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The Most Critical Coordinator Hires in College Football for 2015

Will Muschamp

Will Muschamp

A sitting head coach naming a new coordinator is generally a sign of something very good or very bad.

On the good side, a coach has to replace a coordinator who has done a good enough job to get his own head coaching gig or move into a more high-profile (and more lucrative) position.

Ohio State coach Urban Meyer finds himself in this category, losing offensive coordinator Tom Herman to Houston. Same with Georgia coach Mark Richt, Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney and Baylor coach Art Briles who lost coordinators to head coaching jobs.

On the bad side, a coordinator change is a sign that something has gone terribly wrong on one side of the ball (Auburn, North Carolina, Oklahoma) or a sign of some kind of internal strife (LSU, Utah).

Either way, a number of programs had to make coordinator changes even if they didn’t make major coaching changes.

Arkansas offense

In: TBD

Out: Jim Chaney, hired as Pittsburgh defensive coordinator

No matter the new coordinator, Arkansas’ offensive identity is well-established under Bret Bielema. The Razorbacks probably won’t stray much from an offense centered around a road-grading offensive line and run game. What will be missed, though, is Chaney’s deep experience in the SEC and NFL.

Auburn defense

In: Will Muschamp, Florida head coach

Out: Ellis Johnson, fired

Auburn’s defense has been in need of an upgrade for a while. The Tigers haven’t allowed fewer than five yards per play since 2008. Muschamp’s 3-4 will deliver in a major way. For all of his struggles at Florida, defense was not one of them. The Gators finished fifth or better in the SEC in fewest yards per play each season during his tenure. In three seasons at Texas, the Longhorns ranked either first or second in the Big 12 in that category. 

Baylor offense

In: Kendal Briles, promoted

Out: Philip Montgomery, hired as Tulsa head coach

Art Briles replaced a coach who spent more than a decade at his side as offensive coordinator with his son. Kendal Briles has spent seven years on Baylor’s staff. He’s led Baylor’s productive receiver group and was the consensus Big 12 recruiter of the year in 2014. His first game as offensive coordinator resulted in 552 yards against Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl.

Clemson offense

In: Jeff Scott and Tony Elliott, promoted

Out: Chad Morris, hired as SMU head coach

The Tigers are riding an unprecedented era of success with 42 wins the last four seasons. Morris’ up-tempo offense certainly has been a major component of that. Scott and Elliott are both internal hires who were in the Swinney system from the start (Scott has been on the staff the entire time; Elliott briefly left before returning four years ago).

Georgia offense

In: Brian Schotteneheimer, St. Louis Rams offensive coordinator

Out: Mike Bobo, hired as Colorado State head coach

Coordinators who run a traditional pro-style offense are in short supply these days, but even considering that, Georgia’s hire feels like a reach. Schottenheimer hasn’t coached in college since 2000. And as offensive coordinator with the Jets and Chargers, his ranked 20th or worse in total offense seven times in nine seasons and never higher than 11th.

Kentucky offense

In: Shannon Dawson, West Virginia offensive coordinator

Out: Neal Brown, hired as Troy head coach

Kentucky hires another coordinator from the Air Raid school, this time Dana Holgorsen’s coordinator at West Virginia. The Mountaineers were a little more balanced than one would expect (52 percent of their plays were on the ground), but they still managed to be one of 21 teams to top the 1,000-play threshold.

LSU defense

In: Kevin Steele, Alabama linebackers coach

Out: John Chavis, hired as Texas A&M defensive coordinator

LSU lost its well-respected SEC coordinator to a division rival and replaced him with Steele, who went 9-36 as as head coach at Baylor, was squeezed out of a coordinator position at Alabama and was fired at Clemson. Good thing LSU added Ed Orgeron, too, or else Tigers fans would be really unimpressed. Steele and Orgeron recruit like madmen, so LSU will continue to have great players on defense.

Michigan State defense

In: Harlon Barnett and Mike Tressel, promoted

Out: Pat Narduzzi, hired as Pittsburgh head coach

With Narduzzi leaving for Pittsburgh, Mark Dantonio couldn’t hold onto his prized defensive coordinator any longer. Dantonio kept leadership in house, promoting Barnett from defensive backs coach and Tressel from linebackers coach. Barnett, a Michigan State alum considered a rising star in the profession, gets the assistant head coach title. The scheme probably won’t change with Barnett and Tressel firmly entrenched in Dantonio’s program, but Michigan State loses a bit of intensity with Narduzzi moving on.

Mississippi State defense

In: Manny Diaz, Louisiana Tech defensive coordinator

Out: Geoff Collins, hired as Florida defensive coordinator

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Diaz’s career comes full circle as he returns to Mississippi State. Diaz was considered a rising star after one season in Starkville in 2010, but after a humbling tenure at Texas in which he was fired midseason in 2013, Diaz rebuilt his resume at Louisiana Tech. The Bulldogs were second in Conference USA in total defense and led the league in rush defense and tackles for a loss.

Missouri defense

In: Barry Odom, Memphis defensive coordinator

Out: Dave Steckel, hired as Missouri State head coach

Dave Steckel left after 13 years on the Mizzou staff, leaving Gary Pinkel to make the rare outside hire. Odom, though, isn’t totally new to the program. He played at Missouri and was on the staff in one capacity or another form 2003-11. Odom’s defense was a major cog in the turnaround at Memphis as the Tigers ranked in the top three in Conference USA/the American in total defense in each of his three seasons. In the three years prior, Memphis ranked 11th or 12th in Conference USA in that category.

North Carolina defense

In: Gene Chizik, former Auburn head coach

Out: Vic Koenning, fired

Chizik returns to coaching after two years out of the game since he was fired at Auburn. Before his up-and-down career as a head coach at Iowa State and Auburn, he was a well-respected defensive coordinator who coached three Thorpe Award winners at Texas and Auburn at one point. North Carolina, which allowed 40 points six times last season, needs a turnaround in a major way.

Ohio State offense

In: Ed Warinner, promoted

Out: Tom Herman, hired as Houston head coach

Herman’s days on the Ohio State staff were clearly numbered as he quickly became a head coaching candidate. Ohio State promoted from within with Warinner, who was responsible for a major turnaround on the offensive line in the last three seasons. Ohio State also added former Nebraska assistant Tim Beck to serve as co-coordinator.

Oklahoma offense

In: Lincoln Riley, East Carolina offensive coordinator

Out: Josh Heupel and Jay Norvell, fired

Firing the quarterback who won him his national championship must have been a tough decision for Bob Stoops, but the decision was necessary. In Lincoln Riley, a former Texas Tech assistant, Oklahoma goes back to the Air Raid concepts that helped Heupel lead the Sooners to the 2000 title. The OU offense had been cutting edge early in Stoops' tenure, but it has stagnated since Sam Bradford left.

Texas A&M defense

In: John Chavis, LSU defense

Out: Mark Snyder, fired

The Aggies’ hire of Chavis is brilliant for a couple of reasons. First, Texas A&M gets a good defense coordinator whom players love. Second, the Aggies strike a blow to a team whose defense (until 2014) had A&M’s number. Chavis had become frustrated with the lack of production of the LSU offense, according to a report by the New Orleans Times-Picayune. He won’t have the same frustrations in College Station.

Texas Tech defense

In: David Gibbs, Houston defensive coordinator

Out: Matt Wallerstedt, fired

This is not something that happens often: Gibbs worked for a head coach who was fired at Houston and moved into a better job. Here’s why: His defenses had 30 takeaways in 2014 (11th nationally) and 42 in 2013 (first). Texas Tech had 15 and 19 takeaways those same two seasons, respectively.

Utah offense and defense

In: TBD

Out: Dave Christensen and Kalani Sitake

The circumstances of Utah’s staff changes are far more interesting than the names involved. Neither coordinator left for positions far and away better than the ones they have. Defensive coordinator Kilani Sitake took the same position at Oregon State, and offensive coordinator Dave Christensen left to become offensive line coach at Texas A&M. Losing Sitake, Utah’s best recruiter and leader of a solid defense, is a major blow.

Vanderbilt offense and defense

In: Andy Ludwig, Wisconsin offensive coordinator

Out: Karl Dorrell and David Kotulski, fired

Second-year coach Derek Mason had to do something as Vanderbilt slid into irrelevance at an astonishing rate. Dorrell was an odd fit from the start, and Vanderbilt’s rotating cast at quarterback did him no favors. Ludwig has not been a fan favorite at some of his previous stops, and there have been many (he’s been OC at Fresno State, Oregon, Utah, Cal, San Diego State and Wisconsin since 1998). He may have taken so many lumps that he deserves the “underrated” tag. Meanwhile, Mason will call his own defense, a role in which he thrived at Stanford.

Washington State

In: Alex Grinch, Missouri safeties coach

Out: Mike Breske, fired

Mike Leach adds another former Missouri assistant with Grinch joining former Tigers receivers coach Dave Yost in Pullman. Washington State was one of the Pac-12’s biggest disappointments, following a bowl season in 2013 with a 3-9 record and the No. 97 defense in the country. Grinch is a first-time coordinator who has paid his dues at Wyoming and New Hampshire before Mizzou. 

West Virginia

In: TBD

Out: Shannon Dawson, hired as Kentucky offensive coordinator

There’s a reason Dawson left from West Virginia to take the same position at Kentucky: Dana Holgorsen calls his own plays, so it’s tough for a coach to establish his own reputation as an offensive coordinator with the Mountaineers.