After a shockingly disappointing 2016 campaign, we expected significant turnover on the Ole Miss coaching staff this offseason. Hell, we clamored for it. After four years of stagnation, some changes were overdue.
Boy, were there changes. In less than a month, Hugh Freeze replaced both his coordinators and added new wide receivers, defensive line and linebackers coaches. The impending hire of Cal wide receivers coach Jacob Peeler—which was reported by multiple outlets on Tuesday afternoon—is the final piece of the puzzle.
Let’s take a look at all the changes.
Out: Dan Werner
Werner, who’d previously coached at Ole Miss under Ed Orgeron, rejoined Freeze in 2012 and helped transform Houston Nutt’s bumbling offense into a sleek spread attack equipped with one of the best passing attacks in the SEC. With Werner also serving as quarterbacks coach and grooming first Bo Wallace, then Chad Kelly, the Rebels ranked no worse than fifth in passing yards per game in each of the last five seasons. But the running game continued to lag behind, and the offense crumbled into incompetence this season after Kelly blew out his knee. READ MORE
In: Phil Longo
Longo spent the last three seasons as the offensive coordinator of Sam Houston State, which he shaped into the FCS’ most prolific scoring machine using a no-huddle spread very similar to that of Freeze. That Longo has never coached with Freeze is a refreshing change of pace and could lead to some novelty on offense, though his lack of FBS experience is an obvious concern. READ MORE
Out: Dave Wommack
Wommack coached some defense in his five seasons in Oxford, but his 2016 unit was a complete disaster. It ranked 77th in defensive S&P+, 100th in points allowed per game, 107th in explosiveness and allowed more rushing yards before contact than 60 other teams allowed in total. He “retired” in late November, hours before State piled up 457 rushing yards during its 55-20 Egg Bowl beatdown. READ MORE
In: Wesley McGriff
The two biggest knocks against McGriff are 1) he feels like another comfort hire for Freeze, having coached cornerbacks at Ole Miss in 2012 and 2) his only head coordinator experience came two decades ago at DII Kentucky State. On the other hand, McGriff is an ace recruiter (he helped bring Tony Conner, Robert Nkemdiche and Laquon Treadwell to Oxford) and has been successful at his many stops as a defensive backs coach, including his most recent stint at Auburn. READ MORE
Wide receivers coach
Out: Grant Heard
Freeze has confirmed that Heard is leaving, and while there’s been no official announcement, word has it that he’s heading to Indiana to become Tom Allen’s passing game coordinator. Heard’s not only an ace recruiter who helped build one of the SEC’s deepest receiving corps, but a great developer of talent who helped put Donte Moncrief and Cody Core into the League. Replacing him is no easy task.
In: Jacob Peeler
Peeler, the former inside receivers coach at Cal, accepted a position at Ole Miss and will be one of the new faces counted on to salvage the 2017 class in three weeks. Peeler’s units in Berkeley put up monster numbers and he was a top 20 recruiter of the year in 2016 according to 247Sports after signing the No. 1 wide receiver in the country, Demetris Robertson. Three of Jacob’s pupils signed with NFL teams following the 2015 season. READ MORE
Out: Dave Wommack
Wommack coached the linebackers in addition to coordinating. Anyone who watched Ole Miss football in 2016 knows that no position group needs improvement as desperately as this one.
In: Bradley Dale Peveto
The longtime Les Miles assistant has been criticized as a so-so Xs and Os coach and got canned by Ed Orgeron, but he was also one of the country’s most productive recruiters while at LSU. Since defensive coordinator Wesley McGriff is a career defensive backs coach without much experience coaching the front seven, Peveto will also serve as what Freeze has called a “defensive running game coordinator.” READ MORE
Defensive line coach
Out: Chris Kiffin
Kiffin couldn’t resist when his brother, Lane, offered him the defensive coordinator gig at Florida Atlantic. Outside of Heard’s wide receivers, Kiffin’s D-line has been the most consistently productive position group of the Freeze era and his role in piecing together the historic 2013 class earned him National Recruiter of the Year that offseason. There were a lot of assistants that Rebel fans wanted gone, but Kiffin wasn’t one of them. READ MORE
In: Tray Scott
Scott spent time as a graduate assistant under Freeze before taking over as the D-line coach at North Carolina. In just his first year in Chapel Hill, he was part of the nation’s most improved Power 5 defense and groomed relatively unknown Nazair Jones into an All-ACC performer and NFL prospect. He’s also known as a tenacious recruiter. Scott inherits a young but somewhat deep group led by Benito Jones, Marquis Haynes and Breeland Speaks. READ MORE
Out: Corey Batoon
After being relieved of his on-field coaching duties (which included special teams coordinator) in mid-December, Batoon was announced as a defensive assistant at Florida Atlantic. Freeze was heavily criticized for promoting Batoon from within back when Tom Allen departed, and the big plays surrendered by the Rebels safety corps over the last two years makes that criticism well-deserved. READ MORE
In: Wesley McGriff
McGriff, a veteran secondary coach, will oversee the safeties in addition to coordinating the defense.
Assistant Athletics Director for High School and JUCO Relations
Out: Barney Farrar
Farrar was the assistant named in the leaked Laremy Tunsil texts, which suggested the star left tackle was being handed cash by coaches. After about a month spent on administrative leave, Farrar was canned in the first week of December—something that doesn’t bode particularly well for the ongoing NCAA investigation. READ MORE