LSU’s Steve Kragthorpe, Les Miles on ‘same page’

Dave Moormann

Lost amid the hoopla of national football signing day was the fact that LSU hired an offensive coordinator just days before the big event.

The Tigers’ third offensive coordinator during Coach Les Miles’ seven-year reign didn’t seem to deter the signees, who comprised yet another Top Ten recruiting class for the coaching staff. Never mind that former LSU offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher might have had a better one at Florida State, where he’s the Seminoles’ second-year head coach.

It’s really quibbling to say who had the best haul and won’t be known for sure until the results from the field come in several years down the road. Suffice to say that Miles, new offensive coordinator Steve Kragthorpe and the rest did all right for themselves with their 22-player class.

How Kragthorpe’s predecessor fared at Maryland isn’t as well known, but now that Gary Crowton is gone, it’s not likely that many people will pine for his return. For whatever reason, Crowton and Miles never seemed to think alike.

Crowton has a creative offensive mind that called for numerous intricacies he unveiled in stops at BYU, Oregon and Louisiana Tech. Maryland has a new head coach who has indicated that Crowton’s philosophy will be welcome in the Terrapins’ planned wide-open attack.

As a former Michigan offensive lineman, Miles is more traditional in his approach and favors a hard-charging attack that helped the Tigers to an 11-2 record this past season.

It’s hard to argue with either style considering the results that Miles and Crowton produced. In Crowton’s first year at LSU, the Tigers won the 2007 BCS national championship while setting school records for yardage, points and plays run.

Then, again, a coach has to know his personnel and senior quarterback Matt Flynn was at the controls of that 2007 team. As Aaron Rodgers’ backup, Flynn recently won a Super Bowl ring with the Green Bay Packers. So did backup fullback Quinn Johnson, who was Flynn’s teammate at LSU, and former LSU defensive lineman Howard Green.

Kragthorpe’s task isn’t so much to replicate what Crowton accomplished as it is ensure that Miles and Kragthorpe understand one another during the course of the game. There can’t  be the repeated foul-ups like the late-game disaster at Ole Miss in 2009 and the last play against Tennessee in 2010 when Miles had no one but himself to make the game-winning call.

Kragthorpe can’t promise that LSU will play error-free, because everyone makes mistakes, but he’s certain that his long-term professional relationship with Miles will serve both of them well. Kragthorpe, 45, was head coach at Tulsa and Louisville between 2003-2009.

“I think Les and I are on the same page,” Kragthorpe said in meeting with the media shortly after being hired on the last day of January. “I’ve always had a tremendous amount of respect for Les in terms of offensive philosophies. I think our philosophies mesh very, very well in...wanting to be a power running football team and couple that with a great, downfield, quick-strike passing game.”

Kragthorpe won’t have the luxury of physical running back Stevan Ridley, who will skip his senior year in favor of the NFL after leading the Tigers in rushing last season. Nevertheless, Kragthorpe will have the likes of upcoming sophomores Michael Ford, Spencer Ware and Alfred Blue. Anyone would be happy to be handed such a stable of running backs.

What’s more, Kragthorpe can try out is reputation for molding quarterbacks on upcoming senior Jordan Jefferson and Butler (Kan.) Community College sophomore transfer Zack Mettenberger. The quarterback spot is up for grabs between those two and Jarrett Lee, Kragthorpe said. Kragthorpe also left open the idea of playing two quarterbacks, although ideally most any coach would want one player to step forward and take charge.

In any event, Miles said Kragthorpe brings “enthusiasm and energy to the staff.”

Now Kragthorpe just needs the results to follow.