ATLANTA — Inside Bryant-Denny Stadium, less than an hour after LSU beat Alabama for the first time in eight years, Joe Brady returned to the field. The celebration had settled down, but before LSU began its trip home, Brady walked into the end zone.
Brady placed his leather briefcase against a nearby wall. He bent down and pulled a tuft of crimson-painted grass from the ground. Brady looked around, pausing for a moment during a historic season. Then Brady placed the grass in a plastic sandwich bag, dropped it into his briefcase and walked out of the stadium.
When Brady arrived home, he labeled the bag with LSU’s opponent, the stadium and the score: 46-41. He tossed it in his closet, continuing a tradition that has lasted almost his entire coaching career.
“I do that at every field,” Brady said. “No matter what.”
Throughout the season, Brady has redesigned LSU’s once-archaic offense with coordinator Steve Ensminger, giving LSU the third-highest scoring average — 47.8 points per game — in the country ahead of the Peach Bowl against No. 4 Oklahoma. The Tigers have moved to the front of college football’s offensive revolution, partially because of Brady, the 30-year-old passing game coordinator and wide receivers coach.
“I think it’s important for coaches to put together a scheme and a system that fits the players,” Brady said. “We were fortunate that we were able to find what our players do well and put them in the best position to have success this year.”
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Brady’s players did not describe him as a superstitious man, but he has routines. Before every game, Brady has walked the perimeter of the field, spinning a football as he listened to music. He shook the wide receivers’ hands during warmups, asked them if they felt ready, then went to the press box. He sat next to Ensminger, and together, they directed the offense.
“He’s very confident as a coach,” junior Justin Jefferson said, “and we believe in him.”
After games, Brady has returned to the field, where he grabbed clumps of grass. The tradition began when he worked as a graduate assistant at Penn State from 2015-2016. He noticed Ricky Rahne, the Nittany Lions’ passing game coordinator at the time, plucked grass from every stadium. Rahne displayed it in his basement in small jars. Plaques underneath them marked the game.
Brady liked the collection, so he took grass, too. When teams played on artificial turf early in his career, he thought about cutting off pieces with scissors.
“What I’ll do with it one day,” Brady said, “I have no idea.”
Brady continued the tradition during his two years as an offensive assistant with the Saints, snipping grass from NFL stadiums throughout the country as he absorbed terminology and schemes.
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Brady moved the bags of grass to Baton Rouge when LSU hired him last January. The Tigers picked him to change their offense. He helped Ensminger install run-pass option plays and spread schemes. He taught the wide receivers drills to reduce drops, and Brady incorporated a game with tennis balls to improve hand-eye coordination. He has played it with the wide receivers every Thursday afternoon.
As LSU completed an undefeated regular season, Brady added to his grass collection from schools throughout the Southeastern Conference. When the Tigers played for the SEC Championship, he grabbed confetti because Mercedes-Benz Stadium used an artificial turf field.
“He has what?” sophomore wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase said. “He moving in silence right now. We don’t see that.”
Brady labeled each bag, then stashed them in his closet with the rest from his career. At the end of every season, Brady has thought he would create a way to display the blades of grass. He hasn’t yet, but maybe one day, he said, he’ll put them in a man cave.
“I might just throw them all out at some point, but right now, they’re just in a bunch of sandwich bags,” Brady said. “I’m not very normal.”
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If Brady, who won the Broyles Award as the nation’s top assistant coach, remains at LSU next season — the athletic department has already started contract negotiations to keep him on staff — he will have to design an offense without quarterback Joe Burrow, the winner of the Heisman Trophy. Brady can also collect grass from Florida, Arkansas, Auburn and Texas A&M.
But as LSU makes its first appearance in the College Football Playoff, Brady will try to help win the Tigers’ first national championship since 2007. He has encouraged players to approach the season one game at a time, and he does the same thing, writing “1-0” on Twitter after each win. The mindset has not changed for the Peach Bowl.
“We have an ultimate goal,” Brady said. “I’ll be fulfilled on Jan. 13.”
On Saturday afternoon, Brady will return to Mercedes-Benz Stadium. He has coached inside the venue multiple times, both with the Saints and LSU. But needing scissors for clips of the artificial turf, he has no grass from Atlanta. For now.
“I tried getting Atlanta when I was in New Orleans,” Brady said. “Atlanta is an empty bag. I just have some confetti in it right now from the last time we played there.”