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The search for the next Josh Heupel

From Jonesboro to Morgantown, Missoula to Denton, where will Barry Odom’s OC search go?

NCAA Football: Iowa State at West Virginia
Jake Spavital has been in the SEC before. Over in Morgantown, he’s running a pretty similar offense to the one in Columbia.
Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

I have no idea who is going to be Missouri’s next offensive coordinator.

I have an idea who isn’t, thanks to Gabe DeArmond’s reporting, and I am very happy about it.

Bill Connelly made a nice list of possibilities on this here site. And, failing any sort of inside information, I just decided to take that list, put the numbers of the coordinators’ offenses up against Josh Heupel’s from Missouri this year and seeing who would be the most similar to Heupel.

Because Barry Odom has said he wants continuity with the offense. As he should.

So Bill gave you 25 names: seven are already off the board with new jobs; two (Joe Jon Finley and Andy Hill) are already on the staff, so they won’t be included here; one (Syracuse’s Mike Lynch) I shaved off because his co-coordinator Sean Lewis is on there as well, and Lewis is the quarterbacks coach, like Heupel was.

And one is Hugh Freeze. Who was fired for cause from Ole Miss just five months ago. And yet people still wanted him to come to Missouri. But I digress...

So that leaves us with 14 names to evaluate. To see how similar these 14 are to Heupel, I took their offenses’ numbers in scoring, rushing, passing, overall, play/yard distribution, pace and live-ball efficiency and saw who matched Missouri the closest this year — 12 categories overall (points per game, rush yards per game, yards per rush, pass yards per game, yards per pass, run/pass play distribution, run/pass yard distribution, total yards per game, yards per play, plays per minute, live-ball plays per minute, live-ball play percentage).

A note: I included sacks and yardage into passing numbers instead of rushing numbers (so the NFL way, not the NCAA way), because that just makes more sense.

We’ll go category type by category type, then come to an overall ranking at the bottom:

Overall Production/Efficiency
Josh Heupel: 39.3 ppg, 511.5 ypg, 7.24 ypp, 81.8 live-ball play %

Most Similar
Kendal Briles, FAU: 39.8 ppg, 491.9 ypg, 6.80 ypp, 88.0 LB%
Buster Faulkner, Arkansas St.: 38.5 ppg, 497.7 ypg, 6.24 ypg, 82.6 LB%
Phil Longo, Ole Miss: 32.8 ppg, 462.3 ypg, 6.90 ypp, 82.6 LB%
Jake Spavital, West Virginia: 36.3 ppg, 485.2 ypg, 6.54 ypp, 82.6 LB%
Sterlin Gilbert, South Florida: 38.3 ppg, 508.6 ypg, 6.09 ypp, 83.9 LB%

Nobody could touch Heupel’s yards per play and yards per game, but Briles’ Florida Atlantic offense put up more points per game and was appreciably more efficient with its passes than the Tigers, logging 88 percent of its plays in a live-ball situation compared to 81.8 percent for Missouri.

But I would be remiss if I didn’t “Hugh Freeze” up Kendal Briles a bit when discussing him, because he is accused of doing some pretty terrible things in the whole Baylor mess.

I feel like hiring him would be just as problematic as hiring Freeze. BUT DANG IF THE KID CAN’T CALL A FOOTBALL GAME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Run Game Production/Distribution
Josh Heupel: 206.6 ypg, 5.63 ypr, 51.9 play%, 40.4 yard%

Most Similar
Graham Harrell, North Texas: 193.7 ypg, 5.49 ypr, 47.9 play%, 41.5 yard%
Rhett Lashlee, Connecticut: 162.9 ypg, 4.33 ypr, 49.7 play%, 39.2 yard%
Tony Franklin, Middle Tennessee: 158.3 ypg, 5.08 ypr, 44.7 play%, 39.9 yard%
Sean Lewis, Syracuse: 177.7 ypg, 4.77 ypr, 43.5 play%, 38.9 yard%
Bob Stitt, Montana: 159.9 ypg, 4.15 ypr, 49.3 play%, 35.1 yard%

Harrell: the former Mike Leach Air Raid quarterback who is helping Seth Littrell tear up defenses for Wren Baker down in Denton.

Harrell’s Mean Green runs a little bit less often and less effectively than Heupel’s Tigers have this year, but it does get a little more percentage of its total yards on the ground.

He’s only 32 and would be a nice hire.


Pass Game Production/Distribution
Josh Heupel: 304.9 ypg, 8.97 ypa, 48.1 play%, 59.6 yard%

Most Similar
Jake Spavital, West Virginia: 315.2 ypg, 8.08 ypa, 52.6 play%, 65.0 yard%
Bob Stitt, Montana: 295.5 ypg, 7.45 ypa, 50.7 play%, 64.9 yard%
Rhett Lashlee, Connecticut: 252.3 ypg, 6.64 ypa, 50.3 play%, 60.8 yard%
Phil Longo, Ole Miss: 308.3 ypg, 7.94 ypa, 58.0 play%, 66.7 yard%
Graham Harrell, North Texas: 273.3 ypg, 7.12 ypa, 52.1 play%, 58.5 yard%

Spavital has done some major reputation rebuilding (football reputation...not the other kind...) with the Mountaineers this year after failing to turn Texas A&M’s quarterback talent into anything tangible and being cast out to Cal with Sonny Dykes...where he was summarily sent out along with Dykes after Dykes’ firing following the 2016 season.

Will Grier was a world-beater this year under Spavital’s watch, and the coach also helped develop Geno Smith during his first stint with Dana Holgorsen in Morgantown in 2011-12.

So he’s kind of hitched his star to Holgorsen, but would he welcome a chance to come back and try again in the SEC?


Josh Heupel: 2.82 plays per minute, 2.31 live-ball plays per minute

Most Similar
Bob Stitt, Montana: 2.83 PPM, 2.34 LBPPM
Buster Faulkner, Arkansas State: 2.78 PPM, 2.29 LBPPM
Dan Hawkins, UC Davis: 2.77 PPM, 2.31 LBPPM
Sean Lewis, Syracuse: 2.84 PPM, 2.25 LBPPM
Kendal Briles, FAU: 2.67 PPM, 2.35 LBPPM
Sterlin Gilbert, South Florida: 2.69 PPM, 2.26 LBPPM

Bob Stitt: Bill’s guy. His Montana Grizzlies — where he spent the past three years as head coach before his firing in November — ran an almost identical pace to Heupel’s Tigers this year.

Yeah, it’d be a little difficult to sell a recently fired FCS coach as a big-splash SEC offensive coordinator hire, but he has gained quite a following as an offensive mind among some pretty powerful people.


Most Similar, Overall
1. Buster Faulkner, Arkansas State
2. Jake Spavital, West Virginia
3. Bob Stitt, Montana
4. Phil Longo, Ole Miss
5. Graham Harrell, North Texas
6. Dan Hawkins, UC Davis
7. Sterlin Gilbert, South Florida
8. Sean Lewis, Syracuse
9. Kendal Briles, FAU
9. Bob Surace, Princeton
11. Tony Franklin, Middle Tennessee
12. Rhett Lashlee, Connecticut
13. Beau Trahan, Tulsa
14. Robert Anae, Virginia

So where did Buster Faulkner come from? He wasn’t the most similar to Heupel in any of these categories.

Well, among the 12 categories I looked at, Faulkner’s Red Wolves offense ranked among the top five among the field in most similar to Heupel’s this year in eight — all but yards per rush, yards per pass, pass yard distribution and total yards per play.

Faulkner spent five years on Rick Stockstill’s staff at Middle Tennessee — you guys remember them...right? -- and was full offensive coordinator from 2012-15.

He has been Blake Anderson’s tight ends coach for the past two years, but he was a college quarterback and coached the position for Stockstill.

We see some familiar names in that top five -- Spavital, Stitt, Harrell — along with a new one: Phil Longo from Ole Miss.

Yes, Matt Luke’s spot with the Rebels is stabilized, so that might coax him to say. But his star quarterback just left for Ann Arbor.

Does he want to keep building on what he started with Jordan Ta’amu this year? Or see if he and Drew Lock can work some magic at Missouri?

Luke brought him from Sam Houston State, where his offenses put up insane numbers, so he’s definitely on the up slope of his career.

In conclusion, I don’t know what’s going to happen. Obviously.

But if you’re looking for someone who can continue Heupel’s work here, check that list up there for some pretty similar coordinators.

And don’t forget Finley! Missouri’s tight ends are insane, and he might be worth a flyer? Maybe?

Anyway, here’s my work if you want to take a look: