It’s really hard putting together your first coaching staff. It features a countless number of educated guesses. It took Gary Pinkel a while before he locked in the staff that he would take from Toledo to Missouri, and a good number of Barry Odom’s first hires have already moved on.
For some, that was because it didn’t work out as planned. For Josh Heupel, it was because he was good enough to not only get a head coaching job, but get a job at the best G5 team in the country at the moment: UCF.
It’s safe to assume that Odom has had a list of potential Heupel replacements in his desk since the moment he hired Heupel. You have to, especially when you’ve got a guy who’s likely to get a bigger job.
With mid-December’s signing period approaching quickly, Odom better hit that list pretty quickly.
I have no idea who’s on that list. My ‘insider’ connections are, to say the least, minimal. But I write about a lot of teams with my SB Nation hat on, and I know that most hires of this nature fall into one of a few buckets — promotions from within, fellow branches of a given coach’s coaching tree, former head coaches looking for a rebound gig, successful FBS offensive coordinators at smaller schools, or successful FCS head coaches looking to jump up the ladder a bit.
Based on those categories, here’s a list of 25 potential candidates that I would put together. We’ll see who Odom has in mind, and I’ll reserve the right to make changes to this list as we begin to get a picture of what Odom is looking for.
Promotion from within
1. Andy Hill, Missouri associate head coach and receivers coach
2. Glen Elarbee, Missouri offensive line coach
3. Joe Jon Finley, Missouri tight ends coach
Hill has always been a step away from the OC job but has never gotten it. He remains a well-respected member of the staff.
Elarbee was potentially an even better hire than Heupel. He inherited a bunch of misfit sophomores and needed only two seasons to turn it into one of the best lines in the SEC. Being a good position coach doesn’t automatically make you a good coordinator, but Elarbee is clearly immensely competent.
Finley, meanwhile, is a Heupel acolyte, having played under Heupel at OU and coached under Heupel at Mizzou. If he doesn’t get promoted here, he could very well end up in Orlando with Heupel. I’m confident he’s going to be an excellent OC one day, but he’s 32 — it’s possible Odom considers him too young.
Another branch of the Mike Leach tree
4. Graham Harrell, North Texas offensive coordinator
5. Robert Anae, Virginia offensive coordinator
Heupel was Bob Stoops’ first quarterback at Oklahoma; his offensive coordinator that first year? Mike Leach. Leach is maddening to deal with sometimes, and he might have a ceiling as a head coach, but he’s produced one of the more incredible coaching trees in college football.
By my count, Josh Heupel is the ninth former Mike Leach player or assistant to land an FBS head coaching job https://t.co/wLs9W17b29— Zach Barnett (@zach_barnett) December 5, 2017
Just an incredible stat. Combine that with the fact that the Big 12 was completely remade in his image (not to mention Southwest HS football), plus a number of additional former coaches/players who are now CFB OCs (Robert Anae, Graham Harrell, etc) and his influence is remarkable https://t.co/rxpO5Nn7ob— Chris B. Brown (@smartfootball) December 5, 2017
As Chris Brown mentions, there are currently two Leach acolytes serving as OCs at the FBS level. Anae has done decent things at UVA, but Harrell, the former Texas Tech quarterback, has been spectacular at UNT. The Mean Green currently rank 22nd in Off. S&P+ this year and won the Conference USA West two years after going 1-11. I would be surprised if Harrell isn’t somewhere on Odom’s list.
Another branch of the Art Briles tree
6. Sterlin Gilbert, USF offensive coordinator
7. Kendal Briles, FAU offensive coordinator
8. Beau Trahan, Tulsa quarterbacks coach
9. Sean Lewis, Syracuse offensive co-coordinator and quarterbacks coach
10. Mike Lynch, Syracuse offensive co-coordinator and offensive line coach
Obviously you have to be careful here. Briles was a mentor for a lot of spectacular offensive coaches, but ... well ... you know what issues Briles ended up getting into.
Still, that doesn’t necessarily mean bad things about assistants who might or might not have had anything to do with Briles’ misdeeds. And if you’re confident they’re clean, there are some great names here. (A few of the names above, meanwhile, never actually coached for Briles, but for former Briles assistants like Syracuse’s Dino Babers.)
Sterlin Gilbert runs a variation of the air raid not too far from Heupel’s vision. USF skewed a bit more run-heavy this year thanks to the presence of incredibly mobile quarterback Quinton Flowers, but he’s young and quickly gaining in experience and prowess.
Briles, meanwhile, is a) probably untouchable and b) awesome. FAU is currently seventh in Off. S&P+ in his first year in charge.
Former head coach looking for a rebound
11. Sonny Dykes, former Cal head coach and current TCU offensive analyst
12. Hugh Freeze, former Ole Miss head coach
13. Mark Hudspeth, former UL-Lafayette head coach
14. Bob Stitt, former Montana head coach
Sonny Dykes coached Jared Goff to the No. 1 pick in 2015 and did a decent job at Cal but never really seemed to fit well out west. He appears most comfortable in Texas, and while, uh, Missouri isn’t in Texas, a lot of the players Dykes would be coaching are from there.
Freeze is another name that might be great in terms of prowess and untouchable in terms of NCAA controversy. He just helped to get Ole Miss punished awfully severely by the NCAA.
Then there are a couple of personal favorites. Mark Hudspeth did some great things at UL-Lafayette for a while but got dragged down by the “hard jobs remain hard” tenet of college football. And my boy, Bob Stitt, is certainly available. He has one of my favorite offensive systems in football, even if he couldn’t quite win enough games at Montana.
Prolific FBS offensive coordinators
15. Joe Craddock, SMU offensive coordinator
16. Buster Faulkner, Arkansas State offensive coordinator
17. Will Friend, Colorado State offensive coordinator
18. Phil Longo, Ole Miss offensive coordinator
19. Jake Spavital, West Virginia offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach
20. Troy Walters, UCF offensive coordinator
21. Rhett Lashlee, UConn offensive coordinator
22. Tony Franklin, MTSU offensive coordinator
I really like Phil Longo, though now that Matt Luke is permanent head coach there, he’s possibly happy and settled in Oxford. (Missouri’s lack of NCAA sanctions could still be a draw, however.) Meanwhile, Mizzou could attempt to engineer a trade with UCF — Heupel for Walters — if Walters doesn’t follow Scott Frost to Nebraska. Lord knows UCF’s offense is fun as hell, too.
One particularly interesting name here: Lashlee. The former Auburn offensive coordinator left the Plains under odd circumstances and improved UConn’s Off. S&P+ ranking by 50 spots (from 127th to 77th) in a single year up north. He knows the SEC, he’s got a good offensive mind, and he’ll probably jump at the first opportunity to head back south.
FCS head coaches with prolific offenses
23. Steve Campbell, Central Arkansas head coach
24. Bob Surace, Princeton head coach
25. Dan Hawkins, UC Davis coach
That’s right, Dan Hawkins is UC Davis’ head coach, and he had a pretty fantastic offense. I, uh, don’t believe he’ll be a candidate.
Another personal favorite: Surace. The Ivy League had a ton of super-fun offenses this year — no, really! — and his was the most prolific. The transition from Ivy League to SEC would be ... unique. But I’m just saying, I like him.
One last time: this is my list. There is no insider info here. Because I took the time to list 25 guys, his choice will probably be a 26th. But if I had to choose the four or five most realistic names here, I would say Finley, Elarbee, Harrell, Lashlee, and Dykes. That top five could change very quickly.