SEC winners and losers from the assistant coaching carousel
It’s a strange offseason when not a single SEC team fires its head coach.
But fear not. The coaching carousel still spun its way around the SEC and beyond.
There were plenty of significant shakeups within coaching staffs, especially in the past week or so. Friday brought a couple more with Georgia hiring an OC and Alabama losing an OC candidate.
Let’s dig into some SEC winners and losers:
I, for the life of me, cannot understand the moves made in the past few days involving the Crimson Tide staff. We knew that Mike Locksley was leaving because that’s pretty much what we expect of Alabama offensive coordinators these days. It’s the other moves that have me perplexed.
Co-offensive coordinator/receivers coach Josh Gattis left Tuscaloosa and originally it appeared he was going to follow Locksley to Maryland. Now, it turns out that Gattis is heading to Michigan to call plays for Jim Harbaugh. It’s technically a promotion, but given the resources and openings on Alabama’s staff to move up, it’s surprising that someone with his track record left Tuscaloosa.
The same goes for quarterbacks coach Dan Enos, who accepted the offensive coordinator position at Miami. That’s bizarre considering that Enos was expected to be the favorite to replace Locksley and given all the talent Alabama returns on offense, it seemed like a no-brainer that he’d want to stick around.
I don’t want to assume anything, but I have to think money wasn’t an obstacle here. Alabama can and would pay whatever it needed to keep the staff it wanted to keep. Call me crazy, but this feels like Gattis and Enos were simply looking for a different place to go to work every day.
Oh, and I’m not saying Jalen Hurts is definitely going to Miami, but the odds of him following Enos out of Tuscaloosa just got a whole lot more realistic. That’d be quite the double whammy loss.
Yes, Georgia fans. Losing someone who put together consecutive Top 20 offenses is indeed a loss. Guys with Jim Chaney’s experience are hard to come by, and while he might not have always called the perfect game, life could have been far worse.
Watching an assistant leave for the same position at a program with half the wins in 2018 is never an ideal look, but it’s not the end of the world. What’s significant is that it also came on the heels of the Dawgs losing Mel Tucker to Colorado. The Georgia defensive coordinator was big in Kirby Smart’s recruiting efforts and helping that defense become one of the nation’s best the past 2 years.
And while Georgia made an in-house hire by promoting co-offensive coordinator James Coley, that came after Kentucky offensive coordinator Eddie Gran reportedly turned down an offer to come to Athens. That’s a tough, strange pill to swallow given the historical hierarchy of both programs.
Here’s the thing, though. Usually, the elite programs are losers when it comes to the offseason coaching carousel. Assistants get plucked because they did well at their previous stops. But this is the first time that Smart has had to replace both coordinators in an offseason. Couple that with all the early NFL Draft entries he lost and it’ll be a telling season ahead for the fourth-year coach.
I always think it’s difficult to have to replace your highest-paid assistant in the middle of January. That’s what Derek Mason will have to do after learning that offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig was leaving Nashville for Utah to join Kyle Whittingham’s staff.
While Ludwig wasn’t necessarily a highly-coveted assistant on the market, he did lead a Vanderbilt offense that averaged 28.5 points per game this year. That was the school’s fourth-most prolific unit since World War II.
That’s after the Commodores watched their all-time leading passer, Kyle Shurmur, play his last game. In other words, whoever takes over for Ludwig is going to have an uphill climb in Year 1.
The good news? Ke’Shawn Vaughn, AKA Red Mamba, announced that he’ll return for his senior season.
Sometimes the best news is just avoiding the shakeups. That was the case for Kentucky, which had to sweat out the possibility of the highly-regarded Eddie Gran leaving to become Georgia’s offensive coordinator.
He squashed that with a tweet Thursday:
I’m all in, #BBN! Let’s do this !
— Eddie Gran (@CoachGran) January 10, 2019
Here’s the thing. Did Kentucky go out and make some splashy assistant hire like the other teams I’ll mention on this list? No, but staff stability in the Wildcats’ stage is huge. Mark Stoops is trying to sustain this new 7-win floor, and now, both of his coordinators will enter their fourth season with the program.
When I think about Kentucky trying to elevate itself coming off the heels of its best season in 4 decades, I think of Northwestern. Why? The other Wildcats were arguably the worst Power 5 program in the country — from a historical standpoint — when Pat Fitzgerald arrived in 2006. Fitzgerald’s coordinators just finished their 11th seasons with the program, which yielded 8 winning seasons (they had 6 winning seasons in the previous 44 years).
So yeah, it’s a small victory in the grand scheme of things for Kentucky, but keeping Gran could be a key reason that the Cats are able to sustain this 3-year pace.
Not to beat a dead horse with Chaney, but I’ll be honest. I didn’t think Jeremy Pruitt’s risk would work out. He went over a month without hiring an offensive coordinator after Tyson Helton left to take the Western Kentucky job, and the Tennessee coach took a ton of heat for it. As he should have. Bizarre it was that Tennessee couldn’t land an offensive coordinator before the Early Signing Period.
But getting a coordinator from within the division who just had the nation’s No. 14 offense? Yeah, that’s a win. Sure, making Chaney the highest-paid offensive coordinator in America is much further than many programs would have gone, but this is Tennessee. It’s a program with deep pockets and a Year 2 coach who’s a defensive guy.
In other words, the Vols needed to make the right hire. It could define Pruitt’s time in Knoxville. No matter how much he downplayed the significance of the offensive coordinator position, he understands its importance.
It’s hard to ask for much more than what the Vols got, especially so late in the process.
As fans and journalists, we often say “program X should go out and get coach Y.” We have a tendency to think that the team we care about will automatically go out and hire the best, most experienced person for the job. It doesn’t always work like that. There are egos, salaries and a whole bunch of other stuff involved to make these hires work.
I give Matt Luke a ton of credit, though. He put his ego aside and hired a pair of accomplished Power 5 head coaches to fill his coordinator openings. That’s not an easy thing to do.
Mike MacIntyre was the Associated Press Coach of the Year a short 2 years ago, and Rich Rodriguez has been a Power 5 coach for 17 years. To go out and land a pair of assistants with those kind of résumés is impressive, especially for a program coming off sanctions and a 5-win season.
Time will tell if it’ll work out. I’m still not sold on the Rodriguez-Matt Corral fit and I’ll be curious if MacIntyre can turn around what was a dreadful run defense the last 2 years, but I like the message Luke sent by making these moves.
Nobody in the SEC had a better offseason on the coaching carousel than the Rebels.