Tuesday, December 02, 2008

The New OC: what are we looking for?

Attention Chip Kelly: if you're really that desperate to leave Oregon, the Plains are much, much nicer this time of year than upstate New York. Trust me on that one.

Media speculation on the identity of the applicants for Auburn's vacant offensive coordinator position whose resumes currently sit on Tommy Tuberville's desk has been curiously limited. Well, not that curious, I guess--when there's speculation to be made about who's actually going to be making the hire at OC, speculating on the hire itself probably seems like putting the cart before the horse. The only name that's seemed to consistently bubble up through the Internet murk was Missouri's Dave Christensen, but that was always a pipe dream (much like the gentleman pictured above, who I pictured anyway because it's such a fun pipe dream) and I'm fairly sure the whole "taking the Wyoming head coaching position" has him ruled out for good.

That's not to say, of course, the process has been completely out of mind. A while back, the Register's Evan Woodberry wrote a column about the coming hire that, sure enough, passed on naming any potential candidates but listed a number of pieces of "advice" for Tubby as he goes about naming the next OC. While it doesn't get us any closer to knowing who Auburn's next OC will be, it's a useful piece to look at when discussing what kind of coordinator Tubby might hire.

So let's look at it. Starting a few paragraphs into it ...

In the days since Franklin's firing, Tuberville has pledged allegiance to the spread. Then he's wavered a bit and said Auburn's offense would be "multiple." Then he's watered down the definition of the spread so thoroughly that virtually any offense on any team in America could be considered the spread. Tuberville even said that Auburn was running the spread 50 percent of the time last year under Al Borges.

Tuberville is a defensive coach and he's clearly less comfortable when discussing the offensive side of the football.

A first step might be to define what we call a given offense: it might be true that Borges had the field spread most of the time in 2007, but when your base set has the quarterback under center, you're not running a "spread offense" like Leach's or Rodriguez's or Franklin's that has the QB in the shotgun almost exclusively. What I'm guessing Tubby means when he says "multiple" is what Auburn ran in 2007 or Georgia's running now: mostly I or ace stuff with the ability to spread it out when need be (or, in Georgia's case, on every snap as soon as you fall behind).

And apparently, after the career-threatening trauma of hiring Tony Franklin, the tea leaves would seem to indicate that Tubby's not going to hire someone who prefers running a straight spread offense. Trying to say "well, even when we had Al Borges, we ran the spread" is 99 percent likely to be code for "I'm hiring someone sort of like Borges and will sell him someone with experience installing a spread, amongst other things." Whether this is a good thing or not ... we'll get to that in a sec.

Some more unsolicited advice:

-- Don't hire a spread guru. Don't hire a West Coast guru. Don't hire any coach who routinely has the word "guru" appear after his name in newspaper articles. In fact, don't hire a coach with any sort of overriding ideology at all.

Auburn can't afford a dogmatic approach in 2009. First-year coaches get plenty of patience and understanding when they attempt to implement a new offense. Eleventh-year coaches don't. Tuberville needs a coordinator who can quickly assess Auburn's strengths and weaknesses and build an offense that gives Auburn the best chance of immediate success.

Well, this is good as far as it goes. I agree that whoever Tubby hires has to get immediate results, and hiring someone who has both a unique system and ideology and a difficult time teaching his methods to players and other staff members--that description remind you of anyone?--probably isn't the best choice.

At the same time, do you know why certain coaches have that "guru" designation affixed to their names? It's generally because they've been successful and are just-plain good coaches. Norm Chow's worn the "guru" label for a decade not necessarily because his offenses are revolutionary (though I believe his work way back at BYU was) but primarily because he gets results. Personally, I'd be plenty happy if Norm Chow somehow showed up on the plains. And as Paul Johnson has shown, even highly unusual offenses can work in a short timeframe if the coaching is sound enough.

The point: just because a coach has a specific type of offense or a specific skill set or reputation doesn't mean Tubby should rule him out. He just has to be able to get results.

-- If you need to throw the word "spread" around to appease recruits who have been sold that system, that's fine. But in the end, no one really cares what the offense is called as long as it works.

Um ... I'm pretty sure if Tubby hires a coordinator who operates a run-first, power-based, play-action scheme, guys like Cotton and Lutzenkirchen and maybe a few others are going to bolt no matter how successful that offense is or how Tubby and New OC refer to it. Ask Mitch Mustain and Damian Williams how they felt about Houston Nutt saying he'd run one thing and then sticking to an offense that was pretty much the opposite. If that type of coordinator has to be hired, fine, but let's keep truth in our advertising, please--and given how important this recruiting class is, why not try to find someone who can do the job and who'll keep the kiddos interested?

-- Dismiss the idea that the new offensive coordinator will be a savior, or that he will single-handedly cure all that ails Auburn on offense. Borges was almost bemused at his sudden popularity in 2004, telling reporters that it was more about the "Jimmies and Joes" than "X's and O's." Sure enough, Auburn's offense declined with the loss of three first-round picks. Imagine that! ... Players win games. The best coaches put them in a position to succeed, then get out of the way.

Um, sure. Long-term, yes, this is correct, the Jimmies and Joes are more important--thus requiring a coach who can recruit--but this doesn't change the fact that the new guy will have to be some form of offensive savior, because the Jimmies and Joes on offense look like they're going to need a lot of saving. Lowering the public expectations would be a nice gesture for the new guy, but it doesn't change the fact that at this point it's either Produce Results or Die.

-- Don't worry about hiring someone nobody's heard of. Big names are going to be skittish about this gig for obvious reasons, but that doesn't mean there aren't dozens of excellent coaches who wouldn't kill for the pay and prestige of a coordinator position in the SEC. Don't worry about making a splash. Worry about winning games.

I can almost cosign on this. Woodberry's point here, and above, that Tubby doesn't have the luxury of hiring necessarily the "best" coordinator if that coordinator is going to need time to get his system up to speed is a good one. If big-name coordinator A has a track record of needing half a season before things start clicking and smaller-name coordinator B has a track record of having his guys off-and-running from Week 1, B has to be the choice even if A might be the better long-term fit.

But again, the needs of this particular recruiting class come into play. There's a certain kind of antsiness out there already. If Tubby wants to have any legitimate shot of retaining his job past 2009, the class has to hold together. A big-name hire would probably go a certain amount of the way towards alleviating the class's (valid, at this point) concerns. All other things being equal, there is a certain value to the new hire's visibility.

That said? A diamond in the rough is fine if they're able to sell the new recruits (and to a much lesser extent, the fans) on what he's, um, selling. He does, in fact, need to make a splash of some kind. This program could sure as hell use a splash. But whether he makes it in person on in the headlines doesn't much matter.

So where does that leave us? I would say with the following criteria, ranked in order of importance:

1. Day 1 results. Whether by some kind of trademark scheme, comprehensively effectively teaching, or some combination of the two, the guy has to move the ball from the 2009 opening kickoff, or Tubby is toast.

2. Salesmanship. A guy who can convince future big-time offensive recruits to come to Auburn is essential. A guy who can convince the current offensive recruits to come to Auburn is even more essential.

3. Scheme, preferably a spread. If Auburn could find a guy who brought a unique approach along with the possibility of not taking a long time to switch Auburn over to said approach, that would be swell. And if that approach was something spread-based to appease and appeal to recruits, that would be even sweller. Also, I would like a pony.

4. Splashiness. If Tubs somehow manages to hire someone with all of the above qualities, if he has a recognizable name, well, that won't hurt.

So that's what I would say Auburn ought to be in the hunt for. Tomorrow I'll look at some of my hypothetical candidates and a few names that have been bandied about and how they match said criteria.


Jason Crowson said...

You think there is any chance Malzahn might come to the plains? And if so, is his system like franklin's or could he implement it immediately?

Lop said...

Dear Santa,

This Christmas, I want Chip Kelly to be Auburn's offensive coordinator...

J.M. said...

I've often wondered why any offensive-minded coach with half a brain would come to Auburn. But I think a big-name offensive coach would be smart to do it this year. Why? Because our head coach is under extreme pressure. If this coordinator shows any success whatsoever and Tuberville struggles (another loss to Bama and a mediocre 2009) this new OC could possibly be handed the keys to the program the next year. Cutthroat? Yes it is. Plausible? Probably not, but if I was an ambitious OC, it would cross my mind.

(My thinking might be influenced because I recently watched "Throne of Blood," the Japanese "MacBeth." It's an incredible film.)

What do ya think?