LSU fired Les Miles and initially wanted Tom Herman or Jimbo Fisher for head coach.
They got neither.
Fisher used LSU negotiations to leverage himself into a new contract with Florida State which pays him $5.25 million per year. Herman was Athletic Director Joe Alleva’s big fish on the open market, but he lost the bidding war to Texas, who offered Herman the same amount Fisher got with the Seminoles— an offer he accepted.
LSU hired coach Ed Orgeron, which is common knowledge by now to everyone who follows LSU football. But what perhaps isn’t known by many is that in hiring Orgeron, LSU got a little creative with its payroll—trying to reinvent how to operate a college football program when breaking in an upstart coach.
Instead of paying Orgeron a humongous salary, Alleva gave him $3.5 million per season, which is a huge number to the average person, but which ranks just 11th among head coaches in the SEC out of 14 teams.
But the Tigers didn’t go cheap in their hire. They just spent a little differently.
Instead of pouring $6 million into the head coach, they instead redirected that money to assistant coaches and coordinators, hiring Matt Canada to run LSU’s offense, paying him $1.5 million per year in a three-year deal. They also re-upped defensive coordinator Dave Aranda with a substantial raise—a contract which pays Aranda almost $2 million per season.
Aranda is now the highest-paid assistant coach in America, while Canada is third. Several other LSU assistant coaches are among the highest coaches in the country for their positions.
Orgeron said when hired that having an all-star staff was something that would always be a high priority for him at LSU.
Through almost a full season as a test run, the experiment has netted some good and some bad, and arguments can be made on both ends of the spectrum.
“We want the best coaches in college football here at LSU,” Orgeron said during the preseason.
“We want a staff of great minds who are going to be able to push us through the season. That’s important to me and I think that’s a big key in winning games in college football.” Paying assistant coaches elite contracts is a staple of LSU football under Alleva—a tradition that began during former coach Les Miles’ tenure.
The Tigers have led college football in salaries for assistant coaches for five-straight seasons. Figures are not yet available for 2017, but with substantial pay hikes to Aranda and Canada, LSU is expected to lead the nation in staff salary figures by a wide margin.
Canada’s hiring marked a complete offensive overhaul for LSU and so far, the results have been mixed.
Through six games, LSU still ranked in the bottom half of most recognized national offensive statistics, but in the middle portion of the season the Tigers showed some signs of growth—namely victories at Florida and versus Auburn. Canada has modernized LSU’s offense, moving the team from the I-formation and into the world of spread offenses.
Even if the team isn’t yet humming offensively, recruiting analysts said that having a spread-based coordinator will help the Tigers attract players in the future.
At the end of Miles’ tenure, several receivers transferred out of LSU’s program because of the team’s inability to pass the football down the field. In-state quarterbacks like Dak Prescott and Shea Patterson also shied away from LSU.
“It’s about where the game is headed,” longtime football analyst Mike Detillier said. “This is not a two tight end and fullback game. Teams are using three, four and sometimes five receiver sets. That’s where it’s headed. LSU doesn’t have to be a team that passes it 45 times a game. That’s not what Coach Orgeron wants. But I think they had to modernize—without question.”
Aranda is more of a sure thing. Prior to his tenure at LSU, he was the defensive coordinator at Wisconsin, leading some of the best defenses in the country with the Badgers.
This year, the Tigers are young and have had growing pains, but they’ve stayed among the top units in the SEC even with their youth.
Orgeron has given non-stop praise to Aranda since he’s been hired. Last year as interim head coach, Orgeron called him the smartest coach he’s ever been around. When Orgeron was given the full-time position, he went a step further.
“He’s the best coordinator in the country,” Orgeron said. “We want him here. He wants to be here.”
But the problem with coordinators is that they come and go. As guys succeed, they get hired to be head coaches at other places – especially at a place like LSU.
That leads to perhaps the biggest question of Orgeron’s tenure – can he continually find top assistant coaches and hire them to keep LSU humming along?
On the surface, that’s a big-time challenge. But then again, money talks, right?
Paying the kind of money that LSU’s offering, it likely won’t be hard to attract talented, qualified people to elite positions.