Matthew Kenerly - Barkboard Contributor:
Essentially it boils down to some combination of four things: Quarterback development, affordability, youth, and coordinator experience.
In my opinion, the last few years have made clear that offensive prowess is paramount in the Group of 5, so while my list of candidates isn’t entirely bereft of defensive-minded coaches, it’s difficult to imagine them doubling down on that side of the ball after the diminishing returns of the last few years. Most of the talent is on offense, anyway: Chason Virgil has three years ahead of him, and he’ll grow with Jamire Jordan and Keesean Johnson and Bryson Oglesby and the Rice brothers and… you get my point. All of those skill position players have at least two years of eligibility left.
It also seems clear that energy and youth matter, if recent hiring trends are any indication: The average age of the sixteen Group of 5 coaches hired in the 2015 carousel is just over 40 years old. The most successful of that group, at least in Year One of their tenure, have a background in offense, as well: Mike Norvell, Jason Candle and, to lesser extents, Nick Rolovich and Scott Frost.
And because the Bulldogs are likely to be hamstrung financially by the Tim DeRuyter extension, I’m limiting the number of “wishful thinking” coaches by limiting most of my selections to those I think would accept the job for about $1 million or less. Fresno State isn’t in a position to throw cash at candidates like many school in the AAC, so I’m dispensing with that illusion.
Finally, I’m attempting to limit the similarity to lists you’ll see elsewhere, but it couldn’t be avoided entirely because, let’s face it, some of the names being bandied about are pretty interesting. But without further ado, here’s what I think:
Lonnie Galloway, Louisville offensive coordinator
The chances are Galloway becomes a hot commodity for Power 5 jobs in the very near future, but he’s the kind of candidate that no one is talking about. He’s making just over $600,000 in his first year with the Cardinals, and beyond turning Lamar Jackson into a sentient touchdown-scoring machine, his offenses at West Virginia improved each year from 2013-15 (by yards per play) and he has a stellar track record with developing wide receivers at every stop. Yes, even Wake Forest, where he coached Chris Givens and Michael Campanero.
Noel Mazzone, Texas A&M offensive coordinator
This one might be pushing the limits of possibility, as he earned nearly a million bucks in 2016 between base salary and signing bonus. The Aggies have rebounded in a big way under his tutelage, averaging nearly 6.5 yards per play, which ranks just outside the top 20 nationally. The added degree of difficulty of accomplishing that with a graduate transfer at quarterback, Trevor Knight, caught my eye, as well. Even at UCLA and Arizona, his offenses consistently ranked in the 30s nationally in yards per play, shepherding Brock Osweiler, Brett Hundley and Josh Rosen toward stardom.
Jeff Jagodzinski, Georgia State associate head coach
Best known for his work with Matt Ryan at Boston College (yes, BC won an ACC title back in 2007, it was a strange year), Jagodzinski has spent the last four years with the Panthers quietly building a quality passing attack. This culminated in the nascent program’s first bowl berth in 2015, and while the team has struggled in reloading this year, Jagodzinski made just $156,000 as the offensive coordinator that year.
Doug Nussmeier, Florida offensive coordinator
Make jokes about the Gators’ offense all you want, but Nussmeier might actually represent what people are striving to see in Jeff Tedford. He made just $500,000 as Florida’s OC in 2015, he has Fresno State ties, and his offense has improved from 2015 to 2016 with steady, if not explosive, play: They’re the only team in the SEC, at the moment, converting more than 50% of third-down opportunities, despite ranking next-to-last in plays of more than ten yards.
Jim Leavitt, Colorado defensive coordinator
Leavitt gets points for his early success at South Florida, though the conduct which eventually got him fired might raise a few eyebrows across the fanbase. His most recent turnaround, however, has propelled the Buffaloes to a possible berth in the Pac-12 title game: They’re allowing more than a full yard less per play from 2015 to 2016, the unit is among the conference leaders in sacks, and they lead in opponents’ third-down conversion rate.
Brady Hoke, Oregon defensive coordinator
This one might seem strange given Oregon’s on-going defensive meltdown, but he does have four underclassmen in his starting eleven and, more importantly, has engineered turnarounds in the Group of 5 before. He got San Diego State to nine wins in two years, and led Ball State to the MAC title game in 2008. If the Ducks decide to clean house, he’s at least worth talking to.
Andy Ludwig, Vanderbilt offensive coordinator
If fans are fixated on regarded remnants of the past, why not consider a guy who was integral to those storied David Carr years? His 2002-04 Oregon offenses were also fairly consistent and, more recently, he directed a dynamic running attack in Wisconsin and has slowly rebuilt the Commodores offense, as tall a task as you’ll find in the Power 5. The progress in Nashville has been incremental, but they also lead the SEC in turning red zone opportunities to points after finishing dead last in 2015.
Luke Fickell, Ohio State defensive coordinator
There’s a strong possibility that Fickell is a Buckeye lifer, but his resume would make any Group of 5 program salivate: Ohio State has never allowed more than 22.8 points per game in any season since 2011, when he stepped in as interim head coach, has never had worse than a top-40 defense by yards per play, and has developed more NFL-caliber talent than just about any coordinator in the nation. On the slim-to-none chance the Bulldogs are inclined to throw Tom Herman money at anyone, Fickell would be my choice.
Blake Anderson, Arkansas State head coach
Anderson bucked the trend when he chose to stay in Jonesboro in 2015, but he rewarded the Red Wolves by bringing home another Sun Belt title. Arkansas State has struggled to score in 2016, but his team led the Sun Belt in points per game in his first two seasons, and his offenses at North Carolina averaged 40 and 23.7 per game in 2012 and 2013, respectively. The quarterbacks he mentored aren’t exactly household names – Austin Davis, Bryn Renner, Fredi Knighten – but another strong finish this year may mean he has nothing left to prove there.
Morgan Scalley, Utah defensive coordinator
This one is probably most off the beaten path, but if reinforcing recruitment is a critical component for Fresno’s future success, then it’s worth noting that Scalley coordinated the Utes’ efforts from 2009 to 2015. And while those efforts have lagged relative to Pac-12 peers, the Utes have nonetheless unearthed stars on a consistent basis: Devontae Booker (a NorCal product), Kaelin Clay and Dominque Hatfield (SoCal), J.J. Dielman (Phoenix), Jeremiah Poutasi (Las Vegas), and others. His first year as DC has gone pretty well, too: tied for second in the Pac-12 in tackle for loss, tied for first nationally in interceptions, and first overall in total takeaways.
J.D. Williams, UNLV cornerbacks coach
An even deeper cut than Scalley, Williams is another candidate with previous Fresno State ties who’s paid dividends for the Rebels as a position coach and a recruiter. He’s primarily responsible for nabbing at least four three-star, Fresno-area recruits, and his pass defenses have been quietly stout: sixth in the Mountain West by QB rating in 2015, third in 2016, right around the national average or better in both years.
Trent Dilfer, professional talking head
Just kidding. This one makes zero sense in any universe.
Five more longshot candidates of note: Beau Baldwin, Eastern Washington head coach; Rhett Lashlee, Auburn offensive coordinator; Mario Cristobal, Alabama offensive line coach; Kennedy Polamalu, UCLA offensive coordinator; Lincoln Riley, Oklahoma offensive coordinator