Auburn, Ala.--Gus Malzahn and Rhett Lashlee have been coaching the offense together since Malzahn’s first head coaching job at Arkansas State in 2012, but that will change in 2017 after Lashlee left the Auburn Tigers to become the offensive coordinator at UConn.
Now Malzahn’s first coordinator hire on the offensive side since bringing Lashlee with him to Auburn from Jonesboro, Ark., will take place and there should be plenty of candidates lined up for what will be a deep and talented offense next season.
Expected to focus on being able to throw the football more with incoming quarterback Jarrett Stidham and returning starter Sean White to build around, along with a big group of receivers, it won’t be a surprise to see Malzahn target guys coaches who have been successful developing quarterbacks.
Here are some names to keep an eye on as the Tigers look to replace Lashlee.
Kendal Briles--Recently hired as Lane Kiffin’s offensive coordinator at Florida Atlantic, the 34-year old Briles is coming off his first season as coordinator at Baylor after serving as the pass game coordinator under his father (Art) the previous four years. During those four seasons the Bears finished in the top five nationally in total offense each year.
This past season Baylor’s offense averaged 34.6 points per game, good enough for 35th nationally, and 522.7 yards of total offense, sixth nationally. Baylor’s quarterbacks completed 56 percent of their passes this year, throwing for 3,652 yards and 33 touchdowns with 15 interceptions.
Prior to working as Baylor’s passing game coordinator from 2012-14, Briles served as the Bear’s inside receivers coach and offensive recruiting coordinator from 2008-2011.
Sonny Cumbie--Just finishing his third season as co-coordinator at TCU and coaching quarterbacks for the Horned Frogs, the former Texas Tech standout has helped develop the position into one of the strongest in the country.
This past season former Texas A&M quarterback Kenny Hill completed 61.1 percent of his passes for 3,208 yards and 17 touchdowns with 13 interceptions while also adding 609 yards rushing and 10 scores.
In 2015 TCU set single-season school records in several major statistical categories. Additionally, the Horned Frogs ranked third nationally in total offense (562.8 yards per game) and seventh in scoring (42.1 points per game).
Cumbie was instrumental in the development of Trevone Boykin into a two-time All-American and two-time finalist for the Davey O’Brien Award. Boykin, who earned 2014 Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year honors, was fourth in Heisman Trophy voting as a junior while tying for ninth as a senior in 2015. In his final season he completed 64.9 percent of his passes for 3,575 yards and 31 touchdowns with 10 interceptions. He also added 612 yards rushing and nine scores on the ground.
Before his time at TCU he coached the wide receivers four seasons at Texas Tech, serving as co-coordinator in 2013. After his playing days with the Red Raiders he played four seasons in the Arena Football league and also was part of the Texas Tech radio broadcasts.
Eli Drinkwitz--A former quality control assistant under Malzahn at Auburn in 2010-11 before coaching running backs with him at Arkansas State in 2012, Drinkwitz stayed in Jonesboro to serve as co-offensive coordinator for the Red Wolves in 2013. Moving to Boise State for the 2014 season to coach tight ends, Drinkwitz was the offensive coordinator for the Broncos in 2015 before moving to North Carolina State in the same role this past season.
Last year the Wolfpack averaged 27 points and 417.6 yards of total offense per game with Boise State transfer Ryan Finley completing 60.4 percent of his passes for 3,059 yards and 18 touchdowns with eight interceptions.
In 2015 Drinkwitz tutored freshman Brett Rypien to a great first year with the Broncos. Named Mountain West Freshman of the Year and to the All-Mountain West First Team, he appeared in 11 games, starting 10, and led Mountain West in passing yards (3,353), total offense (3,276 yards), completions (273) and attempt (429). Rypien was second in the conference in completion percentage (63.6) and touchdown passes (20).
Mark Helfrich--The former head coach at Oregon, Helfrich is known for his ability to work with quarterbacks as part of an up-tempo system. Going 33-8 as Oregon'a head coach before a 4-8 season this year ended his run, Helfrich didn't lose is offensive touch. Prior to this season he helped orchestrate the continuation of the program’s offensive firepower in his brief head coaching tenure as the Ducks led the league in total offense (fifth in the country) for the sixth year in a row in 2015, in scoring offense (fifth in the nation) for the ninth straight season, and in rushing (fifth nationally) for the 10th time in many years.
The previous four seasons Helfrich was the offensive coordinator for the Ducks and Coach Chip Kelly, running the show during the 2010 season when Auburn beat them for the BCS National Championship.
The first native Oregonian to head the university’s football program in 71 years was named the program’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach following three seasons in the same capacity at Colorado (2006-08), five years as quarterbacks coach at Arizona State (2001-05), which included his final three campaigns in Tempe, Ariz., as passing game coordinator, and three seasons as quarterbacks coach at Boise State (1998-2000).
He played a significant role in the development of Darron Thomas, who went on to lead Oregon to the 2011 BCS National Championship Game as a first-year starter, as well as the 2012 Rose Bowl win over Wisconsin. Thomas became the school’s first signal-caller to throw more than 30 touchdowns in a single season on two separate occasions, finishing his collegiate career with a then school-record 66 scoring strikes.
Helfrich then tutored Pac-12 Conference Offensive Freshman of the Year and three-time first-team all-conference choice Marcus Mariota, who not only quarterbacked the Ducks to a 35-17 win over Kansas State in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl but became the program’s first freshman to earn first-team all-league honors since 1989.
However, that was only the beginning as Mariota completed his collegiate career as the Ducks’ third unanimous first-team All-American in school history as well as their first Heisman Trophy winner ever. He proceeded to become the second overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft and the most decorated football player in the program’s annals.
Over the course of his last 16 seasons, Helfrich has played a role with offenses that have ranked among the nation’s top-eight in scoring offense nine times, the top-seven in passing efficiency five times, the top-six in rushing five times and the top-five in total offense seven times.
One year after Mariota set the Pac-12 record for passing efficiency while leading the country in 2014 (181.7), Vernon Adams Jr. became the nation’s pacesetter in that category (179.1) in his only season in Eugene a year ago.
Sterling Gilbert--Coaching at Texas for Charlie Strong the last two seasons and currently the offensive coordinator at USF in Tampa, Gilbert’s offense ranked 83rd and 49th in scoring in the country the last two seasons.
Gilbert’s Texas offense ranked 17th in the nation and second in the Big 12 in rushing, posting 239.3 yards per game on the ground, and was 16th nationally and fifth in the Big 12 averaging 491.3 total yards per game. D’Onta Foreman became just the 28th player in FBS history to rush for more than 2,000 yards in a season. He ran for better than 100 yards in all 11 games he played and ranked first in the nation in rushing yards per game (184.4 ypg), second in total rushing yards (2,028 yards) and third in all-purpose yards (191.18 ypg). Foreman earned first team All-America honors and was named the 2016 Doak Walker Award winner and the 2016 Big 12 Conference Offensive Player of the Year.
Starting a freshman quarterback, Gilbert tutored Shane Buechele to an impressive season with the Longhorns. Playing in 12 games, he completed 60 percent of his passes for 2,958 yards and 21 touchdowns with 11 interceptions.
Known for balanced offenses, he has held positions as co-offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach at Tulsa (2015), Bowling Green (2014) and Eastern Illinois (2012-13) in the last five years. Gilbert’s last four offenses at four different universities have posted a combined average of 505.3 yards and 36.8 points per game, producing 304.3 yards per game through the air and 200.9 yards per game on the ground.
Chip Lindsey--A former high school coach in Alabama and Georgia, serving as a head coach at schools such as Spain Park and Lassiter, Lindsey was an offensive analyst at Auburn in 2013 before being hired as the offensive coordinator at Southern Miss for the 2014 season.
Under Lindsey’s guidance Southern Mississippi ranked among the best in the nation in 2015 in a number of offensive categories, including fifth in total touchdowns, seventh in total points, eighth in total passing yards and completions and 12th in points per game and passing yards per game. The Golden Eagles offense increased its scoring average by more than 21 points per game as it went from 19 points per game in 2014 to 40.6 points per game in 2015, and scored 50 points or more a school-record five times.
The Golden Eagles tallied nearly 6,800 yards of total offense in 2015, including more than 4,200 passing yards and just under 2,500 rushing yards, and USM was the only school in the nation with a 4,000-yard passer, a 1,000-yard receiver and two 1,000-yard rushers.
Hired at Arizona State’s offensive coordinator for the 2016 season, Lindsey’s offense averaged 33.3 points per game and 390.8 yards of total offense in Tempe.
Doug Meacham--Working alongside Cumbie the last three seasons at TCU while coaching wide receivers, Meacham has called the plays for the Horned Frogs as they have put up impressive numbers. This past season TCU averaged 31 points and 463.2 yards of total offense per game with a 1,000-yard rusher and a 3,000-yard passer. On Thursday he accepted a new position as defensive coordinator for the Kansas Jayhawks.
In 2015, for the second straight year, TCU set single-season school records in several major statistical categories. Additionally, the Horned Frogs ranked third nationally in total offense (562.8 yards per game) and seventh in scoring (42.1 points per game).
In his first season at TCU, Meacham helped the Horned Frogs become the nation’s most improved offense in total yards (+188.2 yards per game) and scoring (+21.4 points per). TCU’s 21.4 points per game improvement broke the Big 12 record of 19.1 set by Oklahoma in 1999 (35.8; 16.7, 1998) and was the largest improvement by any team since Northwestern jumped 24.0 points between 1999-00.
The 2014 Horned Frogs ranked second in the nation in scoring (46.5 points per game) and tied for fifth in total offense (533.0 ypg). TCU set 26 school records for offense in winning its first Big 12 championship as well as the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl.
Meacham was a 2014 finalist for the Broyles Award, recognizing the nation’s top assistant coach.
Prior to his time at TCU he served as co-offensive coordinator at Houston in 2013 following eight seasons at Oklahoma State. The Cowboys ranked in the top 10 nationally in offense and averaged at least 40 points in five of Meacham’s last six seasons in Stillwater. Oklahoma State was in the top five in the country in total offense in the 2010-12 campaigns when it scored more than 50 points 15 times, broke the 60-point mark in seven contests, 70 points twice and the 80-point plateau once.
Also with a history of coaching in the state of Alabama, Meacham was at both Samford at Jacksonville State following a four-year stint at Georgia Military College. While at Samford he directed an attack in 2004 that set several school records, including passing yards (2,986), pass completions (256) and completion percentage (59.8). At Jacksonville State in 1997, the Gamecocks went 7-4 and recorded the biggest turnaround in Division I-AA. During his tenure at Jacksonville State, Meacham’s offensive unit broke 21 school passing and receiving records.
Jake Spavital--Coaching with Malzahn and Auburn offensive line coach Herb Hand at Tulsa in 2008 as an offensive quality control assistant, Spavital was the offensive coordinator at Cal last season and is one of the guys who was interviewed to be the head coach of the Bears. After not getting that post he accepted the job as offensive coordinator at West Virginia.
Spavital has coached names such as Johnny Manziel, Case Keenum, Geno Smith and Brandon Weeden in the last decade with Manziel winning the Heisman Trophy at Texas A&M and Keenum becoming the all-time passing leader in college football with 19,217 passing yards and 155 touchdowns.
This past season Spavital coached Texas Tech transfer Davis Webb at Cal for an offense that averaged 37 points per game. Completing 61 percent of his passes, Webb threw for 4,295 yards and 37 touchdowns with 12 interceptions. Prior to that he led some of the most successful offenses in the country at Texas A&M, finishing seventh in passing TD's with 39 and 12th in passing offense at 305 yards per game in 2015. In 2013 he was co-coordinator for an offense that set SEC records with 4,593 passing yards and 6,999 yards of total offense.
Spavital was the quarterbacks coach for two seasons at West Virginia for Smith, who finished his collegiate career in 2012 with 11,662 passing yards and 98 touchdowns while completing 988-of-1,465 passes (67.4 percent). The Mountaineers ranked in the top 10 nationally in 2012 in passing efficiency (161.97, No. 9), scoring offense (39.5 points per game, No. 9), passing offense (330.2 yards per game, No. 10) and total offense (502.0 yards per game, No. 10). Smith was fifth nationally in passing yards (4,205) and passing yards per game (323.5 ypg) as well as sixth in passing efficiency (163.86).
In his first season at West Virginia in 2011, Spavital helped lead the Mountaineers to a 10-3 record and a win over Clemson in the 2012 Orange Bowl. West Virginia ranked sixth nationally in passing offense (346.9 yards per game) in his first season with the Mountaineers and was also in the top 20 in scoring offense (37.6 points per game, No. 13), total offense (469.5 yards per game, No. 15) and passing efficiency (151.14, No. 19). Smith earned Orange Bowl MVP honors after accounting for seven touchdowns in a 70-33 victory. He led the Big East in nearly every passing category including passing yards (4,385), passing yards per game (337.3 yards per game) and touchdown passes (31).