Phil Longo/File Photo

New candidates emerge in the Rebels' search for a new offensive coordinator

Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze made another change to his coaching staff Thursday, as it was announced co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Dan Werner won’t be returning. Who are the candidates to replace him? The Spirit takes a look.

Dec. 9 Update

Phil Longo

Longo is the current offensive coordinator at Sam Houston State. He has fashioned an up-tempo offense for the Bearkats that is smashing records. The past two seasons they’ve produced 15,128 yards of total offense. That figure translates into eight and two-third miles of yards gained. In 31 games in 2014 and 2015, Sam Houston has averaged 488 yards and 37.8 points per contest.

 The Bearkats’ 7,975 yards was a Southland Conference season record and ranked third all-time in NCAA Division I FCS history. Sam Houston led the nation in total offense and first downs per game. Other FCS stat rankings included No. 5 in scoring, No. 9 in rushing offense, No. 14 in third down conversions, No. 16 in passing offense and No. 18 in yards per completion.

The 1,275 plays run by Longo’s offense in 2016 also is a league record. Three times in the past two seasons, Sam Houston has run more than 100 plays in a game including a school record 118 plays in last year’s NCAA opening round victory over Southern Utah.

Billy Napier

Napier is in his fourth season on the Alabama coaching staff as wide receivers coach. Napier joined the Crimson Tide staff after serving as the assistant head coach and quarterbacks coach at Colorado State in 2012 for former Tide offensive coordinator Jim McElwain. Napier was an offensive analyst for the Crimson Tide in 2011.

Napier had to replace Amari Cooper in 2015 after the Tide's career receptions leader was taken No. 4 overall in the NFL Draft by the Oakland Raiders. Sophomore ArDarius Stewart, senior transfer Richard Mullaney and freshman Calvin Ridley emerged as the Tide's go-to receivers after Robert Foster was lost in the third game to injury. Ridley led the team with a freshman-record 89 catches for 1,045 yards and seven touchdowns. Stewart added 63 grabs for 700 yards and four touchdowns while Mullaney had 38 catches for 390 yards and five scores.

His 2014 unit was led by Alabama's first Biletnikoff Award winner Cooper, a Heisman Trophy finalist and unanimous first team All-American, who caught a school- and SEC-record 124 passes for a UA-record 1,727 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns. He led the country in receptions (124), was second nationally in receiving yards (1,727), receiving touchdowns (16) and catches per game (8.9) while ranking third in yards per game (123.4).

Dec. 8 Update

Werner served as co-offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach in each of Freeze’s five seasons as head coach. It marked his second stint at Ole Miss, having also been OC in 2006 and 2007.

“I am grateful to Dan for his contributions to our program,” Freeze said in an official release sent out by the school. “His leadership and experience were invaluable in the development of our quarterbacks. These are always very difficult decisions, but at this time, I believe it is best for our program to have a fresh approach. We wish Dan and his family the very best.”

The departure of Werner follows defensive coordinator Dave Wommack, who retired following the Rebels’ loss to in-state rival Mississippi State to close out a 5-7 season for the Rebels. Werner helped lead an Ole Miss offense that was first in the SEC and Top 10 nationally in scoring (40.8), total offense (517.8 yards per game) and passing offense (334.7 ypg) in 2015, a year in which the Rebels set multiple program records, including scoring (531), touchdowns (68), total offense (6,731), passing yards (4,351) and passing touchdowns (35).

Four names to watch are former Oregon offensive coordinator Matt Lubick, former Texas offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Sterlin Gilbert, former Baylor offensive coordinator Kendal Briles and Memphis offensive coordinator/tight ends coach Chip Long. A number of additional candidates are also in play.

Matt Lubick

After spending his first three seasons as Oregon’s wide receivers coach and passing game coordinator, Lubick was elevated to the position of offensive coordinator prior to the Ducks’ Jan. 2 Valero Alamo Bowl appearance.  He continued to tutor the Oregon wide receivers. His previous stops include Duke, where Lubick earned national position coach accolades after guiding All-Atlantic Coast Conference wideouts Jamison Crowder and Conner Vernon to record-setting seasons. Lubick spent three seasons (2007-09) on the staff at Arizona State. With the Sun Devils, Lubick served as assistant head coach and recruiting coordinator while coaching the safeties. Lubick is credited with signing former Ole Miss standout and six-year NFL veteran Dexter McCluster while on staff in Oxford. McCluster was an all-SEC pick in 2009 after becoming the first player in league history to amass over 1,000 rushing yards and over 500 receiving yards in the same season.

Sterlin Gilbert

Gilbert was previously the offensive coordinator at Tulsa before now-departed Texas head coach Charlie Strong hired him away. Prior to his appointment at Tulsa, Gilbert was the co-offensive coordinator and quarterback coach for one season at Bowling Green State University. He’s also served as the offensive coordinator at Eastern Illinois for two seasons. Gilbert is considered a strong recruiter. At Tulsa, he helped the Golden Hurricane rank among the nation’s leaders the entire season for passing, scoring and total offense. Tulsa completed the 2015 campaign ranked 11th nationally in passing, 13th in total offense and 21st in scoring. Tulsa scored over 37 points per game.

Kendal Briles

Briles coached nine seasons at Baylor, including two seasons as offensive coordinator. He was previously the Bears’ passing game coordinator and wide receivers coach. A talented recruiter, Briles was named the Big 12 Recruiter of the Year in both 2013 and 2014. Briles mentored four All-Americans and five total NFL prospects during seven seasons as wide receivers coach. He coached two of the most prolific receivers in school history, All-Americans Kendall Wright (Tennessee Titans) and Terrance Williams (Dallas Cowboys), as well as 2013 All-American Antwan Goodley and 2014 All-American Corey Coleman. After his first season as offensive coordinator, Briles was named a 2015 Broyles Award finalist (by the Rotary Club of Little Rock) and National Quarterbacks Coach of the Year finalist (by FootballScoop). The Bears persevered through an injury-plagued season to finish 13th nationally and play in a school-record sixth-straight bowl game. The Baylor powerhouse offense again led the nation in both scoring (48.1 points/game) and total offense (616.2 yards/game) for the third consecutive season, and its rushing offense finished second nationally (326.7 yards/game).

Chip Long

Long just wrapped his first season as Memphis offensive coordinator and tight ends coach. Long, widely considered one of the nation’s top recruiters, worked closely with Mike Norvell at Arizona State from 2012-15. During that time, the Sun Devils averaged 37 points a game, finished with consecutive 10-win seasons (2013, 2014) and won the 2013 Pac-12 South crown. During his career, Long has coached at Arizona State, Illinois, Arkansas and Louisville. Three times in his career, he’s played an integral role in developing an offense that finished among the nation’s Top 10 in scoring offense. A Long-associated offense was ranked among the nation’s top-20 in scoring offense in six of his 10 seasons as a collegiate coach. In four seasons at Arizona State, the Sun Devils scored 50 or more points in 14 games. Long was recognized as one of the country’s Top 25 recruiters by two competing recruiting services.

OM Spirit Top Stories