Obviously the head coaching newbs are the most talked about positions in the off season for college football, but the coordinator vacancies are often times just as (if not more) important. As an example, see Auburn and Gene Chizik. If Chizik doesn’t hire Gus Malzahn, he doesn’t get Cam Newton and Chizik finds himself on the hot seat. The hires coaches make are far bigger than the players they recruit as the coaches will impact everyone. So while the Penn State head coaching job may be the most important one in the media, there are several other big time vacancies and recent hires that will shape the college football world as we move into 2012. Below you’ll find four major programs in search of the next great coordinators.
AUBURN: The defending national champions lost both of their coordinators since their season ended. Defensive coordinator Ted Roof took the same position at Central Florida, leading many to believe he was forced out due to a lackluster defense. Then Gus Malzahn shocked many by accepting the Arkansas State head coaching job after turning down Vanderbilt and Maryland a year before. To some it was a curious decision, but to others it made sense as Malazhn is an Arkansas native. Either way, that means Auburn needs to hire two key pieces quickly. On defense, they approached Mark Stoops, Florida State’s defensive coordinator, a couple of times and got the requisite thanks-but-no-thanks. While one Stoops is out, I would look at another if I were Auburn. Former Arizona head coach Mike Stoops is currently unemployed and has been a hot name at several schools already, including Ohio State and Nebraska. While I have no clue if Mike is a candidate, I would think he would get a look. Also keep an eye out for Ron Zook. While Zook is a terrible head coach, he is a more than capable coordinator and would be killer on the recruiting trail.
On offense, the Tigers have been very tight lipped as to whom they’re going after. There is some talk of going away from the Malzahn spread for a more traditional set, but that makes little sense when looking at what it takes to go from the spread to a pro-style offense. The opposite transition is far easier. I would expect Auburn to stick with a spread based attack, albeit one that may be a bit more diverse than Malzahn’s run-based attack. There have been few names floated thus far, though the Auburn SB Nation site mentions Blake Anderson, the Southern Mississippi OC as a likely candidate.
SOUTH CAROLINA: The Gamecocks had one of the most underrated defensive coordinators in the country in Ellis Johnson. Now they’ll need to hire a replacement as Southern Mississippi has hired Johnson to replace the departed Larry Fedora. Johnson is not only an excellent coach, but he can recruit, too, as he was the lead dog for South Carolina in the Jadeveon Clowney sweepstakes. South Carolina has built a legit SEC defense in Johnson’s time, so Steve Spurrier will have to hit a homerun or face a drop off next year, a year many Carolina fans think could be their best ever. One thing South Carolina has plenty of is money, so getting a big time DC shouldn’t be an issue. Some have speculated that current Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart could be lured with a massive paycheck ($1 million or more per year) and the coach in-waiting title, however I’m a bit skeptical of that. It would require Carolina going to a 3-4 system, and the coach in-waiting label has proven more of a headache than it’s worth. Some think Mark Stoops will be targeted as well, but having just turned down Auburn, I find it hard to believe South Carolina could steal him away from Florida State. Zook could get a look from Spurrier, though I have nothing to back that up. It has more to do with Zook knowing the region from his days at Florida. Our dear friend Jay the Magnificent mentioned Temple DC Chuck Heater as well as Miami’s DC Mike D’Onofrio as well. The Gamecocks are primed to win next year, so this hire is a big one for Spurrier. One mistake could undo all of the hard work he and his staff have put in since he became the head coach.
NEBRASKA: Carl Pelini left the warmth and comfort of his brother’s side to take the head job at Florida Atlantic, leaving brother Bo with a sweet gig to fill. The problem is, Nebraska is not a big spender compared to South Carolina or Auburn, meaning they will need up the ante or accept they’ll be out of the running for some of the bigger fish out there (which would be a shame). Mike Stoops is the logical fit as he and Pelini have been friends for years, but with Stoops’ name being mentioned at other gigs, I’m not sure Nebraska has the paycheck to land him. One trend that Bo has followed since he’s been at Nebraska is to promote from within and then hire another coach to fill that vacancy. This could be what happens again (much to the chagrin of many Nebraska fans). Current defensive assistnat John Papuchis could be the favorite to take the coordinator role while Iowa’s defensive line coach Rick Kaczenski could be the target to take the same job in Lincoln. I think this is what will play out, at least with Papuchis taking the promotion, as it fits Bo’s modis operandi perfectly. Papuchis is a good coach and one of the best recruiters on the staff, so it makes sense when you’re on a budget like Nebraska is.
FLORIDA: The Gators lost (can you lose something you don’t want anymore?) Charlie Weis to Kansas and have targeted several candidates, including former star quarterback Kerwin Bell. Will Muschamp has said he won’t hire a coach until after Florida’s bowl game, so the Gator nation will have to wait a bit longer. Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Todd Monken has also been mentioned, but I would guess Monken would take the Oklahoma State stability (and T. Boone’s generosity) over Florida’s sales pitch. Jacksonville Jaguars offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter has also been mentioned. Koetter will certainly need a job soon as he is most likely not going to be kept on the Jaguars staff when they hire a coach. Muschamp wants an NFL background in his coaches, so the pro style set will continue after Weis’s departure.
NORTH CAROLINA: Larry Fedora has tabbed former Illinois DC Vic Keonning as his defensive coordinator. Koenning has been good everywhere he’s been, so this hire is a solid start to Fedora’s tenure in Chapel Hill.