2019: LSU YEAR OF DREAMS PT. I: HOW TO BUILD A DYNASTY / THE WILDERNESS YEARS
LSU'S YEAR OF DREAMS
PT.I: HOW TO BUILD A DYNASTY
As we witnessed the Tigers win the SEC in a thoroughly dynamic, undefeated and dominant fashion, capturing the #1 seed in the CFP while everyone from Grant Delpit, Ja'Marr Chase, James Cregg, Joe Brady, Joe Burrow and our head coach won every award possible (also a Heisman still to be delivered to our quarterback) and with only two games remaining in the way of glory, the current season continues its theme of dreams coming true in a manner so storybook it would make you cringe if it were a movie...or if you happen to be an Alabama fan.
2019'S BLOODTHIRSTY TIGERS
LSU's charge to their first ever College Football Playoff has been a journey of triumph, but the sweetness of the so-far perfect season lies in the hard roads many of these players and their coach had to travel: a path filled with potholes of doubt all along the way.
Still, the 2019 LSU Tigers will be remembered for the vengeance they sought and the scores they settled throughout their jaunt: every disrespect was righted, every challenge was overcome, every classic rival in the SEC has been cast asunder like used toilet paper.... it's all been directed by a coach who could motivate teenagers to run through cement walls and orchestrated by a quarterback everyone wants to be and every retired QB wishes they had been:
In Joe Burrow's infinite swagger, he's commanded an offense that's rewritten the definition of the word "juggernaut" while Dave Aranda's defense remains stacked with stars and playmakers who carry on the tradition of great Tigers defenses of old.
But it's the overall winning attitude, the aggressive play-calling on both sides of the ball, and the consistent "chip-on-the-shoulder" mentality that's converted millions into bandwagon LSU fanship...
....how often do you see redemption, revenge, star power and legendary sass join forces, translating into a title-contending behemoth?
Most of the recent champions in college football history were redemptive or had star power, but never the whole package: USC's defense cost them a true dynasty in 2006 (they were never the same after Coach O left in 2005) and for all the vindication of their dynasty, Alabama won the title twice without winning the SEC, completely relying upon committees to qualify (and winning three national titles without a high quality NFL-ready quarterback in their ranks), losing a few as well along the way to Clemson; Urban Meyer's Florida (and Ohio State) teams won behind a quarterback who couldn't throw and a murderer at tight end, or there's Jim Tressel's Ohio State and the luckiest pass interference call of all time to claim theirs in 2002...
....perfection and undefeated runs on the way to a title were expected in the BCS era, yet with the dawn of the 4-team CFP, perfection didn't even seem possible anymore...unless you were in the Big 10 or ACC...
....that is...until now....
....we felt LSU could be flirting with a perfect 15-0 after a grinding SEC schedule which included five top 10 teams and three more top 20 units including a battle in McConaughey country vs #9 Texas and a title-deciding dance with Alabama on the road, but it would require the stars aligning.....we were sure LSU would be successful in 2019...but perfection???
Somehow it's a reality: everything about LSU's run has only proven just how complete they really are: Oklahoma, Clemson and Ohio State better get ready...and they better watch out.
"We comin...we comin'," Coach Ed Orgeron warned with significant gusto after the victory over Alabama, a game that put college football on notice after Joe Burrow and co. clocked up a 33-13 lead at halftime, then followed that up with timely, ruthless responses to fend off a Crimson Tide comeback in the 2nd half.
But it didn't start there, LSU has been devastating opponents and anyone trying to skip commercials via DVR all season, scoring faster than many can call a play and putting up suitable final scorelines by halftime.
This has been a year in which we've all bought the ticket, we're all taking the ride and LSU has obliged us all by turning their old VW into a Lamborghini...all in less than 12 months.
As a lifelong LSU fan, I didn't think we'd see a season as dramatic, triumphant or as entertaining as 2007 again, nor did I feel we'd ever see a squad of Tigers as loaded (in more ways than one) or as fun to watch as LSU's 2011 defense led by Tyrann Mathieu and Eric Reid...
As fans we were just worried about having an offense that could put up 200 yards a game....
....we were just dying for a quarterback and an offensive system that'd free us from the bondage of 8 years rotting among the lint in Alabama's pocket.
....and in one man, LSU's path to destiny and the rock and roll infinite became attainable.
THE WILDERNESS YEARS:
-2012 TITLE GAME
-THE RISE OF COACH O
The 8 year wilderness period which spanned from December 2011 until September 2019, began when LSU were crowned undefeated SEC champions going into January 2012's title game; however when the new year crept up, the Tigers coughed up a national championship to Alabama (while getting shutout in a defeat that still haunts us all).
The aftermath of the 2012 BCS National Championship loss to Alabama brought pain, sorrow and frustration in ways LSU fans have only just started recovering from: returning Heisman candidate Tyrann Mathieu (closest defender to the pose since Charles Woodson) was exiled out of LSU in one of the most gut-wrenching moments in our recent history.
Les Miles used Mathieu as a scapegoat to explain why his players were perennially in trouble with the law...after all, this is a coach who covered up every positive Mathieu drug test during the 2011 season, but with the 2011 campaign finished, Miles' loyalty to Mathieu had reached its limit.
Sure, Tyrann made the wrong choices and suffered the consequences, but had Miles disciplined his players in the first place, Mathieu would've finished his college career the right way, I'm certain....instead, Miles never had control over his football team, nor did he care to instill discipline.
He allowed others to become bigger than the team, while scapegoats (for both on and off the field issues) Mathieu, Jarrett Lee, Russell Shepard, T-Bob Hebert became the fish to fry for unjustifiable reasons which struck a nerve across the fan-base which still reverberates years later.
Make no mistake, the coach's public destruction of Mathieu's reputation and collegiate career changed how we all saw Les Miles...whether we realized it or not.
From that day forward, Les was a marked man at Lousiana State University, turning his back on a player who trusted him like a father...and probably still does to this day, such is Tyrann's beautiful heart.
In the years after the title loss, Miles' Tigers were still the second best recruiters in college, but our team began suffering defeats in games we had no business losing...under Miles we started losing 3+ games a season, dropping 5 in 2014.
He was supposed to be gone in 2015, but thanks to a nostalgic and incredibly ugly win over A&M, Alleva famously announced (during the 4th quarter of the A&M victory) that Les Miles would be back for 2016.
Now on a fiery hot seat, Les tried to get back his "no pressure job" by polishing his staff with big-time names, and in the process, Les built the foundation of the current LSU juggernaut...mostly by accident.
In between the 2015 and 2016 seasons, Miles pulled in Ed Orgeron and defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, now the 2019 Coach of the Year and highest paid assistant coach respectively (later leave to become head coach of Baylor).
Following next in 2010, he'd hired former LSU quarterback Steve Ensminger to better our offense, but couldn't figure out how best to utilize the old school offensive mind, switching his title after every season and opting for OCs' like the fantastic but extremely temporary Gary Crowton, the woeful Greg Strudrawa and the interminable Cam Cameron...
...but finally in 2016, no coordinator could shield Les from what was to come: Miles was exposed as an under-par coach when he bungled a game vs Auburn due to the worst clock management of all time (setting our 2016 season up for failure);
Immediately following the Auburn loss, LSU Athletic Director Joe Alleva, the alumni, the boosters and the fans had seen enough.
The Mad Hatter could be a phenomenal coach most of the time and could certainly recruit, the crazy bata could even be a genius at times...but he rode luck and the roll of the dice for far too long and LSU lost close game after close game due to his inability to progress our offense.
Despite taking the Tigers to a pair of national titles (winning one), Coach Les Miles wore out his welcome at LSU; not merely from the "stone age offense" he deployed (as Joe Burrow dubbed it) or the near lack of institutional control, the Mad Hatter thought he was bigger than LSU.
Miles was the right coach for that time ...the politician thing had some charm, however LSU's brand was starting to become synonymous with Les Miles..and that meant something that lacked substance.
Although he had some big success in Baton Rouge, Les only took LSU to three BCS games in 11 years (2005-2016) while possessing a bevy of talent unmatched outside of Alabama and Clemson during a decade and a season span in which Saban racked up 4 titles at Bama, Dabo won one and coached another, Auburn scored one in 2010 and lost another in 2013...LSU equaling Auburn or Clemson isn't good enough.
Indeed, after he shocked the world when he snatched Ryan Perriloux out from under Texas's Mack Brown (before never playing the kid), Les couldn't recruit a single decent quarterback other than Zach Mettenberger, wasting big-name weapons on offense like Russell Shepard (who should've played quarterback), Jordan Jefferson (who shouldn't have played quarterback), Malachi Dupre, Jarvis Landry, Leonard Fournette, D.J Chark, Derrius Guice, Odell Beckham Jr and many maaaany more.
We didn't have enough creativity on offense to out-scheme Nick Saban or Gus Malzahn whatsoever...in fact during the last years of the Miles era (until the first two years of Coach O's), LSU were fading as a national powerhouse, burying themselves in an inescapable SEC West quagmire.
Coach Miles believed he put LSU on the map and didn't need the Tigers job to be a success...we were really just a stop on Les's route...after all, he'd inherited the 2007 title-winning team from the work of Nick Saban in the first place...and at that juncture, back in the madness of fall 2016, LSU were at their most important crossroads in their history:
The guy to replace Coach Miles was an unknown in the mainstream college football world but one who's legend among true football careerists / junkies was already long secure; this was a man athletic director Joe Alleva and Les Miles did everything possible to insert on their staff and for that, I thank you, Les.
Like a lot of us, Coach Miles had heard all the stories about the guy's miracles in recruiting, his 4 National titles as an assistant, the man's motivational skills and his wondrous defensive line intensity, although as an added bonus, they didn't have to go too far to find him: Louisiana-born Ed Orgeron came into the LSU staff and recruited like a demon and coached as if he were a father under Les Miles.
"I missed the chase," Coach O once said of his fifteen months out of action in a 2015 ESPN article, "I've always wanted to be a Tiger, I've been on the other side and always wanted to be apart of this program...I'm excited to be a Tiger."
Soon after Les Miles was dismissed, also under-fire athletic director Joe Alleva nearly went with Houston's Tom Herman or Florida State's Jimbo Fisher.
Despite Alleva claiming he would "never have hired Fisher", I ask Mr. Alleva: why was Jimbo shopping for homes in Baton Rouge and nearly accepting a contract worth up to $50,000,000?
Current Texas coach Tom Herman was offered the gig but rejected it for the Longhorns' offer. Alleva definitely tried to get the former title-winning Florida State coach as well: overtures were made to Jimbo Fisher, but the guy went for the Texas A&M job and the mega dollars.
It's not as storybook as we advertised...the cold, harsh truth is LSU's Joe Alleva wasn't looking at Orgeron for the future...he was looking for him to clean up his own mess before a "real coach" came around.
This is the moment in which Ed Orgeron had other designs and made his own luck...he was and still is that coach and some of us actually knew it (myself included).
Orgeron seized the opportunity to coach the university he always wanted to be apart of...the college he chickened out of as a wild young man due to homesickness...the team he knew he'd most likely never get a chance to lead again.
For the rest of 2016, Orgeron coached as if his life were on the line, clearly auditioning for the role in competition against the LSU alumni's big name-fancy.
For the patience they gave Coach O, the LSU athletic department, especially the departed Joe Alleva, deserves a lot of credit: there were moments where it felt the Ragin Cajun wouldn't last long at the helm, mostly due to fan impatience and frustration from too many years kicking the can next to the tumbleweeds within the abandoned parking lot of the SEC West.
Many said "we've seen this movie before..."
So, to accelerate the process Orgeron flipped the script.