BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - In an age of people clamoring for Instagram likes and making efforts to “build their brand,” Steve Ensminger is a man who has no interest in self-promotion.
Ensminger often spoke to the media just twice a year - at LSU Football Media Day in August and then again during the Tigers’ bowl trip, wherever that might be. And as he would finish those media gatherings, Ensminger would then quickly joke, “See you guys next year!”
WAFB-TV videographer Derron Daquano and I often referred to Coach Ensminger as “No Pub!” - as in no publicity. Four games into the 2016 season, LSU head coach Les Miles was fired and Ed Orgeron was then named the interim head coach. Steve Ensminger, in a labor of love, took over as interim offensive coordinator for the likewise jettisoned Cam Cameron.
Ensminger would later tell me it was an exhausting undertaking and quite frankly, he hated it. For it was Cameron who had crafted and installed the offense, along with all its extensive verbiage. As a tight ends coach, Ensminger hardly had a strong grasp on all that info or how to communicate it. But he would hunker down and learn. In his first game in the new role, LSU gained a school-record 638 yards in a 42-7 blasting of Missouri in Tiger Stadium.
As Ensminger celebrated and smiled with players and coaches down on the field, Daquano pointed the camera in his direction to capture the fun. “Hey,” Ensminger quipped, noticing he was being recorded, “No pub!”
There would be disappointing losses and frustrating offensive performances to Alabama and Florida down the line that year but Ensminger was good enough to direct some explosive outings against Ole Miss, Arkansas, and Texas A&M that enabled Orgeron to become the full-time LSU coach. But Ensminger likewise made it clear he had no interest in being LSU’s full-time OC moving forward. He had gotten Coach O the job and that was that.
But a year later, LSU’s one-season marriage to hotshot play-caller Matt Canada was coming to a bizarre end in Orlando, Fla. Never on the same page with Orgeron and squabbling with him from day one, reports emerged Canada would be out following LSU’s Citrus Bowl contest against Notre Dame to conclude the 2017 season. And after the Tigers dropped their last-second heartbreaker to the Irish, he indeed was gone.
Ensminger, to at least to my surprise, then accepted the position to replace Canada. The picture of Orgeron and Ensminger following the introductory news conference was panned by some, saying the pair hardly looked like a cutting-edge duo. A confluence of events had Orgeron being roasted in the court of public opinion, despite going 6-2 as LSU’s interim head coach and then 9-4 with a New Year’s Day bowl appearance during his first full year. There was that bowl loss to Notre Dame, a “meh” response from LSU fans following the hiring of Ensminger and almost losing defensive coordinator Dave Aranda in a menacing tug-of-war with Texas A&M and its new head coach, one Jimbo Fisher. Predictions of 6-6 or even 5-7 abound and after watching LSU’s spring game in 2018, there wasn’t exactly strong evidence the forecasts were outlandish.
But as we know, a practically unknown quarterback by the name of Joe Burrow found his way to Baton Rouge that summer. Ensminger would then oversee an offensive attack that quickly transitioned Burrow into being the leader of the team, while also making once struggling running back Nick Brossette a 1,000-yard rusher. There were exhilarating wins at No. 7 Auburn and home against No. 2 Georgia. The Fiesta Bowl triumph over Central Florida started the year 2019 in a very appropriate and foreshadowing manner, as Burrow would pass for 394 yards and four touchdowns in the 40-32 win. LSU finished the year 10-3 overall and No. 6 in the country.
We all know what 2019 would bring. It was a Disney movie and avalanche of dreams come true for Tiger fans. Steve Ensminger was the offensive coordinator of the 15-0 national champions.
The date we should never forget is December 28, 2019. A day expected to be loaded with uncontainable excitement and unbridled enthusiasm would indeed reach a satisfying conclusion but not before being weighed down in tremendously heavy tragedy and sadness. Ensminger’s daughter-in-law, Carley McCord, died in that tragic plane crash in Lafayette, as she and four others perished leaving for LSU’s CFP semifinal game in Atlanta against Oklahoma.
Ensminger was seen wiping away tears as LSU warmed up for the Sooners. How could this man coach? But Coach Orgeron called Ensminger “John Wayne” on this occasion, as “Slinger” somehow buried his grief for a few hours and directed an offensive explosion of mind-blowing proportions. Burrow threw seven touchdowns in the first half alone, countless records were broken, and LSU smashed the Sooners, 63-28.
A crowd of 13,000 or so in the PMAC gave Ensminger a standing ovation as LSU celebrated its 42-25 national championship triumph over Clemson. It was a goosebump moment for a man who will forever be an LSU Tiger.
So now, after this exhausting and often emotionless 2020 LSU season, Ensminger is going to take a step back - retiring from coaching on the field and taking the role as an analyst. All I can say is it’s been a treat to cover the man who often slept on the couch at the football ops building and attended a national championship media conference answering questions with a dip in his mouth.
Steve Ensminger is a man who does things his way and cares about people, but at the same time, doesn’t care what you think. This is a guy who played quarterback for the Tigers in the late 70s and had a large role in one of the most famous LSU games of all-time - the 1979 Tiger Stadium rocker against No. 1 USC. He once threw five touchdowns in a single game and has now been on the LSU staff for a decade. And you can say Ensminger has everything he wants as he ventures farther into his 60s - he’ll be in that building with his good friend, Ed Orgeron, getting his daily LSU football rush.
And as an analyst, it’s likely the media interviews will be even fewer and farther between as he works in the shadows.
Indeed, “no pub.”
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