Daronte Jones found his "coaching personality" in Louisiana. In his first stint down on the bayou, Jones spent various stops at Louisiana high schools and at Nicholls State learning what it went to be a coach and finding his voice early in his career.
Now 20 years later, he's a well-versed coach, spending time at the college level and for the last handful of years in the NFL, most recently with the Minnesota Vikings. It's all of those stops, all of those coaches and the lessons he learned from each that brought him back to the pelican state. On Tuesday, Jones was introduced by coach Ed Orgeron as the next defensive coordinator at LSU while Andre Carter and Blake Baker were named the defensive line and linebackers positions coaches.
LSU's new defensive staff comes from all corners of the country as Blake was brought in from Miami while Carter comes from the New York Jets. So why did each want to come to Baton Rouge to retool a defense that struggled mightily in many areas a season ago?
For Jones, the opportunity to return to a place where he began his coaching career was an ideal opportunity. Furthermore, Jones recognizes the talent that exists in this state, the tradition of the LSU defense historically and getting to work alongside Orgeron as all critical reasons for leaving the NFL for college ball.
"When I was here in Louisiana, everybody wanted to be a part of the program," Jones said. "I love how the recruiting has put a fence around the state and that was very intriguing. To be a part of the defensive tradition, the attacking style, the playmakers you're gonna get. The first thing is the prestige of LSU and what it means to the community in Louisiana."
The common word out of Jones' mouth on Tuesday was "communication." It's no small secret communication was the biggest issue with the defense a season ago as busted coverages and big plays became a staple for the team in 2020.
That's not what Jones wants his defense to be remembered for which is why getting every player and coach on the same page is so important to him.
"I think that's a strength that a coach has to have, the ability to teach, we're all teachers at the end of the day," Jones said. "To command the room, to help guys understand and break things down to its simplest format and that's what I want to convey. Overcommunicating, being a teacher, giving the guys the motivation to put their best foot forward so we can have a productive product on the field."
For Baker, there was only one job and one place he was willing to leave as Miami's defensive coordinator and that was to coach at LSU. The Tigers new linebacker coach has many family ties on his wife's side that live in Louisiana from Mandeville to Lafayette and Covington, so it wasn't a hard sell to convince his family to make the transition to Baton Rouge.
"The ability for my wife to be so close to home, we have three kids but being so close to home, it's a dream come true to come home and have the support that we have," Baker said. "We're fired up to get here."
Of course Baker is also excited to get to join an elite program and will have some extended duties on the defensive staff beyond just coaching the linebackers. Because Jones is making more of a transition from pro to college ball, Baker will have some of those extended duties of being a "sounding board" to bounce different ideas on.
“I talked to Daronte right when I accepted the job, and I’m here to be a sounding board for him. I’m not here to be the defensive coordinator. I wanted him to know that up front," Baker said. "I’ll tell you, the last couple of days spending time with that guy—I think we’re going to gel really well together. I told him: I’m here to help. I know the pro game’s probably a little different from the college game. If I do make a suggestion, it’s out of a good place. We’re all trying to win games here. He’s a low-ego, high-output guy, much like myself. I’m fired up to work for a really, really sharp (coach who) knows his stuff and, like I said, (is) just fun to be around.”
As for Carter, the 13-year NFL defensive lineman and coach doesn't view taking on the job as defensive line coach at LSU as a "step down." After spending the last two years with the New York Jets, Carter had some other possibilities in the NFL but ultimately decided to come to Baton Rouge and help Orgeron coach up the defensive line.
Once a player who Orgeron recruited, Jones said he's looking forward to coaching alongside Orgeron who he ultimately turned away while making his college decision to go to California over USC. Carter will also be reunited with Jones, whom he worked with in the Miami Dolphins organization a few years back.
"Coaching is coaching and I told coach O this and I looked at it as an opportunity to coach at an elite program and I was very fortunate because coaching itself is an opportunity," Carter said. "For me, I just wanted to continue my journey to develop and learn football and work with some great coaches. You want growth, you want to aim for something higher and so it's development for me."
Nailing these defensive hires was always first and foremost, the most important part of this offseason. LSU has a diverse group of young, talented coaches who hope to change the mold that was broken with last year's underwhelming defense.