clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Dave Steckel is now Missouri State's head coach; move 'em up and move 'em over

Bill Carter

Successful coordinators become head coaches. That's one of the cardinal rules of college football. They might not become good head coaches, and they might become even better head coaches than coordinators. But they're almost certainly going to get a shot, especially when they do well in the SEC as Dave Steckel has.

Steckel became a Broyles Award finalist in 2014 and parlayed that into an opportunity to lead the Missouri State Bears. He was one of the nation's most underrated coordinators until this year -- Mizzou ranked 10th in Def. F/+ in 2010 and 11th in 2013 before putting together another stud unit in 2014 -- but the Broyles recognition certainly made that a tougher claim to make. He proved himself flexible and creative in the role, applying consistent Pinkel/James principles (blitz as little as possible, prevent big plays, live to play another down) but figuring out ways to utilize the talent at hand and make life as tough as possible on opposing offensive personnel. He crafted top-20 defenses out of top-30 talent, and his reward is finally getting to run a program of his own.

The good news for Missouri fans is that Gary Pinkel's been here before. He's had to replace three coordinators in his 14 years in Columbia, and he has at least twice made upgrades. He replaced Dave Christensen with David Yost and Matt Eberflus with Steckel following the 2008 season, and he replaced Yost with Josh Henson following 2012. Even if we take Yost haters' word for it and decide that was a poor hire, that's still 2-for-3.

In all three instances, Pinkel has chosen to promote from within. He weighed bringing in an outside following Yost's departure, but he instead promoted Henson and hired a new lower-level assistant (receivers coach Pat Washington), and it seems to have worked out pretty well. If this is the example Pinkel will follow this time, then expect him to introduce either defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski, cornerbacks coach Cornell Ford, or safeties coach Alex Grinch as his new D.C. sometime in the next month. We assume it would be Kuligowski, who has more than proven himself as a position coach, but we don't know for sure what the internal hierarchy is, or what Coach Kul's own professional goals are.

But Pinkel has an interesting option on his hands. With the hire of Will Muschamp as Auburn's new D.C., the hottest coordinator on the market right now might be Memphis' Barry Odom, who was a Gary Pinkel assistant until leaving for Memphis three years ago. Odom left to make a name for himself as a coordinator, and he has done just that. Memphis improved from 114th in Def. F/+ to 80th in Odom's first year in charge of the defense (2012), then improved again to 61st in 2013. This year, Memphis ranks 40th. The Tigers moved to a 3-4 set because of the personnel at hand, and they have done some serious damage with their front seven while still doing a solid job of preventing big plays.

Pinkel would have to pay top dollar for Odom; plenty of other schools are looking at him, too. But with a comparable offer, one figures he might choose to work for his former boss again.

Still, there's a balance here. Kuligowski is cleraly a loyal guy; he joined Pinkel's Toledo staff as a recruiting coordinator in 1992, moved to tight ends in 1993, then moved to defensive line in 1996. He has worked for Pinkel for more than two decades, and one assumes he's fielded other offers. Still, he may feel it is his time for the DC job, and it would be difficult to disagree with him. His record as a DL coach has been impeccable, as good as anybody's in the country. In the last three years alone, he has helped to coach Sheldon Richardson, Kony Ealy, Markus Golden, and Shane Ray to all-conference or All-American performances. And that doesn't even mention Ziggy Hood, Aldon Smith, Jacquies Smith, and the other successful college and pro performers.

If you risk losing Kuligowski by giving somebody else the DC job, you give Kuligowski the DC job. Obviously the best-case scenario from a fan perspective would be bringing Odom back, making Coach Kul the co-coordinator, and giving them both significant raises. (Kuligowski's probably due a significant raise regardless, huh?) That's conceivable, but again, Odom could make quite a bit of money as a sole coordinator elsewhere. You might not be able to finesse this into a best-case scenario.

Regardless, Pinkel's track record is pretty good here. He's likely to make a solid selection, and I look forward to seeing what interesting (and probably young) assistant he brings in to coach Mike Scherer, Kentrell Brothers and the linebackers.

Dave Steckel was a loyal, hard-working, flexible Gary Pinkel assistant for a long time. I wish him luck as a head coach and congratulate him. Now it's time to, as Gary Pinkel would say, move 'em up and move 'em over.