LSU head coach Les Miles is banking on new defensive coordinator Kevin Steele to continue the success of John Chavis.
Miles' hire came under fire went it was announced Tuesday. Steele was not the top name on the Tigers' list, as the search was not the smoothest for Miles.
But the mood changed for the better when Miles offered Louisiana native Ed Orgeron to be the defensive line coach, a job Orgeron quickly accepted. He last served on USC's staff and, like Steele, has a reputation for being a dominant recruiter.
The affable "Coach O" replaces Brick Haley, who will remain with the program as an administrative intern.
Miles officially announced both Steele and Orgeron at a press conference held Wednesday. The smiles and positive energy was clearly evident.
Miles raved about Steele in every aspect of coaching.
Les on Kevin Steele: "One of best recruiters in the country and an advocate of our style... I've wanted to hire (Steele) for a long time."— James Moran (@SmartestMoran) January 14, 2015
There were more pleasantries exchanged among the three, some of which will be touched on later. But this press conference will soon be forgotten. Steele and Orgeron must make a difference now, as national signing day is less than three weeks away.
Who is Kevin Steele?
Imagine replacing your close friend at his or her job. Well, that is essentially what has happened with Steele taking Chavis' role. They grew up together in rural South Carolina and have remained connected since.
Steele was close to joining LSU's staff in 2012 after he was let go as Clemson's defensive coordinator. He served as a consultant to Chavis, but he never officially joined the Tigers.
Steele's stop in Clemson was his last as a defensive coordinator. His tenure there started swimmingly, but his gradual decline eventually ended with his defense allowing 63 points to West Virginia in a 70-33 beatdown in the Orange Bowl.
For the past two seasons, he served as Alabama's director of player personnel (2013) and linebackers coach (2014). His only other experience as a defensive coordinator was for the Crimson Tide back in 2007.
The stop that tarnished Steele's reputation was at Baylor, his only as a head coach. He was 9-36 overall and 1-31 in conference. Granted, the Bears were a laughing stock of a program before he took over, as well.
No matter how it is sliced, Steele's coaching past in play-calling positions is not all that impressive. Yet the past is the past for a reason. His forte has never been as an X's and O's guru like Chavis—but as a guy who accumulates talent at a high level.
Coaches do not win games, players do. If that adage holds true, the Tigers should be in spectacular shape.
Few coaches have the recruiting pedigree of Steele. He was named Rivals.com Recruiter of the Year in 2005 for his work at Florida State, per Alabama Sports Information. The 56-year old showed he still has the magic touch a decade later, when he helped the Crimson Tide grab a commitment of 5-star running back Damien Harris for the 2015 class.
Geaux247's Shea Dixon summed up Steele's resume perfectly:
USA Today's Glenn Guilbeau sees Steele potentially taking some players from Saban's backyard:
New LSU DC Kevin Steele is a premium recruiter, and his area while at Bama was Mobile and Gulf Coast, Fla. panhandle. Lot of players.— Glenn Guilbeau (@LSUBeatTweet) January 14, 2015
Look for LSU Recruiting to Improve on Gulf Coast, particularly in talent-rich Mobile area, where LSU has not recruited well since Saban.— Glenn Guilbeau (@LSUBeatTweet) January 14, 2015
While Steele's track record is impressive, Orgeron's is legendary.
One SEC assistant told ESPN's Jeremy Crabtree it is “seismic moment for everybody in the conference.” Crabtree agrees:
With Orgeron’s addition, the Tigers now have three assistants who have been recognized by the media as national recruiters of the year. The move gives (LSU running backs coach and recruiting coordinator Frank) Wilson—who was given his first college coaching job in 2005 by Orgeron—much-needed assistance as LSU’s recruiting coordinator.
Mike Scarborough of Rivals' TigerBait.com took it one step further:
From a recruiting standpoint, this is without a doubt the best recruiting staff that #LSU has had in the Les Miles era.— Mike Scarborough (@ScarboroughMike) January 14, 2015
Orgeron and Steele understand they have plenty of work to do.
LSU is currently No. 13 on 247Sports team composite rankings, which is only good for sixth in the SEC. The Tigers are the only school in the top 13 with fewer than 20 commitments—and time is running out.
Orgeron and Steele both emphasized the importance of the next few weeks at their introductory press conference. They have already mapped out their plan, per Tiger Rag's James Moran:
Coach O: "I went through a two hour meeting with Frank Wilson. Best recruiting meeting I've ever seen." #LSU— James Moran (@SmartestMoran) January 14, 2015
Steele says he and Orgeron will hit the ground running tomorrow recruiting. "We have the next three weeks planned out." #LSU— James Moran (@SmartestMoran) January 14, 2015
Steele's tactics are a concern considering his defensive coordinator experience, albeit at two schools, is rather bare.
For a school like LSU, which produces a high volume of defensive players in the NFL, to not grab a more seasoned play-caller is astonishing.
James Smith of The New Orleans Times-Picayune is not concerned about the perception of Steele:
Fans have the wrong idea as It pertains to Steele's abilities as a coach. Dude can flat out coach. One of the best teachers in all of fball.— Jimmy D Smith (@JimmyDetail) January 14, 2015
LSU will have plenty of holes to fill with the departure of leading tackler Kwon Alexander and defensive ends Jermauria Rasco and Danielle Hunter. Steele has experience coaching 3-4 and 4-3 defenses. He said he expects LSU to use both, per Moran.
Billy Gomila of And The Valley Shook gave LSU fans some comfort on Steele's scheme versatility:
Steele is an old hand in the coaching world. Been around the block a ton, from stints on Tom Osbourne's Nebraska and Bobby Bowden's Florida State staffs, to some time in the NFL and even a disastrous tenure as head coach at Baylor...He's worked for a lot of good coaches and coached in a number of systems, from 3-4 to 4-3 and so on. His reputation is somewhat similar to John Chavis' as a nuts-and-bolts, fundamental type of coach. He coaches an aggressive style and likes to bring pressure.
Steele must re-evaluate the talent LSU has returning and a make a decision that best suits the Tigers. Where he will start is at Orgeron's expertise, which is the defensive line.
The only way a 3-4 will work is if there are maulers up the middle.
In 2014, the starting defensive tackle duo included Davon Godchaux and Christian LaCouture. Godchaux and LaCouture could possibly play multiple roles in a 3-4 defense—but probably not the head-up nose.
The Tigers are thin at defensive end with the loss of Rasco and Hunter. A 3-4 could help mask their departure if Steele can find the right pieces.
Steele must also collaborate with the defensive backs coach Corey Raymond on how he wants the secondary to look.
The departure of Jalen Collins and Ronald Martin is massive, but the Tigers will get back a healthy Dwayne Thomas and welcome star recruits Kevin Toliver II and Xavier Lewis. Having emerging star Jamal Adams does not hurt, either.
Raymond and Steele must decide if they will keep Chavis' 3-2-6 "Mustang" package, which puts six defensive backs on the field at once on obvious passing downs. Chances are they still run it next season.
Steele will be focused mainly on recruiting in the next couple of weeks, as he should. But once that is done, he must begin to form a vision of what he wants his defense to look like.
Gomila perfectly summed up the mood once Steele was hired as the defensive coordinator.
I suspect you probably hear some crickets chirping at the moment. I suspect his hire will go over like a fart in church.
One of Steele's strongest skeptics was Guilbeau:
Despite all the recruiting dreams, Steele was still not a good hire. He could end up being one, but he is not one now. LSU should always hire a sitting coordinator or a young up and comer at least. Not someone like Steele who has only been a defensive coordinator for four seasons at two places with mixed results. He was fired from one post at Clemson and demoted at the other at Alabama.
Bryan Broaddus is a football analyst and scout for DallasCowboys.com, and he is a respected voice in the football community and a Tigers fan. He was unenthused about the hire:
On the other hand, there were some who liked the hire. Football Scoop's Scott Roussel believes the Tigers will do just fine under Steele:
LSU’s defense wasn’t broken. Steele’s system likely to be very similar to Chief’s. Good recruiter. Good guy. I like the fit.— FootballScoop Staff (@FootballScoop) January 13, 2015
Former LSU All-American and SEC Network analyst Booger McFarland loves both Steele and Orgeron:
Kevin Steele is a great recruiter, put him in a top 5 talent state like Louisiana should be a great fit, players make plays not schemes #LSU— Booger (@SECbooger) January 14, 2015
Coach Orgeron is a good defensive line coach, maybe a better recruiter he is able to develop & build relationships LSU DLine in good hands— Booger (@SECbooger) January 14, 2015
Steele, fairly or not, will always be compared to Chavis. Not only because they are close friends, but also because the Tigers could have kept "The Chief" if they really wanted him to stay.
Chavis had unprecedented success in Baton Rouge since taking over in 2009. He produced All-Americans such as Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu while also not having a season when the Tigers finished below fourth in total defense in the SEC.
Steele has ginormous shoes to fill. He will bring in some elite recruits, but the main question is if he can develop them and put them in the best place to make plays.
He must first fix Chavis' fatal flaw.
The Chief was a masterful play-caller for the most part, but his defenses struggled to close games. The 2012 and 2014 seasons will unfortunately be remembered as years in which LSU blew late fourth-quarter leads to Alabama.
This was not entirely Chavis' fault. His players failed to make critical plays in key moments. But what stood out in these late-game scenarios was LSU's inability to get a pass rush without blitzing.
It is no coincidence Steele and Orgeron made stops to see 4-star defensive end Prince Tega Wanogho Jr. and 5-star pass-rusher CeCe Jefferson, per Dixon (subscription required) and ESPN's Derek Tyson on Thursday.
Expect even more visits to ends and linebackers as the Tigers only have one combined commitment at those positions.
LSU's defensive line accumulated a paltry 15.5 sacks in 2013 and 13.5 sacks in 2014. Those numbers are inexplicably low, which is partially why Haley was demoted. Steele must improve the pass rush, and there is no better man to help him than Orgeron.
If Steele can do that, the Tigers will be a more complete defense in 2015. They have enough talent at linebacker and in the secondary to be fine despite the loss of Alexander and cornerback Jalen Collins to the draft.
Steele's name is anything but shiny. He was demolished on social media, but that all will disappear if he produces a top-flight defense next season.
Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow me on Twitter at @CarterthePower.