Ole Miss' Rich Rodriguez excited to be back in the OC seat
Mississippi offensive coordinator Rich Rodriguez is wearing familiar colors this season. The former head coach at Arizona is preparing for his 33rd season in the college ranks, with 24 as a head coach.
While the colors are the same, the role will be much different. RichRod will be an offensive coordinator for the first time since the 2000 season, at Clemson. With stops at West Virginia, Michigan and Arizona as head coach, RichRod is excited to get back to focus on just the offensive side of the ball.
“I’ve almost had too much time,” he said with a smile. “I’ve been calling plays the last 25 years, but the last 20 I’ve been a head coach. It has probably helped me keep it smaller. Now being just a coordinator, Matt Luke’s on the head football coach duty work, and I’ve had more time to get in the offense.”
Offensive success has followed him. Many remember the slot machine numbers he had at Tulane when he led the Green Wave to a 12-0 season in 1998, his last season as offensive coordinator under Tommy Bowden.
Just how successful has a Rich Rod offensive been?
Since 2001, Rodriguez’s teams played in 12 bowl games in 16 seasons. That included his West Virginia team, which was 1 win from a national title shot in 2005.
In Oxford, Rodriguez will inherit a quarterback room with 4 freshmen and a bevy of new faces. He’s up for the challenge.
“First we evaluated spring to just see what we had. The next part is installation and it is really ambitious, but right now, we’re going to go at it to see what our guys can handle mentally and go from there,” he said.
It’s working. So much so, Rodriguez points out that he’s already installed over 70-percent of the offense.
With Matt Corral the starting quarterback heading into the season, who will be the backup?
That might not be answered until weeks into the season, Rodriguez said. “It’s a battle right now (between Kincade Dent, John Rys Plumlee and Grant Tisdale) and it’s playing out. I like all 3 of them,” he noted.
Unfortunately for Rodriguez, he has a few areas of concern. The largest is the line. With only 2 starters returning, he knew there would be a learning curve with so much youth on the field. Additionally, Alex Givens, one of the starters, has yet to start camp due to an offseason back injury and is sidelined at least for the next few weeks. The coaching staff hopes to have him back the week of the Memphis game, but there is no guarantee.
Ben Brown is the only returning starter practicing right now, but there have been some bright spots for the youthful group. Freshmen Nick Broeker and Jeremy James have taken to the offense quite well.
Both are expected to play the opening week against the Tigers.
“All of the freshmen are getting a lot of reps, in fact, the whole 2nd team could be freshmen, so it’s scary but it’s a really good group,” Rodriguez said.
“(Offensive line coach) Jack (Bicknell) has his work cut out for him because you have to teach them fundamentals and a scheme so he’s working them hard,” he added.
Fortunately, there are no issues in the backfield. Ole Miss returns one of the best running backs in the conference in Scottie Phillips. The senior was only 39 yards shy of the 1,000-yard rushing mark last season.
“Scottie is a proven guy, but he’s got to get in a little better shape. Isaiah Woullard is a proven guy as well and we really need to have 3 or 4 (running backs) ready to go and I’m confident coach (Derrick) Nix will have them ready,” he noted.
A lot of eyes will be on freshman running back Jerrion Ealy
According to Rodriguez, Ealy will play early. Ealy has practiced fielding kickoffs and punts, so it’s evident the Rebels want the ball in his hands. For Ealy, he’s just excited about the opportunity. “I’ve been in the playbook a lot, but I’m just ready to learn and absorb from one of the best running back groups in the country and one of the best in the country (in Phillips),” he said.
Ole Miss fans could have the best of both worlds. Rodriguez said Ole Miss will implement a 2-back set, something not seen in Oxford in quite some time.
With the talent in the running back room, that shouldn’t be a surprise.
At the end of the day, it’s about winning in the rugged Southeastern Conference
“I think there’s a level of toughness you got to have to have success at all levels of football. We can control our conditioning and how mentally tough we are (which are big factors),” Rodriguez added.
Make no mistake, coming off a 5-7 season and opening with a talented Memphis team, the staff knows this will be a challenging season.
“Anything worthwhile is not going to come easy. I told our guys, don’t ask for it to be easy, ask to be a stronger man.”