Updated: Jan 16, 2021
by LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
"Hey if you didn't have a tackle for loss, that's your fault...have a party in the backfield..."
- Ryan Nielsen as he coaches the Northern Illinois D-Line during a practice, 2012
LSU's defensive coordinator search has quickly become one of the most highly covered Tigers stories during the Orgeron tenure...and that's simply because of the high stakes involved.
Whoever Orgeron ends up hiring as his next defensive coordinator will be debated all the way through the entirety of 2021, no matter the results, however one thing is for certain regardless of your affiliations, allegiances or backing:
After the disappointment and deception of the Marcus Freeman debacle, the skeptical excitement of Miss State's Zach Arnett interviewing with Coach O (before LSU didn't extend an offer), the whispers and rumors concerning Bama duo Pete Golding & Charlie Strong...with all these names swirling around one thing is for certain...this soon-to-be-named defensive coordinator will seal three of the four most important hires of Orgeron's career (Joe Brady being his most important, followed by Jake Peetz & D.J Mangas).
If Freeman was a mirage and Arnett is a roundly dismissed candidate, then who's the guy? Where's the direction of this hunt headed?
Coach O has recently stated he's willing to be "patient" in his search, specifically referencing the conclusion of the NFL Playoffs with all indications pointing to the name we've been writing, we've been saying in the background of the Marcus Freeman drama all along: RYAN NIELSEN.
Yes...even while Tigers fans were blinded by the allure of Marcus Freeman (us included), the New Orleans Saints' current D-Line coach Ryan Nielsen and his bearded Vallhalla dominion was in the background all along, aiming to win a Super Bowl before potentially heading a few miles away to LSU for a National Championship, just as Joe Brady did, just as Greg McMahon was able to do, even Bill Johnson made the move from former Super Bowl-winning Sainthood to LSU National Champion...and Johnson, the grizzled old D-Line coach he replaced in New Orleans could end up being the man he takes the reigns from once again at LSU...
Could Nielsen become the future Defensive Coordinator / D-Line Coach?
First off, I've been told from a handful of sources that Ryan Nielsen and Coach Ed Orgeron have an understanding regarding the DC job, people who've been yelling this at me for a while now, even during the Freeman saga:
"Coach O really wants Ryan...he's like a son to him..."
If Coach O is to wait (potentially) until February for Nielsen to become free for an interview, then Ryan Nielsen wouldn't leave his former coach at USC and employer at Ole Miss hanging as he takes another job elsewhere in the NFL or stays with the Saints...Nielsen would interview with Coach O and in turn, he would hire Nielsen for his first ever defensive coordinator role in his well-traveled career.
Nielsen is a firm Coach O disciple and we know he's Coach O's choice for the role...if any other man fills that spot it will be from sheer necessity and may rear its ugly head as a complete compromise of the LSU Standard of Performance...perhaps an even worse hire than Bo Pelini...Orgeron has to get this right and if not Nielsen some say Georgia's Glenn Schumann....but I say this, wouldn't Schumann become Georgia's defensive coordinator under his mentor Kirby Smart anyway (as co-DC Dan Lanning looks set to take the same job at Texas)??
Schumann is intriguing, I like the hire but Nielsen is the definitive choice here.
There are a number of critical intangibles the next LSU defensive coordinator must possess, but chief among them is a leader who can teach great defensive technique, someone who's an energetic beast, old enough to command credibility while still at a young age for freshmen and high schoolers to relate, maybe a little NFL prestige (Nielsen has plenty), some Orgeron ties (Nielsen has a ton), a great track record as a recruiter (yup), experienced along a variety of stops in which he cut his teeth and last but not least, a guy who understands how to win and how to maximize talent.
Marcus Freeman won't be that man...Zach Arnett either...and that's a win for LSU:
Neither are as strong of a candidate or would work alongside Coach O as well as Ryan Nielsen would.
Is Nielsen a gamble, as many seem to say?
Maybe...but is he a bigger gamble than hiring Joe Brady? Appointing Steve Ensminger as our offensive coordinator after Matt Canada's play-calling nadir? For me there can be no bigger gamble from Coach Orgeron than when he hired Bo Pelini...that decision was either going to be an effortless vindication masked by LSU's superior defensive talent or the complete horrorshow shocker it became....
And when all hell broke loose, could Coach O convey his disgust with Bo Pelini outside of a smashed-in headset? Maybe not without tearing his head off first...
But with his protege Ryan Nielsen, their communication is a given.
It all begins back at USC....back in Ryan's old stopping grounds in Southern California, territory where he was born and raised, where he'd first become a three sport star at Royal High, excelling in baseball and football especially....this would be the same place he'd become a stud defensive end & tackle at USC, areas he'd later recruit so well he knew the families and neighborhoods like the back of his hand....
Because these people all knew Ryan...
He was a dominant pitcher and outfielder in baseball, he was Royal High's MVP in basketball for 1996, averaging 17.2 points and 11.3 rebounds per game as a highly-lauded center, making the Los Angeles' Times All-Ventura County second team.
However....in football....Nielsen was a true savage:
As a defensive end playing for a 2-8 team his senior year at Royal, Ryan grabbed 129 tackles, 19 sacks, 7 forced fumbles and 2 interceptions...ridiculous proof of the man's inner engine and a testament to his will, only as a teenager.
He had no shortage of suitors, but it was an easy choice for Nielsen to go to USC...especially when USC Legend John Robinson is in your living room watching a national title game with you for a recruiting visit...
Under the rising program, which changed hands from Paul Hackett to Pete Carroll, Nielsen was an explosive beast of opponents' burden, shifting inside to defensive tackle after his first year...and it was at USC where he first met Coach O.
Orgeron was Nielsen's D-Line coach at University of Southern California under Pete Carroll and later, Ed gave Ryan his first high profile coaching opportunity.
After he graduated from USC, he was an undrafted free agent signed by the Philadelphia Eagles, but soon, Nielsen turned to coaching. He began his journey at his alma mater during their 2002 season as a graduate assistant, a team which won the Orange Bowl with Troy Polamalu & Carson Palmer.
Following a Rose Bowl-winning year as a GA at USC, he went to Idaho in 2004, but Coach Orgeron came calling, asking if Ryan wanted to join his Ole Miss staff around 2005. Considering this was Coach O's first head coaching job and he put that much trust in Nielsen so soon in his young protege's career is astonishing...Orgeron had far more to prove than he does now and yet, he put his faith in Nielsen at that critical time....why?
Because Coach O "rides or dies"....
Ryan joined the Ole Miss staff until Coach O lost the gig in 2007, coaching up a renegade defensive squad which stole high octane recruits like Patrick Willis, Greg Hardy, Peria Jerry, Trumaine McBride among others. Nielsen had a crucial role as Orgeron's right hand man on the recruiting trail and on the sidelines, leading his staff as the #1 assistant recruiter (his primary area of focus was California).
In Bruce Feldman's book Meat Market, Nielsen constantly won the $100 end of the day recruiting prizes Orgeron handed out to his assistants and his impact was immediately felt upon the staff, Ole Miss' growing NFL roster (offensive talents like McCluster, Green-Ellis & Mike Wallace too) and in the coaching carousel of names and overlords constantly on the watch for young, premium coaching talent.
Instead, the Ole Miss staff disintegrated under Orgeron's firing and Nielsen's name seemed to drop from the hiring boards, many programs forgetting about the young talented D-Line expert from Orgeron's upstart Rebels' staff. Just like Coach O himself, it seemed time wanted to forget men like Nielsen for a while...have you ever felt like that?
He was exiled from the SEC back down the ladder, first to Central Connecticut State (2008-2009), Tennessee-Martin throughout 2010, Northern Illinois from 2011-2012 (including some celebrated, mic'd up episodes on YouTube) and finally in 2013 he was hired by North Carolina State where he performed magic voodoo upon offensive lines for three seasons, ultimately catching the eye of Sean Peyton and his New Orleans Saints project.
In his first year at NC State, the defense went from 249 yards passing allowed per game to 219 with 20.5 sacks...meager numbers, but a start...things only got better from there. In 2014, his group amassed 30 sacks while their pressures forced 12 interceptions; During the 2015 season, this squad ripped a further 13 interceptions out of the air & added 32 sacks; but his final year proved to be a "sack party" with 36 total QB insurrections, another double digit season in INTs with 10 and a third straight year allowing under 373 yards of total offense per game.
But it wasn't these numbers, Bradley Chubb's NFL rise under Nielsen nor his Broyles Award nomination which prompted Sean Peyton to call Ryan Nielsen, as he told nola.com back in 2017.
"I think he is an outstanding teacher, very confident. He's had a real good bloodline of defenses he's been with even as far back as his playing days, who was coaching him. He's been a good addition."
"He's an outstanding teacher...."
That's the line from Sean Peyton, a master-student & teacher of the game, which caught me most....and this was less than a year into Nielsen's tenure with the New Orleans Saints...during his first ever NFL gig.
Since he's coached the Saints' D-Line, Nielsen is once again leading, guiding & developing the talent he was used to at USC or Ole Miss....can he find the same awe-inspiring defensive line squad at LSU to convince him to give up an NFL gig with a perennial contender anchored by superstars like Cam Jordan?
I believe so when you look at LSU's bountiful array of defensive line guys coming back and heading into the program.
But how can a defensive line coach transform his philosophies into becoming a defensive coordinator???
Ryan Nielsen can do that...he's the right guy with the perfect mindset, the oddball humor, the intensive work ethic, a mystical cobblestone jaw line, the results, his development of phenoms such as Greg Hardy, Trey Hendrickson, Sheldon Rankins, Marcus Davenport and a number of other big time players. He even helped Cam Jordan evolve his game, making him an even more effective D-line anchor, utilizing his versatility in creative ways.
That's the kind of innovative thinking Nielsen can bring to the table, Sean Peyton wouldn't have it any other way within his organization for the last 3+ seasons...and to impress Sean....to be "like a son" to Coach O and among his most trusted hires at Ole Miss, that speaks highly of Nielsen's pedigree.
Would he need a co-coordinator who could help with the all-around picture, say Corey Raymond? Or would these tasks diminish from each assistant's role?
Coach O should not hire Ryan Nielsen because of his defensive line greatness, LSU should be hiring Nielsen because they know he can be a great defensive mind capable of energizing this unit into on-field blood sorcery and scorched earth malevolence until the Pelini era becomes banished in the embers of one highlight reel after another...
Maybe all this unit needs is an organized teacher and strong leader who knows how to run good defense, with the analysts and others pitching in, Nielsen steering the ship under Orgeron and LaCoutoure's stewardship along the D-Line???
Or is there a plan in place for Ryan Nielsen and Corey Raymond to share the DC gig?
Stay tuned to LSUODYSSEY.COM
BLACK LIVES MATTER
by LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
Copyright 2021 Uninterrupted Writings Inc LLC
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