Ed. Note: In the wake of yesterday's events, we now know that LSU won't be hiring a head coach. But there's been no clear word one way or the other on Gary Crowton's status (though there are rumors he could be headed to Maryland). And with Les Miles giving the keynote speech at the AFCA's convention in Dallas this week, if there's going to be a change, it could come soon. Conventions like this are big breeding grounds for these types of moves. As such, I'm going to repost this with a few updates to the names list.
Recruiting sometimes gets called college football's "silly season," but to me, that phrase applies a lot more towards the annual December-through-February coaching carousel.
Part of what makes it silly is that fans buy into the idea that programs can just "cherry pick" any coach the way they "cherry pick" the top recruits. And of course, the process is a lot more complicated than that.
As such, allow me to present the official And the Valley Shook Guide to the Hiring of College Football Coaches TM!
Part 1: Hiring Assistant Coaches
We'll break this into two parts, but start with assistant coaches because, well, that's the most relevant process to LSU right now (although you can apply these principles to any program). While there's been no official word, most of us are expecting there to be some shaking up of the offensive staff.
Whenever there's a coaching opening at a major program fans tend to throw out every name they can think of, as though there's a grocery list of the top assistants for any head coach to pick up at the supermarket. Every message board will have multiple threads dedicated to why a team should (or should not) hire this guy or that guy. Half of the time, the coach in question isn't even an actual candidate for said job opening. Why? Because there's a process to how these candidates are identified, whittled down, interviews and hired. In order to understand how this process works, you have to answer two questions:
What coaches are available?
In theory, they all are. After all, everybody has a price, right?
He says yes. And then he cackles.
Of course, reality and theory don't always line up.
Does the coach in question have a job? Are you offering him a better one? Would his current employer make efforts keep him?
Obviously, these things depend on what job you're trying to fill, and what coach you're pursuing. If you're, say, LSU and you're, say, trying to hire a new offensive coordinator*, you would probably start with offensive assistants and coordinators for other teams, or perhaps from the NFL.
And here's where the supermarket analogy comes back into play. People have gotten into the mindset that a top-10 program like LSU can have any assistant they might want, because, well, who wouldn't want to come and coach here.
**Ed. Note: I have to stress that as far as I know as of this writing, this is entirely hypothetical. While we all expect Gary Crowton to leave, there's been no official word yet. And I want to be clear that I'm not implying any sort of inside information on this front. **
There's more to it than that. In this modern age of big-money TV contracts and hundreds of cable channels, the stage is bigger, and so is the spotlight. If you're at least middle-of-the-pack in any BCS conference, chances are you get to play in front of a nation-wide audience on either a cable or broadcast network several times a season. Big time schools can no longer exclusively offer that. So that means they have to offer other things, like a promotion, or a bigger paycheck.
Diddy knows what's up.
If you're at a program from a mid-major conference, a major conference is an automatic upgrade. But if you're already at one, it's generally all about the Benjamins. Otherwise, why take the risk? Think about it in terms of your own employment. You have a perfectly stable job that you enjoy at a nice mid-sized [insert business] firm. A bigger firm in another town wants you for a job. Sure, it's clearly a more prestigious gig, but there's also pressure and more spotlight, which also means less security. On top of that, you'd have to move your family, leave behind friends, pull kids out of a school, etc...Would you do it if the bigger firm wasn't making it worth your while financially? Of course not. Prestige won't pay your bills or send your kids to college. So why would a coach be any different?
If they're not getting a clear position-coach-to-coordinator promotion, a lot of coaches are generally given some sort of other title like assistant or associate head coach, passing or running game coordinator, recruiting coordinator, etc...in order to justify a higher salary. Sometimes this is due to state laws or university hiring bylaws, or sometimes it's just a way of getting a foot in the door with said assistant, as some schools will hold them to their contracts unless they are seeking career advancement. Both of LSU's big assistant hires of last year are examples of this. Billy Gonzales and Frank Wilson, received extra titles (passing game coordinator and recruiting coordinator) and raises from their previous jobs. We've also seen it with other major hires. In his coordinator days, Gene Chizik went from Auburn to Texas and gained an associate head coach title and accompanying raise. Mack Brown also gave Will Muschamp a salary bump for the same move a few years later.
In a previous post and commenting thread, the name Dana Holgorsen came up. He and Gus Malzahn are probably the two hottest coordinators in the country right now, which is why I don't think he's really a viable candidate for LSU. The university can't really offer him a lot more exposure (this is obvious in Malzahn's case). Oklahoma State is a 10-win team that's been winning steadily the last few years with an entertaining attack and big-name offensive players. Can LSU offer him more exposure? Yes, but not a lot in relative terms. Regardless of whether he stays in Stillwater or not, Holgorsen will be the head coach at a non-AQ-conference school in the next two or three years. That leaves money as the next best incentive, and then T. Boone Pickens enters the picture. LSU can pay a lot of money for a coach, but it can still be outbid at a high enough level. Note: Holgorsen has since left Okie State, and obviously there was a promotion involved.
Now, obviously, personal issues are the wild card in all of this. A coach may simply enjoy his current lot in life or be reluctant to uproot his family (a close friend of mine currently in high school coaching passed on a chance to follow Mack Brown from Tulane to North Carolina years ago for this very reason). Or he may have a falling out with his current university or coach. These situations are generally rare, but they do come up. In those cases, you can throw a lot of these guidelines out.
Hiring coaches out of the NFL is also a different process, because coaching in the NFL is very different from the college level. Coaches who get to that level generally like to stay there, whether as the head guy, a position coach or a coordinator. They have excellent health benefits, including a pension. Plus, the schedule is less rigorous, despite what you may have seen from time to time about the work habits of guys like John Gruden or Bill Belichick, because there's no recruiting. Sure, you might work a 12 or 16-hour day between film sessions, meetings and practices, but so do college coaches. Only in the NFL, when all that is done, you are done and you get to go home. You don't have to call your assigned recruits, or keep taps on the grades/social lives of your current players. In college, if a third-string receiver is failing his classes, the head coach will want that receivers coach to explain why he wasn't getting the proper tutoring or spending the necessary time in study hall. In the NFL, all a coach is responsible for is preparing the current players he's coaching for the opponents on the schedule. This is why you see old hands like Pete Jenkins, George Stewart, Alex Gibbs or Bobby April coaching well into old age. So once again, if you want an NFL guy, a promotion and a raise have to be a given part of the offer.
What is the connection?
Finding a job is almost always about who you know. That idea shouldn't be new to anybody. Sometimes it's a friend who tells you that a company will be hiring soon. Sometimes it's a friend who recommends you to another friend. Sometimes it's a headhunter, who makes it his business to know what jobs are open and the qualified professionals looking for them.
Coaching is the same way. Personal connections are always in play when a hiring is made. Staffs work closely together, so everybody has to be on the same page in terms of work ethic, on-field philosophy and personal relationships. After all, who wants to work with a complete dick you hate to see every day?
So when a head coach has a position to fill, he generally starts by putting out feelers among friends and colleagues he knows that he and his other assistants can work with. It might be somebody that either he or a member of his staff has worked with (or even against) in the past. It might be somebody a friend or colleague recommends. Take the rumors regarding Les Miles seeking out Mike Leach. I doubt Leach would ever consider going back to coordinating (he'll almost certainly have a chance at a head-coaching gig soon enough) but he's an offensive mind any coach would respect, and he could definitely point Miles in the direction of other coaches.
Sometimes the recommendation even comes from an outside party or non-coach - such as when Pete Jenkins, a well-known coach in Louisiana, was recommended to Nick Saban for his first staff at LSU by people close to the program. Or it might even be somebody he's spent time with at a camp or clinic. Whichever way the new guy arrives, chances are he won't be a complete stranger.
College coaching's a very regional profession for this very reason. Coaches and assistants in the same conference are all generally pretty close to each other and even with other coaches in the area that might work in other conferences. You run the roads in recruiting and develop relationships in certain areas with the high school coaches and officials (which is why you generally see a specific coach assigned to recruit specific state or a specific part of it) and you meet at coaching clinics or conference meetings. As such, you don't see a lot of long-distance coaching moves. Coaches in the southeast generally stick around in leagues like the SEC, ACC, Sun Belt or Conference USA. A coach that gets his start on the West Coast rarely makes a sudden jump to the East Coast, and vice-versa. Usually (there are, of course, always exceptions) there's a journey to it. Take Miles for example. Born, raised and reared as a coach in Big 10 country, he followed Michigan assistant Bill McCartney to Colorado. There, he learned about working in the Big 8/12 region and Texas, and from there he worked his way southeast to Oklahoma State, Dallas and eventually, here. It is worth noting that coaches that work in the NFL are usually the ones most likely to break out of a region, as it gets easier to branch out the most in the pro ranks.
Of course, there's also the schematic connection. A coach who wants to run a pure option attack isn't going to hire a receivers coach with a background in a West Coast Offense, just like a coach from a pro-style background isn't going to hire a quarterbacks coach with an option background. But things can mesh and evolve, as a lot of times systems that may seem very different, aren't quite to the degree you might think. LSU's offense might not look anything like the Mike Leach Air Raid, but that doesn't mean they don't occasionally run some of the same pass plays. And despite the Humanoid reputation of Les Miles as "a Bo Schembechler three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust wannabe," he's run one-back, three-wide attacks before at Oklahoma State.
And another thing that I really can't stress enough. Don't expect any sort of decision to come quickly. I would hope people would have learned this by now after the last two offseasons, but these decisions rarely happen before the bowl game. That's not a Miles thing, that's just how it generally works for most schools. For one, there's very little benefit to bringing in a new guy before a bowl game, and to be honest, the only two examples of a new one coming in pre-bowl involve Lou Tepper and Tony Franklin, so there's bad precedent. You only get a week of practice -- not enough time to implement a new scheme. So why bother changing the players' routine? There's also recruiting to consider, which is at a crucial juncture in December and January. If a head coach knows he has an assistant on his way out, he'll want to make sure he and other members of the staff can develop good enough relationships with that coach's recruits in order to soften the blow of a departure. Some coaches have also been known to let a vacancy linger for a few weeks deliberately. NCAA bylaws allow for head coaches to make extra visits when they don't have a full staff (a rule Miles has deliberately taken advantage of in each of the last two seasons). So expect quiet on this front for several more weeks.
All of this being said, here is what most of you have probably been waiting to see -- a list of realistic potential candidates to be LSU's offensive coordinator should Gary Crowton leave.
**Ed. Note: I cannot stress enough that I have no insider information as to who really is or isn't being considered, or even if a change is certain. But here's an educated guess, based on the availability/connection questions, of names that could possibly be up for consideration.**
We'll start with current college coaches.
Dana HolgorsenUpdate: Since named the OC and Coach in Waiting at West Virginia. Off the market.
Current job: Offensive coordinator, Oklahoma State
Holgorsen is just about everybody's top choice (and I don't just mean LSU fans), but for the reasons I've already outlined, I'm doubt he's really available.
Current job: Offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach, East Carolina
Riley is a wunderkind of a coach at just 26 years old. He cut his teeth as the receivers coach at Texas Tech under Mike Leach. In his first year at ECU the Pirates jumped from 27 to 38 points per game, despite breaking a new quarterback. A move from ECU to LSU would be a no-brainer for a young guy like Riley, and if the Miles/Leach rumors are true, it could be to do some due diligence on him.
Current job: Co-offensive coordinator, quarterbacks/running backs, Baylor
Montgomery goes way back with Baylor head man Art Briles, and he played a big role in Briles' high-octane offenses at Houston. Though his background is in the spread, Montgomery's offenses have always been incredibly balanced (Baylor rushed for 2,406 yards this season and still threw for 3,336), and he's played a major role in developing productive quarterbacks and running backs. But he could also be somebody who would want to stay with Briles. And Baylor's not very likely to be Briles' last stop.
Current job: Offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach, Southern Mississippi
He's in his third year at Hattiesburg under Larry Fedora, an old-school spread offense guru, and USM has passed for 3,000 yards in each of those seasons with an average team passer rating of 136. Anderson also served as ULL's offensive coordinator in 2007, during which the team ranked 6th in the nation in rushing. Louisiana connections,
and with Fedora rumored for the Minnesota job, may not be eager to move so far north. Update: Fedora's still in Hattiesburg, but that doesn't mean Anderson couldn't be had if a major program pursued him.
Current job: Offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach, Oregon State
Langsdorf is a veteran of teaching the passing game, and Oregon State has annually ranked high in passing since he joined Mike Riley's staff in 2004. Their offense uses a lot of multi-receiver packages, but at its heart is a run-and-play-action attack. He's spent two stints in the professional ranks, in the Canadian league and the New Orleans Saints for the 2002-2003 seaons.
Current job: Offensive coordinator, California
A student of Jeff Tedford's pro-style offense and also the spread passing game, Ludwig worked with Tedford at Fresno State in the 90s before succeeding him at Oregon, and eventually moving on to Utah. He was the coordinator for the Utes' undefeated 2008 squad (which famously dissected Alabama in the Sugar Bowl). Played roles in the development of David Carr, Kellen Clements and Brian Johnson.
Current job: Offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach, Duke
A David Cutcliffe disciple, Roper got his start as a GA at Tennessee before becoming the QB coach at Ole Miss during Cutcliffe's time there. There, he served as the passing game coordinator for Eli Manning's last two seasons. Also worked as a running backs coach at UT in 2006-2007 when Cutcliffe returned, so John Chavis should have some familiarity as well. Did some great work with Duke's Thaddeus Lewis the last few seasons.
Current job: Co-offensive coordinator/QB coach, Houston
You may remember Kingsbury as one of the ultra-productive quarterbacks of Leach's Texas Tech days. He just wrapped his first season working with Kevin Sumlin in Houston, following the aforementioned Holgorsen. The Cougars averaged 327 passing yard a game this year, despite using four different quarterbacks due to injury. Kingsbury could be a rising star, and is on the list of possible topics for the rumored Les/Leach powwow.
The former Tulsa and Louisville head coach was supposed to serve as Texas A&M's passing game coordinator this year, but resigned the post in the summer due to an illness in his family. It was rumored Miles spoke with Kragthorpe about the OC job last winter, and is interested in talking to him again this season. He's a veteran pro-style type of coordinator, with a good reputation for working with QBs. Coached Drew Bledsoe to one the best seasons of his career with the Buffalo Bills in 2002. He was once considered one of the top up-and-coming coaches when he was hired in Louisville. The results at UL put a bad taste in most fans' mouths, but the list of good offensive minds that have failed as head coaches is a long one. Update: Rumored to be returning to Tulsa as head coach with Todd Graham headed to Pittsburgh.
Current job: Offensive coordinator, San Diego State
A veteran West-Coast-Offense guy, Borges is probably most well-known in LSU circles for his work at Auburn, which started out great in 2004 but tailed off over the next few seasons. He also worked with ex-LSU coach Gerry DiNardo (a close friend to Miles from their days on the Colorado staff) at Indiana, and ran the UCLA offense when Bob Toledo had them rolling in the late 90s. Tutored first-round quarterbacks Cade McNown and Jason Campbell. Update: Likely headed with Brady Hoke to Michigan.
Borges and Kragthorpe aren't the type of hires that make fans ooh and aah, but I liken them to the Chavis hire on defense. They run solid, fundamentally sound schemes built upon basic concepts. That may not reinvent the wheel, but it will work as long as there's good talent around. Borges gets a Crowton-like rap for the way the Auburn offense tailed off in 2006 and 2007, but when the talent was there (seriously, how much more could Borges have gotten out of the immortal Brandon Cox, folks) , so was the offense.
Current NFL Coaches:
These coaches are all something of long-shots, unless their head coaches find themselves unemployed. Most of these are position coaches, so offensive coordinator would be a promotion, but the question will be whether or not they would rather hold on to their current pro jobs. But all have some sort of connection to the LSU staff, so they are worthy of mention
Current job: Running backs coach, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
If I were asked to pick a first choice, Logan would be the man. He fits for a number of reasons, but first foremost would be his work with quarterbacks. He's mostly known for coaching Jeff Blake and David Garrard at East Carolina, and then Matt Ryan at Boston College, and he even spent a season with Rohan Davey in NFL Europe. He runs a pro-style attack built largely on the one-back set, and is known for teaching a system that new starters can transition into with relative ease. Perhaps the only smart step Jeff Jagodzinski has ever made as a head coach was bringing Logan with him to BC, and once that coaching situation blew up in Jags' face, it didn't take long for people to find out who was the brains of the outfit. Both were hired by the Bucs, with Jagodzinski as OC and Logan as running backs coach, but only one actually made it to the season once Raheem Morris realized Jagodzinski had very little to do with the game-planning or play-calling at BC. The NFL position coach situation could make Logan a tough pull, but he and Miles have coached together briefly before, with a year together on the Colorado staff. Update: Might be a tough pull, given that things are looking up in Tampa after a 10-6 finish with some good young playmakers. But with their season over, he's available if Miles wanted to gauge his interest.
Current job: Quarterbacks coach, Miami DolphinsUpdate: Hired as offensive coordinator at Ole Miss.
Lee would be another dream hire, though it may be unlikely. He has two stints on Houston Nutt's Arkansas staff on his resume, and was due to follow him to Ole Miss before the Dolphins came calling. As a quarterbacks coach, he could be compared to Kragthorpe or Borges. Known for stressing the classic fundamentals we all think about in a pro-style offense. He helped coach Chad Pennington to an NFL Comeback Player of the Year award in 2008, and breathed competence into Casey Dick in 2007. He's also credited with bringing the Wildcat offense to the Dolphins from Arkansas. Also worked with Sean Payton on the Dallas Cowboys staff from 2003-2005.
Current job: Offensive coordinator, Jacksonville Jaguars
A long shot, but Jack Del Rio's not exactly sitting on the most secure of seats. Koetter's developed a run-first and well-managed attack in the NFL, but his college offenses were known for high-octane passing attacks. He spent five years at Arizona State (I'm sure everybody remembers the Sun Devils pushing LSU to the limit in 2005) and coached the school's all-time leading passer (Andrew Walter), receiver (Derek Hagan) and a Makey-Award-winning tight end in Zach Miller. Before he was at ASU, Koetter was one of the early architects of the Boise State program in the late 90s. His offensive style has always leaned towards running and play-action, but he his passing game attacks down the field from a variety of angles. Works with former LSU receivers coach Todd Monken and former Alabama head coach Mike Shula. Update: Actually rumored in the Carolina Panther's head coach search, so if I had to guess, he's staying in the NFL.
Current job: Wide Receivers coach, Jacksonville Jaguars
He was a member of Miles' first staff at LSU, and developed a great reputation those first two seasons as Dwayne Bowe and Buster Davis blossomed into first-round draft picks. Many thought he'd get the coordinator job when Jimbo Fisher left, but the NFL came calling. His name got a mention last year during the OC speculation as well. There are definitely questions, as he's never actually called plays before, but Monken has a great reputation as a teacher, with strict attention to detail, and definitely had his hands in the explosive 2006 passing game. He's also an excellent recruiter. Update: Part of me feels that even though he kept his job for another season, Jack Del Rio is on borrowed time in Jacksonville. If there's a "big fish" that could be gotten, Miles could maybe use his newly acquired control over staff to make a major offer to bring Monken back.
Craig Ver Steeg
Current job: Offensive assistant, Baltimore Ravens
Ver Steeg is a bit of a wildcard. He served as Rutgers' offensive coordinator and running backs coach from 2003-2007, including Ray Rice's ultra-productive last two seasons. Since then he's worked under Ravens' coordinator Cam Cameron, a colleague Miles has been known to consult from time to time. If Ver Steeg is interested in getting back in the college game, Cameron would likely point him in LSU's direction.
Update: Wouldn't be available for discussion until the Ravens are eliminated from the NFL playoffs.
Update: Additional possible names/rumors.
Current job: Offensive coordinator, Illinois
The younger brother of Arkansas' head coach, Paul was poached by Ron Zook last year for a nice salary believed to be in the 4-500 grand range, and it paid dividends in year one, as the Illini went from scoring 24 to 32 points per game. His background is in the QB-friendly combination spread/pro-style attack that Bobby uses, and that would likely mesh with Miles and LSU's personnel. But it would take a sizable offer to pull him, and he might be reluctant to compete against his brother directly.
Current job: Offensive coordinator/running backs coach, Arizona
Littrell is a young name on the rise after taking over for Sonny Dykes at Arizona. He came up as a running backs coach at Texas Tech under Mike Leach, as much as you don't think "running backs" when you think about those Tech teams, their best running games and backs were coached by Littrell. Dykes (now the head coach at Louisiana Tech) brought Littrell with him to Arizona to help install a more run-based version of the Air Raid there to great success. With former BYU OC Robert Anae (another ex-Leach assistant) joining the staff in Tuscon, Littrell might be interested in striking out on his own. One question would be, what his background in quarterback coaching is.
Update: Recently named to the full coordinator job in Arizona after sharing the duties last year, which might make him a tougher pull.
Current job: Quarterbacks coach, Arizona
Some might remember Scelfo from his days as Tulane's off. coordinator/QB coach. A native of Abbeville, Scelfo worked his way through high school ranks in Texas before joining his brother Chris at Tulane, and later worked on Derek Dooley's Louisiana Tech staff. He did a solid job in taking over for Dykes at ‘Zona, with Nick Foles having a pretty strong year. Scelfo would also bring some recruiting connections as well.
Current job: Tight ends & assistant head coach, San Diego Chargers
Chud is a long-time Miami Hurricane assistant and ex-player, and served as offensive coordinator for the 2001 and 2002 juggernauts before joining Butch Davis in the NFL. When Davis left the Cleveland Browns, San Diego picked him up, where he played a major role in the development of Antonio Gates before rejoining the Browns on Romeo Crennel's staff - where he led the 2006 offensive explosion that had Derek Anderson, Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow all make the Pro Bowl. Chudzinski has worked extensively with Norv Turner, whose offensive style would fit in well at LSU. There have been some rumblings about him heading back to THA U, or maybe following Ron Rivera to the Panthers.
Current job: Co-offensive coordinator/QB coach, TCU
If there's a young star on the rise that could be under consideration, it's Fuente. He originally joined the Horned Frog staff as a running backs coach, but since taking over their quarterbacks and co-coordinating in 2009, the offense has skyrocketed. TCU went from 33 ppg to 38 and 41 the last two years, with the team passing efficiency improving by 41 points as well. The Horned Frogs run a balanced attack that leans slightly more on the run, but Andy Dalton has put up strong numbers under Fuente, with 50 touchdowns and 14 picks combined the last two years. Striking out on his own might have some appeal for Fuente, who shares coordinating duties with long-time TCU assistant Jarrett Anderson. With the AFCA convention right there in Dallas, there's a good chance Miles would have an opportunity to speak with Fuente if he so chose.
Current job: Wide receivers coach/passing game coordinator, LSU
Most weren't impressed with Gonzales' first year on the field, but his reputation outside of the program is excellent, and everybody who's watched LSU practice since Gonzales came in raves about his attention to detail. Personally, I'm willing to cut him some slack, as the offense's issues went well beyond a receiver coach's ability to fix. The guy is a bright offensive mind that played a role in the evolution of Urban Meyer's offense from its pro-style roots with Scott Linehan, and his fingerprints were seen in several gameplans this year, including the Cotton Bowl. Gonzales will be an offensive coordinator eventually, whether it is at LSU or not, and don't be surprised if he gets the nod this time around. Such a promotion would likely come with the addition of a veteran quarterback coach, possibly one of the other coaches mentioned here.
Finally, on to two more unlikely rumors:
Mike Leach his has gotten a lot of play ever since the famous Belowpar of Tiger Droppings brought it up. As I said before, chances are if Miles and Leach are talking, it's more in a consigliere role. That being said, with his head coaching prospects drying up for another year, the idea of Leach, who I think we can all agree is a different breed of cat who isn't afraid to say and do different things, saying "what the hell" and becoming a coordinator isn't the crazies thing I've ever heard. So maybe the thought of a wild ride with Miles appeals to him. But I wouldn't bet on it.
Rich Rodriguez is another name that get mentions a lot, but the chances of this happening are way beyond even the remoteness of hiring Leach. Rodriguez just got put through the ringer in Ann Arbor, but the guy is a strong coach and a damn good offensive mind. After all the shots his image took in the last few years, expect him to take a year off, maybe do some analyst work, and pop up in the searches for some other ACC or Big East jobs next year. A longer shot than Leach, and that's pretty long.