Coaching changes are a big part of any college football offseason, and several big names switched addresses.
And whether it was coaching moves in the SEC or the Sun Belt, this offseason wasn’t short on impact additions or subtractions among teams. Several of these coordinator hires could help a team win a couple of extra games in 2014.
Utah and Rutgers were two of the biggest winners in the coordinator carousel, as the Utes added former Wyoming coach Dave Christensen as their offensive play-caller, while the Scarlet Knights hired Ralph Friedgen as their offensive coordinator.
Georgia also made one of the top hires of the offseason by pulling defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt away from Florida State.
Athlon examines the top 15 coordinator hires for 2014, as well as some of the other notable moves from the offseason.
College Football’s Top 15 Coordinator Hires for 2014
Chris Ash, Defensive Coordinator, Ohio State
Fixing the defense is a priority for Ohio State coach Urban Meyer. The Buckeyes allowed 24 points a game last year (conference-only games) and allowed 34 or more points in each of the last three contests. Ash returns to the Big Ten after a season at Arkansas, and he is expected to help coordinate the defense with Luke Fickell. Ash’s specialty is coaching defensive backs, which is a specific area of need for the Buckeyes after this unit gave up 20 passing scores in Big Ten games in 2013. Ash isn’t the only key addition to Ohio State’s coaching staff, as former Penn State defensive line coach Larry Johnson Sr. was also hired in the offseason.
Dave Christensen, Offensive Coordinator, Utah
The former Wyoming coach takes over the reins of a Utah offense that averaged less than five yards per play in conference games in two out of the last three years. Prior to his stint as Wyoming’s head coach, Christensen worked as the play-caller for Missouri from 2001-08 and at Toledo from 1997-2000. The veteran assistant is tasked with fixing an offense that has struggled to find consistency since joining the Pac-12. Christensen wants to speed up the tempo, and in order for that to happen, he needs to help quarterback Travis Wilson take the next step in his development.
Ralph Friedgen, Offensive Coordinator, Rutgers
Friedgen is easily one of the top – if not No. 1 – coordinator hires for 2014. Rutgers has not averaged more than 5.2 yards per play in a season since 2008, and the Scarlet Knights lost 30 turnovers in 2013. Friedgen has been out of coaching since 2010, but he had a strong track record of success at Georgia Tech and Maryland as a play-caller. The New York native has a tough assignment to fix Rutgers’ offense, but there is talent at the skill positions and an experienced quarterback in Gary Nova returning.
Art Kaufman, Defensive Coordinator, California
Injuries played a role in California’s defensive struggles in 2013, but this unit needed a change at coordinator. In steps Kaufman, who was surprisingly fired after a solid 2013 season at Cincinnati. And prior to his one year with the Bearcats, Kaufman’s defense at Texas Tech allowed 5.4 yards per play in 2012. Kaufman’s arrival should immediately help the Golden Bears take a step forward on defense, but it’s unrealistic to expect a quick turnaround to finish as one of the Pac-12’s best defenses for 2014.
Lane Kiffin, Offensive Coordinator, Alabama
Without question, Kiffin is the most polarizing coordinator hire of the offseason. After a failed stint as USC’s coach, Kiffin will attempt to rebuild his resume with a stop at Alabama. Although Kiffin’s shortcomings are documented, this role is a good landing spot for the embattled coach. Yes, Kiffin’s offenses were criticized at USC, but he should be able to put the Crimson Tide’s playmakers in position to succeed. Also, Kiffin’s recruiting ability should shine in Tuscaloosa.
Athlon's Cover 2 Podcast: Coaches on the hot seat, on the rise and top coordinator hires for 2014:
Pete Kwiatkowski, Defensive Coordinator, Washington
Kwiatkowski followed Chris Petersen from Boise State to Washington and inherits a defense that ranked fourth in the Pac-12 by holding opponents to 22.8 points per game in 2013. Kwiatkowski called the plays for Petersen’s defense in Boise from 2010-13, and the Broncos did not finish a season by allowing more than 25 points per game. There’s plenty of talent returning to Seattle, and Kwatkowski’s track record suggests Washington’s defense will be among the best in the Pac-12 in 2014.
Seth Littrell, Offensive Coordinator, North Carolina
Littrell was an excellent addition for coach Larry Fedora. The Oklahoma native started his coaching career as a graduate assistant under Mark Mangino at Kansas and spent time at Texas Tech under Mike Leach from 2005-08. Littrell worked under Mike Stoops at Arizona from 2009-11 and left for Indiana in 2012. Over the last two seasons, the Hoosiers have averaged at least 30 points per game and led the Big Ten (conference-only matchups) in 2013 with 22 touchdown tosses. Littrell’s background in developing passing attacks should be a huge boost for quarterback Marquise Williams.
Mark Mangino, Offensive Coordinator, Iowa State
Mangino returns to the Big 12 after a four-year absence. After he was forced out at Kansas (50 wins in eight years), Mangino did not coach on the collegiate level from 2010-12 and landed at Youngstown State in 2013. He is tasked with fixing an Iowa State offense that managed just 4.7 yards per play in conference games and averaged just 24.8 points per game in 2013. Mangino has a strong track record of success from stops at Oklahoma and Kansas as a play-caller, and Iowa State’s offense should be better in 2014.
Doug Meacham, Offensive Coordinator, TCU
Meacham shares the offensive coordinator title with former Texas Tech quarterback Sonny Cumbie, but the former Houston and Oklahoma State assistant will call the plays. Meacham worked from 2005-12 as an assistant under Mike Gundy in Stillwater and served as Houston’s play-caller in 2013. The Cougars averaged 33.2 points a game last year and had 14 passing plays that went 40 yards or more – with a true freshman at quarterback (John O’Korn).
Doug Nussmeier, Offensive Coordinator, Michigan
Not only is Nussmeier one of the top coordinator hires for 2014, but he’s also one of the play-callers under the most pressure in the nation this year. Michigan’s offense averaged only 5.4 yards per play in 2013, which was the team’s lowest mark since 2008 when the offense averaged just 4.4 yards per play. Nussmeier comes to Ann Arbor after two seasons with Alabama, where the Crimson Tide averaged 7.4 yards per play in SEC games in 2013. And he also had a stint as Fresno State’s play-caller in 2008 and at Washington from 2009-11.
Jeremy Pruitt, Defensive Coordinator, Georgia
Pruitt inherited a veteran defense at Florida State and certainly made all of the right calls in 2013. The Seminoles’ defense allowed only 4.1 yards per play and only two opponents scored more than 20 points, as Florida State closed out the BCS era with a national championship. Prior to his one-year stint in Tallahassee, Pruitt worked under Nick Saban at Alabama and plans to implement a similar 3-4 approach in Athens. Pruitt has work to do this offseason, as Georgia allowed 31.8 points per game in eight SEC contests in 2013. The Bulldogs aren’t as strong in the secondary as Florida State was last year, but this team should be set in the front seven in 2014. Expect Pruitt to make a big impact on Georgia's defense this year.
Kurt Roper, Offensive Coordinator, Florida
Roper is a pivotal hire for Florida coach Will Muschamp. After the Gators finished 4-8 and averaged only 18.8 points per game last season, Muschamp needs a big year or there could be a coaching change in Gainesville at the end of 2014. Roper plans to speed up Florida’s tempo and allow quarterback Jeff Driskel to work more out of the shotgun. Under Roper’s direction, Duke’s offense averaged at least 30 points per game in 2012-13. Roper also has experience in the SEC, spending 1999-04 as an assistant on David Cutcliffe’s staff at Ole Miss.
Bob Shoop, Defensive Coordinator, Penn State
Most of new Penn State coach James Franklin’s staff followed him to Happy Valley from Vanderbilt, including Shoop who worked as the defensive coordinator for the Commodores for the last three years. Vanderbilt’s defense was underrated during Shoop’s watch, as the Commodores ranked fifth in the SEC in 2012 by holding opponents to 18.7 points per game. Vanderbilt also twice ranked among the top-five teams in the SEC against the run from 2011-13. Shoop inherits a Penn State defense that is short on depth, but the starting unit could be one of the best in the Big Ten.
Joe Wickline, Offensive Coordinator, Texas
Wickline carries the offensive coordinator title, but Shawn Watson is expected to call plays. Even though Wickline won’t be calling the plays, he remains a key piece of new coach Charlie Strong’s staff. Wickline is regarded as one of the best offensive line coaches in the nation, which is a valuable asset for a Texas team that has struggled to develop talent in the trenches in recent years and has not had a lineman drafted since 2008.
Justin Wilcox, Defensive Coordinator, USC
Wilcox followed Steve Sarkisian from Washington to USC, and the former Oregon safety is a rising star in the coaching ranks. Wilcox started his coaching career in 2001 at Boise State and made a stop at California from 2003-05 before returning to work with Chris Petersen. From 2006-09, Wilcox worked as Boise State’s defensive coordinator and later spent two seasons (2010-11) at Tennessee. Washington’s defense finished No. 4 in the Pac-12 in fewest points allowed in 2012 and allowed only 4.9 yards per play in 2013. In the year prior to Wilcox’s arrival (2011), Washington ranked No. 11 in the Pac-12 in total defense. Wilcox made a huge impact with the Huskies in just two years, and he should coordinate one of the nation’s top defenses at USC in 2014.
Other Key Coordinator Hires for 2014
Lance Anderson, Defensive Coordinator, Stanford
Much like Pac-12 North rival Oregon, Stanford stayed in-house to fill a vacancy at defensive coordinator. Derek Mason left to become the head coach at Vanderbilt, and David Shaw promoted Anderson to play-caller. Anderson has worked on Stanford’s staff since 2007.
Manny Diaz, Defensive Coordinator, Louisiana Tech
Solid hire for Skip Holtz, as Diaz looks to rebound after a rough stint as Texas’ defensive coordinator.
Mike Elko, Defensive Coordinator, Wake Forest
Elko followed coach Dave Clawson from Bowling Green to Wake Forest. Under Elko’s direction, the Falcons defense led the MAC in fewest points allowed for two consecutive seasons (2012-13).
Hank Hughes, Co-Defensive Coordinator, Cincinnati
Hughes will share the defensive coordinator title with Robert Prunty, and the New York native joins Cincinnati’s staff after spending the 2001-11 seasons at UConn.
Charles Kelly, Defensive Coordinator, Florida State
Kelly was promoted to call the defensive signals in Tallahassee after Jeremy Pruitt left for Georgia. Kelly has a wealth of experience as an assistant, including stops at Jacksonville State, Henderson State, Nicholls State and Georgia Tech. Kelly has been regarded as an excellent teacher, and he should ensure Florida State’s defense will continue to rank among the best in the ACC.
Scottie Montgomery, Offensive Coordinator, Duke
A rising star in the coaching ranks, Montgomery takes control of the offensive coordinator role for the Blue Devils.
Don Pellum, Defensive Coordinator, Oregon
Coach Mark Helfrich stayed in-house to replace veteran defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti. Pellum has over 20 years of coaching experience in Eugene, but this will be his first chance to coordinate the Ducks’ defense.
John Reagan, Offensive Coordinator, Kansas
Coach Charlie Weis plans to hand the play-calling duties to Reagan, who returns to Lawrence after four years at Rice. Reagan helped coordinate an offense that averaged 31.4 points per game in C-USA play last season.
Mike Sanford, Offensive Coordinator, Boise State
Sanford is known as an ace recruiter and joins Bryan Harsin’s coaching staff after spending the last three years at Stanford.
John Thompson, Defensive Coordinator, Texas State
A key pickup for Texas State and coach Dennis Franchione. Thompson has a wealth of experience in the coordinator ranks and coordinated an Arkansas State defense that led the Sun Belt in fewest points allowed in 2012.
Brian VanGorder, Defensive Coordinator, Notre Dame
VanGorder is a well traveled assistant, as his defensive coordinator assignment will be his third job in three years. Prior to taking over the Notre Dame defense, VanGorder worked as the Jets’ linebackers coach in 2013 and coordinated Auburn’s defense in 2012. VanGorder worked with coach Brian Kelly at Grand Valley State from 1989-91.
Brent Vigen, Offensive Coordinator, Wyoming
Vigen followed Craig Bohl from North Dakota State to Wyoming after coordinating one of the top offenses in the FCS in 2013. The Bison averaged 38.7 points per game last year. Vigen was the play-caller for each of North Dakota State’s three FCS titles.
Paul Wulff, Offensive Coordinator, USF
Wulff returns to the college ranks after two years with the 49ers. The former Washington State coach will help Willie Taggart ignite a USF offense that averaged just 13.4 points per game in American Athletic games last season.