It appears LSU tight ends coach and veteran offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger may replace Matt Canada as LSU's offensive coordinator soon after the Tigers' Citrus Bowl game against Notre Dame on Jan. 1, according to contacts at LSU.
LSU head coach Ed Orgeron and Canada, whom Orgeron hired after the 2016 regular season from Pittsburgh, have not completely "mended" fences, and Orgeron has been leaning toward Ensminger for several weeks.
After being asked about Canada possibly leaving for another job during the Texas A&M post-game press conference on Nov. 25, Orgeron said he would consider Ensminger, 59, to replace him and would likely not use Canada's offense.
Canada has not gotten another job.
On Wednesday, Orgeron was asked how his relationship with Canada "kind of mended" throughout the course of the year after a disagreement over the game plan against Troy, which upset 20-point favorite LSU, 24-21, on Sept. 30. Orgeron had Canada use some of the offense Ensminger had run in 2016 as interim offensive coordinator with little success. A meeting followed two days later involving Orgeron, Canada, defensive coordinator Dave Aranda and athletic director Joe Alleva.
"I don't know what you mean by mended," Orgeron retorted tersely Wednesday.
"You wanting to do something in the Troy game that he (Canada) didn't want to do," the questioner responded at the press conference.
"Well, I'm the head coach. We're going to do what I want to do," Orgeron retorted.
Asked if he was pleased with the progression he and Canada have had, Orgeron at first said something inaudible. Then he answered without mentioning Canada's name.
"I think the offense has done what we want to do," he said. "I think it's been good. For us to win nine games and go 6-1 after the Troy game, I think things have been great."
Orgeron had no comments on Canada's future at LSU.
Ensminger and Alleva could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Despite playing true freshmen amid injuries on the offensive line, Canada improved LSU's much-suffering pass offense in 2017 to No. 8 in the Southeastern Conference and to No. 85 nationally with 201.3 yards a game from No. 12 in the SEC and No. 101 nationally in 2016 with 190.1 yards a game. Total offense went from No. 9 in the SEC and No. 59 nationally with 423 yards a game in 2016 to No. 7 and No. 53, but with fewer yards at 412.
Canada, 45, found success with a finesse attack amid the offensive line deficiencies via a myriad of motion and shifts, which Orgeron criticized early in the season.
"We've had that discussion about simplifying things," Orgeron said on Sept. 25 — the Monday before the Troy game. "And we're going to. We're going to streamline what we're doing. Do what our players can do best: play LSU football."
Later in the 2017 season, Canada could be heard by players at practice saying, "It's not my offense."
Canada and Orgeron, who has never coached on the offensive side of the field, had personality clashes, which is something Canada had at North Carolina State at times with head coach Dave Doeren. Canada was fired by Doeren after the 2015 season despite finishing 42nd in the nation in scoring offense with 33.2 points a game. Just a year before, Canada had signed a three-year contract extension at North Carolina State after the 2014 season as he was being courted by Tennessee. He landed as offensive coordinator in 2016 at Pittsburgh, which finished 10th in the nation in scoring offense with 40.9 points a game — a statistic Orgeron frequently flaunted after hiring Canada.
After being asked about Canada Wednesday, Orgeron was asked about defensive coordinator Dave Aranda and did say his name and mentioned loyalty.
"Let me say this: Dave Aranda can't work harder." Orgeron said. "He can't work harder, and he can't be more loyal."
Orgeron has always wanted more of a pro-style offense, according to longtime friend and WWL Radio football analyst Mike Detillier, who said after the regular season that Canada would not return for the 2018 season.
"I just think he wants to run the offense he saw as an assistant at Miami, USC, with the Saints under Sean Payton and at USC again and at Tennessee under Lane Kiffin," Detiller said. "I always thought he wanted to run USC South with a fullback, motion with the tight end and wide receiver. Obviously, he didn't get that with Canada — motion all over the place."
Canada is currently the fourth-highest-paid assistant coach in college football at $1.5 million a year with two years left on his contract that is guaranteed. If let go, LSU would owe Canada $3 million minus whatever salary he would get at a new coaching position. A promotion of Ensminger — even with a hefty raise — would still significantly soften the financial blow of Canada's contract for Alleva as Ensminger is the 264th highest paid coach in the country and fourth lowest at LSU at $335,000 a year.
Orgeron and Ensminger, a Baton Rouge native and an LSU quarterback from 1976-79, have been friends since 1985 at McNeese State when Orgeron was a graduate assistant and Ensminger was in his first job as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. Ensminger, 59, later became offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach at Louisiana Tech (1988-90), at Texas A&M (1994-96) and at Clemson (1997-98) with a stint as quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator at Georgia from 1991-93. He was head coach at Central High outside Baton Rouge in 2000 and 2001 and wide receivers coach at West Monroe in 2002 before coaching quarterbacks at Auburn in 2003 and tight ends at Auburn from 2004-08. He has been LSU's tight ends coach since 2010.
When LSU fired Les Miles and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron after a 2-2 start in 2016 and named Orgeron interim head coach, Orgeron quickly promoted Ensminger to offensive coordinator. The offense immediately shined in 42-7, 45-10 and 38-21 wins over lesser opponents Missouri, Southern Mississippi and Ole Miss with total offense totals of 634, 459 and 515 yards, respectively, and improved passing yardage totals of 216, 276 and 204. But the offense suffered as usual in a 10-0 loss to No. 1 Alabama and failed in the red zone, including on the last play of the game amid Miles-like sideline confusion, in a 16-10 loss to Florida.
The offense shined again under Ensminger in a 54-39 win over No. 22 Texas A&M with 622 yards and in a 29-9 win over No. 13 Louisville in the Citrus Bowl with 394 yards.
"It's about fit," Detillier said of Ensminger possibly becoming LSU's offensive coordinator. "Things have to fit right for everything to work right. Steve had great success as offensive coordinator after Coach Miles was fired. He has a good working relationship with Coach Orgeron, and he knows the type offense Ed wants. And he knows the talent at LSU and what to do in the SEC to win."