16 names to watch for LSU’s open defensive coordinator role

After months of speculation, it finally happened.

Brian Kelly announced that LSU defensive coordinator Matt House, along with defensive assistants Robert Steeples, Kerry Cooks and Jimmy Lindsey, would not be retained.

Both coordinator positions are open now, but much of the spotlight will be directed at the defensive side given how bad that unit was in 2023.

Before House, Kelly had a good record of hiring DCs. Its a list that includes Mike Elko, Marcus Freeman and Clark Lea. All are now Power Five head coaches, and Elko and Lea are in the SEC.

The expectation should be for Kelly to make a hire closer to that than what we saw with House.

Here are 16 names Kelly should pursue.

Jesse Minter: Michigan DC

Detroit Free Press
Detroit Free Press

Michigan is preparing for a national title game after finally winning a playoff game in its third straight playoff appearance. Minter put together another stellar defense this year after taking the DC job in 2022.

Jim Harbaugh’s future is unclear after UM’s 2023 season was muddied by recruiting and sign-stealing scandals. Harbaugh is yet to sign an extension and has perennial NFL interest.

If Harbaugh jumps to the league, Minter is qualified to go with him. He’s good enough to get NFL looks independent of Harbaugh. That makes Minter at LSU unlikely, but it’s hard to ignore for a few reasons.

Minter served as a graduate assistant under Kelly at Cincinnati from 2006-07 and was born a little north of Louisiana in Little Rock, Arkansas.

He has experience working in the south, too, serving at Georgia State’s DC for three years and spending a year at Vanderbilt under former Kelly DC Clark Lea. It’s hard to find a better candidate right now.

Jim Leonhard: Illinois analyst

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Leonhard is one of the top defensive minds in the sport and has been for some time now.

He spent 2023 as a analyst with Illinois after serving as the interim head coach at Wisconsin for much of 2022.

At Wisconsin, Leonhard’s defense were consistently among the best in the country. And at LSU, he’d have a much better talent base to work with.

There’s a reason almost every fanbase with an open DC position clamors for Leonhard to get some attention. In his time in Madison, Leonhard led three top-10 scoring defenses. At age 41, few guys have a resume as strong as his.

Kelly can’t go wrong here.

Travis Williams: Arkansas DC

Travis Williams is SEC through and through. He was born in South Carolina, played college football at Auburn, and spent some time with the Atlanta Falcons.

He came up coaching under Gus Malzahn at Auburn before joining him at UCF. He left the Malzahn umbrella to take the Arkansas DC job in 2023.

All things considered, Williams did a good job. He took over a defense that ranked 124th in yards per play allowed in 2022 and took it all the way up to 75th. That’s the kind of jump LSU needs to make next year.

Williams also took a defense that was dead last in passing yards allowed per game last year to a rank of 32nd this year.

Arkansas wasn’t an elite unit, but Williams is a good coach known for his aggressive play-calling and recruiting. He could bring a new fire to this defense.

Chris Hampton: Oregon Co-DC

Chris Hampton has nearly a decade of experience coaching football in Louisiana.

He was McNeese State’s DC from 2012-2015 before taking a job as Tulane’s DBs coach. After a short stint at Duke, Hampton was back at Tulane calling the defense.

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 proven himself at the highest level.

His area of expertise, defensive backs, is a place where LSU needs help.

Lance Guidry: Miami DC

Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports
Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

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. His Miami defense this year was top 40, according to DF+.

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

Ron English: Louisville Co-DC/DBs


English helped lead a defense that led the country in red zone scoring rate while also ranking top 15 on third downs. The Cards defense had the right call when it mattered the most in 2023.

Overall, it was a unit that sat top 50 in points/game, yards/game, and yards/play.

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.

Adam Fuller: Florida State DC

Tallahassee Democrat
Tallahassee Democrat

Fuller just signed an extension with Florida State and is a Mike Norvell guy, so it’s doubtful he leaves.

But he spent a year coaching at Assumption, Brian Kelly’s alma mater and the place where Kelly got his own coaching start. That’s a little piece of information, but sometimes this stuff is relevant.

Fuller’s FSU defense was one of the best in the country and he’s proven to be a top identifier of talent, especially when it comes to the transfer portal.

He’d be a significant upgrade for LSU.

Filling the board

Syndication: HawkCentral
Syndication: HawkCentral

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.

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.

Pete Golding: LSU is familiar with Golding who spent a few years at Alabama before taking the Ole Miss job this fall. He has done good work with the Rebels defense.

G5 names to know

Indiana’s Bryant Haines: Haines just followed Curt Cignetti to Indiana, but his JMU defense was dominant in 2023.

SMU’s Scott Symons: The SMU defense turned a corner this year, ranking eighth nationally in yards per play allowed.

Jacksonville 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 led 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 took the unit from 111th in scoring defense to 50th. 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 continues to build competent units.

Story originally appeared on LSU Tigers Wire