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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

Coaching Moves

Looking in House, Not Outside the Program

In the wide number of cases, new coordinators are hired as part of a brand-new staff: see Calvin Magee at Arizona, for example, or Ohio State’s Tom Herman, or Mike Breske at Washington State. If an offensive or defensive coordinator is hired from elsewhere to join an incumbent coaching staff, however, it’s for one of two simple reasons: attrition or incompetence. Likewise for assistant coaches promoted up the ladder from within a staff, as occurred in 10 different instances during the latest coaching cycle. This includes Houston, which replaced Kevin Sumlin with Tony Levine, who in turn replaced former defensive coordinator Brian Stewart with Jamie Bryant.

Each of the 10 hires, counting Houston, can be placed into one of those two categories. These teams were forced into a change at coordinator: the former assistant was hired elsewhere. Or a team chose to make a change: the assistant simply wasn’t carrying his weight.

As we’ll see, most in-house promotions come as a result of the former category, not the latter. Why would a head coach promote from within if a scheme wasn’t working? You can see why he’d want to keep things rolling if the ship wasn’t sinking: in this case, continuity would be very high on a head coach’s wish list.

Let’s take these 10 in-house promotions are break them into the two categories. Six of the 10 came about because the former coordinator took a job elsewhere; four on-staff promotions were made after the incumbent either resigned, retired or was fired, though in two cases, there’s really no difference between those three labels. First, the hires made as a result of attrition:

DC Tom Hayes, Kansas State He replaced Chris Cosh, who took the same position under Skip Holtz at South Florida. Hayes, a 30-year coaching veteran, was previously Bill Snyder’s defensive backs coach. Hayes has been an F.B.S. coordinator at U.C.L.A., Oklahoma, Stanford and Kansas.

DC John Papuchis, Nebraska Formerly Nebraska’s defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator, Papuchis steps in for Carl Pelini, Howard Schnellenberger’s replacement at Florida Atlantic. Papuchis is a up-and-coming assistant, but look for Bo Pelini to remain very hands-on with Nebraska’s defense.

DC John Jancek, Cincinnati One of two no-brainer hires. Jancek was Cincinnati’s co-defensive coordinator in 2011, sharing that job with Tim Banks; once Banks joined Tim Beckman as Illinois’ coordinator, Butch Jones gave Jancek full control of the defense.

DC Derek Mason, Stanford Like Jancek, Mason was the Cardinal’s co-coordinator in 2011. Once Jason Tarver was hired to be the Oakland Raiders’ defensive coordinator, David Shaw wisely handed the defense over to Mason alone. New inside linebackers coach Dave Kotulski was Utah State’s coordinator from 2003-4; that stint is sandwiched around a generation as a coordinator in the Patriot League.

DC Charlton Warren, Air Force Giving multiple assistants multiple titles is nothing new for Troy Calhoun and the Falcons, as noted a few months ago. Warren has held the title of co-coordinator since 2008, but Matt Wallerstedt, who left Air Force to be Sumlin’s linebackers coach at Texas A&M, was in charge of calling plays. So Warren carries the same title, but with added duties.

DC Lorenzo Ward, South Carolina That Ward was eventually named as Ellis Johnson’s permanent successor isn’t surprising: Ward coached Carolina’s defense during the Gamecocks’ bowl win over Nebraska, after Ellis Johnson left to take Larry Fedora’s spot at Southern Mississippi.

Consider the circumstances behind each hire. Snyder’s not one to rock the boat, especially with his Wildcats fresh off a Cotton Bowl berth. Papuchis is familiar with Nebraska’s defense and Bo Pelini, with the latter nearly as important as Papuchis’ nuts-and-bolts knowledge of the Cornhuskers’ defense.

Jancek, Mason and Warren have the same jobs as before, just without the same co-coordinator. And Ward proved himself — in a small sample size — during bowl preparation against Nebraska. That his defense shut down the Cornhuskers only furthered his candidacy in Steve Spurrier’s eyes, I’d imagine.

Four new F.B.S. coordinators were promoted under slightly different circumstances. For two of the four, a promotion came about despite the fact that last season’s struggles might have warranted a full-scale coaching overhaul. Why would David Bailiff promote a new coordinator from within his staff when last year’s defense — with this assistant in tow — allowed 400 points?

DC Chris Thurmond, Rice Thurmond replaced Chuck Driesbach, who was fired after the Owls gave up at least 400 points for the seventh straight season. Last year, Thurmond was in charge of a Rice secondary that famously — or infamously — allowed Case Keenum to throw for nine touchdowns in a 73-34 win.

OC Jason Gesser, Idaho He’ll step in for former coordinator Steve Axman, who retired — or was fired, depending on where you stand — over the winter. Gesser, the former Washington State quarterback who coached the Vandals’ running backs last year, will get some help from new wide receivers coach Mike Levenseller. Gesser has moved fast: this time two years ago, he was the head coach and athletic director at Eastside Catholic High School in Sammamish, Wa.

DC Jamie Bryant, Houston As noted above, Bryant replaces Maryland-bound Brian Stewart, who resigned in order to pursue other opportunities two weeks after Levine was named as Sumlin’s successor. Levine may have overhauled his staff of offensive assistants, but he retained most of his defensive staff, beginning with Bryant.

DC Phil Parker, Iowa The Hawkeyes do a wonderful job maintaining coaching continuity; Phil Parker, who steps in for the retired Norm Parker, is just the latest example. Phil Parker, like his predecessor, has been at Iowa since Kirk Ferentz was first hired 13 years ago. Having spent the last decade-plus under Norm Parker should make this a seamless transition.

One thing you can see on this list is the lack of in-house promotions at offensive coordinator. Why is that? One reason may be the idea that a defense may simply need a new voice — that may be Rice’s thinking, for example. And when head coaches do change coordinators, it’s very often in a completely different direction: from pro-style to spread, for example, or vice versa. Is Gesser at the point in his career where he’s ready to rebuild Idaho’s paltry offense? The Vandals might have been better served going with experience over promise.

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  1. @DaveSmith_1 says:

    You missed Robert Prince, the new OC at Boise State, who, interestingly enough, was the presumptive OC-in-waiting when Petersen was the OC. He left for several years then returned as receivers coach last year. He was promoted to OC when Pease was hired by Florida.

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