LSU and defensive coordinator Bo Pelini are expected to part ways this week, multiple sources confirmed with The Advocate, ending a reunion that lasted just one season.
More staff changes are expected to come, including the departure of safeties coach Bill Busch and the retirement of defensive line coach Bill Johnson. Cornerbacks coach Corey Raymond, an assistant on staff since 2012, is the only defensive coach remaining on staff.
LSU coach Ed Orgeron has previously said he’d evaluate his entire staff at the end of the season, which concluded with a 53-48 win over Ole Miss on Saturday to finish with a 5-5 overall record.
The major shakeup comes just a year after LSU won its fourth national championship, and it represents the urgency Orgeron has to restore the program’s path toward title contention.
Pelini’s departure was the most anticipated within the football program.
The divorce is expected to be an expensive one: Pelini is guaranteed all the remaining income in his three-year, $2.3 million contract, which pegs his buyout at about $5.2 million.
LSU, like most athletic programs, has taken a massive financial hit due to the coronavirus pandemic and expects to lose $80 million in revenue this year. Orgeron was given a limited budget to buy out his staff, multiple sources said, and Pelini’s buyout will take up most of it.
Several times this season, Orgeron expressed frustration and disappointment in the defense’s discipline and schemes, although the criticism often came along with a belief that their overall performance could improve.
Pelini, a 53-year-old Ohio native, arrived in Baton Rouge in January as Orgeron’s replacement for former defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, who left the program to be the head coach at Baylor.
Hiring Pelini represented Orgeron’s desire to move toward the defensive philosophy he favored: a four-man front that attacks opposing backfields and produces a high number of tackles for loss, sacks and turnovers.
It was Pelini’s second stint at LSU. He coordinated the Tigers defenses from 2005-07, and he left to be the head coach at Nebraska (2008-14) after LSU won the 2007 BCS National Championship.
Before returning to Baton Rouge, Pelini was the head coach at Youngstown State (2015-19), where he led his hometown university to the FCS National Championship Game in 2016. Comfortable in Ohio, Pelini said LSU’s culture was “a great fit for me” in a news release when he was hired, and the opportunity to coach the Tigers defense again was enough to convince him to leave home.
Orgeron said during LSU’s spring coaching clinic that Pelini was the only coach he talked to about the job. He’d consulted their shared mentor, Pete Carroll, who told Orgeron that Pelini “has the best defensive mind of any coach I’ve ever coached with.”
“We are looking forward to him bringing his tremendous amount of knowledge and expertise back to LSU to continue to win championships,” Orgeron said in a news release upon Pelini’s hiring.
Then, the coronavirus pandemic canceled spring football practice, and Pelini was forced to transition LSU from a 3-4 defense to a 4-3 defense through a series of virtual sessions with players.
LSU returned to team activities in June, and the NCAA extended preseason practice by two extra weeks to partially make up for lost practices during the spring.
Orgeron said during the preseason “we are so much better on defense right now than any part of the season last year,” a quote that led to further public scrutiny once things turned awry.
Aside from bright spots against Arkansas and Texas A&M, LSU’s defense recorded historic lows statistically, from the record 623 yards passing allowed in the Mississippi State opener to the most points ever scored by Alabama against LSU.
Opt-outs, injuries and illnesses hit LSU’s defense hard too. Starting nickel safety Kary Vincent and defensive tackle Tyler Shelvin both declared for the NFL draft before the season began.
All-American cornerback Derek Stingley missed the Mississippi State game after spending the night in a hospital due to an unknown illness that caused a reaction, and an injury kept Stingley out of the final two games of the season.
Pelini’s scheme was indeed more volatile, ranking second nationally with 22 total turnovers forced while ranking in the Top 50 in tackles for loss (63, 33rd) and sacks (24, 32nd). But the defense was deeply flawed, privy to busted coverages, and recorded school lows in points allowed per game (34.9) and yards allowed per game (492).
LSU also ranked last nationally in total number of plays surrendered of over 40 yards (14), over 50 yards (6) and over 90 yards (1).