Ole Miss struggled with offensive consistency down the stretch of its disastrous 2016 season, a flailing run game and the loss of Chad Kelly dooming it to long stretches of incompetence. Hugh Freeze thinks he may have found the answer in Sam Houston State offensive coordinator Phil Longo, who has been officially announced as the replacement for recently-fired Dan Werner. Longo spent the last three seasons coordinating an up-tempo, air raid derivative that’s become the most prolific offense at the FCS level, though struggles against stiffer competition in the playoffs raises questions about his ability to transition to the SEC.
Rebels AD Ross Bjork said Friday that Longo will make $1.3 million over a two-year contract. Wesley McGriff, who’s been hired as the next defensive coordinator, will make $3.3 million over three years.
After ranking 23rd in yards per game and 22nd in points per game in Longo’s first season, Sam Houston has ranked first in yards per game and no worse than fifth in points per game over the last two years. During a span of 31 games in 2014 and 2015, the Bearkats averaged an incredible 488 yards and 37.8 points per contest. Both of those seasons saw Longo’s offenses rank top 10 in the FCS in both passing yards per completion. His rushing attacks have been less prolific but nevertheless productive, ranking 12th, 10th and 37th in yards per carry during his three seasons.
The obvious caveat is that Longo’s recent success has come at the FCS level, but even more concerning is the caveat that his offenses have faltered against stiffer competition. Consider that during Sam Houston State’s historically productive 2016 season, the Bearkats didn’t play a team with a winning record until the final game of the regular season. Against James Madison in the quarterfinals of the FCS playoffs, Longo’s offense averaged 3.3 yards per play, went 2-of-19 on third downs mustered just 7 points during a humiliating 58-point beatdown. In the three playoff losses Sam Houston State has suffered during Longo’s tenure, the offense scored 3, 10 and 7 points, all of which came in ugly blowouts. Those three games shouldn’t dismiss Longo’s numerous achievements at Sam Houston State, but they are reason enough to cause pause among those wondering if his FCS success will translate to the SEC West.
Longo’s previous stops included assistant jobs at William Patterson University, Lasalle, Minnesota-Duluth, Slippery Rock, Youngstown State and Southern Illinois. At each one of those stops, his teams shattered school records and finished in the top 10 in total offense.