Rabalais: Hammer falls on ‘Coach Stud’

When Les Miles is forced to bring the hammer, it’s usually wrapped in velvet.

But it’s a hammer all the same. And that’s what fell Wednesday on LSU offensive line coach Greg Studrawa.

The school issued a statement saying that Studrawa is leaving the program to “pursue other opportunities.” It’s similar to what we’ve seen when Gary Crowton and Doug Mallory and even Bradley Dale Peveto “left” LSU.

It didn’t say Studrawa was fired, but the writing between the lines was in the kind of invisible ink that isn’t hard to see when held up to the light.

It’s difficult to imagine Studrawa has any better opportunities awaiting than the job he had making $500,000 per year as LSU’s O-line coach.

When Miles has to make these moves, it’s usually with the departed moving on somewhere else.

Crowton “left” LSU’s offensive coordinator post for the same job at Maryland. Mallory “left” LSU’s co-defensive coordinator slot for the same gig at New Mexico. It isn’t usually a better somewhere else, but those are jobs in coaching.

If Studrawa has any safety net, it wasn’t immediately apparent. That makes his departure that much more abrupt and unfortunate.

Studrawa was a good soldier in his seven seasons at LSU. He did what was asked of him and he handled every situation without any obvious sign of complaint.

Just before the 2011 season, then newly hired offensive coordinator Steve Kragthorpe was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, making the toll of being LSU’s play caller an unworkable burden. Miles gave Studrawa a battlefield promotion into the offensive coordinator’s role, one he held for two seasons.

The first year, the offense wasn’t cutting edge. But LSU still won big for 13 straight games, right up until that big lemon of a performance in the Big Easy against Alabama for the BCS national championship. The 2012 season resulted in a generally less productive offense and hastened the arrival of Miles protégé Cam Cameron to run the offensive show.

Studrawa went back to simply being offensive line coach, took a pay cut, did as he was told. For that, one would like to think the man they call “Coach Stud” would have earned a measure of loyalty.

But football is an unforgiving, unsentimental game, and sometimes keeping someone on your staff — even for the right reasons — can get you beat.

The unvarnished truth is only two of Studrawa’s offensive linemen — Herman Johnson and Joseph Barksdale — have gone on to be players in the NFL (Chris Faulk was on the Cleveland Browns’ physically unable to perform list last season). And Studrawa’s recruiting territory of Northeast Louisiana — so long a recruiting fortress for LSU — has developed some serious cracks in once impregnable walls recently with the loss of Cameron Robinson and Cameron Sims to Alabama, and probably Hootie Jones as well.

So what is LSU’s next move? You have to believe Cameron will have a hand in this hire. Two candidates named by the website CoachingSearch.com would seem to bear this out.

The website tabbed Baltimore Ravens offensive line coach Andy Moeller and Ravens assistant offensive line coach Todd Washington. Their presence in Baltimore of course denotes ties to Cameron, who was the Ravens offensive coordinator during the first part of the 2012 season.

Moeller is also a Michigan man like Miles, whose father Gary Moeller was Bo Schembechler’s successor as head coach in Ann Arbor. The Baltimore Sun speculated Wednesday that the designation of Juan Castillo as the Ravens’ offensive line coach puts Moeller’s job with the team in jeopardy. Not saying he will definitely be LSU’s next trench coach, but the timing of what’s going on in Baltimore AND the abrupt announcement of Studrawa’s departure without another job lined up as is usually the case at LSU make’s it easy to connect those dots.

A COACHING CAUTIONARY TALE: Texas hired Charlie Strong this week away from Louisville. Not Nick Saban. Not the ever popular Jon Gruden. Not even Baylor’s Art Briles.

A writer covering Texas told me that Strong was a fairly strong candidate all along to replace Mack Brown, but clearly wasn’t everyone’s favorite, as big-mouthed booster Red McCombs could attest. McCombs wanted Gruden and just as importantly wanted to be consulted on the new hire.

Can you see why this wasn’t ever going to work with Saban and Texas?

Strong’s hire, especially after earlier reports that Briles would take the job if offered, is a prime example to anyone who thinks a big name school like Texas or LSU or Florida or Georgia can just have its pick from a flock of prospects every time they’re in the market for a new coach.

It simply isn’t that way. Yes, Alabama got Saban, but Saban was desperately looking for an escape hatch from the Miami Dolphins at the time.

Remember that the next time you get disenchanted with Miles. Often the better candidate simply isn’t out there, or can’t be lured away from where he is now.