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Guilbeau: LSU Football’s Class May Be Its Worst Of Century, But Brian Kelly Has More Important Duties Ahead

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BATON ROUGE – LSU’s class of 2022 is its worst football signing class this century and one of the worst since the six-year run of losing seasons from 1989-94. Period.

The Tigers at the moment are No. 27 in Rivals.com for sixth of seven teams in the SEC West and No. 11 overall in the SEC. LSU is ahead of only Ole Miss in the West and just Ole Miss, Vanderbilt and Florida overall in the league.

In the 247 Sports rankings, LSU is better at No. 19, but that is still just fourth in the West and eighth in the league.

Since 2000, LSU’s lowest ranked class was No. 22 in 2005, and that is misleading because the 2003 and 2004 classes were No. 1 and No. 2 with 54 signees combined. Then-coach Nick Saban kept so many players from those two classes that there were only enough scholarships for 13 incoming players in the February, 2005, class one month after Les Miles replaced Saban. That’s what you call player development and roster management.

Those two classes still made up more than 30 players on the roster three seasons later in 2007 when Miles won LSU’s second national title in five seasons – largely with Saban’s players.

Not only were the 2003 and ’04 classes the best back-to-back classes in LSU history, but they were developed extremely well and the roster was maintained expertly, first by Saban and then by Miles.

Amazingly, LSU’s current 13 signees total is the lowest by four in the top 27. And it is not because LSU is full on scholarships as in 2005. LSU has been running out of players fast for two years now. They have many openings and more by the day. Last week alone, LSU lost starting quarterback Max Johnson to Texas A&M and former five-star starting cornerback Eli Ricks to Alabama.

How did LSU recruiting bottom out so quick?

First of all, this is the first time that LSU has a new coach – former Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly – who has had to deal with the early signing date of Dec. 15, which began in 2017. Kelly was hired on Nov. 29.

Previous coach Ed Orgeron replaced Miles as interim head coach on Sept. 25, 2016, and got the job on Nov. 25. He had already been on Miles’ staff since January of 2015 and had been closely involved with recruiting from the beginning. There was no recruiting dip between coaches as Miles’ 2016 class was ranked No. 5 for his fourth straight top eight class. Orgeron’s first class in February of 2017 was ranked No. 8.

Orgeron’s first class with the early signing date and the February signing date in 2018 was No. 14 in nation, followed by a No. 3 in 2019, a No. 4 in 2020 and a No. 4 last year.

Kelly took over at LSU with just over two weeks to go before the early signing date. He did a good job of holding what Orgeron left for him together, but he did little to improve it. Recruiting is about a two-to-three year process at least, but one would have thought Kelly could have added two or three quality signees, considering his experience.

Kelly is a very good recruiter. Notre Dame’s class of 2022 – which is Kelly’s more than anyone else’s – is currently ranked No. 7. His 2021 class was No. 9. He had a No. 11 class in 2018 and a No. 14 class in 2019. Only his 2020 class is not in the top 15 over the last five years. Those are great rankings when you consider that the weather in South Bend, Indiana, is nothing like that of your typical SEC school, and the academic requirements tend to be much more stringent as well.

Kelly’s current LSU class has been hampered by the fact that he was recruiting without an offensive or defensive coordinator and still is. Notre Dame defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman at first agreed to join Kelly at Notre Dame, but Notre Dame soon made Freeman an offer he couldn’t refuse – head coach. Kelly took a shot at Kentucky defensive coordinator Brad White, who would have been a great hire. But White is staying at Kentucky, which by the way has the No. 10 class in the nation.

Kelly has also been recruiting with just four new hires – offensive line coach Brad Davis, who was retained from Orgeron’s staff, associate head coach and ace recruiter Frank Wilson, who was McNeese State’s head coach the previous two seasons and an LSU assistant from 2010-15, special teams coordinator Brian Polian, who had the same title at Notre Dame, and defensive backs coach Kerry Cooks, who was a defensive analyst last season at Notre Dame and a secondary coach there from 2010-14.

I’m not counting the new nutritionist hire. Sorry.

Among the other LSU assistant coaches still working, it is unlikely any will be retained. One is about enough, frankly, from a team that went 11-11 after 15-0.

Kelly’s most important job since he took over has been the coordinator hires – not recruiting. In fact, had Orgeron and Miles each done better at hiring assistants than they did at recruiting, they each would have lasted longer.

They each also should have worked harder at player development and roster management than they did at recruiting.

You have to try really hard not to recruit well at LSU, considering its close proximity to so much talent between here and the 87 miles to New Orleans and the 52 miles to Lafayette and the talent throughout the state. LSU also historically does well in Houston and Dallas as well as Atlanta and parts of Florida, Mississippi and Alabama. Kelly will have a top five class in 2023.

But more important than gathering players will be Kelly’s development of them and his ability to keep them.

Orgeron signed the No. 4 class in 2019 with 25, including four five-star prospects. But how great a class did it end up being for LSU? So far, it’s 11-11. Period.

Of the five-star prospects in 2019, only one will likely still be on the team next season – offensive tackle Kardell Thomas, who has barely played in three seasons. Linebacker Marcel Brooks transferred to TCU after one season. Trey Palmer never developed into one of LSU’s top three or four receivers and just entered the transfer portal. Cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. helped lead LSU to the national championship two years ago, but he has opted out after injuries that he could have played on the last two seasons.

Three four-star prospects from the 2019 class also soon left – defensive back Maurice Hampton, tight end Ray Parker and defensive tackle Siaki Ika. Other four-star prospects have been disappointments so far – tailback John Emery, wide receiver Devonta Lee and offensive tackles Anthony Bradford and Thomas Perry, though Bradford and Perry still have time at a position that is more difficult than the skill slots.

LSU’s overall roster, meanwhile, was a nightmare this past season. The Tigers commonly dressed out only 50 or 60 players as if they had a COVID outbreak, which they didn’t. LSU has just been losing players left and right because of the fall to 11-11. The roster has not been this low since the last year of coach Gerry DiNardo in 1999 when LSU fell to 7-15 over two seasons.

Player development and roster management.

After Kelly hires two coordinators and finishes off Orgeron’s class of 2022, those two items will be priority one for Kelly. No one has done a very good job at that at LSU in years.

It’s not always all about recruiting. Miles and Orgeron recruited so well, that it may have made them relax and feel overconfident instead of developing and managing the roster as if they just had a bad recruiting year – like this one.

Remember, Miles had the No. 7 class in 2006 and the No. 4 class in 2007, but how great a class did those end up being? After the 2007 national title, LSU dropped to 8-5 and 3-5 in 2008 and 9-4 and 5-3 in 2009. Miles had the No. 2 signing class in 2014, but on the field the Tigers were a very average 8-5 and 4-4 in 2014, 9-3 and 5-3 in 2015 and 8-4 and 5-3 in 2016. Miles was almost fired in 2015 and fired in 2016. But, man, he had great recruiting classes.

Player development and roster management. It is more important than recruiting. LSU needs to learn that quick.

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Written by Glenn Guilbeau

Guilbeau has been on the LSU beat since 1998 with multiple outlets in Louisiana, prior to that he had covered both Auburn and Alabama. He won first place for his game feature on LSU's upset at Florida last season from the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA). He was also named Beat Writer of Year, by Louisiana Sports Writers Association in July; placed in three Associated Press Sports Editors (APSE) categories – Beat Writer, Explanatory, Game Coverage – last spring. Guilbeau was also the FWAA first-place winner for columns in 2017 and was also the top overall winner in 2016 FWAA placing first for his game story, second in columns, and receiving honorable mention for features.

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  1. 19th… 27th at worst. Wish my Badgers could call that a shitty year. For fucks sake from my 2 minute search of NDs history the last few years he’s been in the teens.

    He’ll be fine. He’ll get great recruits, still lose to Bama and the world will spin.

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