|Butch Dill/Associated Press|
|Lane Kiffin finds himself back in the SEC after joining Nick Saban's Alabama coaching staff.|
Coaching changes can have a huge bearing on players' careers.
Consider this: Five players who were selected in the top 10 in May's draft went through a coaching change during their college careers, and it's legitimate to wonder if Auburn offensive tackle Greg Robinson (No. 2, to the St. Louis Rams), Texas A&M offensive tackle Jake Matthews (No. 6, Atlanta Falcons), A&M wide receiver Mike Evans (No. 7, Tampa Bay Buccaneers), UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr (No. 9, Minnesota Vikings) and North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron (No. 10, Detroit Lions) would have had the same type of college careers had they finished under the same head coach who signed them.
It's safe to say Barr, Ebron and Evans would've had different career paths had they played their entire careers for Rick Neuheisel, Butch Davis and Mike Sherman, respectively, rather than finishing up under Jim Mora, Larry Fedora and Kevin Sumlin. And Sumlin's hiring unquestionably changed the career path of quarterback Johnny Manziel, who went 22nd to the Cleveland Browns.
An oft-overlooked part of a coaching change is a change in coordinators. When a new head coach takes over, he brings in coordinators to run his style of football. But there are times when a sitting head coach makes a coordinator change, and they can have a big impact, as well, because it almost always signifies a change in schemes.
Here, then, is a look at five schools (listed alphabetically) who made intriguing coordinator changes this offseason.
The new guy: Offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin. He had been head coach at USC until he was fired midway through the 2013 season.
The buzz: Yes, Kiffin can be boorish. And, yes, he often makes it easy to hope he fails. But he also will make some needed tweaks to Alabama's passing attack that will make it more effective. That should make WR Amari Cooper and TE O.J. Howard happy. Kiffin also has done some nice work with quarterbacks in the past, most notably with Tennessee's Jonathon Crompton in 2010, turning Crompton from a bench-warmer into an effective SEC quarterback (2,800 yards and 27 TD passes). He'll have a lot more to work with this fall in Florida State transfer Jacob Coker.
The bottom line: Kiffin's hiring will benefit Cooper the most; he will become a better all-around receiver -- and he already was a high-level guy. The passing attack as a whole should become more sophisticated, too.
The new guy: Offensive coordinator Kurt Roper. He had held the same position at Duke.
The buzz: Coach Will Muschamp is on the hot seat, and it's not a stretch to say Roper's offense holds the key for Muschamp's continued employment. Roper has scrapped the Gators' pro-style attack and installed a version of the spread. That is good news for QB Jeff Driskel (6-4, 230), a physical marvel who simply was not a dropback passer. Driskel has a strong but erratic arm, and he also has struggled with his decision-making; it was painful at times watching him try to go through his progressions. He missed most of last season with a broken leg, but was back for spring practice. This offense should be easier for him to master, as he will become even more of a running threat. Look for the receivers to be more involved, too, and that's good for sophomore DeMarcus Robinson, an excellent athlete who has the skill set to be a big success in this offense. Also worth watching will be TE Jake McGee, a transfer from Virginia who will be eligible immediately and has the athleticism to get deep. He should be a 40-catch guy for the Gators, huge news considering tight end was a wasteland last season.
The bottom line: This is it for Driskel, who hasn't come close to living up to his high school hype. He has big-time physical gifts, and it's time to match production and potential. And McGee should get a chance to impress scouts on a weekly basis. Florida has some good athletes on offense, and they now will be put in a lot of one-on-one matchups. Can they win them? For Muschamp's sake, they'd better.
The new guy: Defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt. He had held the same position at Florida State.
The buzz: That Pruitt is in Athens is a surprise for two reasons. One is that Louisville hired away predecessor Todd Grantham -- and gave him a million-dollar salary in the process. Grantham's defenses had underachieved in recent seasons. Second, Pruitt was a big success last season at Florida State, with his first defense in Tallahassee helping the Seminoles win the national title. Most of the key defenders are back for FSU, but Pruitt still decided to ply his trade in Athens. That is especially good news for Georgia's defensive backs, who haven't looked good in two seasons. In an effort to get more speed out of his defense, Pruitt has asked players to drop weight; big guys aren't as important to Pruitt as they were to Grantham. Pruitt also has simplified the scheme used by Grantham, who is a former NFL assistant, and players raved about that change during spring drills. The front seven should be fine, and the linebackers -- already the team's strongest position -- should thrive in Pruitt's scheme. The key guy in the secondary is senior CB Damian Swann, who was highly hyped out of high school but a guy who has been startlingly inconsistent in his first three seasons. He has the physical skill set to play in the NFL and looked good in the new scheme in spring drills. But a lot of inexperienced players are going to have to fill the slots around Swann.
The bottom line: Look for linebackers such as Leonard Floyd and Jarvis Jenkins to become even better playmakers and to generally wreak havoc, which will increase their NFL stock. And now that he is working with Pruitt, Swann finally should live up to his potential and challenge for All-SEC honors. The rest of the secondary, though, is dicey, and Pruitt's work there might not show until next season.
The new guy: Offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier. He had held the same position at Alabama.
The buzz: Nussmeier leaving for Michigan puzzled more than a few observers: He left perhaps the nation's best program for a Michigan team that is a clear-cut No. 2 in its own state, and he also has less to work with in Ann Arbor than he did in Tuscaloosa. But it seems likely that he will be happier working for Brady Hoke than he was working for Nick Saban. And the Wolverines are not bereft of offensive talent, though it sure looked that way for much of last season under previous coordinator Al Borges. Nussmeier should help senior QB Devin Gardner develop some consistency, and he also will do a good job bringing along sophomore QB Shane Morris, the quarterback of the future. Look for some changes in the blocking schemes and a renewed emphasis on establishing the running game. In addition, the tight end should become even more important in the passing attack. One interesting aspect of that: Devin Funchess, who was the best tight end in the Big Ten last season, seems likely to play wide receiver this season. Still, there is some talent at tight end, and look for Nussmeier to take full advantage of Funchess' size (he's 6-foot-5 and 235 pounds) against smaller cornerbacks.
The bottom line: Gardner has the needed physical tools, but his consistency and accuracy have been lacking. It's up to Nussmeier to make sure Gardner reaches his potential this season; Nussmeier is better-suited to do that than Borges. Look for more variety in the running game, which should make Wolverines tailbacks Derrick Green, De'Veon Smith and Justice Hayes happy. Finally, look for an improved passing attack even with the loss of go-to WR Jeremy Gallon. The one issue that might be out of Nussmeier's control is the offensive line, which was (to be kind) mediocre last season and lost its two best players.
The new guys: Offensive coordinator Joe Wickline and defensive coordinator Vance Bedford. Wickline had been the offensive line coach at Oklahoma State, while Bedford had held the same position at Louisville.
The buzz: We're cheating a bit with this one, as Texas is the only school on this list with a new head coach. But new coach Charlie Strong has brought in two new coordinators, and the changes that are in store make this noteworthy. While Wickline was given the coordinator title, he will not call the plays; that task goes to Shawn Watson, who had been Louisville's coordinator. But Wickline's work with the offensive line will make Watson's job easier. Texas has underachieved along the line for the past few seasons. That won't happen under Wickline, who will make sure the Longhorns are both physical and athletic up front. That should be a boon for Texas' deep crop of tailbacks, and also make things easier on QB David Ash. As for Bedford, as long as he works for Strong, he will hear a lot of, "Hey, it's Strong's defense, not Bedford's." But that's fine. Strong and, by extension, Bedford will have Texas playing more aggressively on that side of the ball. Louisville had strong play at all three levels last season -- along the line, from its linebackers and in the secondary. Texas' front seven, especially, should see improvement because of the new staff.
The bottom line: Expect more of an emphasis on the run from the new offensive staff. Yes, Louisville was effective throwing the ball with Teddy Bridgewater the past two seasons. But as good as Bridgewater was, Louisville ran more often than it threw with him at the helm. Ash is nowhere near as good as Bridgewater and Texas has better backs than Louisville, so it makes sense for the Longhorns to be run-heavy. The main beneficiary should be senior tailback Malcolm Brown, who was highly hyped coming out of high school but hasn't lived up to the hype. Brown has yet to reach the 1,000-yard plateau in a season, but that should change this fall. In addition, both Wickline and Watson have coached offenses that like to throw the ball to their backs, which means Brown should get a chance to show off his receiving skills. Defensively, Texas was extremely lax against the run the past two seasons; that will change. The front four should be the best part of the defense this season, and senior end Cedric Reed will be the focal point. Louisville ends DeMarcus Smith (who became a first-round pick) and Lorenzo Mauldin terrorized quarterbacks last season, and Reed will be turned loose to do the same. Texas' linebacker play has been somewhat shaky, and it would help if injury-prone senior Jordan Hicks -- who has all-league talent -- can remain healthy. Regardless, expect more consistent linebacker play this fall with the new staff. And senior CB Quandre Diggs will be another beneficiary of the new staff. Expect Diggs to star this fall.
5 other coordinators who should make an impact
The list: Rutgers OC Ralph Friedgen, Iowa State OC Mark Mangino, TCU co-OC Doug Meacham (while he is a co-coordinator, he will call plays), San Jose State DC Greg Robinson, Wake Forest OC Warren Ruggiero (part of a new staff).
Mike Huguenin can be reached at email@example.com. You also can follow him on Twitter @MikeHuguenin.