Welcome to an offseason installment of the Three by Three — the coaching carousel! Allow me to be your college football sherpa, guiding you through the intrigue of the sport topic by topic. I will try to avoid just covering the big obvious stuff, but sometimes the GOAT retiring from a blue blood program is the most interesting thing, you know?
Each time out I will highlight three storylines each from Missouri’s offseason, in the SEC, and around the nation. Let’s get to it.
Defensive Coordinator Corey Batoon
For a few weeks it looked like Eli Drinkwitz would manage to keep his entire assistant staff intact despite a wildly successful season. There were headlines about extensions, and gifs posted on twitter, but ultimately Blake Baker decided to ply his trade in the bayou for Brian Kelly. It makes sense: LSU is one of the sport’s premiere programs in terms of on-field talent and coaching paychecks, Baker has ties to the area and the program, and Mizzou’s defense will be rebuilding after losing a horde of playmakers to the NFL.
Enter Corey Batoon from South Alabama. Batoon is a veteran coach with SEC experience who was at the helm for a successful three-year stint in Mobile as Kane Wommack’s defensive coordinator. The Jaguars had some of the best defenses in the Group of Five, and consistently churned out stars like CB Darrell Luter, safety Jaden Voisin, a dominant nose in Wy’Kevious Thomas, and nickel Yam Banks. The latter was one of the biggest names in the Sun Belt, and not just because he had the coolest actual name. He was a havoc machine, and I predict a stat-stuffing year for Daylan Carnell in the Yam Banks role in 2024.
Offensive Line Coach Brandon Jones
Baker got the money from LSU, and Kirby Moore got the adoration of the joyous fanbase, but offensive line coach Brandon Jones might have been Eli Drinkwitz’s most impactful hire in Columbia. He molded an offensive line that was one of the worst in FBS in 2022 into a Joe Moore Award finalist. His young charges dominated good fronts like Tennessee and Kentucky, and held serve against some of the absolute best in the sport against Georgia and Ohio State. But the work is not complete: the left side of the line will need to be rebuilt. Center Connor Tollison has come a long way from getting annihilated by Alcorn State, but his snapping still has some obvious warts that need to be addressed. And quality depth will need to be developed: Mizzou is unlikely to receive the same impeccable health from the five big uglies that they enjoyed last season.
To Be Determined Defensive Line (Edges) Coach
Missouri still needs to round its staff with a defensive line coach for the edges, after Kevin Peoples left alongside Baker. Peoples did a fine job in 2023, earning the Broyles Award nomination for the staff. His replacement will have an interesting set of pieces. Johnny Walker, Jr looks like a budding star, and all-galaxy recruit Williams Nwaneri should be ready to play some significant ball as a true freshman. New transfers Zion Young and Darris Smith have potential, and veteran returnees like Joe Moore and Austin Firestone could improve. This is a high ceiling group, and hopefully the new hire is able to make this room reach their game breaking potential.
In the SEC
Alabama – Co-defensive coordinators Kane Wommack and Maurice Linguist
I am fascinated by the Alabama coaching change. Shocking, I know. Nick Saban dominated the sport so thoroughly, for so long, that people kind of forgot what a mess that school can still be sometimes. I don’t think that will happen under Kalen DeBoer – he is too good of a ball coach, simply put. Offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb also made the trip to Tuscaloosa with DeBoer, one year later than Saban wanted. That side of the ball will be good. But will the defense? Will Wommack’s familiarity in the south let a largely far-from-home Bama staff remain a nuclear weapon in recruiting? What happens if Bama slips from a top one recruiting team to a top….six rank? Top 12? And what are the big-picture ramifications for Group of Five football that two sitting head coaches – that were not on any kind of hot seat at Buffalo and South Alabama – took co-coordinator jobs on a first-year staff?
Arkansas – Offensive Coordinator Bobby Petrino
For the second year in a row, an SEC coach on the hot seat is turning over the reins of his offense to Bobby Petrino in order to save the program. Sam Pittman must be paraphrasing Tobias Funke: “It didn’t work for Jimbo Fisher…..but it might work for me.” Arkansas is going to look a lot different in 2024, following the departures of KJ Jefferson and Rocket Sanders. Pittman is portal shopping again, and the whole thing feels like a desperation attempt, an inside straight draw. So why bring in someone who will be gunning for your job and the irrational portions of the Hog fanbase* will be more than happy to hand it to?
Texas A&M – Head Coach Mike Elko
Missouri is lucky that the two most talented rosters on the 2024 schedule will both be undergoing seismic level coaching shifts. Texas A&M has finally turned the page from the depressing Jimbo Fisher Era, hiring Jimbo’s old defensive coordinator Mike Elko. The program has been stockpiling talent, but that was never the problem in College Station. Will Elko create the kind of alignment that was missing in Austin for their own disappointing decade, now in line under the leadership of Steve Sarkisian? How crippling is it for A&M to reignite their rivalry in a Year Zero while the Longhorns will be peaking under Sark’s fourth season?
Around the Nation
USC – Defensive Coordinator D’Anton Lynn
Lynn is a rising star, and quietly performed one of the best single-season turnarounds last year in college football, equivalent to the life Kirby Moore injected into Mizzou’s moribound offense: his UCLA Bruins defense rose from 89th in defensive SP+ to 17th in his first year in Westwood. Unfortunately for Chip Kelly, he will be making the move to the Big Ten with the crosstown rival Trojans instead, a tremendous poach hire for Lincoln Riley’s shaky program. If Lynn is able to craft a similar skyrocket for USC, he wiull be on everyone’s short list for a head coach spot, and USC will be in the playoff.
Ohio State — Offensive Coordinator Bill O’Brien
Another Big Ten title contender team in need of signs of life to appease a fanbase – except the Buckeyes made the opposite of Riley’s inspired hire. Ryan Day turns over his fleet of playmakers to Bill O’Brien, whose head shot appears in the dictionary if you look up the word “retread.” Ohio State has turned it up to 11 with NIL and in the portal – hell hath no fury like a blueblood fanbase scorned – and maybe the talent on this roster will be so overwhelming as to nullify a dime-a-dozen hire. Ryan Day is literally staking his job on it.
The Top of the Sun Belt
It wouldn’t be a 3x3 if I didn’t sneak in some words about the Sun Belt or a service academy, would it? No major shake ups this year for Army, Navy, or Air Force one year removed from an offseason of turbulence, so let’s take a look at the top of the Sun Belt, where Troy and James Madison have each won their divisions both of the past two seasons but now must replace those remarkably successful staffs. Both schools hired young offensive coordinators: Troy poached Gerard Parker from Notre Dame, who spent his sole season calling plays for the Domers realizing he should just hand the ball off to Audric Estime. James Madison went with the exciting hire, Bobby Chesney from FCS Holy Cross, who has been compiling some really fun offenses in the Patriot League. Will these programs maintain their excellence with new leadership, or will the door open for this deep league – 12 out of 14 teams bowled last year – to have a new power emerge?