First and 10: Panic over OCs and DCs leaving? Please. Players couldn't care less
1. I don’t want to get on a soapbox, but …
There’s panic in the social media streets, everyone. Again.
Soon we’ll start hearing the “unsustainable” and “death of the sport” narratives pushed around the floor. It just depends who feels slighted at the moment.
More than likely, it’s not who you think it is.
Players, everyone, don’t care nearly as much about assistant coaches as you’d like to believe. That’s right, we don’t give these young guys nearly enough credit.
It’s a business and they know it, and a vast majority of players simply don’t care if an assistant coach leaves after national signing day or after the player has signed his letter of intent.
Players want 2 things in this new college football world: an NIL deal, and an idea of who’s going to get them to the NFL as quickly, and smartly, as possible. The Pollyanna ideal of players getting screwed here — and I’m all about player rights — is laughable.
“Coaches are more upset than players. Players couldn’t care less — they move on quickly,” an SEC football operations director told Saturday Down South. “The one blessing of NIL in that aspect is (players) see the sport through a business lens now.”
So don’t think Alabama star quarterback Jalen Milroe is panicking now that Ryan Grubb has left the Tide for the NFL, and left an opening at offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach in Tuscaloosa — conveniently after the 30-day window to transfer that Alabama players were given once former coach Nick Saban retired.
Or that Brock Vandagriff, after spending 3 seasons at Georgia as a backup to Stetson Bennett IV and Carson Beck and transferring to Kentucky, is in the tank about offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Liam Coen leaving for the NFL.
Because if Milroe truly doesn’t like who Alabama coach Kalen DeBoer hires as OC/QBs coach (more on that later), all he has to do is jump in the spring transfer portal and find another home.
See? How easy was that?
Same for Vandagriff, if he doesn’t fit with the new Kentucky OC/QBs coach (could be Bush Hamdan). Same for Conner Weigman, if he doesn’t fit with new OC/QBs coach Collin Klein.
Or any other player at any other position who isn’t thrilled about a new coach or a new direction.
No dire consequences, no unsustainably, no end of the sport.
At some point in this new era of college football, we have to stop complaining about every detail that isn’t what it used to be. And by we, I mean everyone.
Coaches, players, fans, media.
Nothing is what it used to be. The sport has evolved, and looks more like the NFL. If you don’t like it, respond with your wallet.
Don’t go to games. Don’t buy jerseys for your kids. Don’t sign up for streaming packages. Play golf on fall Saturdays.
But for the love of all things pigskin, stop whining about the loss of innocence. There was no innocence before in the college game — it was a ruse cooked up by the very people who made all the money (universities) to make you feel good about amateurism.
When there was nothing “amateur” about it.
All of what we see now was all under the table then. No we finally get to see how the sausage is made.
And like most who see it, a vast majority will still think the damn thing tastes good — so what do I care?
2. The big decision
There’s a thought process that DeBoer will simply make himself OC/QBs coach, and move forward with the job of replacing the greatest coach in the history of college football.
There’s one problem with that: You’re going to need all hands on deck to replace the GOAT.
There’s no way DeBoer can do those jobs and call plays, and run the behemoth that is Alabama football. Let me give you and idea of what that will look like: Billy Napier.
Or Jimbo Fisher at Texas A&M.
So while it sounds intriguing, and while the offense DeBoer has used is his system and has been successful everywhere he has coached, there’s an unimaginable amount of time put into preparation and game-planning (offense or defense). Try to do that — and run every tiny detail (because DeBoer is a details guy) of Alabama football.
When you’re at this level of football, when every week you step on the field can lead to an L (except Vanderbilt week), the last thing you need to be juggling is preparing for every possible scenario in a game, and all the duties of a head coach.
Lane Kiffin figured it out at Ole Miss, and he’s on a roll. Josh Heupel figured it out at Tennessee, and the Vols have won 20 games in the past 2 seasons.
Even Napier figured it out, and tried last month to hire Charlie Weis Jr. away from Ole Miss. You can’t run an SEC program and run the offense, and be successful enough to keep your job.
DeBoer will hire an OC/QBs coach, and more than likely it will be someone he knows and trusts. Best guess: He’ll take a strong run at Missouri OC/QBs coach Kirby Moore, who was DeBoer’s passing game coordinator and WRs coach at Fresno State.
Moore revamped the Missouri offense in 2023, elevating the play of QB Brady Cook and unleashing star WR Luther Burden III. Moore will make $1.2 million in 2024, and more than likely would need a significant raise to leave a Playoff-caliber team.
3. The guessing game
Napier’s failure to land an OC (so far) doesn’t mean Florida will head into a critical 2024 season with the same process on offense.
It’s difficult to hire a legit SEC offensive coordinator and QBs coach to what could be a 1-year stint. If this were Napier’s 1st season — or even 2nd — he may have had a better chance to land Weis or any other impact OC by throwing a bag of money at him (see, players and coaches really are the same people).
So now what’s left is what looks like a conglomeration of Napier, offensive line coach Rob Sale, and tight ends coach Russ Callaway — and off-field analysts Eric Kiesau, John Donovan and Ryan O’Hara — running an offense in what could be a make or break Year 3.
To be fair to Napier, the offense developed over the 2nd half of 2023 — and was accurately driving the ball to 2nd- and 3rd-level throws — before a shoulder injury to QB Grantham Mertz. But for a couple of unthinkable coaching blunders in losses to Missouri and Arkansas, maybe 2023 is a different story. Or at least, better looking.
Last week, during an appearance on the university-owned Gator Tales podcast, Napier said he will continue calling plays at Florida.
“I think big-picture wise, we’re taking the group of people that we have, and we’re trying to develop some people, groom some people,” Napeir said. “We’ve done a ton of work in the offseason to kind of evaluate that in terms of what that looks like.”
Translation: If I’m going down, I’m going down swinging. And you can’t blame him for that philosophy.
If nothing else, Napier is firm in what he believes and how he believes it can happen. If it works — against that difficult schedule — he’s coach of the year in the SEC.
If it doesn’t, he’s more than likely out of a job.
4. The unwinding of 2023
As good as last season was at Missouri, we’re not far from a near-complete overhaul at coordinator heading into spring practice.
LSU hired Blake Baker from Missouri last month, making him the highest-paid coordinator in the nation ($2.4 million annually). Alabama could make a similar move with Moore, who would need a similar, over the top offer, to leave a good situation in Columbia.
This is where we are now in the SEC: Schools no longer are hiring from outside the conference, now it’s poaching from within.
Baker left Mizzou for LSU. Travaris Robinson left Alabama for the co-DC job at Georgia. Jay Bateman left Florida for the DC job at Texas A&M. And on and on it goes — because the critical value is knowledge of the league, on and off the field.
Knowledge of team personnel and systems and tendencies, and knowledge of recruiting in the southeast and Texas. There’s untold value in the idea of knowing what you’re getting into.
But understand this: Missouri coach Eli Drinkwitz went outside of the SEC comfort zone last season when he hired Moore and was wildly successful. The Missouri offense moved from 24.8 ppg, to 32.5, and more important, was a critical factor in moving from 6 wins to 11.
Drinkwitz went outside the SEC again to replace Baker, though new DC Corey Batoon — most recently DC at South Alabama — spent 2015-16 as special teams coordinator at Ole Miss.
5. The Weekly 5
The 5 most anticipated games of the new SEC in 2024.
1. Georgia at Texas, Oct. 19
2. Texas at Texas A&M, Nov. 30.
3. Georgia at Alabama, Sept. 28
4. Oklahoma at LSU, Nov. 30.
5. Florida at Texas, Nov. 9.
6. Your tape is your resume
An NFL scout analyzes a draft-eligible SEC player. This week: LSU DT Maason Smith.
“How much was last season a product of recovering from the knee (injury)? That’s the big question. His tape (in 2023) was solid, but nothing like what he showed a couple of years ago. The injury kept him from gaining valuable game reps. You learn from every play, every game. He just hasn’t been playing at a high level, week after week, for a long time. He’s still learning the game. Has great short quickness, and can demand double teams. He shows some explosion when pushing the interior and rushing. It’s there, but can it be consistent? Is it simply a guy who needs time to develop?”
7. Powered Up
This week’s Power Poll, and 1 big thing: best offseason assistant coach hire.
1. Georgia: Travaris Robinson, co-defensive coordinator. Will Muschamp stepped away from on-field coaching to allow his former DC at South Carolina to join the team.
2. Texas: Kenny Baker, defensive line. Arrives from the NFL’s Miami Dolphins, who set a franchise record with 56 sacks in 2023.
3. Ole Miss: George McDonald, WRs/passing game coordinator. Spent the past 4 seasons at Illinois, and walks into a wide receivers room at Ole Miss that includes Tre Harris, Juice Wells and Jordan Watkins.
4. Alabama: Kane Wommack, defensive coordinator. Left head coaching job at South Alabama — where he was 22-16 in 3 seasons — to join DeBoer’s staff. He and DeBoer coached together at Indiana under Tom Allen.
5. Missouri: Brian Early, defensive line. New Houston coach Willie Fritz wanted Early to stay because of the unit’s success under Early, but he moved to join Batoon in Columbia.
6. LSU: Joe Sloan, offensive coordinator. Was critical in the development of QB Jayden Daniels as LSU’s QBs coach, and has been elevated to OC and play-caller in addition to his QB duties.
7. Oklahoma: Seth Latrell, offensive coordinator. Elevated from offensive analyst, Littrell — the former North Texas coach — will continue much of the Art Briles/Mike Leach offensive philosophy that former OC Jeff Lebby used.
8. Tennessee: The Vols retained all 10 assistants on staff, including DC Tim Banks, who several Power 5 schools were interested in over the past 2 months.
9. Texas A&M: Collin Klein, offensive coordinator. New coach Mike Elko made a statement with the hiring of Klein, whose offenses at Kansas State were built around physicality and running the ball, and throwing off play-action.
10. Kentucky: Eric Wolford, offensive line. Wolford returns to Kentucky, where he had significant success in 2021. UK has given up 68 sacks in the past 2 seasons.
11. Auburn: DJ Durkin, defensive coordinator. An elite recruiter, he has coached at Florida, Ole Miss and Texas A&M in the SEC, and is well-regarded in the coaching fraternity.
12. Florida: Rob Roberts, co-defensive coordinator. Gators are desperate for stability on defense, where the past 4 seasons have been the worst run by the unit in the modern era.
13. South Carolina: Joe DeCamillis, special teams coordinator. The special teams, like most things at South Carolina in a disappointing 2023, took a slight dip. Longtime respected NFL special teams coordinator will quickly change that.
14. Arkansas: Bobby Petrino, Arkansas. His resume is offense, and he’s elite at what he does. But once QB Conner Weigman was lost for the season, Petrino’s offense couldn’t help Jimbo Fisher keep his job in 2023. Can Petrino help Hogs coach Sam Pittman keep his?
15. Mississippi State: Coleman Hutzler, defensive coordinator. One of the first things new coach Jeff Lebby did was hire Hutzler, an elite recruiter who has worked at Alabama, Ole Miss, South Carolina and Florida. Spent a season as co-DC at Texas (2020), and gets his first shot at running the show alone in 2024.
16. Vanderbilt: Tim Beck, offensive coordinator. Did a terrific job in helping Jerry Kill elevate a moribund program at New Mexico State, and brought QB Diego Pavia with him to Nashville.
8. Ask and you shall receive
Matt: (SEC commissioner) Greg Sankey has talked about “blue skies” in a perfect world. So what are your blue skies for the future of the SEC? —Donald Collins, Memphis.
My “blue skies” have the Pac-12 alive, and the ACC not on the verge of implosion — and the Power 5 conferences moving forward in their own association, with their own rules and enforcement and ability to pay players.
Since that’s clearly not happening, let’s pair it down to a more realistic and manageable dream of blue skies. And remember, this is my blue skies.
Right out of the box, the College Football Playoff tells Notre Dame it is ineligible for the postseason tournament unless it is in a conference. That also means Notre Dame is also ineligible for any postseason bowl outside the Playoff that is affiliated with 1 of the 4 Power conferences.
At the same time, the Power 4 conferences tell Notre Dame they will not continue to schedule Notre Dame unless they’re part of a Power 4 conference. Wherever Notre Dame goes in my blue skies world, they will not receive the option of keeping their NBC television deal.
No conference, at this stage of the game, should allow unequal revenue sharing.
In my blue skies world, Notre Dame then decides its best course of action is to move to the ACC, igniting a renegotiation of ESPN’s deal with the ACC. They’ll share their NBC television deal — or it can roll into and be part of the ACC’s ESPN deal — because that’s the cost of admittance to the Playoff.
Or the Irish can, in my blue skies world, go pound dirt and play a steady diet of the Utah States, UTEPs and South Alabamas of the world.
That leaves college football with 4 legitimate Power conferences, and eliminates Florida State, North Carolina, Clemson and Miami’s desire to leave the ACC. And we all move forward until the next crisis.
Or the next time something becomes “unsustainable” and “the end of the sport.”
31. Auburn coach Hugh Freeze believes his quarterback for 2024 is on campus, and still thinks Payton Thorne can be a productive player in the SEC.
While Thorne played well at times in 2023 and gave Auburn a spark in the QB run game, he is who he is as a thrower. He has been remarkably consistent in his 3 years as a starter (2 at Michigan State, 1 at Auburn).
He has thrown 31 INTs in 3 seasons: 10 in 2023, 11 in 2022, 10 in 2021. He has completed 61.1% of his passes (2023), 62.5 (2022) and 60.4 (2021).
He’s averaging 7.2 yards per attempt, and his passer rating has decreased every season — from 147.9 in 2021, to 131.1 (2022) to 129.1 (2023).
10. Quote to note
Mississippi State coach Jeff Lebby: “(NIL) is a big part of college football right now, and for our guys, being able to put some money in their pocket, them taking advantage of the NIL piece of it, is important while making sure you get guys that are about the right things. I think you can find both.”