LSU’s defense wildly underperformed in 2023.
After a strong 2022, the unit was expected to make a jump in Brian Kelly’s second year. Instead, it has gone a completely different direction.
LSU ranks 95th in scoring defense and 115th in yards per play allowed. Defensive coordinator Matt House went from a head coaching candidate to someone LSU fans want to run out of town.
It’s not entirely on House. LSU lost five defensive backs who were expected to be key contributors, leaving true freshmen to start at cornerback. The front seven also had its fair share of attrition, from Maason Smith missing the Florida State game to Mekhi Wingo now out for the year.
Even taking all that into account, it shouldn’t be this bad. This is still a group with blue-chip recruits across the board and its looked downright incompetent at times.
It’s not a given LSU will make a change at DC. We’ve seen head coaches hold on to coordinators before, but if LSU does make a change, here are some potential replacements.
Jesse Minter: Michigan DC
Things are getting weird with Michigan right now. The sign-stealing scandal is dominating the headlines while the Wolverines remain in the midst of a national title hunt.
Jim Harbaugh’s future is murky, which means it’s unclear what comes next for the rest of the staff, too.
Jesse Minter continues to put together some of the best defenses in the sport, helping lead UM to back-to-back playoff appearances. If Harbaugh leaves or Michigan is forced to make a change at head coach, Minter could become available.
If the NCAA comes down hard on the entire Michigan staff, it’s possible that involves Minter, too. But if he remains clean, he’s one of the hottest names in the sport.
Minter served as graduate assistant under Kelly at Cincinnati from 2006-07. He has experience working in the south, too, serving at Georgia State’s DC for three years and spending a year at Vanderbilt. It’s hard to find a better candidate right now.
Travis Williams: Arkansas DC
I’ve been out of the loop this morning, but there has been another turn in the DC search. Reports are that Arkansas will be hiring UCF DC Travis Williams.
— Sidelines – Arkansas (@SSN_Arkansas) December 17, 2022
He rose to prominence as an assistant under Gus Malzahn at Auburn and followed him to UCF. He’s now at Arkansas, where he’s given Arkansas a top-40 defense according to FEI ratings.
Williams is known for his aggressive play-calling and recruiting prowess. At this rate, he’s a future head coach. LSU’s defense needs a quick turnaround and Williams’ style could provide that.
Blake Baker: Missouri DC
— Nathalie Jones (@NathalieABC17) November 4, 2023
LSU fans are familiar with Baker, who was LSU’s linebackers coach in 2021. Baker left amid the coaching transition, taking the DC job at Missouri.
Under Baker, the Missouri dramatically improved. The Tigers ranked 110th in scoring defense in 2021, but the unit has ranked in the top 60 the last two years and ranks 28th in the latest SP+ rankings.
As a linebackers coach, Baker is solid, too. He’s turned around LSU’s linebacking room in 2021 and coached some of the best LBs in the SEC the last two years at Missouri.
Baker’s current SEC success combined with his LSU experience make him a viable candidate.
Chris Hampton: Oregon Co-DC
Chris Hampton has nearly a decade of experience coaching Division I football in Louisiana.
Hampton helped lead Tulane to an AAC title and Cotton Bowl. He was hired away by Dan Lanning at Oregon, where he has put together a good unit this fall.
He fits the profile of what you want in an LSU defensive coordinator. He has the Louisiana connection, and he has proven himself at the highest level.
His area of expertise, defensive backs, is a place where LSU needs help.
Tony Gibson: NC State DC
Few defenses have been as consistent as NC State the last three years.
Tony Gibson is working on his third straight top 35 scoring defense. In 2022, the Wolfpack were one of the best units in the country, ranking 12th in points allowed and 26th in yards per play.
Gibson continues to get results, even with players coming and going and without top-level talent. He’s made stops at several Power Five programs and cut his teeth as a recruiter, too.
If LSU decides to move on from House, it will not be the only place giving Gibson a call.
D'Anton Lynn: UCLA DC
Lynn has garnered hype for some time now and Bruce Feldman put him on his assistants to watch list prior to the season.
Lynn’s profile continues to rise after building a top-20 defense this fall. The Bruins rank 14th in points allowed and 17th in SP+.
Lynn is the son of former NFL head coach Anthony Lynn. Most of his experience is in the NFL and recruiting at a place like LSU would be new to him.
But NFL coaching experience can go a long way when meeting with prospects, and Lynn’s resume at UCLA speaks for itself.
He’s another guy that will be in high demand and UCLA will make a nice effort to keep him, but if the big schools come calling, it might not be enough.
Lance Guidry: Miami DC
He has the name and he has the accent. Guidry is a Louisiana man. He was born in Welsh, Louisiana, and played at McNeese State.
After his playing career, he was a high school assistant in Louisiana before taking an assistant job at McNeese. He then went back to the high school level, this time as a head coach at Carencro High.
After that, he bounced around college jobs before becoming the head coach at McNeese. He rose to prominence at the Football Bowl Subdivision level by coordinating stout defenses at Marshall. He leads a Miami unit that ranks 19th in SP+.
This is another guy with Louisiana connections and proven results at the FBS level. It would be hard for Kelly not to give him a look
Jim Leonhard: Illinois analyst
After coordinating elite defenses year after year at Wisconsin, Leonhard missed out on the Badgers’ head coaching job and is working with Bret Bielema at Illinois this year.
Leonhard has options. He could probably coach anywhere, including getting a job as an NFL assistant.
He’d be a slam dunk, home run hire. Few coordinators in the sport have a stronger resume at Leonhard’s young age of 41.
Every fan base with a DC opening at their school will be asking about him.
Ron English: Louisville Co-DC/DBs
English is helping lead a Louisville defense that ranks 17th in points per game and 23rd in yards per play.
Even more impressive, the Cardinals rank top 15 in red-zone defense, third-down defense and fourth-down defense. English is dialing up the right call when it matters most, something LSU has struggled with.
He’s a defensive backs coach, too, with SEC experience at Mississippi State and Florida under Dan Mullen.
English is 55 and a veteran coach. As Michigan’s DC in 2006 and 2007, he built top 20 units in back-to-back years. He could be the steady hand LSU needs right now.
Joe Rossi: Minnesota DC
JOE ROSSI KNOWS HOW TO COACH DEFENSES. pic.twitter.com/kE58fA7Hhg
— GopherHole.com (@GopherHole) November 4, 2023
Joe Rossi has been on the Minnesota staff in some capacity since 2017, but took over the DC job in 2018 in the interim capacity.
He earned the full-time spot and the Gophers defense has been a consistent force ever since.
In 2021, Minnesota ranked sixth in scoring defense. Last year, the Gophers were even better, ranking fourth.
There’s been a slight decline this year, but it’s tough building top-notch units year in and year out at Minnesota. This fall, the Gophers’ defense still ranks 36th in SP+.
A place like LSU would be new to Rossi, who’s spent most of his collegiate coaching career at Rutgers and Minnesota. But it’s tough to ignore his resume.
Some of these guys could be long shots, but it’s still worth remembering their names now and for the future.
Phil Parker: The Iowa DC continues to coach some of the best defense in the sport. He’s not going to leave Iowa on his own accord as long as Kirk Ferentz is still there, but if Ferentz retires, Parker’s services could become available. LSU should swoop in.
Justin Wilcox: Wilcox is the head coach at Cal where things haven’t been great the last few years. If he’s fired or the two sides decide to part ways, it puts one of the sport’s most respected DCs on the market. Wilcox was a DC at Washington from 2012-13 when current LSU athletic director Scott Woodward was there.
Gary Patterson: There are plenty of reasons this probably wouldn’t work and shouldn’t happen, but crazier things have happened.
Tony White: The current Nebraska DC is from the Rocky Long tree and turned the Nebraska defense around in one offseason.
G5 names to know
Have you or a loved one been
affected by the Mustang defense?
If so, you may be entitled to bottle service. pic.twitter.com/6nggUd69Wd
It would be somewhat surprising to see LSU go with a Group of Five coordinator given the hiring tendencies of Scott Woodward, but it doesn’t hurt to monitor some names.
JMU’s Bryant Haines: The JMU defense continues to dominate the Sun Belt under Haines leadership.
SMU’s Scott Symons: The SMU defense turned a corner this year, ranking fourth nationally in yards per play allowed.
Jax State’s Zac Alley: Alley received his coaching start under Dabo Swinney and Brent Venables at Clemson. One of the youngest coordinators in the sport, he’s a potential rising star and is leading a good JSU unit in its first year at the FBS level.
Coastal Carolina’s Craig Naivar: In his first year calling the CCU defense, he’s taken the unit from 111th in scoring defense to 36th. He’s no stranger to big time college football, having coached at USC and Texas.
Air Force’s Brian Knorr: Knorr played at Air Force and joined this staff in 2018, so I wouldn’t bet on him leaving. But he’s an experienced coach who’s leading one of the sports top defenses right now.