When meeting with reporters at Media Day on Monday, LSU coach Ed Orgeron couldn't help but be reminded of the similarities with what LSU faces this season and what it did back in 2018.
The Tigers were coming off a disappointing season that saw a loss to Troy as one of the pinnacle performances of the team's tenure under Orgeron. They had new coaches, a new quarterback in Joe Burrow, unproven receivers and ample questions about the offensive line.
But that's also the team that started a two year stretch of success nobody could've predicted this time three years ago. Orgeron remembers very well the kind of noise that was around the program and vowed at media days in 2018 that the program would be changing for the better.
The preseason predictions weren't all too kind for the Tigers program back in 2018 and while marginally better this go around, Orgeron knows the most important thing this team needs to do is focus on being the best team possible day in and day out.
"I think the leadership, not letting any outside voices affect us and the way we play will be important for this football team," Orgeron said. "We've had more team meals, more leadership committees, I told these guys if anything is going wrong, let me know first. If I can fix it, I will and let's communicate."
One of the areas that plagued this team a season ago was the lack of cohesion between the players and the coaching staff, particulalry on the defensive end. The explosive plays and lack of understanding what was being asked took a toll on everyone within the locker room and it affected the performance out on the field.
Orgeron highlighted the reason to go younger with the additions of guys like Jake Peetz, DJ Mangas, Brad Davis, Daronte Jones, Andre Carter and Blake Baker was their ability to relate to the players.
"That's the reason I hired these guys and I did my research," Orgeron said. "I called people that knew them, how they interacted with players, I called some of the ex players and asked what they were like on a daily basis. I want to know how they're going to be every day and they matched everything that the ex players and ex coaches told me.
"The one thing that I was really impressed with that I really didn't know, because they're young coaches and first time coordinators, is they're ability to leave. I think they're tremendous leaders, they're in the office early, they're very well organized. These guys are A+ in that area."
Orgeron admitted that the interviews conducted ahead of the 2020 season were not all face to face and rather mostly over the phone. The hiring of Bo Pelini at defensive coordinator was something that Orgeron said would've happened regardless, but at the same time recognizes the fit was never right.
"I believed in him and it just didn't work and I said that's something I'll never do again," Orgeron said. "Every one of these guys I interviewed in person, had a long interview with them and I had specific questions that I needed to."
The improvements that will be needed on defense will stem from communication between the back end of the secondary, an area that all of the LSU defensive backs struggled with in 2020. Speaking from experience, cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. has seen the difference already under Jones and his defensive staff.
"It definitely is. On the defensive side of the ball, when coach Jones walks in the room, he just gives us energy," Stingley said. "We all as a group from the front line to the secondary, we're all hanging out, interacting more and it's showing on the field and will show this fall too."
Between all of the opt outs, the coaching changes, the off field issues that this program has faced in the last year, Orgeron believes the Tigers are building something that players will flock to. But it starts with building that chemistry and after a lost season in that critical area, recapturing that trust between the players is step one.
Step two is producing on the field.
"That program is set and the people that are around me, have helped me build that program, I have pillars on my staff that are still there," Orgeron said. "They understand the program we put in place and we started some scratch. There are philosophies we're going to stick with, some changes we have to make but all of the guys we brought in, I told them what I wanted done and they agreed to that.
"Do it the way I want it," Orgeron said. "If I see something broken, I'm going to fix it."