Orgeron returns to Ensminger to run LSU offense
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By BRYAN LAZARE
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) LSU coach Ed Orgeron insists that he always thought of Steve Ensminger as a top candidate for offensive coordinator.
Orgeron offered a mea culpa Thursday, saying he only demoted Ensminger back to tight ends coach in 2017 to fulfill a pledge to hire big-name offensive coach who could bring a fresh, innovative scheme to LSU.
Orgeron's hiring of Matt Canada didn't work out, and Orgeron cannot explain why because LSU's $1.7 million settlement bars public discussion of the reasons for Canada's departure after only one season.
However, Orgeron was at liberty to assert that putting the offense back in the hands of an assistant with whom he's worked well before is the right move now.
"When I got the job, I remember saying that I was going to find the best offensive coordinator in the country," Orgeron said. "I did all I could do.
"Things didn't work out and we moved on," Orgeron continued. "Steve Ensminger is the best coordinator for LSU."
When Orgeron was named interim head coach after Les Miles was fired four games into the 2016 season, he promoted Ensminger from tight ends coach to offensive coordinator.
Even though the Tigers averaged 465 yards and 32 points in Ensminger's eight games overseeing the offensive, Orgeron opted to go in another direction 12 months ago, luring Canada away from Pittsburgh.
After a 21-17 Citrus Bowl loss to Notre Dame on Jan. 1, Canada was effectively fired. His resume will say that LSU averaged 411 yards and 27 points per game while going 9-4 in 2017.
Ensminger joined Miles' staff as tight ends coach in 2010. Prior to his interim stint in 2016, Ensminger had not been an offensive coordinator since 1998 at Clemson and hadn't coached quarterbacks since 2003 at Auburn.
When Ensminger took the reins of the offense four games into 2016, he said he was "hesitant."
"It was not my offense," Ensminger said. "I understood the offense and I could call it. I had to tweak it a little bit."
Having played quarterback at LSU under coach Charles McClendon in the late 1970s, Ensminger said he will relish his new role.
"This is a job I worked my entire career for," Ensminger said. "There was no hesitation on my part (taking the job). It will be my offense, my direction, my terminology. I understand our talent. I'm the one guy who knows the players - the receivers, the quarterbacks, the offensive linemen.
"I will make the state of Louisiana proud," he pledged.
LSU's offense has revolved around the run for most of the past 10 seasons. The Tigers have averaged more than 205 yards per game passing once in that span. That was in 2013, when the receiver corps included future NFL starters Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry, and Zach Mettenberger passed for 251 yards per game.
This past season, the Tigers averaged 203.5 yards passing - the first time they had eclipsed the 190-yard mark since that 2013 season. Senior quarterback Danny Etling accounted for most of those yards. Myles Brennan played sparingly as a true freshman.
"We have to evaluate our talent and decide what direction we want to go," Ensminger said. "Our strength on offense right now is our receivers. We have depth at receiver. So, we have to put three and four wide receivers out there and be (run-pass option) with no-huddle.
"We're going to throw the quick game and throw the football over (the defense's) head," he continued. "You still have to be able to be physical and run the ball. We have good running backs, but none are proven."
Besides losing Etling, LSU will replace its top two rushers - Derrius Guice and Darrel Williams - and its top two receivers - DJ Chark and Russell Gage. Lowell Narcisse and Justin McMillan are the other scholarship quarterbacks besides Brennan on the roster.
Orgeron has confidence that Ensminger will develop the quarterback position as well as the entire offense.
"Steve Ensminger is a LSU Tiger through and through," Orgeron said. "He is 100 percent committed to LSU. He'll develop championship quarterbacks for a championship team. Steve will put the players in space and put the ball in their hands like he did" in 2016.
"We have one of the best pure passers in Myles Brennan and we have two dual-threat quarterbacks," Orgeron added. "Steve's play-calling ability is second to none in the country. There is no diubt that Steve is the best guy to be LSU's offensive coordinator."
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Updated January 11, 2018