LSU ODYSSEY...HOME OF CHAMPIONS
by LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
It's hard not to feel bowled over by LSU's current program when met with the reality of their overwhelming rise these last 18 months. Even the coaching staff can be as intense and as intimidating as the players themselves:
Coach Orgeron's calculated aggression and righteous ambition has influenced his entire staff, from support staffers Doug Aucoin, Jack Marucci to Director of Player Development Kelvin Sheppard, RBs Coach Kevin Faulk and even Orgeron's Special Assistant Derek Ponamsky.
The larger than life figure of Ponamsky, ascending from radio's Off The Bench program to Ed Orgeron's assistant (all based on a promise Coach O made to Ponamsky when he still worked in radio: "when I become head coach, I'm hiring you as my special assistant"...the morning after his introductory press conference, he made good on that promise).
In lock step with Orgeron, Ponamsky himself can be seen stalking the sidelines of the practice field in a menacing state of game-face showmanship;
DBU Coordinator Corey Raymond, also the man in charge of assembling such a bevy of NFL-ready defensive back talent, broods under a purple Tigers hat, clapping his hands sternly while exhaling out "LET'S GEAUX!";
Offensive Coordinator Steve Ensminger gets spicy in the heat of action, displaying far more energy than you'd expect from an elder statesman...in fact, he privately has the mouth of a scurvy-bitten sailor.
WRs Coach Mickey Joseph stands aloft as a sultan of sting: always ready to bite, always intense and constantly challenging his guys with a "come on let's (expletive) geaux!"...and the hot language works:
Joseph commands the best WR corps in collegiate sports history for a second straight season and may very well be close to a third and fourth if the recruiting chips fall in his favor.
He drives into his receivers wielding feverish authority and, like most of LSU's staff, Joseph holds every intangible of a future head coach.
Defensive Coordinator Bo Pelini may have become more measured in practices and in the meeting rooms around his players, however the heat-seeking, steambreathing blowtorch we recall from his first stint at LSU is still there...just like we witnessed when an unnamed potential starting DB drew his ire during the third and final Spring practice.
"Ya float, you glide, you bounce while you shift and turn square into your man, you don't prance around and get your feet stuck in the ground...then you're off balance, then they'll sure as hell eat you!"
This wasn't an episode of Hard Knocks ...those pampered softees wouldn't last a day out here in the tombstone heat and competitive retribution of Orgeron's LSU...which is why even the best coaches have still stuck around Baton Rouge despite bigger opportunities than 2019's Passing Game Coordinator Joe Brady received.
There was an atmosphere where any one of these assistants would run their own show and truly dictate / decide an LSU victory or loss, maintaining such an influence over the personnel in each position.
Not merely thought of as "position coaches", at LSU these coordinators possess enough autonomy to make any coach in the country beg to join Orgeron's staff...freedom to develop and deploy players as they see fit, the freedom to instill their own philosophy.
Even the analysts and support staff are star-studded football lifers who've clocked enough miles and paid more dues than a Delta bluesman:
WRs / Passing Game Analyst Carter Sheridan enjoyed 11 years as WRs Coach on Sean Payton's staff, winning a Super Bowl in 2009 and developing such greats as Michael Thomas, Marques Colston, Brandin Cooks, Lance Moore, Tiger Legend Devery Henderson among many others.
Another analyst with huge expectations and a mythology surrounding their arrival was Russ Callaway, Steve Ensminger's new right hand man who Callaway views as "a father figure" only months into the Tigers gig.
Callaway himself set records as the offensive coordinator at Samford before heading to Saban's Alabama, winning two national championships during his time in Tuscaloosa assisting Kirby Smart and Nick Saban as an Inside LB Analyst.
Outrageously successful on both sides of the ball????
No wonder a mythology follows Russ...
Upon this staff, LSU has 16 combined National Championships, 7 Super Bowl wins and an 8th appearance...an unparalleled cluster of success operating right here in Baton Rouge.
Questions about losing Joe Brady and Dave Aranda?
Why? We replaced Aranda with a Super Bowl-winner who has major NFL experience, who was a successful Head Coach at a major college program and also won a National Championship at LSU as one of the most beloved defensive coordinators in our history.
Joe Brady left LSU so he could have another shot at the NFL...we replaced Brady with NFL lifer Scott Linehan, an Offensive genius who developed and catapulted three different QB & WR combos (Randy Moss & Daunte Culpepper, Dez Bryant & Tony Romo, and Matthew Stafford & Megatron) towards record-breaking, Pro Bowl seasons....history-making, victory-taking success from three sets of offenses.
Although often stoic, when discussing the specifics of offenses, Linehan gets going, the usually emotionless PGC erupts into a raving rant as he explains the exact science of the new routes LSU's receivers will run throughout 2020.
"See they'll watch the film and notice your tendencies...I see you guys doing the same stuff from last year, ok, I get it. They couldn't defend it, this year they'll be closer. No matter how (expletive) good you are, they'll catch you in something and get away with a grab and take away a 1st Down or a shot in the red zone...that's why when you stick that foot in the ground move the head inside, shoulders tilting right, open the chest and sink him inside left...telegraph it, then fake the fake...ya know what I'm sayin?"
These receivers, trusting Linehan's experience and know-how since day one of his arrival (Day 1: Linehan arrives with tapes and tapes of footage studying routes and plays run by Randy Moss and Megatron); this corps of saavy, professional receivers understood what he was explaining to them and then one by one not a single man failed the following drill.
Yes our staff may be inherently badass, appearing more as a ragtag group of bar-fighting ZZ Top fans than a collection of elitist "football geniuses"...they don't need the media to illustrate how adept they are at the game, they just need the players to buy in.
And if the evolution from 2018 into 2019 didn't expose the inherent innovation within LSU's #1 staff, maybe the fact many huge college programs were trying to hire our 2019 analysts as 2020 coordinators tells the tale...an overwhelming indication of success that even Nick Saban hasn't enjoyed just yet.
Everyone wanted to poach our assistants and yet still most of our coaches moved heaven and earth to stay in Baton Rouge.
"I already feel like I'm a head coach with the freedom and room Coach O gives me," WRs Coach Mickey Joseph once said on Off The Bench.
But to really know the hard working, innovative and experienced coaching staff intimately, you must geaux to the source...your own experiences...and mine was pretty surreal:
LSU Odyssey were close to our own interview with WRs Coach Mickey Joseph, the legendary Nebraska quarterback and National Champion LSU assistant: we left a call to Mickey Joseph via LSU's official line and left an awful, breathless message.
We felt we blew our chance and waited patiently, then kinda forgot about the call for the next few hours....
Later that night, at 7:32PM (nearly 10PM on the East Coast) a number beginning with the 225 area code blew up my phone....without really thinking I pressed speaker and asked suspiciously "Hello???"
"Hello this is Coach Mickey Joseph, how are you doin? Lonn Phillips Sullivan, right?" He asked in a swaggering, badass Marrero dialect.
"Absolutely wow, Coach! How's it going?" I stammered, freakishly grabbing the laptop, the IPad, the phones, my questions for Coach Joseph and assembled them all crazily, "I didn't expect you to call back, this is awesome, we'd love to talk to you about this new wave of LSU receiver...and yeah....what is the best time or day for you coming up, Coach?"
"I am 100% down to do it, just first you gotta call the office and talk to Derek Ponamsky, and Derek will get it approved...every interview must be approved by Coach O, just the proper channels and protocol we have to follow," Joseph said in a determined demeanor.
Sadly, it was a case of bad timing: Ponamsky had no idea who the hell LSU ODYSSEY was before turning me over to Communications Director Michael Bonnette, who never replied to my requests, although at the same time, the SEC schedule was revised, released and a few players opted out of the season, muddying the waters and putting tiny little eggshell minds like mine on the lowest possible rung of priority, in fact we weren't even on the ladder, which is fine: there was a title to defend, a season to play and players to protect on a daily basis.
To be a die hard LSU fan and receive a call back from Mickey Joseph at nearly 10PM in his time zone is quite incredible.... He wanted this interview bad, yet more than anything, he respected my hustle and my vision: I wanted to show the world a rarely seen side of the Marrero-native WRs Coach.
Interview or no interview....we immediately understood why the man is so successful and how ahead of their time this entire Tigers staff really is:
No egos, no bullshit....they understand that the key to victory could come from anyone at anytime with the right minerals to deliver a win, whether that be 0 Star Lloyd Cushenberry, 2 Star Justin Jefferson, community college transfer Damien Lewis...castaway quarterback Joe Burrow.....or even 20-something young sports journalists with a great idea.
by LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
COPYRIGHT 2020 UNINTERRUPTED WRITINGS INC LLC
SHOUTOUTS TO: AD, AG, JAMIE, NURSEKORT, HAROLD, PEGGY, CLAYETH, RASHAD DAVIS, LINDA FEHOKO, TONGE' HELAIRE, TONY, DON CANNON, 1971, MARYROSE, JAMIE THORNHILL, SUSAN BRIGNAC, FRED FROM PLANO, SO MANY WHO'VE BELIEVED IN THIS PROJECT & HAVE SUPPORTED, DEFENDED & EVEN ADVISED ME ON THIS ADVENTURE.
YOUR HELP, LOVE & SUPPORT IS IMMEASURABLE, PRICELESS AND RECIPROCATED AT ALL COSTS.