UCLA Offensive Coordinator Hot Board -- Updated 12/30

We've updated the Offensive Coordinator Hot Board, with some new names being added and tidbits of information that we've learned recently about the process...

UCLA OC Hot Board

12/30 -- UCLA is in its fifth week of its offensive coordinator search. We heard this week that UCLA head coach Jim Mora had talked in person with 5-6 candidates last week, and that at least four of them, at the time, we're still involved in their seasons.  He had also spoken with some on the phone. We heard recently that the frontrunner (referred to below as "Unnamed Candidate") was no longer the frontrunner but that someone else had become the leading candidate. We're still expecting the new OC to be in place by next week, and ready to go in time for when the recruiting Dead Period ends Jan. 12th. 

There aren't many leaks coming out from the UCLA football program about the search. We have heard some names recently that are being tied to the position, and we've added them below. This by no means is an indication that the new frontrunner we referred to above is among the newly added candidates.   

12/23 -- We've heard that Jim Mora has, so far this week, met with five candidates for the offensive coordinator position.  A number of them are currently coaching teams that are still alive in their seasons.

Mora talked with what we had said was the frontrunner for the position by phone this week. 

So, the process is absolutely moving forward.  

Update 12/19 -- First, it needs to be said, that UCLA is on lockdown over information about the OC search. If you might have noticed, no other media sources have even a sliver of information.  

What I've learned in the last 24 hours or so:

-- Like I said yesterday, I've heard there is a leader in the clubhouse, and everything I heard yesterday makes me believe that this one candidate is the top target at this time.  I can't reveal the candidate's name, for various reasons, and I apologize for being so cryptic.

-- The deadline UCLA has imposed on itself for finding a new offensive coordinator is Jan. 1st.  

-- Jim Mora has already spoken with 6-7 candidates, including some of the names that on this board.  He did that in the last week, and previously before the Dead Period started Dec. 12th.

-- A large number of candidates have gone through, or are going through, a vetting process at UCLA, probably upward of 10 candidates.

-- Mora initially tried to get Steve Sarkisian through the UCLA vetting process but it didn't go far and was rejected early. 

-- Mora is talking, and will meet, with exclusively college offensive coordinators at this time. Greg Knapp, according to sources, is a very unlikely candidate. One thing to consider: Knapp is just a few years away from qualifying for a sizable NFL pension and would essentially be throwing that away if he coached in college. Now, this is not to say that Mora couldn't end up seriously considering an NFL coach as the new OC, but at this time I've heard it's not a consideration.  

-- Mora has a private plane at his disposal this week, with travel plans to go all over the country to meet with candidates. The ones he's traveling to meet are mostly still involved in their seasons, and using the private plane makes it easier for Mora to meet with them.  While Mora's travel plans will take him all over the country, I know he'll be in the East and the South at one point this week. That doesn't mean he's only going to those areas of the country, but will definitely go to those regions.  Sorry, I know that's vague but that is literally what I heard. 

-- Mora has a plan to meet in person with the apparent frontrunner later this week. 

-- I think we'll know quite a bit more by the end of this week, about the candidates Mora met with and the potential frontrunner -- or frontrunners, if there becomes more than one.  I think, while UCLA has its deadline as Jan. 1st and any formal announcement of a hire might be next week or anytime up to the beginning of January, the goal is to get most of the heavy lifting on this, i.e. interviews and vetting, done by this weekend. 

Update 12/16 -- We're hearing that Mora is zeroing in on one particular candidate but information about who that is has been sewn up pretty tightly.  One source said he believed it was a college coach completely off the radar of the names we have listed here.  

Brad Cornelsen / 38 / Virginia Tech OC & QB Coach

Cornelsen has been side by side with Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente for the last four years, being his quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator at Memphis before moving with him to Virginia Tech this last season.  Cornelsen and Fuente are known for their up-tempo spread-to-run scheme, which uses a variety of looks. The Virginia Tech offense put up decent numbers this year, being a bit inconsistent in its first year in Cornelsen’s system, but the Hokies capped off a very successful season in the first year of Fuente/Cornensen in Blacksburg, going 10-4 and winning the Belk Bowl Dec. 29th.  The Hokies played #3-ranked Clemson tough in the ACC Conference game, putting up 35 points against the Tigers. Cornelsen started play-calling duties in 2015 at Memphis, taking over from Fuente, and Memphis’ offense ranked in the top 20 in most categories. Cornelsen might be best known as the mentor of Paxton Lynch, a lightly recruited quarterback who went on to have a great career at Memphis and was a first-round pick of the Denver Broncos last spring.   Cornelsen makes about $450,000 a year, so he’s affordable for UCLA, but he’s been tied to the hip of Fuente, literally the two having known each other since they were rival quarterbacks in high school in Oklahoma, and he has no west coast ties. 

Darrin Chiaverini / 39 / Colorado CO-OC, WR Coach, Recruiting Coordinator

Chiaverini returned to his alma mater when he became the co-offensive coordinator at Colorado this season, coming over from Texas Tech where he served as wide receivers and special teams coach.  Colorado had a good, balanced, but not fantastic offense this season, in fact, it produced the most yards in Colorado history. It probably benefited from its scheme and playcalling more than its level of talent. It’s a base spread that uses multiple looks and really did well to exploit the players on its roster.  Chiaverini is responsible for bringing in some offensive concepts from Texas Tech, speeding up the tempo and streamlining the elements of the Colorado offense. He, though, as co-coordinator is not the playcaller of the offense.  He's the recruiting coordinator and has a rep as being a very dynamic and personable recruiter. Chiaverini got noticed when he turned around the Riverside City College program, and that got him the job at Texas Tech. Before that, Chiaverini was an assistant special teams coach for UCLA in 2009 under Rick Neuheisel. After playing wide receiver at Colorado, he played four seasons in the NFL. He’s UCLA-affordable, making about $300,000 this last season, even though the word is that he’s ticketed with getting a sizable raise at Colorado.  We’ve also heard he’s really happy in Boulder, and settled with kids in local schools.  

Mike DeBord / 60 / Tennessee Offensive Coordinator

Photo by Danny Parker

DeBord is a long-time college and NFL coach who has been the offensive coordinator for Tennessee the last two seasons. The Volunteers have been respectable offensively under DeBord, being top 40 for yards per play and top 30 in scoring this season, and improving both seasons under his control. He runs a versatile spread offense that utilizes multiple looks and a strong running game. Vol nation, though, has been critical of DeBorg, claiming he's conservative, but he's also received praise for some playcalling that has been described as inspired at critical times. DeBord was out of coaching before this last two-year stint at Tennessee, working as a sports administrator at Michigan before that. He spent time in the NFL as a position coach, but before that earned most of his reputation as an offensive line coach at Michigan under Lloyd Carr, and a head coach at Central Michigan.  Vols head coach Butch Jones worked for DeBord at Central Michigan, and it was considered a controversial move when he brought him in as his OC at Tennessee, since DeBord hadn't been a college coordinator since 2007. 

Unnamed Candidate

Update 12/18: The candidate we referred to above that Mora is zeroing in on is not on this OC Board. We have to keep him unnamed at this point, to protect sources. We need to do more checking into it, but from what we've heard, this candidate sounds like the leader for the job at this time. 

We apologize for the vagueness, but we're trying to provide as much information for you when we can, and this is the most we can provide at this moment on this new candidate. 

Sonny Cumbie I 35 I Co-Offensive Coordnator & QB Coach, TCU

Considered one of the best young offensive minds in the college game, Cumbie is the architect of TCU's highly successful offensive scheme that has really catapulted the Horned Frogs to national prominence in the last several years. He played for Mike Leach at Texas Tech, and is a clear Air Raid disciple, but has instituted some strong running concepts into it. He's considered a good developer as a coach, and makes players better than they are.  He's not cheap, currently making $1.4 million at TCU, and he turned down $1.5 million from Texas because of meddling by the Texas administration into the football program.  He's a Texas guy through and through, and is thought to be a candidate for the Texas OC job, and his name is mentioned sometimes for head coaching openings.  

Update 12/16 -- We haven't heard Cumbie's name mentioned much lately, and many close to search think his price tag might be the snag.  

Greg Knapp I 53 I Denver Broncos QB Coach

Knapp and Mora

Knapp is a longtime NFL coach with a great deal of respect in NFL circles. He's been an offensive coordinator at various stops around the NFL, including with the Oakland Raiders and Seattle Seahawks, and at the Atlanta Falcons when Jim Mora was head coach.  He and Mora are close, and Knapp was actually Mora's first choice for offensive coordinator when Mora got the UCLA job, but he was unavailable.  He has a reputation of being a master of just about any kind of offensive scheme, and is known as an offensive line blocking scheme guru.  The word is that Mora has been in contact with Knapp recently. 

Sterlin Gilbert I 38 I Texas Offensive Coordinator

Sterlin Gilbert (Taylor Estes - HornsDigest.com)

With Tom Herman taking over the Texas head coaching job as of Nov. 26th, Gilbert is looking for a job. Gilbert is considered one of the best young offensive coordinators in college football and, despite Texas's poor season that got Charlie Strong fired, Gilbert's offense was prolific, gaining over 500 yards per game, ranked in the top 20 nationally, and doing it all with a true freshman quarterback. An Art Briles disciple, Gilbert runs a different offensive system than Herman, so that could mean Gilbert could be out of work soon in Austin. 

Update 12/16 -- The news is that Herman will hire Rutgers' Drew Mehringer as the Longhorns' offensive coordinator (which is an interesting hire, since Rutgers had one of the worst offenses in college football).  That means Gilbert is without a job. Gilbert was making about $900,000 a year at Texas, but it's unlikely he finds as lucrative a gig somewhere else at this point, so he's within the range of affordability for UCLA. We have to admit, however, we haven't heard Gilbert's name mentioned much as of late.  

Dave Christensen / 55 / Former OC at various programs, most recently OL coach at Texas A&M

Dave Christensen (USA Today)

Christensen was mostly known as the architect of the highly productive offenses at Missouri under Gary Pinkel.  He's been an offensive line coach at various spots, and the offensive coordinator at Toledo, Missouri and Utah, and the head coach at Wyoming. Most recently he was the offensive line coach and run game coordinator at Texas A&M, but when the Aggies hired ex-UCLA OC Noel Mazzone, Christensen was shown the door.  Most insiders say that the year he was in College Station, Texas A&M's offense was out-of-sync, and some blame was placed on Christensen.  He also has a rep for being pretty abrasive. He did, though, have a rep as a good coordinator at Utah and Missouri before taking the head coaching job at Wyoming.  He has a rep as being an advocate of a strong running game, but he has operated a spread, the kind that was so successful at Missouri. The connection to Mora is the University of Washingon, where they both played together during the early 1980s.  

Candidates Taken Off List

Matt Lubick / 44 / Former Oregon Offensive Coordinator

Matt Lubick (USA Today)

Lubick was the offensive coordinator for Oregon this last season, his first as an OC.  He's mostly known as a wide receivers coach -- at Oregon, and various other places. While Oregon had a pretty bad season, the offense was still pretty good, being 20th in the country for yards per play.  He's Was at Duke with Cutcliffe.  The Oregon offense last season was, as it's been, a tempo spread-to-run scheme, and it'd be interesting to see how Lubick's offense would play at UCLA.  He's considered a high-quality receivers coach and an excellent recruiter, and a long history in the west.  He's the son of long-time Colorado State head coach Sonny Lubick, so he has that coach's son thing going for him that Mora can probably relate to.  

Updated 12/24 -- News reports have Lubick going to Ole Miss as its wide receiver coach. 

Kendal Briles I 34 I Baylor Offensive Coordinator/QB Coach

Briles is the son of former Baylor head coach Art Briles, who was fired from Baylor before this season amid a sexual assault scandal.  The elder Briles, though, is considered one of the best offensive minds in the game and his son learned the ropes of his father's very successful offensive scheme.. Kendal has been at Baylor his entire coaching career, and took over the role of offensive coordinator the last two seasons. In 2015, the Baylor offense was third in the country for yards per play (7.1) and was respectable this season during a year of turmoil, coming in at 43rd, and top five in scoring in each of the last five seasons.  The offense splits its receivers as wide as possible and moves at hyper tempo, but utilizes some "big" formations, too, and it has proven to be prolific for both the passing and running games. Briles could be out of a job at Baylor once they hire their new coach and, reportedly, Briles makes about $400,000 annually, which sounds like a good fit for UCLA, and he'll certainly be a candidate for a number of OC jobs. There is a problem, however: the younger Briles is not without his own controversy, being investigated by the NCAA for some minor recruiting violations, and UCLA will generally ding a coach out of hand for any kind of black marks on his resume,  

Updated 12/16 -- We haven't heard Briles' name too much recently, but speculating, he might be a very viable candidate, given his salary at Baylor.  

Updated 12/23 -- Briles was hired as the offensive coordinator at Florida Atlantic by new head coach Lane Kiffin. 

Mike Sanford Jr.  I 34 I Notre Dame OC

Considered one of the up-and-coming coaches in college football, Sanford went from the Stanford running backs coach at the age of 28 to the Notre Dame OC within four years. The former Boise State quarterback, he was part of the very prolific offensive staffs at Boise State and Stanford, and has been successful at Notre Dame in his two years.  He graduated from Los Alamitos High School, has great recruiting ties to SoCal, and was Stanford's recruiting coordinator.  The recent buzz is that Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly could be looking to get out of South Bend, and Sanford could need a job, and wouldn't mind coming back to the west coast.  Also, one thing to keep in mind: A young coordinator like Sanford could consider the UCLA coordinator job a move with a future, thinking that he could be Mora's successor. 

12/14 Update: Sanford was hired as the head coach at Western Kentucky. 

Phil Longo I 48 I Sam Houston State Offensive Coordinator

The architect of the most productive offense in D-1 football, Longo's offense is breaking FCS records. The scheme is a version of the Air Raid, and Longo is close with and regularly visits Washington State head coach Mike Leach.  Longo, though, has incorporated a potent running attack into the pass-heavy scheme, and it's been greatly effective.  Longo is clearly looking for a bigger stage, and Los Angeles could be a good fit. 

12/15 Update: Longo was hired by Ole Miss as its offensive coordinator. 

Major Applewhite I 38 I Offensive Coordinator & QB Coach, Houston

Many feel Applewhite, the former Texas quarterback, is a big part of the brains behind Houston's very successful offense under Tom Herman.  So you'd naturally think he would move on to Texas, his alma mater, with Herman, but one snag: Applewhite, when he was the Texas offensive coordinator, had an affair with a student trainer, and he currently is named in a law suit against the school. So the word is that Texas won't re-hire him. Applewhite is a candidate for the now-open Houston job and the natural hire. Interestingly, though, the Houston defensive coordinator Todd Orlando was named interim head coach for Houston's bowl game after Herman's departure, and Orlando is also a candidate for the head coaching job, with both he and Applewhite reportedly interviewing for it. If Orlando wins the bowl game it could go a long way toward him getting the job, and with Applewhite unable to return to Texas, he could looking for other horizons.  Houston, too, is now a fairly prominent program and could attract bigger names with head coaching experience, like Cal's Sonny Dykes.  Applewhite has always been considered a bit of a college offense boy genius and operates a spread-to-run scheme at Houston.  

12/9 Update: Applewhite was named the new head coach at Houston. 

Steve Sarkisian I 42 I Alabama Offensive Analyst, Former USC Head Coach

Sarkisian doesn't need much description for UCLA fans. The former USC head coach was fired mid-season last year, and has since been working as an offensive analyst under his fellow ex-USC head coach Lane Kiffin, currently the offensive coordinator at Alabama. One reason Sark was released from USC was a pretty public alcoholic abuse problem, and that obviously could keep him from being the ideal candidate for the UCLA OC job. He does, though, have some considerable qualifications, is known as a very good offensive mind, and is friends with Mora.  And you'd have to think he might enjoy taking some revenge against USC. Of course, hiring Sark would greatly depend on whether he could prove to UCLA that his alcohol issues weren't issues any longer. If that's true, we could easily see Mora campaigning hard for Sark with the UCLA administration. 

Update 11/29: We're hearing it's an extreme longshot UCLA would allow Mora to hire Steve Sarkisian as the offensive coordinator, given Sarkisian's history. 

Update 12/6: Sarkisian has been removed from UCLA's internal list. 

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