Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Shake it up! | by Michael

Last year around this time we began a long, leisurely stroll around the country to familiarize ourselves with the six new head coaches that the Irish would face in 2005. This year it's slightly different: there is not a single opponent on our schedule with a new head coach. That's not to say, however, that some of our opponents' fax machines didn't receive a lot of resumes. Let's check out the assistant coaching carousel and see which 2006 opponent's coaching staff had the most tumultuous off-seasons. On the scale from "placid serenity" to "hair on fire":

10. Air Force, Navy, Army
Nothing of consequence.

9. Penn State
Whether you define it as loyalty or rigor mortis, no one left Joe Paterno's staff.

8. Southern Cal
After a two-year stint as the head coach of Idaho, Nick Holt returns to USC as the defensive coordinator and defensive line coach. He will replace Jethro Franklin, who coached the same unit last year after Ed Orgeron became a "Wild Boy" at Ole Miss. Franklin has taken a position with the NFL Buccaneers. Although he coached the linebackers during his first stint at Southern Cal, Holt has eight years of defensive line coaching experience (Idaho, Louisville) and also served as a defensive coordinator for four years (Idaho). It's doubtful, though, that Pete Carroll will be handing him the reins of the defensive playcalling just yet.

7. Georgia Tech
Chan Gailey didn't have any giant holes to fill, but his staff did have two changes. First, TE coach Tommie Robinson resigned to pursue other coaching opportunities. (Did he really resign or was he pushed out? Either way, someone wasn't happy in Atlanta.) Jeep Hunter moved over from Memphis to replace him. Hunter, the RB coach for Tommy West, couldn't have picked a better time to make the transition since his Memphis meal ticket, DeAngelo Williams, now suits up for the Carolina Panthers. Second, Charles Kelly was hired to coach special teams. He replaces David Wilson, who left college football entirely. This hire was a little bit of a head-scratcher. Kelly's experience comes primarily as a defensive coordinator in the 1AA ranks (Nicholls State, Jacksonville State, and Henderson State). Can he improve the special teams play for Gailey? Big question mark.

6. Michigan St.
When QB coach Jim McElwain left to coach the QBs for the Oakland Raiders, Smith found a replacement within the Big Ten. Blaine Bennett, who coached for Smith at Idaho years earlier, joined four other assistants in deserting the Purdue Boilermakers. Bennett will coach WRs and will serve as an assistant head coach. Dan Enos will replace Doug Nussmeier as the QB coach. Nussmeier left to coach QBs for the St. Louis Rams, and the opportunity allows former Spartan QB Enos to return home. Enos has experience coaching QBs for both Western Michigan and Cincinnati. Finally, Smith hired Derrick Jackson to replace NFL coaching veteran Lucious Selmon as defensive line coach. Jackson's previous stops include Northern Illinois, Eastern Illinois, and Army; it's unclear why Selmon left Michigan State.

5. North Carolina
The highlight of the Tarheels' off-season was the acquisition of Fresno State offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti. Cignetti started as an NFL assistant before joining Pat Hill's staff in 2002. For the last two years, Fresno State has been in the top ten for scoring offense. Cignetti replaces Gary Tranquill, who retired after 44 seasons in coaching (and five with North Carolina). Joining Cignetti will be his OL coach from Fresno State, Mark Weber. Having coached at Oregon State, UCLA, and UNLV prior to his stint at Fresno State, the veteran OL coach has significant experience. He replaces Hal Hunter, who left to be an assistant OL coach for the San Diego Chargers.
Danny Pearman will be coaching the DEs in 2006. What makes this move interesting is that Pearman has some quality experience at Virginia Tech and Alabama. However, in both cases he coached the OTs and TEs. Was he forced out by Hokie coach Frank Beamer? This move is lateral at best.

Defensive-minded head coach John Bunting may have found the perfect complement on the offensive side of the ball. They still need to do a lot better in the ACC, however.

4. Michigan
Michigan lost only two coaches this offseason, but there was lots of internal shuffle. Any discussion should begin with the departure of defensive coordinator Jim Herrman. Getting rid of Herrman was a good move for Carr, who was then able to coax Ron English to stay at Michigan by promoting him to defensive coordinator. (English had initially accepted a position with the Chicago Bears). How this will work for the Wolverines remains to be seen. English has never before served as a defensive coordiantor; however, two other impressive defensive hires should make his job easier. He'll certainly have some input from new LB coach Steve Szabo, who joins Michigan with 12 years of NFL coaching experience with the Bills (2004-2005), Patriots (2003), and Jaguars (1994-2002). Szabo was also the Boston College defensive coordinator from 1991 to 1993. Meanwhile, Ron Lee jumped ship at Wisconsin to take the same position (coaching DBs) for Michigan. Prior to coaching DBs at Wisconsin, Lee was the defensive coordinator and DB coach for San Jose State (2001-2002) and the DB coach for Colorado State (1993-2000). On the offensive side of the ball, offensive coordinator Terry Malone left to join the New Orleans Saints, and Lloyd moved Mike DeBord back to offensive coordinator. When he did this, he also split up DeBord's special teams duties. Now Fred Jackson will coach kickoff return, Lee will take on punt return, Steve Stripling will handle kickoff, and DeBord will retain punt team coaching duties.

Is Ron English ready for prime time? Keep those resumes updated; this could be 3-Loss Lloyd's swan song.

3. Stanford
Walt Harris will return in 2006 with five new assistants. Four of those five are replacing coaches who took positions in the NFL. First, and most importantly, he hired Buzz Preston to coach RBs. Preston replaces Wayne Moses, who will coach for the St. Louis Rams in 2006. (It's great to have Preston back in college football.) One good move, though, was hiring AJ Christoff. Christoff was originally going to be on Harris's first staff (retained from Buddy Teevens' brain trust), but he took a defensive coordinator position with the San Francisco 49ers at the last minute. Now he replaces Tom Hayes, who has joined the New Orleans Saints. Tom Quinn has taken a position with the New York Giants coaching special teams, and in comes Jeff Hammerschmidt to coach OLBs and handle special teams duties. His primary experience comes from positions at St. Mary's College, Montana, and Cal Poly San Obispo. When John McDonnell left the staff to join Purdue, Harris hired Doug Sams to replace him. Sams has an extensive background as a head coach, with stops at Fairmont State College (1992-2001) and Northern Michigan (2002-2005). He also has some experience in the CFL. Finally, former grad assistant Nate Nelson was brought back as primarily a recruiting coordinator. Last year he was a defensive assistant with Princeton, and he'll replace Paul Hackett's son Nate, who performed the same duties last year and has joined the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as a quality control coach. The hirings of Sams, Hammerschmidt, and Preston are very questionable because what exactly are their track records at a Division 1 school?

Is Walt Harris an unpopular guy? It seems like some guys were anxious to leave, or is that reading too much into it? With Stanford's CBs, it may not matter in 2006. At least Preston has some experience on a sinking ship.

2. Purdue
It wasn't just players who jumped off the SS Tiller this offseason: five coaches also walked the plank. Let's start with a look at the changes on the offensive side of the ball. Jim Chaney left Purdue to become the OL coach for the St. Louis Rams, and OL coach Bill Legg was promoted to replace him. When Blaine Bennett wasn't promoted to coordinator, he bolted for Michigan State. Then, to help Legg, Tiller hired former Irish assistant John McDonnell, who will coach TEs and OTs (he coached interior OL for Notre Dame). They also brought in Ed Zaunbrecher to serve as co-offensive coordinator and QB coach. Both Legg and Zaunbrecher coached together at Marshall in 2001; Zaunbrecher most recently worked for Ron Zook at Florida and Illinois. Brian Rock was hired away from Western Michigan, where he coached for 12 years, to replace Bob DeBesse, who left for a fatter deal with Texas A&M, which was also closer to home. At Western Michigan, Rock served as both the offensive coordinator and WR coach during his tenure. Finally, Joel Thomas will replace David Mitchell (fired/let go) as the RB coach. Thomas coached at Purdue as a graduate assistant in 2001 and 2002; since then he has served two tours of duty for Louisville (running backs) and Idaho (co-offensive coordinator, running backs). In other words, on offense Purdue is replacing everyone save Legg. On defense, there is much less movement. Terrel Williams will replace Tony Samuel as the defensive line coach. Williams is a young coach with stops at Akron, Youngstown State, and North Carolina A&T on his resume. Samuel left to become head coach at Southwest Missouri State. Purdue nudges out Stanford for runner-up since they had to replace practically their entire offensive staff.

It seems like they're starting over from scratch with the offense. Is that a good or bad thing? Is Tiller reaching the downslope of his Big Ten coaching career? I wouldn't count him out yet.

Congrats to Karl Dorrell for finishing #1 in this war of attrition: he fired most of his defensive staff and lost a couple of coaches on offense as well. The two big losses to Dorrell's staff are obvious. Eric Bienemy left to join the Minnesota Vikings, and offensive coordinator Tom Cable left to coach the OL for the Atlanta Falcons. Both were instrumental in recruiting and developing a potent offense, respectively. Current WR coach Dino Babers will attempt to fill Bienemy's shoes in recruiting, and current QB coach Jim Svoboda will slide over to wear the offensive coordinator hat. Bruins' fans are hoping the inexperienced coordinator doesn't resemble the man Cable replaced, Steve Axman. Additionally, John Embree left to become the TE coach for the Kansas City Chiefs. The replacements are led by a familiar name to Irish fans: Jim Colleto was hired to coach the OL. DJ McCarthy, a WR coach from Central Florida was also added; this allowed Babers to shift to RB coach. Finally, Colorado's John Wristen was hired to replace Embree. On the other side of the footblal, the Bruins' run defense faced heavy criticism the last several years, and Dorrell addressed that deficit, too. First, he fired then-current defensive coordinator Larry Kerr. Then he brought in DeWayne Walker, an NFL assistant with the Washington Redskins. Walker had extensive experience coaching the secondary for the Redskins, Giants, and Patriots (under Pete Carroll and Bill Belichick). Next, Dorrell hired Jacksonville Jaguars' assistant Todd Howard to replace Thurmand Moore, who was also let go. Finally, Chuck Bullough was brought in as a LB coach, and it appears that former LB coach Brian Schneider may have been forced out. Bullough brought some NFL experience with him with the Bears, but he coached in 2005 for Western Michigan.

Dorrell deserves some credit; he did the right thing by rebuilding his defensive coaching staff. However, the losses of Cable and Bienemy could be crippling.