BATON ROUGE - Have you heard who is going to coach special teams at LSU this year?
Why, “The Five Heartbeats,” that’s who.
Not to be confused with the 1991 film about a rhythm and blues band, but new LSU football coach Ed Orgeron announced Tuesday at a pre-spring practice press conference that he will have something much more than the dreaded co-coordinators for special teams. He will have special teams coached by committee - a big committee. It will be a “Party of Five” musical chairs if you will. A barbershop quartet … plus one.
“Okay, on special teams, we will split up the duties between each assistant coach,” Orgeron began, which would mean nine coaches on special teams. But he trimmed that down to a quintet.
“And our guys are excited,” he said. “Tommie Robinson will lead one (special teams). Dennis Johnson will lead a couple others. Corey Raymond will lead some. Mickey Joseph is going to lead some. Jeff Grimes will lead some.”
First, there was the LSU-dubbed “Chinese Bandits” platoon in the 1958 national championship season, but that was only three units.
“There will be an outstanding, cohesive effort between our staff,” Orgeron promised.
If you say so.
Robinson is already Orgeron’s new assistant head coach, recruiting coordinator and running backs coach. Johnson is the new linebackers coach. Raymond has been a lead recruiter and secondary coach at LSU since 2012. Joseph is the latest New Orleans area recruiter and new wide receivers coach, while Grimes has been the offensive line coach since 2014 hired mainly for his recruiting prowess. And he's got enough problems with that offensive line.
All that to replace former LSU special teams coordinator Bradley Dale Peveto, a former defensive co-coordinator at LSU in 2008 whose special teams frequently struggled at LSU from 2014-16 before being let go immediately after Orgeron went from interim to permanent coach two days following the 2016 regular season. Peveto resurfaced at Ole Miss as special teams coach.
All those coaches do have the mostly successful former Saints special teams coordinator Greg McMahon coaching them as a staff analyst. They may need a sports psychologist, too, depending on how this all works.
Fired by the Saints after last season, McMahon is not among the NCAA limit nine full-time assistants and can only coach the coaches. Orgeron had been planning on hiring a full time special teams coach if the NCAA added a 10th full time position as expected this spring or summer, but now that has likely been delayed until possibly December.
“The formula we have now is what I plan to go with throughout the season,” Orgeron said, suddenly sounding scientific.
“I expect a tremendous improvement in our special teams,” Orgeron said. “I’m going to say this to you. Greg McMahon has done a tremendous job. It’s amazing to see a guy with 11 years of experience as a special teams coordinator – the knowledge and the technical expertise that he has brought to our special teams.”
When asked if one of the five will be in charge on game days this fall, Orgeron sort of added a sixth to this extra special, special teams staff.
“We’ll see how it goes in the spring,” he said. “I’m going to be heavily involved in that. We’ll see.”
Can’t wait. Orgeron did not specifically name a special teams assistant in charge of out of bounds kickoffs.
Orgeron wants less possible confusion under center, where Danny Etling returns as a senior following 10 mostly good starts last season. When a question about the quarterback competition meandered into possibly employing a two-quarterback system with Etling and 2016 signee Lindsey Scott Jr. to go with the five-coach special teams system, Orgeron cut the questioner off.
“No, you said that. Next question,” he said for the first time as coach as laughter broke out.
“We opened up the competition at the quarterback spot,” Orgeron said in his opening comments. “And Danny has had an excellent off-season. He’s been a leader. He’s been working hard. (Sophomore to be) Justin McMillan looks good. We have Lindsey Scott. Lowell Narcisse (2017 signee who hasn’t played a full season since 2014 because of two knee injuries at St. James High) is rehabbing his knee. He’s looking good. And we have Myles Brennan (2017 signee) who’s going to arrive in June. So those guys are vying for the starting quarterback, and it’s going to be fun to see those guys flourish under (new offensive coordinator) Matt Canada.”
Orgeron later said, however, that Etling would likely be the starter and was refreshingly honest about this.
Asked if there is someone behind Etling that can push him for time, Orgeron said, “Oh, yeah, sure. But Danny’s the leader, clearly, right now, and will probably end up being the leader. We don’t know that, but I wanted to make it open for Justin, for Lindsey, for Lowell, for Myles. That’s what we told them when we recruited them. We want to give them a chance. Matt’s going to run his offense, but he’s going to be able to adapt to the type of quarterback that we have. And we’re still going to run the football here with Derrius Guice and the running backs. But we are going to open up the offense, throw it down field, multiple shifts in formations. That’s what he’s known for.”
The leading candidate for the No. 2 quarterback slot is Scott.
“He showed that,” Orgeron said when asked if Scott has displayed his talent. “Before I became head coach, I ran the scout team, and Lindsay was my quarterback. The year before that, Danny was the scout team quarterback. I saw that in Danny and see the same thing in Lindsay. He is very smart and can run the ball. He is strong and can throw the ball well. He is going to be right up there in the competition. He’s a good quarterback.”
Orgeron has said Guice is a Heisman Trophy winning type back, but he said LSU will not have a star system, which it had with former tailback Leonard Fournette under former coach Les Miles, and that continued under Orgeron as the interim coach. Fournette basically decided on his own to play against Florida last season when angered from a pregame altercation led by Fournette with Florida players and a Florida coach after initially being ruled out of the game with his ankle injury. He was not at his best in that game.
Something like that is not going to happen again under Orgeron.
“Here is how we handle it here. One team, one heartbeat,” Orgeron said, which has been his slogan since getting the interim job and which now is posted high on a sign above the podium of the team room in the football facility where he spoke Tuesday. “There are no superstars. There are no MVPs here. Everyone has their role, and everybody’s role is just as important as the other. Obviously, he (Guice) is one of our better players, along with Arden Key.”
Key is one of three players who will not participate in spring practice, which opens Saturday with the spring game following at 7 p.m. on April 22 in Tiger Stadium. Key has been given a leave of absence for personal reasons, but Orgeron expects him back for the season. Starting guard William Clapp, who suffered from a shoulder injury last season, and starting fullback John David Moore, who has a wrist injury, will also not participate in spring drills, Orgeron said.
Orgeron's biggest task during spring practice - other than trying to solve his swampy special teams quagmire - will be finding leaders on this team with the losses of the likes of Fournette, Tre'Davious White, Kendell Beckwith and Jamal Adams. But wisely, he will not sit and wait for the leaders to emerge.
"We'll see how the leadership unfolds," he said. "But I do believe as coaches, we provide the leadership until the leadership shows up for the team."
Well said and wise. Don't just leave it to chance. And, please, pick a special teams coordinator before August. LSU doesn't need a co-co-co-co-co-coordinator there. That would be cuckoo, kind of like having no full-time assistant coaches in the press box coaching booths, which is how LSU started last season.