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Q&A with Mike Detillier Part 1: Coach Orgeron’s First Full Season, Matt Canada, Danny Etling, & the LSU Offense
Scott: First, now that the regular season is behind us, how would you rate Coach O’s first full season at the helm?
Mike: Asking for a grade, I would give him a B. He and the team had some struggles, but they fought out of it. Injuries happen to everyone and there is always that first year of really knowing what you have on the team. You can easily say I know what I’ve got, but then you see them work in practice and whether they can translate that to game action and then you really know. So, I think they did pretty well with everything you have to deal with in Year 1. And Ed found out again that the buck stops with him. Bill Parcells told me years ago that every head coach in the first season wakes up one morning and splashes that water on his face and says, “I know why this job came open.”
Recruiting is paramount and LSU has done well in that department for 2018 and 2019, but I think the biggest accomplishment was fighting through tough times. Listen, Coach O won’t say it and neither will anyone on the staff, but this team got a little full of itself after the first two weeks of the season and how things went. They didn’t handle success well. I hear it often that you can judge someone by how they handle tough times, but no one really handles tough times well. You just fight out of it and do the very best you can. In the businesses I work in, it’s how you handle success and how you change attitude-wise. Sometimes people you trust and believe in change on you and sometimes, for coaches, it is players that need to have an attitude adjustment to what it takes to win. That sometimes happens when you lose and you don’t want that losing feeling anymore.
This team needed an attitude adjustment and got it in that three-game stretch of Mississippi State, Syracuse and Troy. Ed became Coach O again and his leaders stepped up. They fought their way out of a tough spot, but it was set-up by how they started with ease in defeating BYU and Chattanooga.
I will throw this in. I got a chance this summer to talk to Pete Jenkins and I asked him why another year at LSU. He told me he still loves coaching even though it’s a young man’s game due to the hours you have to put in, and he told me he would not coach for anyone other than Coach O. And he still loves to teach, but he knew that all the cheering, all the back slaps, all the picture taking, all the standing ovations at the banquets would stop and that some time this year many of those same folks that cheered for him and others that didn’t think he should have the job would turn on him in an instant. And sometimes that comes from within your own school, but he felt his experience in being in those spots as an assistant would help Orgeron out. He would be the guy to talk to and discuss how they could get out of those difficult moments.
Papa Pete was dead-on right. Coach O, his staff, and the team did a good job this year weathering the storm and I felt and wrote it this summer they would go 9-3, but other than Alabama, the other two losses were not to whom I expected. Now, a chance to win 10 games with a bowl win – and I know that is not where Coach O eventually wants to be – but it’s strong in Year 1.
Scott: And what about Matt Canada’s offense. It may not have put up staggering numbers, and it may have looked a good bit different than LSU’s traditional power style, but to me, there was a lot to like. Your thoughts?
Mike: It’s not what all of us thought we would see, but Matt did a good job considering the injuries upfront and also to Derrius Guice. He knew Danny Etling’s strengths and weaknesses and so the passes were either real short or real long, but he made it work for the most part. Not having Guice healthy until late hurt, too. You have to take a long look at that because he was the centerpiece offensively for the Tigers.
Canada’s use of Darrel Williams impressed me so much. In my mind, Darrel is the team MVP in 2017. I think a lot of Etling and his leadership and he’s a tough guy, and Devin White was superb on defense, but Williams’ leadership, toughness, his rugged rushing style and his ability to catch the ball was so impressive. He’s not as nifty or as quick as Pierre Thomas was with the Saints, but he’s bigger and he can pound away at you. He’s a lot like Pierre Thomas in many ways as a player. And he never complained or threatened to leave with Leonard Fournette and Derrius Guice in front of him. He just did his job when called upon and kept rolling. Quality football player and leader and he will be missed.
I thought Canada – for everything that happened personnel-wise and injury wise – did a good job but it was not the look I thought we would see.
Scott: Ok, let’s address the elephant in the room – Coach O’s comments on the possibility of Canada leaving. Are folks blowing Coach O’s comments out of proportion to fit their own agenda, or do you find something significant about Orgeron saying that everybody wants to be a head coach and he hopes Canada has his day?
Mike: No, I think you read Coach O’s words perfectly. He didn’t have to say anything about it. O was the one that gave fuel to the fire here. I wrote this a year ago and I believe it firmly today, but I always thought Coach O, and he is a defensive-minded coach, wanted a pro-style attack-and-run at LSU like he had seen at USC and Miami (Fla.) where he had coached before. Orgeron wants a pro-style attack with a Power-I backfield with a fullback and motion from the tight ends and wide receivers. O saw that same look with the Saints in 2008 when he coached there under Sean Payton.
But that’s not what Matt Canada does offensively. Coach O is the boss, but you have to find people who fit what you want offensively, if you are a defensive-minded coach. And that also means as a coordinator and then if you are a defensive minded head coach, let that coordinator run the offense.
No doubt Canada wants to be a head coach, like most assistants do, but I firmly believe this is all about differences in philosophy more than anything else. That is certainly not uncommon in college or pro football to see a difference in philosophy.
Scott: What do you say to those who think Coach O needs to come out and clarify this. One thing LSU has going for it right now, in the midst of all the current coaching turmoil in the SEC, is stability. LSU surely doesn’t need anything to negate that advantage.
Mike: Well, you’d be waiting a long time for him to clarify it. And he said he has a vision of what he wants offensively and I firmly believe what I said above is what Coach O wants offensively.
Coaches come and go every year. It’s part of the business. Dave Aranda left Wisconsin to come to LSU, Kevin Steele left LSU to go to Auburn, Chad Morris left Clemson to go to SMU, Frank Wilson left LSU to go to UTSA, Kirby Smart left Alabama to go to Georgia, Lane Kiffin left Alabama, Penn State will have a new offensive coordinator in 2018, life goes on…
As the head coach, you have the right to do what you think is best for your team and then let the chips fall where they may. Ed made changes last year. Some liked it, some didn’t, but he’s the boss. As the head coach you are the boss and you also take the “heat” if it doesn’t work out and you take the glory if it does. Sometimes there is nothing you can do about it and sometimes it’s just a difference in opinion on how things should be done. That’s in the work place of everyone also.
Losing an assistant or coordinator doesn’t change the stability of a team. Just look around and see some of the chaos of the SEC. If you lost both coordinators then you’d probably have some issues, but coaches come and go, and it is a commuter world for them. But looking at the whole situation at LSU with injuries, Derrius Guice not being healthy, offensive line shuffle and lack of depth and you know your limitations in the passing game… Matt Canada did a good job handling the offense in 2017.
Scott: Speaking of Etling, tell me what you think of the season he had and his development since arriving at LSU.
Mike: I think the world of Danny as a leader, a guy with a big heart and toughness for the Tigers, and he lays it on the line each week. He gave you everything he had out on the field. Isn’t that what you want in any player? He had some difficult moments this season and not all were his fault. Young offensive line, injuries, he was coming off of back surgery and receivers not quite on the same page, but he held his ground and never wavered. We have talked at length about his faults as a passer. Canada set it up to play to his strength. The passes were mostly either real short or real deep. Danny struggled and has struggled with the intermediate route throws. And that happened again this season. But Canada worked on a system to make it work for Danny. He’s a leader, he’s double-tough, and he is admired for that by his coaches and teammates. Best compliment I can give someone is that he was there in the toughest moments and he gave you everything he had out on the field for the Tigers. He didn’t point a finger at anyone else and he knew the young kid behind him (Myles Brennan) was breathing down his neck.
Scott: A lot of folks I hear from are concerned that Brennan, or any other backup quarterback for that matter, did not get more playing time this year since LSU will be turning to a new starter next year. Your thoughts?
Mike: I would have liked to see that also, but when? You play to win the game now. Etling gave you the best chance to win, now. Myles and Lowell will be okay. I, like many, would have liked Myles to play more, but I also know you are getting paid as a coaching staff to win and Etling gave the 2017 Tigers the best chance to win.
Scott: How much of an edge, if any, do you think Brennan has at this time over Lowell Narcisse or Justin McMillan?
Mike: A major edge. Brennan, in many ways to me, is so much like Tom Hodson and he fits what I believe Coach O wants in a quarterback. Again, Coach O wants this offense to look like USC-South. He fits what O saw and had at USC with Carson Palmer and Matt Leinert. The intrigue is with a season of working on his passing techniques under his belt – and in good health – the growth of Lowell Narcisse. Lowell is super talented as an athlete and runner and he has a really strong arm. But right now, Myles is the leader in the clubhouse to be the starter in 2018.
Scott: With all the craziness going on in the SEC, do you see any QB flips, or maybe even transfers, coming into play?
Mike: I sure would have an interest in Shea Patterson, if he decides to leave Ole Miss. Why wouldn’t I? Now, we will have to hear about the sanctions and everything involved with the sanctions, but Shea is a super talented passer and he is a game-changer wherever he goes or if he stays at Ole Miss. I am sure the list for Shea would be very long, if he decides to leave. But yes, I would have a lot of interest in Shea Patterson. Bottom line is that any team with a solid supporting cast and a hole at quarterback would want Patterson and he is a game-changer at the most crucial spot on the field.
Scott: My biggest concern on offense for next year is not at quarterback but at running back. Do you think there’s any chance at all that Guice comes back and, if not, what do you think of LSU’s situation at the position next year?
Mike: I’m worried about the running back spot because of what you have had in the past… it’s not concrete for next year and you don’t have that “go-to” guy, but freshmen backs can make an impact. Look at Wisconsin with freshman running back Jonathan Taylor. Boston College has a terrific freshman back in AJ Dillon, and Ohio State has freshman J.K. Dobbins.
What really hurt was not landing Cam Akers last recruiting season and him landing at Florida State.
You don’t have a star on the team now, but a freshman back can make a very quick impact. I remember, and Coach O does, too, that in 2003 everyone was writing and saying the same thing about USC. That year, they played two freshmen backs in Lendale White and Reggie Bush and they were 12-1. Now, you have to find another set like that and that is going to be very difficult, but freshmen backs can make a huge impact. My biggest concern is what they come out of the recruiting season with this year, as for as who they sign at halfback.
Derrius Guice will come out early for the 2018 draft. He is a special football player.
Scott: Let’s talk a little about a young man from your neck of the woods in Hahnville’s Pooka Williams. He looks like he is some kind of halfback. Your thoughts?
Mike: Scott, he sure is. He is the most electrifying runner I have seen in these parts in a long time. In many ways, he reminds me of Warrick Dunn as a runner and receiver. Pooka is not a big back, but he is so strong, super elusive, has jaw-dropping moves, and he makes people miss in space. And he is jet fast. Great vision as a runner and no one gets a good shot at him on the field. Unbelievable endurance also as a player. Coach Salt and his staff at Hahnville have done a great job this season. Coach Salt is a terrific coach.
Pooka has been an early commitment to Kansas. I know he has a close relationship with Tony Hull there. Tony was the head coach at Warren Easton High School and he is the associate head coach/running backs coach at Kansas. Coach Les Miles was always hesitant to offer players with grade issues early. That was Coach Miles’ choice to do or not do and he was the “boss” in recruiting. Recruiting coordinators take their orders from the head coach. Kansas did offer Pooka and early.
Pooka looks as though he has his grades on track now. But Kansas has that inside track. I know Coach O and the staff have recruited him hard, but Pooka has said he will sign in the early signing period. He’s special as a football player. Kansas is a long way from the River Parish, Jayhawks haven’t won squat in football lately and everyone matures differently, but as a player he is something else. I know in talking to Coach O he has stressed how much he wants to add more team speed to the lineup and my goodness Pooka would give you that as a runner and a receiver. We will see, but Kansas is hanging in there at the top spot at the moment.
Scott: I know the NFL draft is your area of specialty, so while discussing the offense let’s talk about the other draft-eligible offensive players. What do you think the chances are of Toby Weathersby, Will Clapp and Garrett Brumfield returning for their senior seasons?
Mike: I would be surprised to see Clapp and Brumfield come out early. I think those two return to the Tigers in 2018. Will is a tremendous football player and super smart and tough. Garrett really came on well this year and while he still needs work as a pass blocker he did a good job as a run blocker.
I don’t have a good feel for Toby. He has fought through a lot of injuries and he really could use some more seasoning, physically getting stronger, just staying healthy and technique work as a college player, but he plays a spot the pros covet and he is very gifted when he is healthy. I also don’t know how his family was affected by the Texas Hurricane and he wouldn’t be a high-round pick, if he chose to leave.
With his injuries and additional work as a pass protector, it would help him to stay another season, but I would certainly understand if he elected to leave early. He is the “main” guy on offense Coach O and Jeff Grimes have to re-recruit to stay another season at LSU. You know Derrius Guice is coming out early.
Scott: We’ve talked a lot before about LSU needing to beef up in the trenches to compete favorably against Alabama. This year’s Bama game indicated that the gap might be as big as originally thought. If these juniors come back, and with the O-line recruiting class LSU has coming in, how close will the Tigers be to where they need to be?
Mike: The linemen are the “new” or some may say “old” skill folks in football, but there is still a gap there and one recruiting season is not going to close it. That is why LSU’s second recruiting season is so crucial to continue to work on building that area of play. The three freshmen got a lot of playing time and you have to hit that hard again to solidify that area because you are still razor thin at all the spots upfront. I’m more concerned about that area and also the defensive line spots than any other for LSU. If you can keep Clapp, Brumfield and Weathersby and get another threesome or foursome like you got in the three young men this year in Saahdiq Charles, Austin Deculus and Ed Ingram, you really have something going there, and then the gap is really shortened.
Scott: One more question on the offense… With DJ Chark and Russell Gage moving on, what’s your outlook for the wide receiver position and how critical is it to land a big-time receiver like the state’s top prospect, Terrace Marshall?
Mike: I agree. Terrance Marshall looks like the real deal and also the development of Racey McMath, Manny Netherly, Derrick Dillon and Stephen Sullivan, along with Drake Davis, is key. You got to come out of this recruiting class with three guys that in time can be strong at the wide out spot and also you have the transfer from Texas Tech in Jonathan Giles. Yes, crucial to land a top prospect like Terrance Marshall, but the big key for 2018 is further development of the young men on the roster today. You have commitments and hopefully signees in Kenan Jones (Berwick) and Jaray Jenkins (Jena), so Terrance and hopefully another signee will give the Tigers some real oomph in those wide receiver spots. You can tell LSU wants to develop that deep passing area of the game and getting those speed guys, and then using the taller/bigger receivers, can help develop the intermediate part of the game, which LSU has lacked the past two seasons.
Stay tuned for Mike’s thoughts in defense and special teams…
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Mike Detillier, based in southern Louisiana, is editor and publisher of Mike Detillier’s NFL Draft Report. He’s also the college and pro football analyst for WWL 870 AM Radio in New Orleans, a sports columnist for several newspapers and Web sites, and a frequent guest on radio and television programs across the country. Visit Mike’s website at mikedetillier.com and follow @MikeDetillier on Twitter.
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