The SEC once again had an active offseason in the assistant coach ranks. Of the league’s 14 teams, nine of those programs experienced some turnover or change at offensive or defensive coordinator. Matt Canada takes over as the new play-caller for LSU, and his hire is crucial to the long-term success of coach Ed Orgeron in Baton Rouge. Larry Scott (Tennessee), Brian Daboll (Alabama), Phil Longo (Ole Miss) and Chip Lindsey (Auburn) round out the new offensive coordinator hires. On defense, Arkansas promoted veteran assistant Paul Rhoads to coordinator after Robb Smith departed for Minnesota, while Todd Grantham returns to the SEC at Mississippi State after a three-year stint at Louisville. Florida (Randy Shannon), Ole Miss (Wesley McGriff) and Kentucky (Matt House) round out the new coordinator hires on defense.
Which teams made the best coordinator hires in the SEC for 2017? Here are five names to know, followed by a handful of assistant coach hires to watch.
SEC's Top Coordinator Hires for 2017
Matt Canada, Offensive Coordinator, LSU
For LSU to challenge Alabama in the SEC West, new coach Ed Orgeron had to shake things up on offense. So far, so good. The Tigers played better on offense after Les Miles and Cam Cameron were dismissed, and Orgeron helped the offense take another step forward with the hire of Canada as the team’s new play-caller. Canada comes to Baton Rouge after one year at Pitt. Under Canada’s direction, the Panthers ranked second in the ACC by averaging 40.9 points a game and 6.71 yards per play. Prior to Pitt, Canada called the plays for three seasons (2013-15) at NC State and had two one-year stints as an offensive coordinator at Wisconsin (2012) and Northern Illinois (2010). He also worked as the offensive coordinator at Indiana from 2007-10. Canada isn’t going to go away from the ground game, but he should help LSU’s passing offense and quarterback play improve over the next couple of seasons.
Todd Grantham, Defensive Coordinator, Mississippi State
Grantham is on his second tour of duty as a defensive coordinator in the SEC. Prior to a three-year stint at Louisville (2014-16), Grantham worked at Georgia from 2010-13 as the program’s defensive signal-caller. During the last three seasons with the Cardinals, Grantham built a defense that never allowed on average more than 24.1 points per game. Additionally, Louisville finished second in the ACC in fewest yards per play allowed in 2014 and 2016. Grantham also has stops in his career at Virginia Tech (1990-95), Michigan State (1996-98) and in the NFL with the Texans, Browns and Cowboys. Mississippi State’s defense surrendered 31.8 points per game last fall and allowed 6.2 yards per play. Expect Grantham to make an immediate impact and generate marked improvement for the Bulldogs’ defense in 2017.
Chip Lindsey, Offensive Coordinator, Auburn
Head coach Gus Malzahn is still going to have a large role in the offense, but Lindsey is set to take over the play-calling duties in 2017. Lindsey arrives in Auburn after one season as the offensive coordinator at Arizona State. Despite a rash of injuries at quarterback, the Sun Devils still averaged 33.3 points per game under Lindsey’s watch in 2016. Prior to Arizona State, Lindsey called the plays for two years at Southern Miss, including the 2015 unit that averaged 39.9 points a contest. Lindsey also has a previous stint at Auburn, as he worked under Malzahn as an offensive analyst in 2013.
Related: SEC Football Predictions for 2017
Phil Longo, Co-Offensive Coordinator, Ole Miss
Longo comes to Oxford after spending the last three years directing Sam Houston State’s high-powered offense. The Bearkats led all FCS teams by averaging 49.5 points and 547.3 yards per game in 2016. Additionally, Longo’s offense led all FCS teams by scoring 58 touchdown passes. The 2015 unit was just as effective, as Sam Houston State averaged 41.1 points per contest and ran the most plays of any FCS team (1,275). With one of the SEC’s breakout stars under center in Shea Patterson, along with a deep receiving corps, Ole Miss’ offense should rank among the league’s best in 2017.
Paul Rhoads, Defensive Coordinator, Arkansas
Improving the defense is the top offseason priority for coach Bret Bielema. The Razorbacks ranked fourth in the SEC by giving up 19.2 points a game in 2014, but this unit regressed over the last two years. Arkansas allowed 27.4 points per contest in 2015 and 31.1 in 2016. Stopping the run was a huge issue for the Razorbacks last fall. In SEC games, Arkansas allowed 7.1 yards per rush and surrendered 39 rushing scores over the 13-game season. As if those numbers weren’t enough of a concern for Bielema, the Razorbacks allowed over six yards per play in back-to-back years (2015-16). Rhoads was promoted to defensive coordinator following a one-season stint as a defensive backs coach under former play-caller Robb Smith. The Iowa native also has a previous stint in his career as Iowa State’s head coach (2009-15) and called the defensive signals at Auburn (2008) and Pitt (2000-07). Rhoads is transitioning the Arkansas defense to a 3-4 scheme and inherits a group with only five returning starters. While there is some personnel turnover and scheme transition, Rhoads should be able to generate some improvement from this group in 2017.
Other Coordinator Hires in the SEC
Brian Daboll/Mike Locksley, Co-OCs, Alabama
Matt House, Defensive Coordinator, Kentucky
Wesley McGriff, Co-Defensive Coordinators, Ole Miss
Larry Scott, Offensive Coordinator, Tennessee
Randy Shannon, Defensive Coordinator, Florida
Key Assistant Coach Hires for 2017
Warren Belin, Outside Linebackers Coach, Vanderbilt
Brad Davis, Offensive Line Coach, Florida
Brett Elliott, Quarterbacks Coach, Mississippi State
Ron English, Safeties Coach, Mississippi State
Brick Haley, Defensive Line Coach, Missouri
Brady Hoke, Defensive Line Coach, Tennessee
Derrick LeBlanc, Defensive Line Coach, Kentucky
Jacob Peeler, Wide Receivers Coach, Ole Miss
Larry Porter, Tight Ends/H-backs Coach, Auburn
Freddie Roach, Defensive Line Coach, Ole Miss
Tommie Robinson, Running Backs Coach, LSU
John Scott Jr., Defensive Line Coach, Arkansas
Tray Scott, Defensive Line Coach, Georgia
Ja’Juan Seider, Running Backs Coach, Florida
Charlton Warren, Defensive Backs Coach, Tennessee
Eric Wolford, Offensive Line Coach, South Carolina
- Photo of Paul Rhoads courtesy of Arkansas Athletics.