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12 college football coordinators to watch this season

Mike Hugueninby:Mike Huguenin08/26/22


There was an immense amount of coaching turnover this past cycle, with 29 new coaches for the 2022 season. There also was an immense amount of coordinator turnover, with 66 schools changing offensive coordinators and 56 changing defensive coordinators.

Here’s a look at 12 coordinators – including some hired by a new coach – who bear watching this season. Some have been hired to help turn around one side of the ball, while others just have to keep things humming along. Regardless, these 12 guys will be in the spotlight this season. And if their time in the spotlight goes well, it wouldn’t be a surprise if one or two of these guys get a head coaching job and have to hire their own coordinators.

Kirk Ciarrocca, Minnesota OC

The skinny: Ciarrocca returns to the Twin Cities after two seasons away, and his main task will be to resurrect Minnesota’s passing attack. The Golden Gophers were bad throwing the ball the past two seasons; Minnesota threw 19 TD passes in 20 combined games in 2020 and ’21. In 2019, the Golden Gophers averaged 253.3 passing yards per game and were second in the Big Ten with 31 TD passes with Ciarrocca as the OC. He left after that season for Penn State, where he lasted just one year. He was an analyst last season at West Virginia and now is back working for P.J. Fleck. Tanner Morgan also is back at quarterback; he’s the guy who threw 31 TD passes in 2019, but he regressed noticeably the past two seasons. If he and Ciarrocca can regain some of that 2019 magic, Minnesota could win the Big Ten West. Minnesota still is going to be a run-first team, but there’s no reason the Golden Gophers should be so bad throwing the ball.

Bobby Engram, Wisconsin OC

The skinny: Everyone understands that Wisconsin always is going to rely on the run. Still, you’d think there would have been a bit more emphasis on the passing attack the past few years. Only three times in the past decade have the Badgers ranked in the top 50 in passing efficiency and five times they’ve ranked 80th or worse, including 105th last season. And Wisconsin quarterbacks in that span have averaged 16.3 TD passes but also 11.4 interceptions per season. In the past two seasons, the Badgers threw a combined 21 TD passes and 20 interceptions. Again, being a run-first offense is fine. But at some point, when going against teams with more talent (i.e., the majority of the teams in the Big Ten East – you know, the teams you have to beat in the league title game), you have to be able to effectively throw the ball if you want to win. Maybe coach Paul Chryst finally has realized that. He went to the NFL for his new offensive coordinator, as Engram had been tight ends coach with the Baltimore Ravens. Engram – a former NFL wide receiver – needs to introduce some creativity to the passing attack. Returning starting QB Graham Mertz had 10 TDs and 11 interceptions last season, and he must improve if the Badgers are going to win the Big Ten West.

Wes Goodwin, Clemson DC

The skinny: Goodwin replaces Brent Venables as Clemson’s DC, and this will be the first time Goodwin has been an on-field coach since he began his coaching career as a grad assistant in 2009. Goodwin had been a senior defensive analyst for the past four seasons, then was promoted to coordinator when Venables left to become Oklahoma’s coach. Dabo Swinney on Goodwin: “All I can tell you is Wes Goodwin is special. … He’s a very, very, very, very talented young coach with an incredibly bright future.” Goodwin has a high standard to meet: Clemson has been in the top 20 in yards-per-play defense in each of the past eight seasons and in the top five six times. If there are any defensive struggles this season, Goodwin is going to receive the brunt of the criticism. And given the questions with Clemson’s offense, if there are any defensive struggles, it could mean the Tigers again fail to win the ACC title despite easily having the best roster, top to bottom, in the league.

Jeff Grimes, Baylor OC

The skinny: Grimes is a well-traveled assistant; his on-field coaching career started at Division II Hardin-Simmons (Texas) in 1998 and Baylor is his 10th stop since. He is entering his second season with the Bears; last season, a physical rushing attack led to a Big 12 title and 12 wins, a school single-season record. The work he did last season came on the heels of a 2020 season in which he helped develop BYU QB Zach Wilson into a first-round NFL draft pick. Gone from Baylor are last season’s starting quarterback, the top two rushers (who combined for 2,400 yards and 14 TDs) and the top three receivers (who had 13 of the team’s 24 TD receptions). Returning, though, are four starting offensive linemen; while Grimes doubles as the Bears’ tight ends coach, he is a former longtime line coach and that unit should be one of the best in the nation. What kind of production can Grimes get out of a rebuilt backfield and an untested receiving corps? The defense will be good, so the rebuilt offense will determine the course of the season.

Alex Grinch, USC DC

The skinny: Lincoln Riley has some work to do with USC’s offense, and he hit the transfer portal hard in an attempt to reshape the unit. But Grinch – who came with Riley from Oklahoma – has a tough task, too. USC allowed 31.8 points per game last season, the highest total in Trojans history. Outside of T Tuli Tuipulotu, there is little proven returning talent. And if you think the Trojans are counting on transfers to bolster the offense, take a look at this side of the ball. LBs Eric Gentry (Arizona State), Romello Height (Auburn) and Shane Lee (Alabama) and DBs Mekhi Blackmon (Colorado), Bryson Shaw (Ohio State) and Latrell McCutchin (Oklahoma) have to answer the call. Given Riley’s magic touch, the offense figures to be prolific. Thus, if the defense can make even moderate improvement, a Pac-12 title definitely is within reach.

Ryan Grubb, Washington OC

The skinny: Grubb is taking over an offense that was embarrassingly bad the past two seasons. The biggest issue is improving the passing attack. Grubb came with new coach Kalen DeBoer from Fresno State, where Jake Haener – coincidentally, a Washington transfer – threw for 4,096 yards and 33 TDs last season. Indiana transfer Michael Penix Jr. has been named Washington’s starting quarterback. When healthy, Penix has proven to be an effective passer who can throw the deep ball. But the “when healthy” qualifier is big. Penix opened three seasons as IU’s starter — but he started just 17 games. He suffered a torn ACL as a true freshman in 2018, a shoulder injury in ’19, another ACL tear in ’20 and another shoulder injury in 2021. He was 12-5 as a starter for the Hoosiers. Huskies receivers haven’t done all that much, but conventional wisdom is that the previous offensive staff was overmatched and didn’t give the receivers enough opportunities. There is no established feature back, either, so Grubb figures to use a committee approach there. Still, it all comes back to Penix. That shouldn’t bother the staff, which is well-acquainted with Penix: DeBoer was Indiana’s OC in 2019, and Washington’s new tight ends coach is Nick Sheridan, who was Indiana’s OC the past two seasons.

Matt House, LSU DC

The skinny: LSU’s defense the past two seasons? Well, “bad” is a nice way to put it, so there is some urgency as House – who had been the Kansas City Chiefs’ linebacker coach – takes over as part of Brian Kelly’s new staff. House has experience in the SEC (he was coordinator at Kentucky in 2017 and ’18), and has to know improvement against the run is the top priority. House will use a 3-4 front, and former On3 Consensus five-star recruit Maason Smith should be a breakout star up front. He and Jaquelin Roy should be a dynamic duo in the middle, and Ali Gaye and B.J. Ojulari can bring heat off the edge. Even with the loss of tackle-machine LB Damone Clark, the front seven should be much better than it was last season. Interestingly, for a program that gets acclaim for being “DBU,” the secondary by far is the biggest concern; House and new defensive back coaches Kerry Cooks (safeties) and Robert Steeples (cornerbacks) need six(!) experienced transfer DBs to play well.

Jeff Lebby, Oklahoma OC

The skinny: All eyes will be on Lebby’s offense this season. The assumption is new coach Brent Venables will whip OU’s defense into shape, so it’ll be up to Lebby to keep the Sooners’ offense humming along. Oklahoma has led the Big 12 in scoring for six consecutive seasons and finished in the national top 10 in average yards per play in each of those seasons, as well. Lebby is an OU alum who got his coaching start as a student assistant for Bob Stoops in the early 2000s. He oversaw powerful offenses the past few seasons at UCF and Ole Miss, and will work with UCF transfer QB Dillon Gabriel this fall. Those two meshed well in 2019, when Lebby was UCF’s coordinator and Gabriel was the true freshman starting quarterback; Gabriel threw for 3,653 yards and 29 TDs that fall. Gabriel obviously is a good fit for what Lebby wants to do, and there is good skill-position talent on hand, too. Any down tick in the offense and Lebby gets the blame.

Tom Manning, Iowa State OC

The skinny: Manning is headed into his fourth season as coordinator with the Cyclones; he has produced three of the top four offenses in school history in his first three seasons. But his first three offenses featured QB Brock Purdy (the leading passer in school history) and RB Breece Hall (the No. 2 rusher in school history), and both now are in the NFL. How Manning handles the changes will determine the course of the season. There are high hopes for new starting QB Hunter Dekkers (6 feet 3, 206 pounds – 20 pounds fewer than last season), a third-year sophomore who is more athletic than Purdy, has a strong arm and played in seven games the past two seasons as the No. 2 quarterback. Jirehl Brock, a fourth-year junior, is the new feature back. He has 59 career carries because Hall was such a workhorse (718 carries in three seasons). Manning, who also has spent a season as an NFL assistant, is highly thought of in the coaching world; his work this season could lead to even more respect.

Jesse Minter, Michigan DC

The skinny: Michigan’s defense has been stout for a while (in the top 20 in yards-per-play defenses in seven of the past eight seasons) and helped the Wolverines get to the College Football Playoff last season. But the Wolverines lost eight starters off that unit, including three players drafted in the first two rounds, so a handful of guys need to step up. But it’s still a talented group, which adds to the pressure on Minter to get them to play well. Minter, whose dad, Rick, is the former coach at Cincinnati, was FCS member Indiana State’s coordinator at age 29 in 2012. He moved on to Georgia State as DC, the Baltimore Ravens as a defensive assistant and eventually DB coach and Vanderbilt as DC (last season) before being hired to replace Mike Macdonald. Macdonald oversaw vast improvement from 2020 to 2021; there can’t be vast improvement this season, considering how good the defense was last season, but any noticeable fall-off will be blamed on Minter.

Rich Scangarello, Kentucky OC

The skinny: Scangarello, who had been the San Francisco 49ers’ quarterback coach, replaces Liam Coen, who was at UK for one season. Coen returned to the NFL, as the Los Angeles Rams’ offensive coordinator. For sure, Coen revved up UK’s passing attack in 2021. Still, UK’s average of 224.5 yards per game was 10th in the SEC, and the Wildcats threw for more than 179 yards in an SEC game once (387 in a loss to Tennessee). Scangarello needs to make sure the pass offense takes another step. QB Will Levis is getting a ton of love in early 2022 mock drafts, and he is coming off a season in which he threw 24 TD passes (that’s sixth-most in a season in school history). But he also threw 13 interceptions, tied for second-most in Power 5. UK will remain a run-first team, but Scangarello needs to find a way to make the passing attack more productive and help Levis cut back on his mistakes.

Kevin Steele, Miami DC

The skinny: Steele was set to become coordinator at Maryland. Instead, the contract never got signed and he ended up at Miami working for Mario Cristobal. The Hurricanes’ defense has had all sorts of problems of late. The secondary has had trouble against teams that made it a priority to throw, while the front seven has had trouble against teams that made it a priority to run. In addition, the overall sloppy tackling was noticeable. A lack of talent has been an issue, and that is something that Cristobal’s recruiting figures to solve. This season, there are numerous transfers and Steele’s top priority is meshing those guys (among them, UCLA E Mitchell Agude, UCLA LB Caleb Johnson, West Virginia T Ahkeem Mesidor, Maryland T Darrell Jackson and West Virginia CB Daryl Porter) with a handful of talented holdovers. The Hurricanes have finished in the top four in total defense in the ACC just three times in the past 10 seasons. That’s embarrassing. Miami’s offense features talented QB Tyler Van Dyke and is good enough to win the division. But the defense has to play better if UM wants to get to just its second ACC title game in its 18 seasons in the league.