BATON ROUGE — Didn’t we just do this?
It has been just five years since the coaching candidate boards flew around Louisiana and beyond when LSU football coach Les Miles was fired four games into the 2016 season at 2-2 after nearly getting dismissed the previous year.
Defensive line coach/recruiting coordinator Ed Orgeron replaced Miles as interim coach, went 5-2 and was retained as head coach. Orgeron agreed last week in principle to a contract settlement – the details of which including the buyout amount he will receive remain fluid – and to be fired effective at the end of the season.
He came as an interim coach. He will leave as an interim coach with the greatest season in program history in between – 15-0 for the national title in 2019. But he slipped on and off the field.
After a 5-5 season in 2020, Orgeron is 4-3 overall and 2-2 in the SEC after a 49-42 upset of No. 20 and 12-point favorite Florida on Saturday. He is expected to coach the team for the rest of the regular season, a source to LSU confirmed on Sunday morning. The regular season ends on Nov. 27 against Texas A&M.
Orgeron’s contract states he will be paid a $17 million buyout as of Dec. 1. But sources said Sunday that number could be decreased significantly because of Orgeron’s off the field issues with regard to a Title IX lawsuit against LSU and how Orgeron handled sexual assualt accusations against former players Drake Davis and Derrius Guice.
Regardless of what amount of buyout money Orgeron ends up being owed after negotiations, LSU has a way of finding the money from outside sources (boosters) to pay for coaches on the way out and in. That will happen again.
Here are five possible candidates to replace Orgeron later this year:
OREGON COACH MARIO CRISTOBAL: Cristobal is one of the hottest coaches in the country and is relatively young at 51. The Ducks (5-1, 2-1 Pac-12) are No. 10 in the nation. Oregon was 12-2 and 8-1 in 2019 and won the Pac-12 and the Rose Bowl to finish No. 5 in the nation. He was 9-4 and 5-4 in his first season in 2018.
Cristobal was 27-47 at Florida International and 20-26 in the Sun Belt Conference from 2007-12 with winning seasons in 2010 at 7-6 and 6-2 and at 8-5 and 5-3 in 2011 and reached two bowl games. He was fired after a 3-9 and 2-6 season in 2012.
Alabama coach Nick Saban made Cristobal his associate head coach from 2013-16 and he coached the offensive line and was recruiting coordinator. A native of Miami and a former offensive tackle for the Miami Hurricanes from 1989-92, Cristobal played on coach Dennis Erickson’s national championship team in 1992. Orgeron was defensive line coach at Miami from 1989-92.
LSU athletic director Scott Woodward has Pac-12 ties, having been Washington’s athletic director from 2007-16. He just dipped into the Pac-12 over the summer to hire Arizona baseball coach Jay Johnson.
Cristobal is under contract to make an average salary of $4.5 million a year through 2026.
FORMER WASHINGTON COACH CHRIS PETERSEN: Petersen got out of coaching after the 2019 season at Washington partly due to stress. He has continued to work on the Washington campus and is a FOX television analyst this season.
Peterson, now 56, was 12-2, 10-3 and 10-4 with the Huskies from 2016-18 with Peach, Fiesta and Rose Bowl appearances. He was spectacular at Boise State from 2006-12 with seven straight double-digit win seasons, including 13-0 in 2006 with a Fiesta Bowl win, 12-1 in 2008, 14-0 in 2009 with a Fiesta Bowl win, 12-1 in 2010 and ’11 and 11-2 in 2012.
If anyone could get him out of retirement, it would be Woodward, who hired him from Boise State to Washington.
OLE MISS COACH LANE KIFFIN: Kiffin’s future may be a return to the NFL. He is that good on offense and can call a game with the best of them, including Saints coach Sean Payton. But he is a worth a look from Woodward.
He was too young when he got the Oakland Raiders head coaching job at 31 in 2007 and he went 5-15 before being let go early in 2008. Kiffin, 46, is more mature now than the wild child he was as Tennessee’s coach in 2009 and while Alabama’s offensive coordinator from 2014-16. Still, he is a boy genius. He did a good job at Tennessee in going 7-6 after inheriting a team that was 5-7. And he won early at USC, going 18-7 in his first two seasons before getting fired after a 7-6 season in 2012 and a 3-2 start in 2013.
Kiffin revamped and updated Alabama’s offense from 2014-16, and coach Nick Saban is still using it. As Florida Atlantic’s head coach, he was 26-13 in three seasons. He has Ole Miss No. 12 in the nation now at 5-1. The concern with Kiffin, though, is can he be more of a quick fix doctor? Can he be mature and professional enough to be consistently excellent or close to it at a program like LSU? At the moment, he looks like he is on his way.
He would be the first true, passing offensive coordinator LSU has ever had.
Kiffin is under contract through 2024 and is making $4.5 million a year. That will go to $5.25 million in 2022, $5.5 million in 2023 and $5.75 million in 2024.
CINCINNATI COACH LUKE FICKELL: An extremely hot coach who has the Bearcats No. 2 in the nation at 6-0 on the season. Fickell is also young at 48. A former Ohio State defensive coordinator, he put together back-to-back, 11-win seasons in 2018 and ’19 before a 9-1 and 6-0 season last year after he was 4-8 in his first season.
Fickell is under contract through 2026 and is making $3.4 million a year.
LOUISIANA-LAFAYETTE COACH BILLY NAPIER: LSU should never look down its nose at a coach because of how some of its people may feel about Louisiana-Lafayette. Familiarily breeds contempt and ridiculous opinions, but good coaches are good coaches. It’s not easy to win at ULL, and Napier is 26-5 over the last three seasons with 11-3 and 10-1 marks in 2019 and 2020 after a 7-7 start in 2018. The Cajuns are 5-1 this season.
Napier, 42, is young and rishing. He has been a hot name during coaching searches the last two years, and he probably could have had either the Mississippi State job in 2020 or the South Carolina job this year.
Napier has a salary of $2 million a year through 2025.
NOT COMING TO LSU: Alabama coach Nick Saban, Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher, Penn State coach James Franklin, Michigan State coach Mel Tucker and Carolina Panthers offensive coordinator Joe Brady. Saban will retire at Alabama after Tom Brady retires from the NFL. Fisher was hired by Woodward to A&M, but he is about to make $9 million a year and he can win a national championship at Texas A&M. LSU would be a lateral move, considering Fisher’s salary, resources and the fact A&M is a better program now than LSU is. Also a lateral move from Penn State to LSU for Franklin. Tucker was Saban’s defensive back coach at LSU in 2000 and is 49 now in his second year as Michigan State’s head coach. Saban was 49 when he left Michigan State for LSU, but that was after five seasons. Tucker is just in his second season in East Lansing and has the Spartans at 7-0 and ranked No. 7. It’s too early for him to leave. Joe Brady, the genius play caller behind LSU’s NCAA record breaking 2019 offense is on track to achieving his master goal – becoming an NFL head coach. It would make better sense at this point for him to stay in the NFL.
LSU NOT INTERESTED: Baylor coach Dave Aranda was a great defensive coordinator at LSU, but he is not ready for a move to the SEC quite yet. He is only in his second year as a head coach at Baylor. He is off to a good start at 6-1 and 3-1 after going 2-7 last season, but he needs seasoning.