Updated: Jul 30
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By LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
LSU's maverick offense head into their third season under Tigers Legend Steve Ensminger, and the outrageous results have seen the Cajun ascend above and beyond expectations, becoming the greatest offensive mind in Tigers history...all as he directed the most innovative and unstoppable offensive powerhouse ever:
Beating 11 Top 10 teams over two seasons, scoring 40+ points during 21 of Coach E's 31 total games (4-0 bowl record, 2 SEC titles on staff), dropping 40+ in 9 straight games at one point and 50+ in 7 further contests, the Bayou Gandalf took his chew, his water bottles and LSU's revolutionized playbook, saddled up alongside then-Passing Game Coordinator Joe Brady and "BradyBro" D.J Mangus, and began dialing away the best offensive display college football has ever seen...
Yet after 726 points, a Heisman winning #1 overall pick, a National Championship, 95 offensive touchdowns and three (later four) 1st Round Draft picks from our 2019 G.O.A.T unit, Ensminger is still yet to receive his proper dues.
While the college football world massaged Joe Brady's every breath with the word "GENIUS", handing the youthful energy of Brady the coveted Broyles Award, Steve Ensminger's mild demeanor and nonexistent PR campaigns did him no favors concerning "credit" or end of season "honors"...which was exactly how he wanted it.
"This award should say Joe Brady/Steve Ensminger,” Brady said after winning the Broyles Award, grasping the incorrect public perceptions as to who ran the 2019 offense. “I’m only at LSU because of Steve Ensminger. I’ll never forget that.”
Joe Burrow praised "Coach E" throughout his Heisman speech, stirring up nationally televised emotions within the Bayou legend sitting before his greatest apprentice:
"You guys believed in me after I broke my hand...when I didn't know if I could still play or not....thank you," Joe's voice crumbling into tearful reckoning at the end.
On the flipside, it can prove tasking to get a word out of the humble coordinator.
Ensminger shirks the spotlight to an almost savage degree, which possibly cost him a Broyles nomination or shared victory; yet in reality, the much younger apprentice winning a career-launching award over the experienced signal caller had to feel like an unnecessarily dramatic grab at youth by the Broyles Award committee.
Yes, Brady earned his Broyles 100% and we'll always stand intrigued into admiration when studying the 30 year old, but even Joseph Brady would agree the award should've been shared...
Despite the two offensive leaders maintaining a professional posture of mutual respect and professional curiosity, the Broyles Award must've ignited a few awkward booth conversations (or lack thereof) between the duo. Regardless of the obvious friendship, there were many layers to the coordinators' relationship:
There seemed to be an edge to the offensive booth which hadn't been apparent before, even during the closest of contests (Alabama, Auburn or Texas); we watched Brady attached to Ensminger's hip, a mini Grateful Dead concert geauxing on up in that booth during games where Burrow and the offense were eating human face; however, this camaraderie seemed to disappear once Brady's future remained in a constant state of flux, rumors abounding every press conference.
This is the stage upon which the Ensminger/Brady Brady/Ensminger schism arrived:
Coach E didn't give a damn about the Broyles Award... his only concerns were his family and LSU...commitment and loyalty meant everything.
Back in December and January, many sensed a palpable distance growing between the two...like father and son, Brady felt he now had the tools to spread his wings and the grizzled Cajun began claiming sole ownership of all CFP play-calling.
Intent, hell-bent and ready to make a dent, Ensminger went full Passenger 57 on Georgia, Oklahoma and Clemson, dialing up his most in your face, boot to the throat play calling in his quest for football eternity.
Even Steve couldn't back down from being a little ambitious in this championship moment...he had to take over...this was his offense....these were the games, the team and the quarterback of his dreams...he'd waited all his life for those moments.
In fact, the pair grew increasingly silent (or telepathic) toward each other upstairs in the booth following December's awards ceremony, with Brady even heading to the sidelines far more than usual vs Oklahoma (as can be seen through a multitude of photographic evidence). Meanwhile, throughout the Clemson game, Brady and Mangus can be seen looking left out with little to do other than talk to Joe Burrow, silently staring over at an on-fire Steve Ensminger running the show like Mick Jagger's lovechild with Mike Martz circa '99...Brady and Mangus wondering "just how is he doing this???").
But you also have to disregard characterizations of Joe Brady or his quick move to Carolina only weeks after signing a 3 year contract with LSU:
Joseph Brady deserves massive credit for his motivational skills, these extrovert attributes allowing Ensminger's careful introspection to blossom; in 2019, the Football Lifer became the mad scientist in the background, taking no credit as he pushed the nuclear destruct button with one outrageously cutthroat call after another, Joe executing like a madman who just joined the band.
Many of these brilliant plays came down to execution, the others were down to stars aligning in an interstellar ball of Bayou Alchemy, an unfathomable siege upon the greatest defenses in college football, including four top ranked units prepared by the "best minds in the game"...
...Apparently those minds couldn't hold a candle to our guys...
This perfect marriage of Ensminger's jugular offensive structure, his father-son relationship with Joe Burrow and the trio's incendiary, aggressive play-calling was bound in title-winning glory by Brady and Burrow's own youthful dynamic edge:
Joe would return from the field and immediately talk to Jorge Munoz or Joe Brady about what he saw and felt on the previous drive, meanwhile Ensminger took in the information or adjustments and made preparations for the next series, talking to Joe when he felt like it:
"Trust me... the way it works, it's been perfect...it keeps us one step ahead...always," Ensminger assured the assembled media with a smirk before the 2020 CFP National Championship Game.
Thanks to Brady's adoption of Joe Moorhead / Sean Payton's encyclopedic offensive obsessions, his ambitious thirst for the NFL's highest positions alongside Ensminger's acceptance and promotion of Brady's fleeting influence, Orgeron's Tigers will greatly benefit from their iconic partnership for years to come:
We saw Joe Brady aggressively challenging the receivers like never before, WRs Coach Mickey Joseph following suit and demanding excellence with each "come on motherf**ker" during practices, the receivers rolling their feet to a boundless rhythm, their hips swiveling sharply, no fatal extra shift which may allow DBs time to shut their routes down... turn sharp, turn...turn...turn...LET'S GEAUX! AGAIN! KEEP IT SHARP! ROLL IT AGAIN! ROLL EM, NOW TURN. STICK IT! SELL THAT, TERRACE!
When guys arrived late for meetings, Mickey Joseph, Brady or Ensminger lit into them, saying "in a year you'll be paying your team $10,000 for that!"
Also, Brady introduced some new tricks to Ensminger's wealth of knowledge, such as opening and shutting a door with a receiver on one side and a bulleted pass hurling towards them on the other or using goggles to imitate and recreate the tunnel vision of wearing a helmet during an intense SEC match-up, blurred vision and all.
When asked how he'd "evolved during 2019", the Bayou Gandalf quickly joked:
"Joe Brady evolved me...that's the truth."
Joe Brady was a prodigy at LSU, a football wunderkind who deserves total respect and credit; yet this wasn't a one way street:
Ensminger taught Brady how a top-level coach works, how you recruit the best young men in the country; Steve educated the former Penn State GA on the ins and outs of installing an offense, which plays to call (and when), the nuances of every young man on the roster, and the importance of his system's unorthodox pre-snap movements (affording time and space for skill position players as well as supplying quarterbacks enough distance from the line of scrimmage);
Together, Ensminger and Brady became LSU's own Murtaugh and Riggs:
Maximizing Joe Burrow's brilliance became a crusade between the two offensive impresarios and this nonstop quest for success pingponged back and forth from The East Coast Playboy to his elder (not elderly).
They went through every detail: over the last decade, dropped passes killed the Tigers and 2018 was a horrible year for drops at LSU. We witnessed the first year of the Burrow / Ensminger offense leaving many touchdowns or big plays on the field following uncharacteristic lapses from our studs out wide.
How would they curb this issue?
Unorthodox drills such as the swinging door, the goggles...or...just pure volume:
Ensminger and Joe Brady envisioned a "Summer of 10,000 Catches", delivering this objective to Mickey Joseph's crew of centurion receivers during the 2019 off-season. Of course, Joseph's WR corps passed the test with flying colors, much of the improvement down to the Marrero native's own big time head coaching potential as well.
Analyzing every issue, trying any solution and masterfully executing a variety of personnel / philosophical changes, together this squad of ambitious players and coaches scalped the entirety of the SEC, disgracing / defacing Oklahoma during the "Oklacoma" game, throttling Clemson's 29 game win streak inside the Superdome, and seizing the title through their infinite cacophony and raised middle finger swagger...a defiance they picked up in part from Ensminger's quiet but badass demeanor.
It wasn't scheme or a change in formations which paved LSU's path through all-comers: the 2019/2020 Tiger Magic was all down to Ed Orgeron and new Athletic Director Scott Woodward amassing the perfect combination of people who possessed unshakeable character, impervious strength and unbreakable determination.
But throughout it all, Ensminger's greatness seemed passed over with ageist glee, an escalating amount of analysts, "professional" commentators, and even bandwagon LSU fans all saying "It was all Joe Brady, that old man did nothin'!" Shouting at anyone sticking up for Coach E's actual role in the team.
I couldn't even count how many times we heard Kirk Herbstreit's languid, used car-salesman voice utter "Joe Brady" throughout the season...it was outrageous.
Steve Ensminger, for all they knew was just a myth...a ghost in the shadows of Burrow's cigar smoke.
To this very day, many fan, analyst, "writer", TV / podcast personality or host all believe Joe Brady called every play for LSU's 2019 campaign, they all feel "LSU are doomed without Joe Brady"...quickly dismissing Steve Ensminger as a viable offensive coordinator.
The unequivocal truth is not as dramatic, but far more fascinating:
Ensminger called 99% of the plays....Joe Brady called "situational red zone" snaps, polished the routes we ran, inserted a whole new language of pedal to the metal NFL terminology which Ensminger immediately adapted; the two completed each other...although the question "could the offense have exploded without Joe Brady?" needs to be addressed.
With or without Joe Brady, the 2019 offense was headed in the right direction, dropping 40+ points in the final 3 games, Mickey Joseph, Joe Burrow, Steve Ensminger, the receivers, Thaddeus Moss's return from injury, the emergence of Clyde Edwards-Helaire, James Cregg's offensive line becoming a titanic blockbusting force...all of these elements collided and aligned into the historic juggernaut we (including you Saban) will never forget....Joe Brady became the savvy, smart interior decorator who could show Ensminger and Joseph a thing or two about fashion sensibilities.
Regardless if you're TEAM BRADY or TEAM ENSMINGER, we're talking about the Lennon/McCartney of offensive firepower, baby...the Jagger/Richards...in the history of college football, nobody has coached offense better than these two...and to think they came from the school with the most checkered offensive history....
Sometimes change can hurt, it can blind us, throw us away covered in the remnants of our own waste...but every now and then, change can be transcendent, granting us all equal, eternal salvation.... once in a blue moon...
LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
COPYRIGHT 2020 UNINTERRUPTED WRITINGS INC LLC
LSUDan headbutting an A&M fan somewhere, Maryrose for her swaggering YouTube comments, the LSU football staff and the secretaries within LSU HQ, sorry for bothering you but I appreciate your never-ending help. And anyone who read long enough to understand the vision and get to this part.
Thank you! Geaux Tigers!