The foremost aspect of the coaching carousel — in every year, not just this one — is the movement of head coaches, but we would be kidding ourselves if the coordinators and position coaches didn’t have a huge impact on how programs rise or fall.
Let’s start with this acknowledgment, however: Proven head coaches can and do enable moderately good (but not great) coordinators to generate strong results. Nick Saban and Bill Belichick both embody this claim, since so many of their assistants fail when trying to make it on their own as head coaches. When working within the Saban or Belichick structure, those assistants flourish.
Alabama keeps having to replace coordinators, especially on offense. Yet, the machine — like the Crimson Tide — rolls along every year. It is true that if the head coach knows how to establish his system in most facets of the operation, he doesn’t have to possess an outstanding coordinator. A merely decent one will suffice. This does happen.
Yet, it is an exceptional case, not the rule.
Most coaches need the right coordinator to unlock the potential of their programs. More precisely, they need the right coordinator to deliver long-term success, to the extent that when a remarkable quarterback or another program-changing player leaves, the program can still achieve at a high level. In other words, Shawn Watson was not the reason Louisville won the Big East title and the Sugar Bowl in the 2012 season. It became quite obvious that Teddy Bridgewater was the reason Louisville thrived, not Watson. When Watson moved to Texas under Charlie Strong, there was no Bridgewater, and the Longhorns’ offense faltered.
Coaches need coordinators to make their vision come alive.
Lincoln Riley was the offensive coordinator who revived Bob Stoops’ program at Oklahoma in 2015.
Brent Venables is the defensive coordinator who has enabled Dabo Swinney to find his groove at Clemson, and become an all-time-great head coach.
Jim Leavitt was the defensive coordinator who enabled Colorado to win the Pac-12 South in 2016. Leavitt left for Oregon in 2017, and Colorado lost its way.
Urban Meyer, at Ohio State, won the national title with Tom Herman as his offensive coordinator. He lost ground with Tim Beck but gained ground with Ryan Day.
In terms of coaches who never found — or haven’t yet found — what they were looking for, Kliff Kingsbury never found the elite defensive coordinator he needed at Texas Tech. Jim Harbaugh still hasn’t found the offensive coordinator he needs to take Michigan to the next level.
Yes, Nick Saban can deal with constant change and upheaval inside his program, but he’s Nick Saban. He is an exceptional coach in nearly every sense of the term. Most coaches and programs need the right coordinators and other assistants. This part of every coaching carousel matters a great deal, even though it doesn’t receive nearly as much attention as the head coaching changes in college football.
With this in mind, then, the Florida Gators made out pretty well in the 2018-2019 coaching carousel. The wheels haven’t fully stopped spinning. Programs still have vacancies to fill on staffs, Alabama most of all (with five vacancies having opened up in recent days).
Yet, every program pays attention to the activities surrounding its foremost rivals and competitors. Florida is looking at the landscape and very likely feels great about how the dominoes have fallen.
Kendal Briles going to Florida State is probably the development Florida would dislike the most. FSU getting reorganized with a high-tech passing game could make life difficult for the Gators. However, FSU is such a mess in other aspects of program development that the impact of the Briles hire might not be felt anytime soon. Florida will definitely enter the 2019 season in better shape than FSU.
Then consider other developments in the coordinator-level workings of the carousel this past week.
Tennessee grabbed Georgia offensive coordinator Jim Chaney. It is true that Chaney did well at Georgia, but he had far better players than at his previous coaching stops. The larger arc of Chaney’s history suggests that he might create modest improvements in Tennessee, but nothing spectacular — in other words, nothing which should make Dan Mullen quake in his boots. One could have come up with several OC hires in Knoxville who would have made Florida much more anxious and uncertain about the future.
It is little different for Georgia, the team Florida is intent on toppling in the SEC East in 2019. It was announced on Friday afternoon that James Coley — whom college football fans in the state of Florida know well from separate coordinator stints at Florida State and Miami — has been promoted to offensive coordinator after Chaney’s departure.
Miami hired Dan Enos away from Alabama. Enos, the Tide’s QB coach in 2018, was expected to replace Mike Locksley (now the head coach at Maryland) as Alabama’s offensive coordinator, but Manny Diaz swooped in. Enos had been in the mix at Georgia, so when viewed solely through the prism of an Enos-versus-Coley comparison, Florida benefited a great deal from that swap.
Yes, Florida does play Miami in 2019, but in terms of the balance of power in the SEC — which affects Florida’s regular annual competition — the Gators made out like bandits here.
No FSU or Miami fan pounds the table and demands that the Noles or Canes need to return to the James Coley days. He is loyal to Kirby Smart, and Smart surely rewarded and recognized that loyalty in his promotion. Moreover, it has to be said that a head coach and an assistant can become more than the sum of their parts when they work well together and communicate effectively. It could be that the rapport between Smart and Coley could make Coley a better coach than the raw statistics might first indicate.
Nevertheless, Coley being Georgia’s offensive play-caller in 2019 has to be seen as a source of relief for the Gators. Imagine all the other options out there.
Hugh Freeze was rumored to be part of the mix at Tennessee. Enos would have been a knockout hire at Georgia. Larry Fedora is still unclaimed, as is Major Applewhite.
Alex Grinch, a rising star in the profession as a defensive coordinator, went to Oklahoma, safely removed from the SEC. Kentucky, at this moment, still has Eddie Gran as its offensive coordinator. If you saw Kentucky’s offense this past season, you’re happy Gran is still in Lexington.
If you consider the different paths this coaching carousel could have followed, Florida should be smiling with relief in response to the many twists and turns of the past week and the past month. This doesn’t guarantee success in 2019, but it certainly makes it more realistic to envision.
Dan Mullen’s world in Gainesville is a brighter place. We will get to see next autumn if the sun is Orange and the sky is Blue.