After Ole Miss announced the firings of co-offensive coordinator Dan Werner and recruiting assistant Barney Farrar on Thursday morning, Ole Miss is now at dual crossroads for both offense and defense.
Werner, like the recently-retired Dave Wommack, had been with Hugh Freeze since his arrival in Oxford and enjoyed big-time success in the early years, grooming JUCO quarterbacks Bo Wallace and Chad Kelly recruiting five-star Shea Patterson. Werner was never able to solve the mystery that was the running game, however. In 2016, the Ole Miss offense ranked 13th in the country in passing but 97th in rushing.
Freeze is now tasked with hiring another coordinator, this time on the offensive side of the ball. Will he make a big splash hire and go on a national hunt for someone who can run the spread? Would he promote from within and start a riot on the Square? Or will the looming NCAA investigation force him to welcome on a relatively unknown dude for cheap?
Here’s a list of potential candidates, listed in no particular order.
Offensive coordinator and receivers coach at Oregon
The Ducks limped to a 4-8 finish this year, but still ranked top-30 nationally in offensive efficiency and points per game in Lubick’s first season as coordinator. He spent the previous three seasons in Eugene as Mark Helfrich’s passing game coordinator, helping the Oregon rank fourth, first and 10th in yards per passing attempt and overseeing Marcus Mariota’s Heisman run.
Ole Miss fans might remember him from the Ed Oregeron era, when he was a receivers coach who helped recruit and develop Dexter McCluster. He made a name for himself at Duke under David Cutcliffe, earning Wide Receivers Coach of the Year in 2012.
Lubick is on the open market after Helfrich’s firing, and his status as a spread passing guru would certainly be intriguing to Freeze. On the other hand, a pass game specialist might not be the answer for an offense that’s biggest problem has been on the ground.
Offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Texas
Gilbert is another young coordinator who is a hot commodity after running the tempo offense to perfection at Tulsa (which finished third nationally in plays per second) and steering the Longhorns’ offense for the past two seasons. Running back D’Onta Formeman just won the Doak Walker Award after plowing for over 2,000 yards in Gilbert’s offense, which could be a major selling point to superstar recruit Cam Akers. Gilbert also coached freshman quarterback Shane Buechele to 21 touchdown passes and nearly 3,000 yards passing, which is a selling point to an Ole Miss team that will be breaking in Shea Patterson next season.
With all that being said, Texas’ offense ranked 83rd and 49th in scoring the last two seasons.
Co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at TCU
Gilbert’s spot at Texas almost went to Cumbie, who was reportedly in contract talks with the Longhorns last offseason. As the coordinator at Texas Tech, the former Tech QB led an offense in 2013 that threw it around for 5,107 yards and 35 touchdowns while running for 1,593 yards and 19 touchdowns—numbers that Ole Miss fans would love to see in 2017. Cumbie’s been working as a co-coordinator alongside Doug Meachum at TCU, and his flirtations with Texas last season suggest he’s interested in running his own ship. Whether Freeze—who listed Werner as a co-coordinator alongside Matt Luke—would let him do so is another question.
Co-offensive coordinator and receivers coach at Auburn
Speaking of someone who might want to get out of his colleague’s shadow, the former Auburn quarterback and receiver could be in line for a promotion. Burns has worked with Freeze’s buddy Gus Malzahn at Arkansas State and now on The Plains. At ASU, he helped as an assistant for an offense that had a 3,000-yard passer, a 1,000-yard receiver and a 1,000-yard rusher. He was also a key cog on the Tigers’ 2010 national title team as a receiver. But, would Gus let one of his most-prized pupils and promising young coaches leave for an SEC West rival?
Offensive coordinator at East Mississippi Community College
The wild card of the bunch is someone you might remember from Netflix’s documentary “Last Chance U”. Despite his status as a JUCO assistant, his resume is nothing to scoff at. Wood has coached six NJCAA All-America quarterbacks as the Lions’ OC, including former Ole Miss signal-callers Chad Kelly, Bo Wallace and Randall Mackey.
EMCC has put up ridiculous NFL Blitz numbers under Wood, averaging 500 yards and 44 points per game in 2016. Wood’s offenses have helped Scooba Tech win three national titles in the past five years and it’s possible that he could help bring some firepower to a Rebel offense that was stagnant in the second half in 2016. Still, there’s that whole “never coached at a FBS program” thing. Also, he’s originally from Starkville and is a State alum.
Offensive coordinator at Sam Houston State
Longo led Sam Houston State to the 2014 Southland Conference championship and an 11-5 season that saw the Kats advance to the FCS semifinals in playoff games with victories over three top 10-ranked opponents. In his two seasons in Huntsville, Tex., the Bearkats have produced 15,128 yards of total offense. During a span of 31 games in 2014 and 2015, Sam Houston has averaged 488 yards and 37.8 points per contest. Those are two numbers that are very impressive wherever you are.
Last season, SHSU led the nation in total offense and first downs per game and was 5th in scoring, 9th in rushing offense, 14th in third down conversions and 16th in passing offense. These numbers might be at the FCS level, but he has been extremely successful everywhere he has been. The only question if he’s hired at Ole Miss is can he recruit at a SEC level?