Joker Phillips was fired at Kentucky, but Florida scooped him up quick
The SEC leads college football in many things, but one of the strangest categories may be former head coach reclamation projects.
Not all assistants are cut out to be head coaches, but the five aforementioned programs clearly see strengths that didn’t translate into being program CEOs. Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Florida and LSU all hired previously fired head coaches to work on some of their biggest deficiencies.
That’s not a surprise, of course, even guys like Ellis Johnson and Joker Phillips were doing something right to be named head coaches in the first place.
The SEC isn’t alone, but it was the most prominent example of a league recycling former head coaching on its staffs. Here are 12 former head coaches hired as assistants for the 2013 season.
Former head coach at: Minnesota
Now: Florida State tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator
After all the changes on Florida State’s coaching staff, Brewster gives Jimbo Fisher a coach who has been around the block, most recently the wide receivers coach at Mississippi State. Brewster was a standout recruiter for Mack Brown at North Carolina and Texas and gives the coaching staff the bit of frenetic energy it needed to replace when James Coley left for Miami.
Former head coach at: Miami Dolphins, Indiana
Now: LSU offensive coordinator
Cameron returns to his first college head coaching job since he went 18-37 at Indiana from 1997-2001. LSU intended to hand the offense to another former head coach last season in Steve Kragthorpe before the ex-Louisville coach was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. Greg Studrawa led the offense last season, but he has been returned to his former position of coaching the line. Cameron’s job now is to help develop Zach Mettenberger. Cameron has a strong reputation of working with quarterbacks, but LSU has struggled in this area since Matt Flynn led the Tigers to the BCS title in 2007.
Former head coach at: FIU
Now: Alabama offensive line coach
FIU made the puzzling decision to fire the best coach in its brief history, a coach who happened to have deep Miami ties. Alabama scooped him up quickly to coach the team’s greatest weakness on the offensive line. Before becoming a head coach, Cristobal coached tight ends and offensive line with great success at Rutgers (2001-03) and Miami (1998-2000). This may only be a quick stop for Cristobal before his next head coaching opportunity, but for now, he’s one of three former head coaches on Saban’s coaching and support staff — Bobby Williams (Michigan State) coaches tight ends and special teams, and Kevin Steele (Baylor) is the director of player personnel.
Former head coach at: Western Michigan
Now: Illinois wide receiver coach
Offense was rarely an issue during Cubit’s eight seasons at Western Michigan. With the Broncos, Cubit did a good job of developing young quarterbacks (Tim Hiller, Alex Carder) and playing them through their veteran years. At Illinois, Cubit inherits two veterans in Nathan Scheelhaase and Reilly O’Toole, who have started during the last two seasons.
Former head coach at: Arizona State, Idaho, San Francisco 49ers, Oregon State, Seattle Seahawks, Miami, Washington State, Wyoming
Now: Utah co-offensive coordinator
A true football lifer, Erickson can’t stay out of the game. After being fired at Arizona State, Erickson landed at Utah where he’ll make up half of one of the most interesting assistant coach pairings. The Utes’ other co-coordinator is Brian Johnson, who was born the same year as Erickson’s first Pac-10 coaching job in 1987 at Washington State. Utah has ranked 11th and 12th in yards per play since joining the Pac-12. Whether that’s personnel or youth on the coaching staff could be determined with Erickson on board.
Former head coach at: Colorado State
Now: Virginia offensive coordinator
Former head coach: NC State, Boston College
Now: Virginia associate head coach for offense/tight ends coach
Part of a coaching staff overhaul in Charlottesville, O’Brien and Fairchild will try to turn around an offense that ranked ninth in the ACC in yards per pass attempt and eighth in yards per carry. With the background of both — Fairchild was an NFL offensive coordinator before a 16-33 stint at Colorado State, O’Brien ran a balanced offense at NC State and Boston College — Virginia is going to run a traditional pro-style offense. Fairchild will have to settle on a quarterback after the competition between Michael Rocco and Phillip Sims dragged on through last season.
Former head coach at: Southern Miss
Now: Auburn defensive coordinator
Johnson’s first FBS coaching gig could not have been much worse as Southern Miss went 0-11 in his lone season in Hattiesburg. Before that debacle, though, Johnson’s defenses at South Carolina and Mississippi State ranked fifth or better in the SEC in four of five seasons. The 2011 Gamecocks defense ranked third in the country in total defense. In contrast: Auburn hasn’t ranked better than seventh in total defense in the SEC since 2007.
Former head coach at: New Mexico State, Kentucky
Now: SMU passing game coordinator
Do you think SMU wants to throw the ball around a bit in the American Athletic Conference? The Mustangs coaching staff now has the godfather of the Air Raid offense (Mumme) with one of the most successful run-and-shoot coaches (Jones). They’re not exactly the same, but they’re not all that different. As Mumme told CBSSports.com’s Bruce Feldman: “Air Raid is an attitude, not a playbook.” Worth noting: SMU was merely fourth in Conference USA in pass attempts in the last two seasons.
Former head coach at: Kentucky
Now: Florida wide receivers coach
Florida’s wide receivers coach position has been a revolving door in recent years, so the hope is that Phillips will bring stability. The Gators need it. Florida hasn’t produced a first-team All-SEC receiver in four seasons. Phillips played receiver at Kentucky and was a highly regarded offensive coordinator before his disastrous tenure as the Wildcats’ head coach. He’s also made an impact on the recruiting trail with is eccentric “#ComePlayWRfortheJoker” Twitter posts.
Former head coach at: Memphis
Now: Texas running backs coach
After a 3-21 stint at Memphis, Porter quietly returned to a comfort zone as a running backs coach. He worked with Marion Grice, Cameron Marshall and D.J. Foster at Arizona State last season, helping them become a prolific trio as runners and pass-catchers. He’ll do fine at Texas, but the Longhorns have more pressing issues than running back.
Former head coach at: Kansas State
Now: Rutgers offensive coordinator
Prince has coached two NFL starting quarterbacks in college (Virginia’s Matt Schaub and Kansas State’s Josh Freeman). Rutgers coach Kyle Flood is hoping for that tutelage to work on Gary Nova, who started last season with a steady hand before a late-season turnover binge. After three seasons in the NFL as an offensive assistant, Prince is back in the college ranks for the first time since coaching special teams at Virginia in 2009.
Former had coach at: Miami
Now: Arkansas linebackers coach
Shannon spent only five months as the linebackers coach at TCU before leaving to Arkansas. The Razorbacks can use all the help they can get on defense after regressing in each of the last three seasons. For a program with scant amounts of local talent and a head coach with little experience recruiting in the Southeast, the addition of Shannon and his deep Miami roots could be a major asset.