The 5 most important new SEC coordinators
Every year the SEC shows once again that one of college football’s most important arms races is the ability to acquire quality assistants. The energy and expertise these top lieutenants can provide can be invaluable on the field and in recruiting.
With that in mind, here are the most important new faces in the league this year.
1 — Todd Monken, Georgia offensive coordinator
Monken is at UGA for a simple reason. His predecessor didn’t get the job done. The Bulldogs offense was woeful in 2019 in the now-departed James Coley’s lone season at the helm. UGA averaged just 30.8 points per game — 7.1 points per game fewer than its 2018 average.
Coley wasn’t the only reason the offense sputtered, but few UGA fans shed tears when he didn’t return. Now the pressure will be on Monken to add more punch to the offense — a challenge made more difficult by the absence of spring practice due to the coronavirus lockdown.
2 — Bo Pelini, LSU defensive coordinator
An argument can be made that LSU’s most important hire was Scott Linehan as a replacement for passing game coordinator Joe Brady — who moved on to the Carolina Panthers during the offseason.
Frankly, replacing Brady will be a tall task. It’s unlikely LSU’s offense comes close to matching the firepower Brady and quarterback Joe Burrow teamed up to provide last season.
All the more reason Pelini — who returns to his role as LSU defensive coordinator, a job he held from 2005-07 — needs to establish a dominant unit. LSU is the reigning national champion, but defense was hardly the reason why. The Tigers were just 29th nationally in yards per play allowed last season.
That number needs to improve this year.
The good news is Pelini will have cornerback Derek Stingley at his disposal — among the nation’s best defensive players.
3 — Mike Bobo, South Carolina offensive coordinator
It was surprising to many that Bobo wanted to be the Gamecocks offensive coordinator after his tenure as Colorado State head coach came to an end. This is partially because some thought he might want to go back to his alma mater, UGA, and partially because some folks assume Bobo’s new boss, South Carolina coach Will Muschamp is squarely on the hot seat, and therefore could result in a short-tenured employment for Bobo.
For what it’s worth, UGA coach Kirby Smart has denied discussing a possible role for Bobo on his staff and Bobo has said he’s excited about the challenge of rebuilding the Gamecocks offense.
If Bobo’s previous track record is an indicator, the rest of the SEC could soon be on notice.
UGA was first in the SEC with 41.3 points per game in Bobo’s last season as Bulldogs offensive coordinator in 2014.
South Carolina might not quite match that feat this season, but a more experienced Ryan Hilinski at quarterback and the debut of freshman running back MarShawn Lloyd should enable Bobo to provide a major offensive upgrade.
4 — Chad Morris, Auburn offensive coordinator
Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but Auburn fans are curious if head coach Gus Malzahn will finally trust an offensive coordinator enough to delegate some authority.
This has been a familiar story for the Tigers. The luxury of trust has been hard to come by for many in the role Morris will occupy under Malzahn. Two previous offensive coordinators left the Tigers for what appeared to be less attractive jobs.
Rhett Lashlee became UConn offensive coordinator in 2017, and the freedom to run his own offense was cited as a reason for his departure. When Chip Lindsey left for Kansas (before eventually becoming head coach at Troy), it was widely assumed a tug of war with Malzahn had played into his decision as well.
Will Malzahn grant to Morris what he’s seemingly denied to others? One of the reasons pointing to yes is that Malzahn and Morris are long-time friends. Another is Morris’ previous success as an offensive coordinator. Morris put up big numbers at Clemson prior to becoming SMU and Arkansas head coach, and was paid handsomely for his work. He, along with Malzahn, were the two highest paid offensive coordinators in the country in 2014 with a salary of $1.3 million.
Morris will make less than that at Auburn, but will have a chance to prove to be a worthy investment for the Tigers.
5 — Kendal Briles and Barry Odom — Arkansas offensive and defensive coordinator
New Arkansas coach Sam Pittman made quite a splash with his coordinator hires, and at least briefly calmed any concerns that might exist about his lack of experience as a head coach.
Briles is a former Broyles Award finalist and Odom — in addition to being known for producing stout defenses — also provides a dose of SEC head coaching experience to the Razorbacks staff.
For all the attention new Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin has received, and for all the talk about what Mike Leach will do at Mississippi State, the first preseason for Pittman with the Razorbacks should be a warning that it could be Pittman, and not one of the new faces in the Magnolia State, who has the best debut season.