Based on outward appearances, Steve Ensminger and Joe Brady seem nothing alike.
Ensminger has been LSU’s interim offensive coordinator since 2016 and became full-time in 2018 after Matt Canada’s lone year in Baton Rouge. Prior to that though, Ensminger spent his time at LSU coaching tight ends, a job he was comfortable staying in despite the multiple requests from coach Ed Orgeron to be his offensive coordinator.
The 60-year-old former LSU quarterback finally relented, and there he was in 2018, the man who was solely responsible for organizing and calling LSU’s offense, one that has the stigma of being outdated and inept in the last decade.
Known as “Slinger” in his playing days, Ensminger overhauled LSU’s offense and tried to bring it into the 21st century. Gone were days of playing in a phone booth and primarily using the I-formation, but LSU encountered problems on the offensive line and tight end. The Tigers also had almost no experience at wide receiver and a newly-minted quarterback in Joe Burrow, who didn’t arrive until June.
The offense featured more three-wide sets, but the inefficiency still remained. LSU ranked No. 68 in yards per game, 82nd in yards per play and tied for 61st in offensive touchdowns scored. Not to mention a whopping 0 points against Alabama for the second time in three years.
After the season Orgeron was ready for LSU to move to a spread offense completely.
Ensminger helped LSU take small steps into modernity in 2018, but he wasn’t an expert on the spread offense. So when Orgeron asked him to implement a new spread offense, Ensminger requested a little bit of help.
Enter Joe Brady, who replaced the retired Jerry Sullivan as LSU’s passing game coordinator in the offseason. A 29-year-old former college receiver, Brady spent the last two years with the New Orleans Saints, working as an offensive assistant under one of the NFL’s best duos in coach Sean Payton and quarterback Drew Brees, after a stint as a graduate assistant at Penn State.
LSU fans have been sold a bill of goods on a new offensive juggernaut each spring for pretty…
Brady is learned in the spread offense and the run-pass option aspect of the offense. He’s Ensminger’s new partner in helping LSU take not just the next step offensively but a massive step — one to propel them back into championship contention.
The pair are 31 years apart and sound a little bit different, quite different actually, but they may be the perfect duo to guide LSU back into offensive relevancy.
“Steve is older now, he’s like John Wayne when he walks in," said Orgeron. "Tough, hard-nosed, doesn’t say much. Joe is energetic. They work well together."
When the two coaches stopped in Metairie, Louisiana, for TAF’s Coaches Caravan with Orgeron, they both met with the media. Obvious questions about the new spread offense and their relationship were waiting to be asked, but Ensminger had something to say first.
“I brought Joe Brady to answer all these damn questions,” he joked before acknowledging the first question about how the two get along.
“It’s outstanding. It really is. I’ve enjoyed him since the day he showed up. We had a chance to sit down and talk football, and he has some great ideas in the passing game and about personnel and everything else. It’s like he throws it up on the wall and we agree with it or throw it off — one or the other.”
Even though Ensminger and Brady may speak in different accents, when they start talking football and about the process of creating LSU’s new offense they sound just the same.
Brady said even though Ensminger makes the final decisions, everyone’s input is welcome and it’s why he enjoys working for Ensminger. The two went through the entire spring bouncing plays and concepts off each other before finally bringing the end result to the quarterback room, which is something Ensminger has never done before but made an exception for Burrow.
If the quarterbacks liked it, it stayed. If they didn’t it went back on the shelf for now.
“We brought [Brady] here to help us in the passing game,” Ensminger said. “I said take it over. I told him a lot this stuff we’ve done, a lot of 12, 21 personnel, Saints’ stuff we’ve studied and everything else. A lot of the three-wide, four verticals stuff we did last year we got from the Saints.
“I said, ‘look, you present it, we’ll discuss it and if I think it fits it goes.’ With the experience right now we have with our receivers, we didn’t throw a lot out. I said, ‘let’s go look at it. Let’s go look at it against our defense. If we like it, fine. If not, we’ll take it out later.’”
The two will be in the booth together calling plays during the season. The extra set of eyes in the coaches’ box is something Ensminger looks forward to. Trying to think of the next play to run while breaking down the current play as it unfolds is difficult for anybody, especially by yourself.
Now Brady can keep plays on deck and pass them along to Ensminger to decide on, and once the decision is made, the play call will be relayed down to the sideline.
“All he wants for LSU is to have success,” Brady said. “So when you work for a guy who doesn’t feel like ‘my way is the only way,’ you enjoy working with that. You enjoy that interaction every single day. He’s a character. He’s a personality.
“He’s what I envision Louisiana, him and Coach O, so I enjoy working with Steve. I hope I can be Steve when I’m however many years older he is than me.”