When Rutgers football coach Chris Ash announced shortly after the season that he was keeping his coaching staff intact, the one name that created the most debate was the retention of offensive coordinator Drew Mehringer. After finishing dead last in total offense out of 128 FBS teams, Rutgers fans had a right to be upset. However, I admit that I believed giving Mehringer time to implement his system, with talent the current regime was recruiting, was totally fair and needed.
Instead, Mehringer jumped ship to go work for his mentor and Ash’s plan for continuity on offense went up in smoke. With Rutgers now searching for an offensive coordinator for the 8th year in a row, it quickly has become the biggest decision of Ash’s tenure. While the most obvious need for the offense is to upgrade the player talent pool on the roster, he also now has the opportunity to fully assess what went wrong from a coaching standpoint on offense last season and rectify it with the right hire.
Coaching searches are fun for fans and pundits alike, as speculation as to who will get the job runs rampant, typically with most offering opinions that aren’t based on how the search is actually being conducted. So far, I’ve read about a bunch of different candidates that could be considered for this job. Our own Bob Cancro put together an intriguing, out of the box type list here.
It’s been radio silence with news of actual candidates interviewing for the job, which is a good thing. However, It’s time for my own attempt at weeding through the many potential candidates, in an effort to try and figure out who may actually be considered for the job.
For those that have speculated or wondered if Ash is open to scrapping the spread offense, you can stop now. Ash has been adamant since he was hired, and reiterated this week to QB commit Johnathan Lewis, that he is committed to this offense. One thing we know about our head coach is he likes to have a plan and he is meticulous in his preparation, famously bringing boxes of binders containing notes from his many coaching stops throughout his career. He saw how effective the power spread was under Tom Herman at Ohio State and believes that is the offense he wants to run as a head coach. There shouldn’t be any questions that he is now looking for a coordinator who is well versed in this offense, especially since he has recruited that way for this 2017 class.
A lot of names have been written about, either in our comment section, message boards, or even this article by NJ Advance Media. I will start with names I am pretty confident can be removed from speculation pretty quickly.
We know Ash hasn’t been keen in the past in hiring former head coaches. Although its possible he may reconsider after Mehringer’s inexperience certainly didn’t help his performance this past season, I don’t think he will change that train of thought completely. At the end of the day, I think Ash falls somewhere in the middle, avoiding former head coaches, but also avoiding fast rising position coaches with limited coordinator experience.
That would rule out coaches like Mike Locksley, Mark Mangino, Darrell Hazell and anyone else who were head coaches previously. Our friends at SB Nation’s Purdue blog, Hammer And Rails, were so concerned for us about the possibility of Hazell coming back to Rutgers, they wrote about it here. Thanks guys!
Art Briles isn’t coming to Rutgers anyway, friends. Nor is his son. I saw Tennessee wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni was mentioned here by JP Pelzman of the Asbury Park Press, as he worked with Ash at Wisconsin. He is an intriguing candidate. However, hiring him would be like taking on Mehringer 2.0, something that I think is unlikely.
I don’t think Brian Wright, the current OC at Toledo is a candidate for the simple fact that Ash confidant and former Florida Atlantic head coach Charlie Partridge fired him in 2015. It’s certainly possible Ash is talking to him anyway, but I think it’s not likely for him to hire someone that was fired by a trusted confidant, although all of the circumstances for that decision are unknown.
I love the passion of our reader Rutgerslaw, who since Ash was hired last year, has posted multiple comments in support of Joe Osovet for offensive coordinator. I just can’t see him being hired, at least right now, due to him having zero experience at the FBS level, despite his impressive pedigree at the JUCO level.
Luke Wells is another name being bandied about, but he has been only a co-offensive coordinator at Utah State the past four seasons. They finished a disappointing 96th in total offense this season. Despite working with Ash for one season at Iowa State, I don’t think he would be a great choice, considering his lack of east coast recruiting ties and never being the top dog alone.
One name that people are excited about is Phil Longo, the current OC at FCS Sam Houston State. He is from Parsippany and played at Division III Rowan. Our friends at SB Nation’s Ole Miss site, Red Cup Rebellion, wrote about Longo being considered for their opening. He runs the spread, but not the power version. Rather, it’s the “Air Raid” variety and he credits Washington State head coach Mike Leach in helping him learn it over the years. That would be a shift in spread philosophy for Ash and Longo doesn’t have any FBS experience at all. I can’t see Ash taking a chance on someone who hasn’t proven themselves at the FBS level in any coaching role right now.
Update: Ole Miss took the chance with Longo.
BREAKING #OleMiss is hiring SamHoustonSt Phil Longo as Rebels new OC, per source.. He led the most prolific offense inFCS this year.— Bruce Feldman (@BruceFeldmanCFB) December 15, 2016
Another reader wrote this passionate fanpost on why former Texas OC Sterlin Gilbert should be the #1 target for Rutgers. I love the idea, but I highly doubt Gilbert would even consider the job. The issues are he is at the top of most lists for schools looking for a new OC, he is from the heart of West Texas and has never worked on the east coast. Plus, his salary at Texas was $900K last season, which is double what Rutgers was paying Mehringer. He would be a home run hire for sure. However, if Ash was able to pull that off, it would be considered the biggest upset in college football this season, on or off the field.
Matt Canada would have been a slam dunk as well, based on his track record and strong connections to Ash, but he was just hired by LSU.
One name I seriously considered was former Rutgers co-offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca. That last sentence may have expunged groans from many fans, but despite being fired by Greg Schiano after the 2010 season, I think he is a candidate that is intriguing. He only worked at FCS schools before and after his three year stint on the banks. That is, until former Rutgers assistant and current head coach of Western Michigan P.J. Fleck called his former colleague and hired him to run the spread for him at the MAC school.
Their offense has been dynamic the past two seasons and they finished the 2016 regular season 13-0. His daughter, Colby, stars on the Rutgers women’s soccer team. His salary is low. So what’s the problem? It’s probably unlikely Ash would go after a former Schiano assistant and frankly, it’s very possible he wouldn’t want to come back. He also may want to stick with Fleck, who will probably land a big time job in the next couple of years and have hopes of joining him. I just think there are probably too many variables that make this reunion unlikely.
So, you are probably like, get to the damn point already. Alright, I will.
One aspect to consider in this search that sticks out to me is Ash having a penchant for hiring people that he has either worked with or have worked with others he trusts. Their are four names that fit that bill and also seem like good choices to take over the Rutgers offense. Here we go:
Bob also included Franklin in his list here. He is currently in his second stint at Middle Tennessee State, where he guided them to 12th in total offense this past season. He has power five experience, having worked at Cal, Auburn, and Kentucky. So what is the connection to Ash? In 2008 when Franklin was the offensive coordinator for Auburn, their defensive coordinator was Paul Rhoads, who hired and mentored Ash at Iowa State. Now, head coach Tommy Tuberville actually fired Franklin mid-season, despite having a 4-2 record at the time. However, Auburn finished that year with a 2-5 record and Tuberville was fired. While I don’t know anything about the relationship between Rhoads and Franklin, he did recover quite well and thrived at Cal after this hiccup in his career. He’ll be 60 at the start of next season, but he would bring a lot of experience to Rutgers.
He is the offensive coordinator at Louisiana Tech and held the same position at East Carolina, South Florida and Boston College. While he was demoted last season after BC struggled badly on offense, his former head coach at ECU, Skip Holtz, hired him to run the offense for him at Louisiana Tech. While Holtz is very involved in the offense, they did improve from 23rd in the country in total offense in 2015 to 3rd this year with Fitch. He and Ash were on the same staff at Iowa State for three seasons, so there is a connection there. He also has strong recruiting ties to Florida from his USF days, which he continued having success with while at BC. I think he would be a solid hire.
He was the offensive coordinator at Florida Atlantic, but is most likely out of a job after head coach Charlie Partridge was fired. I doubt newly hired head coach Lane Kiffin will retain him. The reason he could be a candidate considered by Rutgers is due to his connection to Partridge, who worked with Ash at Wisconsin and Arkansas. Trickett has five years of coordinator experience, four at Samford from the FCS and this past season at FAU, where the offense ranked 74th in the country. Trickett doesn’t have any ties to Tom Herman, but he was a graduate assistant for two years each at both Alabama and Florida State. He is young enough to be able to relate to recruits like Mehringer did, but has a lot more experience than Drew did before coming to Rutgers.
UPDATE: Travis, we hardly knew ya.
Thomas spent the past two seasons at Temple, the first as quarterbacks coach and was then promoted to offensive coordinator for the 2016 season. Head coach Matt Rhule left for Baylor and I think it’s more likely he’ll hire outside his current staff for his new OC, being he has few connections in Texas. Thomas could easily join his staff in another role, but he may want to stay as an OC at another school on the east coast. Rhule and Ash seemed to hit things off since he came to Rutgers, running the joint satellite camp last summer. They also were very complimentary of each other publicly. It’s likely Ash would trust Rhule’s recommendation of Thomas, who spent 7 years with the Atlanta Falcons as an assistant, including QB coach, before coming to Temple. The Owls improved from 67th in total offense in 2015 to 43rd nationally this past season. His NFL pedigree could resonate with recruits as well.
One Out-Of-The-Box Idea
I preface this by saying I wanted to include one name that is very intriguing and in my opinion, would be a potential home run hire, despite not having any connections to Ash. Brandon Streeter is currently the quarterbacks coach at Clemson, where he has mentored All-American Deshaun Watson the past couple of seasons. Watson is the first QB in FBS history to throw for 4,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards in the same season, which he did last year in leading Clemson to the national championship game.
Streeter is also the recruiting coordinator at Clemson, heading to Death Valley after serving as offensive coordinator for three seasons at FCS Richmond. He served as offensive coordinator the three years, before that he was at Liberty. Both schools featured prolific offenses during his tenures there. Being a college football coach is in his blood, as his father has been leading Division III Gettysburg for the past 40 years.
He has deep roots with Clemson, as he was the starting QB there in the late nineties and served as a graduate assistant in the early 2000’s under current coach Dabo Sweeney. However, if he is looking to make a jump up to OC at the FBS level, it will probably happen sooner if he leaves, as co-offensive coordinators Tony Elliott and Jeff Scott have been in place for the past two seasons, having unprecedented success at the school. Again, I am spit balling here, but he is certainly an interesting candidate that I would think is at least worth reaching out to. If Ash wants to make a splash, it’s more likely to happen with a less established candidate, but one who has an impressive pedigree like Streeter has.
What do you think? Who did I miss? Am I crazy? Sound off in the comments, as the wait continues during the search for the next offensive coordinator at Rutgers.
Update: It was reported Jerry Kill interviewed for the job.