Wednesday, February 14, 2007


I can't remember an off-season with more coaching changes up and down the staffs of Pac-10 schools. Here's some of what our opponents have been up to:

Sonny Dykes, Offensive Coordinator (replacing Mike Canales/Dana Dimel)

Here comes the Air Raid - Dykes assisted Mike Leach at Texas Tech and will install an offense that still makes Cal fans cringe. The good news is that defenses have caught up to the Tech scheme - shooting through the monster splits taken by the offensive line, and bringing pressure to force bad decisions by the QB. It's not at all clear that Arizona has the personnel to run this offense, either - Willie Tuitama is a good athlete with a bad concussion problem, and the Wildcat offensive line was the worst part of their team last year. Also, Willie is most dangerous in run/pass options and isn't known for the type of surgical accuracy on short and intermediate routes demanded by the Air Raid. Still, I suppose that anything is an improvement over Mike Canales, who is now coaching the receivers at South Florida. Ouch.

Stoops has other vacancies on his staff that remain unfilled.

Arizona State
Dennis Erickson, Head Coach (replacing Dirk Koetter)
Rich Olson, Offensive Coordinator (replacing Roy Wittke)
Craig Bray, Defensive Coordinator (replacing Bill Miller)

I don't think Dennis Erickson is going to punt the ball nearly as much as Dirk. For all his faults, Erickson goes for the jugular and is sure to clash more frequently with the lunatic in Tucson. We have visions of a smackdown before the opening kick of the Centennial Cup. DE has already shown that he will recruit nationally, and we're of course waiting breathlessly for ASU's first points in the annual competition for the Fullmer Cup.

Olson wasn't a terribly popular OC at Miami, where fans criticized his lack of imagination and his inability to work more effectively with QB Kyle Wright. Gotta take that with a grain of salt, though, since the entire Hurricane program melted down last year. He's got a great resume filled with college and NFL experience, and he's one of Erickson's closest confidantes. Bray is another Erickson crony, having served as his DC and secondary coach at OSU before short stints as secondary coach at Colorado and, most recently, Minnesota. I don't know much about his philosophy; all I know is that those last two teams had pretty lousy secondaries. The "hire your buddies" approach can work well, but I wonder whether it's the right call for this ASU program.

Chip Kelly, Offensive Coordinator (replacing Gary Crowton)

Kelly was at New Hampshire for fourteen years, which seems like an awful long time to be at a D-1AA program. Why wasn't he snatched up before this? A very different type of hire than bringing a D-1A head coach in, as they did with Crowton. And then you think about the hire, and you read about Kelly's record and philosophy, and it begins to make some sense. Oregon looked like slaves to the shotgun spread last year, which magnified their shortcomings at the QB position. Dennis Dixon ain't Vince Young, and the Ducks should give him and Leaf less to do and occasionally put a fullback in front of Stewart. Kelly's reputation suggests that he'll stop trying to force things and get the ball into Jonathan Stewart's hands on a more regular basis. Oregon can keep their silly QB rotation, as long as Mr. Stewart gets thirty plus touches per game.

Jim Harbaugh, Head Coach (replacing Walt Harris)
David Shaw, Offensive Coordinator (replacing Walt Harris)
Scott Shafer, Defensive Coordinator (replacing AJ Christoff)

Sorry, but the burden of proof is on the twenty-nine remaining Stanford fans to explain why guys who ran a glorified high school program can step up to the Pac-10 level. Shaw may have the title OC, but at USD he was the passing game coordinator and deferred to Harbaugh on big-picture scheme issues. Some Card fans have bravely pointed to USD's success on offense, but that was due to the Toreros having Jason Johnson, an athletic freak at QB who was just too much for opposing defenses. Harbaugh brought other USD assistants with him, whom I'm too bored to mention.

On the other side of the ball, Harbaugh appears to have made a good hire in getting Scott Shafer to run the defense. As the linked article suggests, Shafer has done a good job at Western Michigan, transforming one of the nation's worst defenses into one of its best. Shafer's an upgrade from Christoff, who never got the most out of some decent defensive talent.

Jay Norvell, Offensive Coordinator (replacing Jim Svoboda)

No change of scheme here - Norvell ran the West Coast Offense under Bill Callahan at Nebraska. We don't like the WCO and we're grateful that Tedford doesn't either. It relies on precise timing and a very smart quarterback who can make accurate reads - two things in shorter supply at the college level v the pro game. Perhaps Ben Olson can do more with the scheme than his predecessors. Bruins fans should hope that Dorrell/Norvell won't be slaves to the WCO, and will allow Olson to take seven-step drops and throw the fucking ball deep. If not, they're wasting the special talent they return at QB. As for Norvell himself, Husker fans were hardly crushed to see him go.

BN's already on the case.

Steve Sarkisian, Offensive Coordinator (replacing Lane Kiffin)

Meet the new boss(es) - same as the old boss? Sarkisian will handle play-calling, and Carroll also brings in thirty-something John Morton from the New Orleans Saints to serve as passing game coordinator. Morton knows Sarkisian from their time together with the Raiders, so any fears about overlapping responsibilities should be mitigated by their friendship. No big change here either, other than Trojans fans will have someone new to blame when things don't go perfectly. Although Kiffin was the recruiting coordinator, he was not always the most popular coach on the Trojan staff with players. Sarkisian is well-liked, which could be important given the number of five-star egos in that locker room.


At 2:28 PM, Anonymous Look Who's Laughing Now said...

Less than four years later, Harbaugh has made Stanford a Pac-10 power, returned the Cardinal to national relevance, and sent two players to the Heisman ceremony.


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