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IU Football: Names to Know for the Offensive Coordinator Opening

From the victors go the coordinators.

Or something like that.

With recruiting, bowl game prep, and a search for a new offensive coordinator all ongoing over the last couple weeks, IU head coach Tom Allen is discovering for the first time as a head coach what December looks like in a successful college football program.

“A totally different feel with all that’s going on,” Allen said yesterday.

While change, especially with the coordinators, creates challenges, this is the kind of December that successful programs routinely have.

This is the kind of December that you want to have.

But make no mistake, things have been hectic for Allen.

“My phone is blowing up, yes,” Allen said.

Of course if you haven’t heard by now, offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer has gone full circle, accepting the head coaching position at Fresno State on Tuesday.  Indiana hired DeBoer away from Fresno State in January when he was the Bulldogs’ offensive coordinator.

Allen had nothing but positive things to say about DeBoer on Wednesday.

“Just want to congratulate Kalen DeBoer on the opportunity he’s been given at Fresno State,” Allen said.  “Really appreciate all he’s done for our program, him coming here, doing such a great job. Such a first class person, husband and father. Very much worthy of being a head coach, Division I level. I know I really want to thank him and really wish him nothing but the best.”

One of many tasks taking up Allen’s time in December is preparing for the team’s January 2 bowl game against Tennessee at The Gator Bowl in Jacksonville.

And of course one of the immediate questions in the wake of DeBoer’s exit is who will be calling the plays against the Volunteers in a couple weeks.

“Our goal, we’ve talked, is for him (DeBoer) to call the offense during the bowl game,” Allen said.  “That’s the intent for us to make that work. Things we have to work through to get to that point. We’ve talked to both administrations with that, trying to make sure we can coordinate that, do our best to allow him to do the job he needs to do there, also be able to finish strong here. It’s been a special season, he wants to finish that out.”

It would be a fitting way to end the season with DeBoer calling the plays.

Indiana’s improvement on the offensive side of the football really was the story of the season.

The Hoosiers jumped from No. 51 to No. 31 in total offense, and from No. 87 to No. 41 in scoring offense in just one season with DeBoer running the show.  Perhaps more impressive, DeBoer did it while navigating a revolving door at quarterback as starter Michael Penix suffered multiple injuries.

It should come as no surprise then that Allen wants to maintain the status quo moving forward in terms of the scheme when he brings in a new offensive coordinator for the 2020 season.

“I believe in what we’re doing offensively,” Allen said.  “We have a system in place that our guys have bought into, have executed at a high level. We got a very young football team. A lot of our offensive guys are going to be back for next year, a vast majority.

“To me, without going any further into this, I’ll just say I do want to keep the same system. I think that’s very important. I feel like I don’t want to have a new system, it would be the third one in three years for our quarterbacks. I don’t think that’s in our best interest.  To be able to stay true to that is really to me, from a system perspective, going to be the key.”

WHO IS NEXT?  NAMES TO KNOW

A priority for Allen last year was locating a candidate with play-calling experience.  That no doubt will be the case once again, in addition to maintaining the scheme.

With Indiana having momentum as a program and returning most of its offense in 2020, the offensive coordinator opening in Bloomington is likely to be a much more attractive destination than it was even a year ago.

But Indiana isn’t picking its next offensive coordinator in a vacuum.  Programs such as Notre Dame, Texas, Arkansas and Penn State are all in the market too.

Here are some names to know for Indiana’s offensive coordinator search.

Kevin Johns
Kevin Johns was the Indiana OC under Kevin Wilson. Photo Credit – Texas Tech Athletics

LOWER LIKELIHOOD CANDIDATES

An Internal Candidate?  Because of Allen’s insistence on keeping the same scheme, it is logical to wonder whether he might promote from within.  Mike Hart (RB), Nick Sheridan (TE/QB), Grant Heard (WR) and Darren Hiller (OL) are the current offensive assistants.  Although he is young, Sheridan is the most likely of this group.

Matt Canada.  An Indiana native, IU graduate and former IU offensive coordinator, Canada was considered last year and is a free agent once again.  The obstacles to making that happen last year remain, however.

Joey Lynch (Ball State OC) The son of former IU head coach Bill Lynch, the Cardinals averaged 34.8 points per game, good for 19th in the country.

Kendal Briles (Florida State OC) Went out with the Willie Taggart firing at FSU, but Briles made his name in Houston in 2018 where the Cougars averaged 43.9 points per game, which was the best in the American Conference and fifth in the country.  Could be the favorite to land in Arkansas. (UPDATE:  Briles did indeed land at Arkansas)

Major Applewhite (Alabama) Was the head coach at Houston when Briles’ offense was thriving and has now spent a season under Nick Saban at Alabama as an offensive analyst, and has deep ties in recruiting hotbed Texas.

Rhett Lashlee (SMU OC) The Mustangs are top ten in both scoring offense and yards per game, and Lashlee is a hot prospect.

Joe Brady (LSU WR) A WR coach and passing game coordinator at LSU and former assistant to New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton, his influence helped transform LSU quarterback Joe Burrow into the Heisman Trophy winner.

HIGHER LIKELIHOOD CANDIDATES (in no particular order)

Charlie Weis, Jr. (FAU OC) Son of the former Patriots and Notre Dame coach, Florida Atlantic had a prolific offense, averaging 35.2 points per game this season. That’s good for No. 16 in the FBS.  (UPDATE:  Named OC at USF)

Tim Albin (Ohio U. OC) A candidate last year, Albin once again led a potent offense in Athens as Ohio averaged 34.7 points per game, good for No. 20 in FBS.

Rob Sale (Louisiana OC) While his offensive line background might not be optimal, the Ragin’ Cajuns finished No. 11 with 38.8 points per game.  A talented recruiter in the south.

Will Healy (Charlotte HC) The 49ers’ scoring improved by more than 10 points per game and 1.5 yards per play as former quarterback and first year coach Healy led Charlotte to a 7-5 mark and the Bahamas Bowl after a 12-36 mark in their first four years in the FBS.

Kevin Johns (Memphis) Johns spent six seasons at Indiana (2011-16), the final three as the team’s offensive coordinator. The Hoosiers rewrote 54 school records during Johns’ time there, including single season marks for points, total yards, passing yards and rushing yards.  Johns overlapped a year with Allen, and has been successful everywhere he has been.

Will Hall (Tulane OC) The Green Wave’s offense made major statistical jumps after Hall’s first season.  He joined Tulane after departing Memphis.  Now with the Tigers’ head coaching job open, he could be a favorite to go back there.

Keith Heckendorf (Arkansas State OC)  A former QB coach at North Carolina, Heckendorf calls the plays at Arkansas State for the 31st scoring offense and more than three points per game better than what the Red Wolves produced last year before he arrived.

Kevin McGiven (San Jose State OC) In two years McGiven led the Spartans from No. 122 to No. 48 in total offense and No. 116 to No. 60 in scoring offense.

Ryan Pugh (Troy OC) In his first year leading the Troy offense the Trojans jumped from 79th and 50th in total offense and scoring to 23rd and 30th, respectively.  Pugh played at Auburn and has deep ties in the area.

Matt Kubik (Louisiana Monroe OC/QB)  Louisiana Monroe was No. 19 in the country in total offense, and Kubik is another coach well connected in the south.


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