Ed Orgeron deserves patience while rebuilding LSU's football program
Give the first-year coach of the Tigers a little bit of time, and he'll be fine
LSU's floor is nowhere as close to as low as it was during the Curley Hallman and Gerry DiNardo years, but the rebuilding effort for first-year full-time coach Ed Orgeron will still be a challenging.
Consider LSU a "fixer-upper," comparable to the challenges that Chip and Joanna Gaines take on seemingly every night on HGTV. The bones are good, but cosmetically, there are some issues.
The offense should be in good hands with first-year coordinator Matt Canada, who will bring a more dynamic approach to a unit that became stale under former coach Les Miles and coordinator Cam Cameron.
"We are very excited to have Matt Canada as an offensive coordinator," Orgeron said at SEC Media Days. "Matt runs a very diverse offense, a lot of shifts, motions, use of personnel, fly sweeps. He makes it difficult to defend, but the thing I like best about Matt was he talked about being a team player, and he talked about running a balanced offense, 50 percent run and 50 percent pass."
That's all well and good, but can Danny Etling be the quarterback to make that system work? That's the million-dollar question in Baton Rouge.
Etling transferred from Purdue after the 2014 season, and was thrust into action in Game 2 of 2016 in place of an ineffective Brandon Harris. This, despite a lingering back injury that required surgery following LSU's 2017 spring game.
"I didn't even realize what normal felt like," Etling said of his post-surgery feelings at SEC Spring Meetings in May. "All of a sudden, I'm sleeping eight hours every night, walking around with no pain, sitting for long hours. It's been an incredible feeling to get that done."
Etling is now at 90 percent according to Orgeron, who made the rounds during ESPN's "car wash" Wednesday. But what is his ceiling? He had just a 109.3 passer rating against ranked competition last year and looked blinded by the moment against tough defenses like Alabama (45.8 completion percentage) and Florida (56.0).
Things will probably get better with a stable program and a coordinator in Canada who made Nathan Peterman look like a star against Clemson's defense at Pitt. How much better, though, depends on Etling's upside.
If it's not there, that's fine.
"The reason we have a quarterback competition is because we have pro-style quarterbacks and dual-threat quarterbacks," Orgeron said. "I wanted Matt to see both and decide which one he likes the best. Right now, if we played today, Danny would be our starter. We haven't seen Myles Brennan in action yet, and the other guys are just learning the offense."
With Jalen Hurts (Alabama), Shea Patterson (Ole Miss), Jarrett Stidham (Auburn), Austin Allen (Arkansas), Tanner Mangum (BYU) and Nick Fitzgerald (Mississippi State) all quarterbacking teams on LSU's schedule, the Tiger offense will likely be asked to do a little more offensive than it was last year just to keep up.
While Dave Aranda is a great defensive coordinator and Orgeron hit a home run retaining him, they return just four returning starters and will be relying on some players who aren't used to prominent roles against some potentially potent offenses.
Contrary to last year when LSU entered as an overwhelming top contender to Alabama's throne despite an offense that -- at the time -- was as antiquated as wood panel living rooms, the Tigers aren't being looked at as a primary threat heading into 2017.
They were pickedearlier this month, tied with Florida for fourth in overall first-place votes with just three and are the third-most likely among SEC teams to win the national title according to Bovada.lv (+2200) -- significantly behind Alabama at (+275).
Take that as a hint. The future should be bright with Orgeron, his ability to identify and hire quality assistants and the fact that he's clearly learned from mistakes early in his head coaching career.
"Here's two things I came up with," he said at media days. "Number one, I was going to treat the team exactly how I treat my sons, no different. And I was going to treat every coach on the coach's staff with respect and let him coach his position as he knew it. Ever since those two minor changes, we've been 12-4, so that's the difference."
LSU is more of a rebuild than a quick-fix. Orgeron has the contractors doing work, they're putting fresh paint on the walls and it's finally starting to look like home.
But don't put a timeframe on the construction. Let the people in charge do things the right way, not the "right now" way.
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