Kentucky football: Was Rick Scangarello the problem or the fall guy?
Three days after the end of the 2022 college football regular season, Kentucky began the hunt for its 4th offensive coordinator in 4 seasons. Kentucky offensive coordinator and former San Francisco 49ers coach Rich Scangarello became a one-and-done, but not in a good way. Mark Stoops fired him.
But was Scangarello (a significant part of) the problem or just a fall guy?
The case against Scangarello
Scangarello came in as another NFL voice, a guy to follow in the footsteps of Liam Coen. Coen had been hired after Eddie Gran’s ground-and-pound offenses has become so one-dimensional that Kentucky struggled to move the ball and score points (21.8 points per game and 318 yards per game in 2020).
The Wildcats had finished last in the SEC in passing in 2019 and 2020, but under Coen, UK improved to 32.3 points and 425 yards per game, including 226 passing yards per game in 2021. Coen was poached back to the NFL and Scangarello came in to continue that trend, with the return of senior QB Will Levis and senior RB Chris Rodriguez.
Not so fast. Kentucky averaged 22.1 points and 336 yards per game in a disappointing 7-5 season that lay largely at the feet of an unproductive offense. Levis had a ho-hum season, UK’s 3.4 yards per carry on the ground was the worst in years, and Kentucky’s 53% red-zone touchdown rate was awful.
Kentucky’s offensive play-calling melded the predictable and the untimely. Moments like a game-opening trick play that surrendered the football at the Kentucky 2-yard line to South Carolina didn’t do anything to help Scangarello. His use of Rodriguez was uneven at best, and Levis seemed to spend the entire season trying not to get hurt worse than he already was.
Yes, Mark Stoops is a defensive coach. Since the departure of Neal Brown in 2014, it’s pretty clear he won’t be running an Air Raid system. But Kentucky has to move the football and score points well enough to recruit decent players and not put all the pressure on the defense. There’s no indication that Scangarello was doing that, and while 7-5 isn’t the worst record in the world for a program that once struggled to win 5, keeping him around could have set Kentucky back significantly.
The case for Scangarello
On the other hand, Levis was injured, probably in Game 5 against Ole Miss. UK was 4-0 at that point. Given what was apparently multiple injuries, Scangarello lost Levis for the South Carolina game and had to play an inexperienced QB who wasn’t ready. For the rest of the season, Levis was visibly hobbled and could not run the football — an important facet in his 2021 success with Coen.
Scangarello also wasn’t (entirely) responsible for UK’s awful offensive line. UK allowed 42 sacks– the same total it allowed in twice as many total games in 2020 and 2021. UK was also on its 3rd offensive line coach in 3 seasons, with the death of John Schlarman and the departure of Eric Wolford to Alabama. That line is a big part of the reason why Levis was hurt and why the ground game was spotty.
Scangarello also had nothing to do with Chris Rodriguez’s 4-game suspension to open the season. While UK was 4-0 in those games, it also meant that a relatively inexperienced offensive line didn’t get any snaps with their leading rusher. Basically, the overlap of an available Rodriguez and a healthy Levis was less than a single game.
At this point, nobody who has coached offense under Stoops has come up smelling like a rose — except for Coen.
Coen did have 1 very good year … but how much of that was NFL receiver Wan’Dale Robinson, how much was a perfect storm in gaining Levis from the transfer portal, and how much was an awful schedule that helped UK go 10-3 last year?
Coen inherited a good situation and everything broke his way. Scangarello inherited a good situation and literally nothing went his way. Is this a move about strategy or just about bad luck?
The bottom line …
Whether the offense was entirely, partially, or not at all Scangarello’s fault, he’s the guy who’s heading elsewhere. Kentucky is rumored to be pursuing Coen again. That would give some element of continuity to an offense that has to have a little whiplash between constant coordinator turnover.
In not quite 24 months, UK football will have had 4 offensive coordinators. Hopefully, the next guy has better luck and better results than Scangarello. The long-term health of Kentucky football is probably hanging in the balance.