Former Rutgers offensive coordinator Jerry Kill officially announced his retirement on December 19th, but it was revealed that head coach Chris Ash was aware of his likely departure for some time. With a national search taking place, a lot of candidates have been mentioned and speculated upon as to who will become the ninth offensive coordinator in as many years for Rutgers football. New Jersey Advance Media's Keith Sargeant and Ryan Dunleavy have a pretty solid list they've been updating and there are plenty of good candidates included. Our own Bob Cancro took a stab at some candidates a little more off the beaten track as well.
While speculating who will be Ash’s pick to replace Kill is a fun and never ending task, I want to cover five factors to consider in regard to this search. Let’s take a look at different areas that Ash is certainly analyzing on his way to finding the right fit for this position, followed by some of my own thoughts on the search.
Ash Prefers An OC With QB Experience
Our own Brian Fonseca attended the early signing period press conference back on December 20th and this is what Ash had to say about his preference for the next offensive coordinator:
“(We’re looking for) someone with great knowledge of quarterback play so we can develop the young quarterbacks that we have, continue to help the returning players in our program and then the young players develop,” Ash said. “That's a position we have to continue to get better at in our program if we're going to move forward.”
“A guy that can coach the offense and not just the quarterbacks, but a lot of positions and has knowledge of that … But that's really what we're looking for.”
While any OC needs to be well versed in the quarterback position, these comments make it seem that Ash prefers the candidate to have actual experience either playing or specifically coaching the position during their career. That would make a lot of sense, considering the struggles Rutgers has had with the position and the inventory of young and talented signal callers on the roster with Johnathan Lewis, Jalen Chatman, and Artur Sitkowski. If Ash really does want to focus on candidates with strong quarterback experience, then it would eliminate a good amount of names being speculated about.
Flexibility In Offensive Style
Ash has seemed to want some version of the spread as the primary offensive style, but the offense that Rutgers ran under Jerry Kill was more of a mix with pro style, as opposed to the straight spread that Drew Mehringer failed miserably trying to run. The traditional pro style Rutgers ran for years under Greg Schiano and Kyle Flood doesn’t seem like something Ash wants long term. In addition, Rutgers has a variety of quarterbacks on the roster who have the ability to run multiple styles. Who Ash does ultimately hire will likely be someone more spread oriented but hopefully someone that is flexible in adapting the offense to the roster they have to work with, rather than being committed to one system no matter what, at least initially.
More Established OC’s Could Be More Complicated
One thing to consider regarding more established/higher profile candidates is that they are likely to want more control over their offensive staff, meaning replacing certain coaches with others they already have relationships with. Whether Ash would be okay with that or not remains to be seen, but this is surely a factor when he is deciding on the next offensive coordinator. Offensive line coach and associate head coach A.J. Blazek isn’t someone Ash would allow to be replaced I’d imagine, based on his recruiting prowess and overall positive impact he has had on the program so far. Running backs coach Lester Erb is only entering his second season, but is a very experienced coach who I personally think was a big addition to the staff. It’s possible the new OC would ask to fill the new 10th assistant position that becomes open on January 9th, but that might not work for Ash either, who might not want to allocate that position to offense. These are all questions that roll up into an important issue when hiring the next offensive coordinator.
Of course, money is always a factor with any hire. Jerry Kill made $600K last season and that is on par with what most power five coordinators make. However, if Rutgers was really able to hire a big name, they would have to pay more in the $750K-$800K range. It’s certainly possible that Ash has the backing of AD Pat Hobbs or even some deep pocketed boosters to go that high, due to the importance that this hire represents. Even if he doesn’t have the ability to go that high, being in the $600K+ range makes the Rutgers job comparable to other power five coordinator jobs.
Experience & Stability Key To Getting It Right
In Ash’s two previous hires for OC, he went really young and inexperienced (Drew Mehringer) with his first pick, then changed course and went with veteran head coach Jerry Kill as his second. If Ash really does want to stabilize the position, something the two previous Rutgers head coaches had trouble doing as well, he should be looking for a profile in the middle of who he has hired previously. It would make the most sense to hire a coach in his 40’s or 50’s who has legitimate power five experience and is more likely to want to stay with the program for a few years. That’s easier said than done when finding that right candidate, but I think focusing on current experience as an OC is most important, as both previous hires had either never been one or hadn’t been in two decades. That can’t happen this time around.
- Ash likes flying under the radar during previous coaching searches and also likes focusing on candidates he has some type of relationship with, either directly or who have worked with former colleagues. You have to give him credit, as this latest search for an offensive coordinator has been extremely tight lipped. No names have leaked other than NJAM reporting that several candidates have been contacted, including Phil Longo, Noel Mazzone, Dan Enos and former Rutgers OC John McNulty. However, that was early on in the process and that information could have likely emerged from the candidate side. Actual formal interviews haven’t been reported at all. I also think Ash has a propensity to hire someone that hasn’t been mentioned and could be a wild card, but hopefully it’s one that matches up experience wise with what is really needed.
- I think it would be a mistake to hire an offensive coordinator who doesn’t have recent power five experience. The idea of hiring an offensive position coach from the NFL could be an interesting and potentially successful hire, but it’s more risky in most cases. As I previously mentioned, with Mehringer and Kill, one was a first time OC and the other hadn’t been one in two decades. Time to adjust and focus on coordinators who have been there, done that, in terms of experience and success, rather than high potential, high risk candidates.
- As important as it is in making this hire as soon as possible, it’s more important to hire the right person. With that thought, Ash should take as much time as he needs to make this hire. Ideally, the offensive coordinator is in place by mid-January when the semester begins and players return. He’s been working on this search for at least a couple of weeks now and as the holidays and football seasons in college and NFL are soon over, next week could be the time a moved is made.
- Five candidates I don’t like the idea of hiring, many related to factors mentioned above: John McNulty, Frank Cignetti, Todd Fitch, Brian Wright, Travis Trickett
- Five candidates I do like the idea of hiring: Phil Longo, Jedd Fisch, Noel Mazzone, Ed Warinner, Rhett Lashlee
Whoever Ash does ultimately hire, that coach will play a major role in his ability to succeed in turning around Rutgers football, so let’s hope he get’s it right!