Joe Brady’s Quick Return to the NFL Shouldn’t Be a Surprise

Most around him at LSU expected Brady to make it back to the NFL, and the quick return is a testament to his talents as a coach.
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NEW ORLEANS, La. — The man moved through the ocean of purple and gold inside a dimly lit Irish pub, the LSU hoody hiding his face, his hands in his pockets, head down. All around him, Tigers fans slurped from beer mugs and cocktail glasses, oblivious that the hottest assistant in college football was in their midst a day before the SEC championship game against Georgia.

The murmurs slowly began. Is that Joe Brady? One recognized him and then another. I think that’s Joe Brady! He started having to pose for photos. Fans began screaming his name. Finally, Brady had to leave, darting through a parting sea of fans, all of them awed at brushing shoulders with such a celebrity. And then, as if a maestro were instructing them in unison, the LSU fans began to chant his name. “Joe Brady! Joe Brady! Joe Brady!” Clearly embarrassed, he scurried through the crowd and out into the downtown Atlanta streets.

Welcome to college football, Joe. Good luck finding this in the NFL.

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The news Tuesday of Brady’s departure to the pro ranks is not shocking. Most around LSU expected him to leave for the NFL, either this year or next year. “He’s an NFL guy, and he didn’t really hide it,” says one insider at the school. And while Brady did agree to a new contract with the school for a big raise and new title—even signing a memorandum of agreement—no deal is guaranteed. As SI.com reported on Saturday, the contract allowed Brady the freedom to accept either a head coaching job in college for move to the NFL. He chose the latter.

So, in just under one year’s time, Brady, 30, has gone from a lower-level NFL assistant for the Saints, where he earned in the five figures, to an NFL offensive coordinator pulling in, very likely, more than $2 million a year. So don’t blame him for taking the job, despite it not having the pageantry and fan outpouring he saw in Baton Rouge—or in that pub in Atlanta. There’s another thing the NFL is missing: the year-around, relentless and pain-staking recruiting cycle of convincing teenagers to attend your school. Some like it (ahem, LSU head coach Ed Orgeron) and others do not. If you’ve ever had to speak on a daily basis with multiple 16- and 17-year-olds in an attempt to persuade them to settle on one decision—any freaking decision—then you know part of the reason that Brady is heading to a place where some of his players will be older than him.

What Carolina is getting is a brash kid responsible for overhauling a traditional offense into a spread scheme that led the nation in both scoring offense and total offense. He helped produce a Heisman Trophy winner in Joe Burrow and led LSU to the 2019 national championship, a 42–25 win over Clemson that’s just hours old. Brady relates to players because he’s not so different from them. He wears Air Jordans and a fancy gold chain. He’s “cool,” says one LSU assistant. And he had a significant role not just in the transforming of the team’s offense but with the play-calling, splitting duties with the grizzled veteran, offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger.

“Sometimes he’ll just… it could be a third down, ‘Hey, you got it on this one.’ It could be a red zone situation or a drive. It’s all predicated off of how he’s feeling and if he’s in a groove,” Brady said in an interview with Sports Illustrated during the season. “There’s certain situations and every great coordinator trusts certain coaches in certain situations. If there’s a situation I feel strongly on or confident on throughout a week, he’s going to have the final say and be able to call it, but if he trusts that I’m confident on a scheme, on a certain down and distance, he has not issues with saying ‘you got it.’”

“At the end of the day,” Brady continued, “he’s the playcaller and I sit and prepare and try to help as much as possible. If he says, ‘You got it,’ I’ll go with it.”

Brady’s departure is a second blow to a program that loses Burrow as well, both of its Joes gone, the most noteworthy catalysts to an offense that may go down as one of the best in college football history. So what now? There is an obvious choice already on LSU’s staff: analyst Jorge Munoz, the former Louisiana offensive coordinator who worked closely this season with Burrow and the offense. All signs point to Ensminger, 61, remaining on staff in his primary role, but LSU might lose DJ Mangas, another LSU analyst who is close with Brady, both of them William & Mary alums.

That’s where this all began, a small public college in Virginia. Brady signed with Air Force as a receiver out of his Florida high school, transferred to William & Mary and then served as a defensive assistant there before moving to a graduate assistant role at Penn State. He’s been around some great minds. At Penn State there was offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead and defensive coordinator Bob Shoop. At the Saints, in 2017–18, there was Sean Payton and quarterback Drew Brees. He adopted Payton’s passing concepts that Brees flourished with and brought them to Baton Rouge, where Burrow did the same.

We know what you’re thinking: Was this year’s offensive success at LSU because of Joe No. 1, Brady, or Joe No. 2, Burrow? Well, we’ll find out the answer soon enough at the same place: in the NFL.