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LSU coaching candidates: 5 best targets for Tigers search

Matt Johnson

Ed Orgeron is out after the 2021 season, creating the best opening in college football and opening the door to a pool of LSU coaching candidates that could turn this program around quickly.

The Tigers, two years removed from winning a national championship, will have an opportunity to hire an outstanding coach. Given this is one of the most storied SEC programs in a talent-rich state that is crazy about football, LSU will essentially have its choice of the best coaches in college football.

There are other reasons why this is arguably one of the five best jobs in college football. LSU opened a $28 million facility in 2019, featuring offices, a modern locker room, a nutrition center and enhanced training rooms. Winning is also the expectation here, with the last three Tigers’ coaches winning a national title.

Let’s dive into our favorite targets for the LSU coaching candidates.

Best LSU coaching candidates to replace Ed Orgeron

Mel Tucker, Michigan State Spartans

NCAA Football: Nebraska at Michigan State
Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Mel Tucker is turning the Michigan State Spartans into a College Football Playoff contender, something that seemed unlikely after Mark Dantonio left. But Tucker, who also coached the Colorado Buffaloes in 2019, deserves to be among the favorites to take over at LSU.

Fox’s college football insider Bruce Feldman reported there are influential figures inside LSU who are extremely high on Tucker. While there is so much focus on Texas A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher right now, Tucker could be the one to watch. He served as the Tigers’ defensive backs coach in 2000, worked as a defensive assistant in the NFL (2005-‘2014) and is extremely familiar with the SEC.

Widely recognized for his defensive mind, Tucker is quickly demonstrating he can help a program become a winner. He’s also a phenomenal recruiter who could help secure Louisiana, keeping much of the state’s top talent home. He also gets glowing reviews from Nick Saban, who played an influential role in the Spartans hiring Tucker. He’s our preferred target of the LSU coaching candidates.

Lane Kiffin, Ole Miss Rebels

NCAA Football: Mississippi at Tennessee
Bryan Lynn-USA TODAY Sports

The LSU coaching search will be exhaustive, with boosters and the athletic department exploring every option imaginable. While going after another coach with ties to Orgeron might be risky, especially since they both have eccentric personalities, hiring Lane Kiffin could be a home run for LSU.

It’s been a journey for Kiffin. He created excitement at Tennessee after a 7-6 program, landing top recruits and seemingly had things going in the right direction before bolting at night for the USC Trojans. Things started great in Southern California, with an 18-7 record in the first two years. But it all unraveled, culminating in Kiffin being fired on the tarmac in 2014.

After working alongside Savan for three years, Kiffin rebuilt his reputation as a creative offensive mind, leading to a 27-13 record at Florida Atlantic followed by a 10-6 mark at Ole Miss thus far. He’s helped turn Matt Corral into a Heisman Trophy favorite and the Rebels are a top-12 team in college football rankings.

Already a phenomenal recruiter with an offensive scheme that can put up a ton of points, helping attract top players out of high school and via the transfer portal, Kiffin could become a great coach with LSU’s resources.

Billy Napier, Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns

NCAA Football: Sun Belt Conference Championship-UL Lafayette at Appalachian State
Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

There are plenty of high-profile names (Urban Meyer, Dabo Swinney and James Franklin) drawing buzz as LSU coaching candidates. But the Tigers don’t need to hire the biggest name. If the program is truly committed to the search process, it could end with Billy Napier becoming the guy.

The 42-year-old is one of the most underrated coaches in college football. He worked alongside Dabo Swinney (2006-’10) and later Saban (2013-’16). After just a year as Arizona State’s offensive coordinator (2017), he took over the Rajin’ Cajuns program that won a combined 15 games from 2015-’17. In Louisiana’s last three seasons, the team is 11-5 under Napier’s direction.

Louisiana’s offense is averaging 30.5 points per game this season, a remarkable accomplishment considering not many players want to go to Lafayette. He’s drawn interest from SEC teams before, only to turn them down. But LSU’s unlimited resources and the ability to keep his family in the area, could make Napier an ideal fit for both sides.

Dave Aranda, Baylor Bears

NCAA Football: Baylor at Kansas
Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

While Dave Aranda is way down the list among the LSU coaching candidates from oddsmakers, he is one of our favorites. He coordinator the LSU Tigers defense during that 2019 championship season, also assisting with recruiting in Louisiana and serving as the associate head coach.

It’s important to remember the role Aranda’s defense played in the final run to the national championship in 2019. LSU held Texas A&M to seven points on Nov. 30, forced two turnovers and held No. 4 Georgia to 10 points in the SEC Championship Game. In the CFP National Championship Game, LSU’s defense limited Trevor Lawrence to just 234 passing yards and zero touchdown passes on 37 attempts.

Aranda finally got his shot to be a head coach at Baylor. Following a 2-7 season, a transition year during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Bears are now 6-1 and a top-20 team in the nation. The 45-year-old is one of the best defensive-minded coaches in football, respected by players and knows how to recruit in Texas and Louisiana. If he’s interested, the Tigers need to interview Aranda.

Joe Brady, Carolina Panthers

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Carolina Panthers
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

The priority among LSU coaching candidates should be coaches with extensive experience at the college level. But if the Tigers are really going to explore all their options, with an eye on the NFL, bringing Joe Brady back makes sense.

We’ll start with the reasons why it likely won’t be Brady. The 32-year-old would begin the 2022 season as the youngest coach in college football. While he won the Broyles Award in 2019, his previous experience at the collegiate level is limited. He spent two seasons wt William & Mary as a linebackers coach, two years as a grad assistant with Penn State and then spent two years with the New Orleans Saints.

There are significant risks with giving a top-five job in college football to a 32-year-old with little experience. Plus, Brady will likely get offer for NFL head-coaching vacancies this offseason. The NFL can offer him the dream job and even if he goes to LSU and thrives, it might just be a stopping point.

But there are real positives with Brady. There’s no denying he had elite talent to work with (Burrow, Justin Jefferson, Ja’Marr Chase) at LSU, but he put all of those players in the perfect position to thrive. An offensive guru who connects with players and puts them in the right role is everything.

He would need a great coaching staff around him, but LSU has demonstrated it is more than willing to spend the money required for that to happen. As for setting a culture, nothing does that better than winning and victories are all that really matter.