Ole Miss’ offensive coordinator position opened up last Thursday with the firing of Dan Werner, and from the parade of candidates rumored to be in consideration for the gig, it sounds like the search for a replacement is still wide open. Chuck Rounsaville of the Ole Miss Spirit reports that former Texas OC Sterlin Gilbert and TCU co-OC Sonny Cumbie are expected to be talked to no later than Sunday. Rounsaville also reports that Memphis OC Chip Long and Sam Houston State OC Phil Longo are expected to speak with Freeze about the position later this week.
Sterlin and Gilbert are the type of big names for which Ole Miss fans have clamored. Sterlin’s Longhorns offense ranked 83rd and 49th in scoring the last two seasons, but it also included a 2,000-yard rusher who won the Doak Walker Award and a freshman quarterback who threw for 21 touchdowns and nearly 3,000 yards—both major selling points to a Rebel team courting five-star running back recruit Cam Akers and hoping to develop young quarterback Shea Patterson.
Cumbie has coached explosive offenses at Texas Tech and TCU and may want to step out of the shadow of fellow co-offensive coordinator Doug Meachum in Fort Worth. He’s also been linked to the OC job at Texas.
Long, a 32-year-old considered to be one of college football’s up-and-comers, served as tight ends coach and special teams coordinator at Arizona before following Mike Norvell over to Memphis last offseason. Despite the loss of NFL first-rounder Paxton Lynch, the Tigers offense ranked 17th in points per game, 23rd in explosiveness and 29th in yards per play under Long in 2016.
Longo has overseen the most prolific offense at the FCS level. Using an RPO-heavy spread that looks almost identical to that of Freeze, Sam Houston State averaged 547 yards and 49.5 points per game this season. But they also played a weak schedule, even by FCS standards, not facing an opponent with a winning record until the last game of the regular season. Longo’s prolific offense was completely shut down in an embarrassing 65-7 loss to James Madison in FCS playoffs on Friday, raising the question of whether the gaudy regular season stats were largely the product of weak competition. In Sam Houston State’s three playoff losses over the last three years, Longo’s offenses have mustered 3, 10 and 7 points.
There is another option mentioned by Rounsaville, by the way: he claims Freeze is considering naming Matt Luke offensive coordinator and hiring a quarterbacks coach to replace Werner. Luke is the Rebels’ O-line coach, but was listed as a co-offensive coordinator alongside Werner and had a roll in play calling.
That option is by far the least appealing for a fanbase who wants to see change. The Rebels need fresh ideas on the offensive side of the ball, and simply removing Werner doesn’t add that. It could be argued that Werner was in fact the best offensive play caller on staff—the Rebels offensive took a step forward last season after Werner was giving more control over play calling following the loss to Memphis.