The rapid rise of offensive wunderkind Joe Brady has LSU rolling and poachers lurking
Brady has made a name for himself turning the mundane Tigers into the nation's highest-scoring team
NEW ORLEANS -- The hottest offensive assistant in college football couldn't catch a cold as a college football wide receiver.
"If you look at my stats, you'd thought I played defense," Joe Brady said Saturday. "I played a lot of special teams. I had more tackles than I had catches."
Brady, 30, could still pass the eye test for a William & Mary wideout who caught all of three passes from 2009-12. Amid that youth, LSU's passing game coordinator and receivers coach can just about call his own shots.
As (part of) the brains behind Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Joe Burrow's all-time season, some of the conversation surrounding the College Football Playoff National Championship has turned to Brady's future.
As in, how long will he stay at LSU after overseeing a stunning, tremendous year for Burrow and LSU's offense?
"I've never worried about having an agent, because I've never thought about another job until …" Brady said, interrupting himself.
Well, until now.
Earlier Saturday, Brady stated his intention to remain at LSU. Later in the day, it was reported that Brady has signed a memorandum of understanding with LSU for a three-year deal that will "more than double" his current $410,000 salary annually, according to Sports Illustrated's Ross Dellenger. Terms of the deal will "protect" LSU from seeing Brady depart for another college assistant job while providing outs for college head coaching opportunities and the NFL.
Brady's name has already surfaced as an option for the open offensive coordinator position under new Carolina Panthers coach Matt Rhule.
"I do have [an agent] now," Brady admitted.
What a country. Life is coming at Brady as quickly as the offense he commands.
"Not many people knew who I was up until a month or two ago," he said.
Now, the game may not be able to get his name out of its mouth. This magic LSU season developed in part because of Brady's talents as a New Orleans Saints offensive assistant. He was hired in the offseason to install the spread/RPO offense at LSU.
That's a first at a place that always seemed to talk about a more liberal offense but never had the quarterback to match the receivers and running backs it kept recruiting and pumping out to the NFL.
The way the story is told, an initial 30-minute get-to-know-you meeting turned into hours when Burrow visited LSU as an Ohio State transfer. Burrow was intrigued by the new offense. The quarterback and his father, Jimmy, were looking at a school with a quarterback opening first, but there had to be a philosophical connection as well.
"We had concerns about the direction they were going on offense," Jimmy Burrow said. "Then it just became a discussion of football. They were showing film of Joe at Ohio State and what he could do at LSU."
The ironies have become obvious. Burrow has succeeded in an offense he was basically recruited to run at Ohio State.
"I didn't really know what to expect," Brady said of Burrow. "I told Joe I wasn't going to watch the tape from last year. I was just going to start working with him."
Burrow went from a 57 percent passer to potentially the game's most accurate single-season thrower (pending Monday's result).
"I don't know what he was a year ago," Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables said of Burrow. "But I know what he is now. He wasn't good enough at Ohio State. They had a loaded quarterback room. I'm sure leaving his dream school is a heartbreaking thing for his whole family."
Saturday being media day ahead of the CFP National Championship, Brady was available to be backed into a play-calling corner: Has it been the growth of his quarterback that has made Burrow the projected No. 1 overall pick or Brady's system?
"He's an NFL quarterback," Brady said. "For anybody to put on the tape this year and doubt that [would be ridiculous]. … Joe Burrow is not a system quarterback."
A season ago, Brady was that Saints' offensive assistant, as anonymous as they come. Something more than an intern but definitely not a full-fledged coach.
"There wasn't a job I didn't have to do there," he said.
Brady did not elaborate, other than to say his day-to-day mentality in this role and with the sudden attention he is garnering has not changed him.
But in that Saints position, he did have the respect of powerful people. As a graduate assistant at Penn State, Brady worked under coach James Franklin and offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead. It was obvious that, with the Saints, coach Sean Payton believed in him.
You don't go make a jump like this to Power Five offensive coordinator without some support.
"This year is special," Brady said. "I'm not oblivious to that. Last year, I'm sitting a room next to Drew Brees, and I'm like, 'Man, I'm going to be spoiled the rest of my life.' … Then, you go to college and see a guy like Joe and see how he approaches it. You're spoiled."
Brady demurred twice when asked if it was true Payton had discouraged him from taking the LSU job.
"Honestly, I don't remember," he said. "That whole time was kind of a blur. I don't know if that's exactly what he said to me. If he did, I'm glad I didn't listen."
How it all works is a marvel of modern coaching. It took 61-year-old LSU offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger subjugating his ego. The veteran chose to accept the coaching rookie. The duo sits elbow-to-elbow in the coaches box during games.
As LSU began blowing up offensively, it was Brady who was getting most of the attention. He ended up winning the Broyles Award, which is given annually to the nation's top assistant coach. LSU's record-setting offense is first nationally with 48.9 points per game.
"I don't give myself any credit," Ensminger said. "I knew we had to change [offensively]. Joe said, 'Let's do this.' I said, 'Let's go.' It's not about me. It's about LSU. I played there. I went to school there. I appreciate Joe Brady. He brought a lot to the table."
Perhaps what's most fascinating is those 30 seconds or so between plays. Ensminger is the play caller but defers to Brady when the Tigers go "empty" (no running backs) or "compact" (bunch formations).
LSU's new offensive swagger was revealed early. In Week 2 at Texas, it faced a key third-and-17 late in the game. Ensminger relied on the Brady's new offense and the new transfer quarterback to carry out his wishes.
Instead of playing it safe, Burrow was allowed to strike downfield. The resulting 61-yard touchdown pass to Justin Jefferson was the dagger. LSU won 45-38.
"I can sit up here all day and talk about -- all day -- what a great person Steve Ensminger is," Brady said. "When I'm 61 years old, I [hope I can] sit here and say, 'Hey, I can do what he just did.'"
The next test for Brady, Ensminger and No. 1 LSU's offense? The CFP National Championship on Monday night where they will face their toughest test of the season, the first-ranked scoring defense of No. 3 Clemson.
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