORIDA (4-2, 1-2).
9. LSU (4-2, 2-1).
10.TEXAS A&M (3-3, 1-2).
11. ARKANSAS (3-3, 1-3).
12. AUBURN (3-3, 1-2).
13. MISSOURI (2-4, 0-3)
14. VANDERBILT (3-3, 0-2).
Stat Of The Week
Mississippi State junior quarterback Will Rogers became the all-time, career SEC completions leader in the Bulldogs’ 40-17 home win over Arkansas Saturday. He has 946 completions in his third season, breaking the mark of 921 set by Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray in four seasons from 2010-13 over 52 games.
Rogers did it in 28 games, and he has six regular season games left this season. He completed 31 of 48 passes in the win for 395 yards and three touchdowns. He hit his 922nd completion in the first quarter to break the record.
Quote Of The Week
“I’m actually looking at Jimbo before the play, and he’s like, ‘Evan, Evan, Evan, Evan.’ OK. I’m ready.”
-Alabama cornerback Terrion Arnold on what he was doing before the last play of the Texas A&M game Saturday with the Aggies on the Crimson Tide 2-yard line. Arnold covered A&M wide receiver Evan Stewart on the play, and quarterback Haynes King’s pass to Stewart on a short out route was incomplete. Alabama won 24-20.
Since Fisher was at midfield, and a crowd of 100,077 was making a lot of noise, Arnold was asked if he read Fisher’s lips.
“Yeah, I was looking at Jimbo over there,” he said.
It couldn’t have happened, unless Arnold has Superman’s X-ray vision and/or his special hearing powers.
“He may have heard me, I don’t know,” Fisher said. “But the play had other options. It was not a direct pass to Evan. There was an option for Evan. That’s the one we took. But I was not yelling it (Evan). I don’t think I said that to Evan because I didn’t know that the ball would definitely go there for sure.”
What did happen could have been called pass interference on Arnold as he was all over Stewart as if he also had the elasticity powers of Superman. This picture was taken with the ball (under the scoreboard) in the air on the last play of the game.
Asked if a pass interference call could have gone either way on the last play, Fisher said, “Yeah, I mean they all can. That’s a judgment. That’s their opinion. I’m not going to get into that. We’ll discuss it with the (SEC) office and keep that between us. And you know, hey, we’ve got to find a way to do things, you know.”
Texas A&M did just get a pass interference call the play before on 3rd-and-10 from the Alavbama 15-yard line against defensive back Brian Branch that nullified a game-saving interception by safety Jordan Battle in the end zone. That put the Aggies on the 2-yard line.
Saban wondered if that was pass interference on the third down.
“I didn’t get much of a view on the pass interference, but I guess it was a good call,” he said somewhat sarcastically. “I wouldn’t say anything other than that.”
Question Of The Day
Do you think back-to-back pass interference penalties are going to be called against Alabama at Alabama?