Updated: Aug 10
by LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
When LSU hired Joe Brady away from Sean Peyton's Saints only two years ago this month, Coach Orgeron knew he was special...but he didn't anticipate how large the shadow of the 31 year young offensive coordinator would loom over his program.
Joe Brady was the injection of fuel into the Ensminger offensive blueprint which made Joe Burrow's dream theater weaponry more explosive than ever...Brady knew exactly how to maximize the talents of Ja'Marr Chase, Justin Jefferson & Terrace Marshall, turning 5 yard slants into 55 yard burners, or endlessly owning defenses in the red zone when the current (ask me in 5 minutes) Panthers coordinator took over the play-calling duties and frequently dialed up back shoulder fades or quick crossing routes to Chase or Jefferson, although Terrace Marshall seemed to be his preferred red zone finisher.
Now LSU could finish drives and bury teams as they should with such breathtaking talent...a platoon of unbelievable skill position players, just like LSU has always had...however, when Joe Burrow's last collegiate year in purple and gold dawned, Coach O wasn't taking any chances...when he hired Joe Brady or even Jorge Munoz, his mentality was "all hands on deck for a one year ride...we can win a National Championship..."
Behind the scenes of LSU's 2019 Hollywood unit, egos probably clashed, things may have gone down...these are human beings after all...yet, the coaches pulled together to unite the team at all times, no matter the cost of their pride or feelings and each played their role, in lock-step with LSU's players...
Joe Brady's hiring definitely humbled or attacked the pride of a few older assistants when the 29 year old was brought on Orgeron's staff, but Steve Ensminger wasn't one of them, and age was almost immediately thrown out the door once Joe's humility, infectious breakdowns and constant enthusiasm won over the entire team.
"I never thought about my age or talked about my age," Brady said only 3 days after the 2020 title game, "The players I coach and the people I work with... they've never thought about my age as a downfall. They see the work ethic and the preparation and how I approach things. They don't see 30 years old. They see a guy who is doing everything he can for us to win."
His innovation led to forward-thinking drills, like the receivers catching the ball behind a door as passes were hurled at them from a varying degree of directions, speeds and locations, all as they wore tunnel-vision goggles designed to emulate the feeling of minimized peripheral vision.
These drills, as well as Brady's game-tape analysis focusing on details, fit perfectly alongside OC Steve Ensminger's "right place, right time" play calling and led to the most outrageous offensive attack college football had ever seen, with LSU's top three pass-catchers from Brady and Mickey Joseph's WRs unit reaching 13, 18 and 20 touchdowns while the RPO rushing attack Brady also installed from his days under Joe Moorhead at Penn State registered a crazy 32 touchdowns, with a pair of freshmen grabbing 10 together while Clyde Edwards-Helaire embarked upon a legendary season, scoring 17 SEC-leading rushing TDs.
Under Ensminger and Brady's 2019 juggernaut, LSU finally maximized their NFL potential all over the field, while the entire college football blue blood structure fell to their knees begging for mercy from Burrow and co's onslaught.
Describing his offensive philosophy at the time, Brady said: "The most important thing that we do from a system standpoint is we find out what our players do well so we can put them in position to have success. I don't believe that a system is, this is what we do regardless of who we have. Now, it's critical that we find a vision for each and every player. The offense that we're looking to have is one that applies pressure. I don't believe defenses are the only ones that apply pressure. We can do that in multiple ways, whether that's formations, whether that's personnel groupings or tempo. It's our job to exploit mismatches and move guys around to get them the matchups that we want. Applying pressure, getting your speed in space, making defenses defend every blade of grass and just let your players do what they do best."
And my my my did they pull that off:
We all know the numbers: 7 top 10 teams, four #1 defenses, 15-0 as they came from behind 10 points to beat defending champions Clemson by 17 (Swinney's "Tigers" searching for their 30th win in a row)...all while Brady handled some of the red zone calls, including the 2nd Thad Moss TD or Terrace Marshall's title-sealing 13th TD of the year, towering high above Derion Kendrick, the Clemson CB fading into the nocturnal haze of the Superdome's lights.
Joe Burrow's output raged from 15 TD passes in 2018 to 60 following Brady's arrival, taking 19 individual honors on his way to the Heisman. Across 15 games that season, Burrow completed 402 of 527 passes for a 76.3 completion percentage, racking up 5,671 yards with 6 picks to his 60 TDs, setting college football's all-time single-season mark for pass efficiency (a filthy 202.0 rating). He also rushed for 368 yards & 5 TDs including the most critical play of LSU's title game comeback.
These innovations were capped off by Brady's stunning but deserved Broyles Award win, becoming the youngest assistant to ever hoist the honor. As Joe Moorhead's protege spoke at the podium, beaming ear to ear, he profusely thanked Coach O for the opportunity, Sean Peyton for his first NFL job, Steve Ensminger for trusting his youth...it was a night many would never forget...a star was truly born.
Only a few months earlier, many at LSU barely knew Brady, now the nation finally met the 30 year old passing game coordinator...and he quickly became the most hotly pursued young offensive mind in the game.
"I knew with the right work ethic and approach that anything was possible in this business," Joe said after the 2020 title game to Geaux247.
It had been a wild one year ride, beginning with his hire after a single demonstration of RPO / spread ideals on a white board.
LSU invited the Saints' Pete Carmichael (and the rest of his offensive staff) to campus for an in-depth study of the spread offense they were looking to adapt. Joe Burrow and Steve Ensminger were both enraptured by the display, urging Orgeron to hire the 29 year old Peyton assistant.
After a single call to Joe's former boss at William and Mary, Orgeron made the decision to do whatever possible to hire the Saints' 30 year old (W&M's Kevin Rogers told Orgeron "you'd be nuts not to hire this guy!").
Orgeron saw the magic in Brady, too and stole him away from the New Orleans Saints:
Only 12 hours after the Saints lost in the NFC Championship game, Brady was interviewing with LSU for an offensive role... he was the only candidate interviewed by the team and was hired within days....as if he were recruiting a Louisiana 5 star defensive lineman, Coach O was relentless in his hunt for the Saints' wunderkind.
"I listened to him and I loved his presentation," Orgeron told ESPN. "But I did some research on him with some people I know very well and trusted them. They don't throw the word 'excellent' around easily. And they said excellent. So I went with my gut."
Remembering his time at USC where the older, experienced Norm Chow called the plays while the younger Lane Kiffin added flash, matchup destruction and a slew of new ideas, Orgeron knew Ensminger and Brady would work well together...he just didn't anticipate the pair forming an axis of renegade, attack-oriented gloryhounds or becoming the greatest offensive staff in college football history, revolutionizing modern Division I offense (influencing Sarkisian's Bama no doubt) as well as LSU's identity itself....and to show for their labors, they enjoyed the most lopsided awards season ever, the 29 year old Brady taking home his Broyles Award, Chase wining the Biletnikoff, Ed Orgeron winning Coach of The Year, James Cregg winning the Joe Moore Award, as well as producing LSU's first Heisman since 1958...all in only 11 months together....
But before all of that....Brady had to tell Sean Peyton the bad news...he was leaving to the next town over in Baton Rouge...
As he left, head Coach Sean Peyton told the former Penn State assistant "you'll regret this," when instructing his coffee-fetcher to stay in the Big Easy...however, Joe had other ambitions.
He could feel a respect from LSU, a devotion to his philosophy (a shared belief in attacking football alongside Steve Ensminger) and a top quarterback leading an army of the nation's top skill talent, plus a guaranteed autonomy.
The players specifically embraced Brady, loving his energy and willingness to challenge their capabilities at every turn, showing them new tricks of the wide receiving or quarterbacking trade.
Here was a man who played wide receiver, first coached linebackers as a GA at William & Mary's (with 0 defensive experience and he was a success), obsessed over protection schemes, sat in on defensive meetings...Joe Brady is an all around football junkie...and if the all-encompassing football fiend was looking for a fix at every turn, then 2019 LSU was his first true binge.
Bringing (his close friend & former teammate at William & Mary) D.J Mangas on to LSU's 2019 staff as an analyst, Brady was surrounded by a bevy of crafty offensive minds, from Steve Ensminger's aggressive play calling, offensive analyst Jorge Munoz's communication from Burrow to the booth, or Mangas' blood brother loyalty, 2019 LSU's offense were loaded with a high octane stormborn staff.
Everyone had a role: Ensminger called the bulk of the plays and served as de facto QBs coach, working directly with Joe Burrow; Brady called certain red zone plays, plenty of 3rd down situations and offered some new ideas to Mickey Joseph's #1 receiving corps, making sure they performed to their ultimate capabilities; D.J Mangas served as Brady's "assistant", Mangas tied to his hip up there in the booth and looking much younger than his William & Mary teammate (despite being months older than Brady);
LSU weren't just beating teams last year...they were grinding their opponents into meat and devouring them whole...this was domination on an altogether terrifying scale for college football's blue bloods....but as soon as it began, much like many things in the Brady story, it was over...
Though LSU gave Joe Brady a fat contract extension to keep him with the program, his disillusionment with recruiting (caused by the Rakeem Jarrett decommitment) sent his ambitious mind back to the NFL, with designs on a pro career.
Despite everything they tried, the 30 year old was set on heading to the pros...and his list of suitors were growing by the minute, especially after his contract extension.
During the offseason of 2020, one of the big questions for LSU was inevitably "how will LSU replace Joe Brady?"
The short, bad answer?
Throughout 2020 the Tigers couldn't escape the name Joe Brady for more than ten minutes..."Joe Brady, Joe Brady, Joe Brady, Joe Brady!" you always heard him mentioned during every LSU game, specifically when the offense struggled. It didn't matter how many yards LSU racked up or the high amount of points scored, the flash from 2019 was fading for most of the season.
Personnel changes on the offensive line definitely played a role, however when a team lose a quarterback such as Joe Burrow or a coach like Joe Brady, the answer won't just be blowing in the wind...
Now, in the gloom of Brady's large, vacant shadow (as well as the recent on-field retirement of coordinator Steve Ensminger) LSU's Coach Orgeron is not only seeking a return to that identity, LSU went so far as to ask for Joe Brady's opinion during the process.
They completely followed the soon-to-be NFL head coach's advice to the point Orgeron went for the nearest, closest people who could be called "Brady clones":
D.J Mangas and Jake Peetz, the duo coming from Brady's offensive staff at Carolina, both hired as passing game coordinator and offensive coordinator, although Mangas stayed tied to Brady's right hip in the booth all throughout every moment of LSU's 2019 run and witnessed the elite magic of that team firsthand.
Peetz is 37 and Mangus will be turning 32 in February, each are younger innovators, and surprisingly straight from the recommendation of Joe Brady himself. He made sure Derek Ponamsky knew how well these two understood his offensive setup; then, this week during the interview process, they won the jobs.