Less than a week removed from the departure of his offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey to Auburn, Arizona State head coach Todd Graham has considered several diverging approaches in his search for a replacement.
Two of the most serious candidates are already on his staff, according to multiple sources.
Earlier this month, Lindsey played a critical role in the selection of former Kansas offensive coordinator Rob Likens as the Sun Devils' wide receivers' coach and former Missouri offensive coordinator Josh Henson as the Sun Devils' offensive line coach and assistant head coach.
Now, following Lindsey's departure to become the offensive coordinator at Auburn, Graham is strongly considering promoting Likens and Henson to become co-offensive coordinators. It remains unclear who would have primary play-calling duties in such a scenario.
With less than a week remaining until National Signing Day, Graham has also given serious consideration to other candidates, including former Cal head coach Sonny Dykes per a source close to the deliberations. Dykes reportedly accepted an undefined position at TCU two weeks ago after being fired at Cal following the 2016 season.
According to someone familiar with his thinking, Graham has pondered about several different paths he could take with ASU's offense moving forward. He could hire a coordinator such as Dykes, who has a proven track record but prefers using an Air Raid scheme that is moderately different than which ASU ran under Lindsey in 2016. Alternatively, he could elevate Henson and/or Likens from within his existing staff, or hire someone outside of his staff who would be amenable to less schematic overhaul.
Among Graham's considerations: how quickly a new offense could be learned and assimilated given his desire to have a big turnaround in 2017 following two consecutive losing seasons, and whether the Sun Devils have the personnel to handle such a shift. Philosophically, Graham has repeatedly stated a desired preference of being a run-first program, and using a strong ground game to open play-action opportunities. That is not the approach of Dykes, who has often led one of the more pass-heavy offenses in the country, both at Cal and earlier stops in his career.
Promoting Likens and Henson into co-offensive coordinator roles would likely still require some offensive changes, though perhaps not as much, and Graham would have less concern about an ideological struggle over the direction of the offense. It would also mean Graham would have to hire a quarterbacks coach. Dykes would be able to serve that role along with a graduate assistant, if he were brought in.
Long term stability is also a factor, though not necessarily the most important immediate consideration, per a source. For the second straight offseason, ASU has experienced significant coaching turnover as four different offensive assistants, Lindsey, wide receivers coach Jay Norvell, offensive line coach Chris Thomsen and tight ends coach Del Alexander have all departed the program.
When ASU hired Lindsey to replace former offensive coordinator Mike Norvell last offseason, Jay Norvell was the other finalist for the position, and Graham and Lindsey were able to convince Norvell to join the ASU staff as wide receivers coach. Having Norvell on staff essentially gave ASU an insurance policy against Lindsey leaving to accept a head coaching job or another offensive coordinator role, because the Sun Devils could promote Norvell. However, when Norvell left to become the Nevada head coach this offseason, the insurance policy was wiped away.
Lindsey helped Graham target Likens as Norvell's replacement, and Likens left his position as an offensive coordinator at Kansas to work at ASU. During his tenure with the Jayhawks, Likens had his play-calling duties stripped by head coach David Beaty, a former Graham assistant.
In January, Alexander left ASU to become the wide receivers coach at Notre Dame under offensive coordinator and former ASU assistant Chip Long. ASU has not filled the vacancy left by Alexander yet, but a source close to the development indicated that the Sun Devils are considering moving Devil backers coach and special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum to the offensive side of the ball to coach tight ends.
Following Alexander's departure, Thomsen became the next assistant coach to leave the program, as he accepted a position on Gary Patterson's Texas Christian staff at his alma mater. With Thomsen out, Graham and Lindsey worked quickly to secure the hire of Henson, who served as an offensive analyst at Oklahoma State last season after a three-year run as Missouri's offensive coordinator.
Because Lindsey's departure came with just over a week left before National Signing Day, the Sun Devils have a limited window of opportunity if they hope to secure the hire of a new offensive coordinator or the promotion of existing staff members prior to the end of the recruiting cycle.
Prior to Henson's promotion to his offensive coordinator position at Missouri, he was an assistant with the program for four seasons. When Henson became the play-caller in 2013, the Tigers finished 14th nationally in scoring offense, averaging 35.0 points per game, and 15th nationally in total offense, averaging 490.7 yards per game. However, Henson's offense regressed during his tenure, and in 2015, the Tigers ranked 127th in scoring offense, scoring just 13.6 points per game, and ranking 125th in total offense with an average of 280.9 yards per game.
Henson played four seasons of college football at Oklahoma State and returned to the program as a coach, serving as the recruiting coordinator for the Cowboys between 2001-2004. Henson departed Oklahoma State to follow head coach Les Miles to LSU, where he coached tight ends and continued in his role as a recruiting coordinator from 2005-2008.
Likens boasts 25 years of coaching experience and worked closely under the direction of Dykes at Louisiana Tech and Cal before moving onto Kansas where he gained his first experience as an FBS play-caller Likens was the Jayhawks' play-caller in 2015 when Kansas finished 123rd nationally in scoring offense, averaging 15.3 points per game and 115th in total offense, averaging 331.5 yards per game.