Cameron brings diverse past to LSU

BATON ROUGE, La. -- When we last saw Cam Cameron, he was being fired as offensive coordinator of the NFL's Baltimore Ravens, taking the fall after an overtime loss to Beltway rival Washington with three games left in the season.

At the time, the buzz was that Baltimore’s offense was vanilla, had gotten away from what gave it early success and perhaps did not feature running back Ray Rice enough.

When we last saw Cameron in college football, he was coaching an Indiana Hoosiers team that put up big offensive numbers with Antwaan Randle El at quarterback, but lost twice as many games as it won because of a porous defense. That was 12 years ago.

The question now as Cameron prepares to begin his new job as LSU’s offensive coordinator is this: What Cam Cameron is LSU getting? The one that won with a dual-threat quarterback at Indiana? The one that mentored the Ravens offense for the first three-quarters of a Super Bowl-winning season?

Or how about the one who knew LSU coach Les Miles when they both were understudies of Bo Schembechler at Michigan? Or the one who helped mold Drew Brees and Philip Rivers with the San Diego Chargers?

Those who covered Cameron in previous jobs say you shouldn’t expect any of it.

“One thing about Cam is he’s willing to adapt,” said The Indianapolis Star’s Terry Hutchens, who covered Indiana when Cameron was the head coach from 1997-2001 and remains on the IU beat today. “He’s willing to take a chance and go whatever way his talent tells him to go.”

The Indiana experience is proof. Under Cameron, Randle El became the first NCAA quarterback to pass for 40 touchdowns and run for 40 more in his career. It was a departure from most of his coaching experience, which has been mentoring pro-style pocket passers like Brees, Gus Frerotte or Joe Flacco in the NFL, or Elvis Grbac and Todd Collins in his early years at Michigan.

These days, he’s usually labeled an Air Coryell guy. It’s not that simple.

Indeed, perhaps his peak years as a coach were as offensive coordinator of the Chargers, leading one of the NFL’s most prolific offenses following Don Coryell's blueprint. But Aaron Wilson, who covers the Ravens for the Baltimore Sun, thought there was always part of Cameron’s heart that remained with that college offense at Indiana.

“I think his schemes and personality will lend themselves well to the collegiate level again,” Wilson said. “He thrived at Indiana with Antwaan Randle El and did a good job coaching Jim Harbaugh at Michigan.”

It was at Michigan where Cameron met Miles and formed a life-long friendship.

Where Miles stayed true to power football, Cameron’s ventures into pro football and at Indiana earned him the reputation of a passing coach. Despite that history, Hutchens said Cameron did not forget the Schembechler-style power game in his IU days.

“He always had a power-running element to his offense,” Hutchens said. “He had Levron Williams, who ran for 1,401 yards and 17 touchdowns in 2001 and Randle El would run as well. So they did run the ball.”

How does that translate to LSU?

He’ll inherit a pocket quarterback in Zach Mettenberger, then will face perhaps a philosophical crossroads: To replace Mettenberger, will he lean towards pocket passers such as Stephen Rivers (Philip’s younger brother) and Hayden Rettig, or more toward dual-threat quarterbacks Brandon Bolden and Anthony Jennings?

Will he go back to the power run game, or has his play calling evolved to the point where he will have a tendency to perhaps neglect star backs, as he was accused of doing with Rice in Baltimore?

Time will tell, but Wilson said he expects Cameron to have no trouble figuring it out.

“He’s a smart coach,” Wilson said. “I think Les will trust Cam to run the offense and will just want to make sure Cam is following his vision.”