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LSU staff shakeup looks to have been handled smoothly by Ed Orgeron

Ed Orgeron.
STEVE FRANZ/LSU ATHLETICS

What had been a relatively quiet holiday season around LSU suddenly got loud Wednesday.

The day started with general manager Austin Thomas leaving for Tennessee and offensive line coach Jeff Grimes accepting the BYU offensive coordinator job. Ed Orgeron wasted no time in finding a successor, with reports that Los Angeles Chargers offensive line coach James Cregg will replace Grimes.

When a program has a strong foundation, storms don’t rock the structure. The past few weeks in Knoxville provided evidence that Jeremy Pruitt has quite a bit of concrete to pour. Nearly half the SEC made a change at coach. LSU, meanwhile, weathered Wednesday quite nicely.

Make no mistake, losing Thomas to Tennessee is a big deal. Orgeron retained Thomas from Les Miles’ staff and thought so highly of him that he gave him a “general manager” title. In a 2015 FootballScoop.com piece, Orgeron called Thomas “a great evaluator. He spends countless hours devouring film and is highly organized when gathering information on a player. From talent identification and evaluation, to connecting with the players and managing all of their visits, Austin runs all of it. He’s the main reason for our recruiting success.”

RELATED: ‘Relationships’ the reason Austin Thomas had returned to LSU from USC

With that news coming one week before the new early signing period, it could create some uneasiness. It hasn’t. No commits have waivered. There has been no negativity on social media. There has only been praise for Thomas from coaches and players and well-wishes for a Tennessee native that has an opportunity to go home.

LSU safety John Battle tweeted his congratulations to Thomas and Derrius Guice agreed.

When news broke Wednesday night of Grimes’ departure for BYU, potential replacement names were flying around Twitter. But reports of Cregg’s hire quickly followed.

Although Grimes received some fan criticism, the job he did this season was remarkable. Only one lineman from 2016 – left tackle K.J. Malone – returned to his same spot. Depth was gutted, as five linemen left during the offseason, including All-SEC candidate Maea Teuhema, who left during fall camp. Two true freshmen started the majority of the season. And Grimes maximized that outfit.

RELATED: Ed Orgeron says Arden Key not practicing, ‘questionable’ for Citrus Bowl

Just as it is easy to understand Thomas leaving to go home, so is it understandable that Grimes would accept an opportunity to become an offensive coordinator. He has been an offensive line coach at eight stops since 1998 and now will be calling the offensive shots at a place where he coached from 2004-06.

While Grimes accepted the job Wednesday, Orgeron knew of the possibility and was prepared. Cregg and Orgeron were on the same staff for five seasons at Tennessee and USC. Cregg coached NFL stars Matt Kalil and Tyron Smith at USC. He has a reputation as a tireless recruiter and checks the “NFL experience” box to boot, serving stints with the Raiders, Chargers and Broncos. Grimes is a high-level assistant, and Orgeron replaced him with a guy with as sterling a résumé as you might find. With LSU focusing on offensive linemen in its 2018 class, including four commitments, Orgeron needed a no-doubt hire and got it done.

While the storms of college football’s silly season continue to blow, LSU’s structure is holding up just fine.

(You can follow Matt Moscona on Twitter @MattMoscona)

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