Less than three weeks after firing his defensive coordinator, Matt Luke finds himself searching for someone new to coach the other side of the ball. Ole Miss offensive coordinator Phil Longo has been hired in that same capacity under Mack Brown at North Carolina, according to Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports.
UNC fans and the national media will be quick to gawk at the overall numbers Longo produced in his two years in Oxford—indeed, Feldman noted that the 2018 Ole Miss offense ranked seventh nationally in yards per play and second in gains of 30 or more yards.
But Longo’s offenses routinely struggled against sturdier defenses, averaging just 10.5 points in blowout losses to Alabama, LSU, Auburn and Mississippi State this season. Most rumors in the wake of the Rebels’ three-point Egg Bowl debacle suggested Ole Miss encouraged Longo to take a new job this offseason.
Either way, Luke now gets to make his own hire at offensive coordinator—remember that Longo was brought in by Freeze a few months before his resignation.
Here are five names you should know heading into the search.
Dan Werner, QB coach at South Carolina
Per Ben Garrett, Luke’s search starts with Werner.
The first name to watch in Matt Luke’s search for a new OC is Dan Werner, who, I’ve been told, and reported over a week ago, has significant interest in returning.— Ben Garrett (@SpiritBen) December 11, 2018
There’s a good chance it will end there.
It was Freeze’s firing of Werner in 2015 that opened the door for Longo’s hiring. Werner and Luke split play calling duties for a couple years, which would make his return to Oxford rather seamless.
The biggest plus here is that Werner, who groomed Bo Wallace and Chad Kelly, is something of a quarterback whisperer. In his recent years in South Carolina, he’s developed Jake Bently into one of the SEC’s better passers. He’s best known for his role with Miami, where he coached 2001 Maxwell Award winner Ken Dorsey, 1992 Heisman Trophy winner Gino Torretta, and Heisman candidates Steve Walsh and Craig Erickson.
Of course, there was a reason Werner was fired from Ole Miss after the 2015 season. His offenses sputtered down the stretch of a 5-7 campaign, having particular issues with rushing efficiency and red zone scoring.
Still, Werner’s the favorite at this point. He knows Luke, knows the recruiting landscape and has documented success in the SEC.
Larry Fedora, former head coach at North Carolina
The College Station, Tex. native has ties in spades in the Magnolia State and head coaching experience.
After stops at Baylor, Air Force, and Middle Tennessee State, Fedora really got his career off the ground in Gainesville as a part of Ron Zook’s staff. He coached running backs and receivers for Florida while also serving as running game coordinator, passing game coordinator, and offensive coordinator.
Then, after spending some time in Stillwater with Mike Gundy, he took the head coach gig at Southern Miss where all he did was win 34 games in four years and take them to a bowl game every season he was in Hattiesburg.
And despite his struggles in Chapel Hill, he did win an ACC division title and take them to four-straight bowl games from 2013-2016. His offenses did high hit marks of 17th, 26th, 27th, 28th, and 38th in S&P+ during his tenure leading the Tar Heels.
He was a part of three elite recruiting classes at Florida (10th, 1st, and 5th) where he recruited blue-chip prospects like Ciatrick Fason, Deshawn Wynn, Andre Caldwell, Chris Leak, and Chad Jackson and his offense at North Carolina attracted NFL players Mitch Trubisky and Ryan Switzer.
Tee Martin, former offensive coordinator at Southern Cal
The former BCS champion quarterback at Tennessee was at USC for six years before being relieved of his duties this offseason. Aside from 2018’s disappointment, Martin put up some impressive numbers, ranking in the top 16 of offensive S&P+ each of the past two seasons. Last year, he helmed the Trojans to their highest per-game yardage total since the Leinart/Bush days.
But Martin’s real strength is ‘crootin. Sure, the network and resources help at Southern Cal, but dude still signed 21 top-100 prospects during his time there. In 2012, Marqise Lee won the Biletnikoff Award, given to the nation’s most outstanding receiver, and was a first team All-American. Martin also recruited and coached Juju Smith-Schuster and Nelson Agholor to first-team Pac-12 and All-American seasons in which they broke conference records.
I’m curious to what kind of relationship he has with Luke given their mutual ties to Tennessee. There wasn’t any overlap between the two of them in Knoxville but one would have to think they have at least spoken a few times. Tee is a Mobile, Ala. native and could potentially want to return to the South to get closer to his son, Clemson standout Amari Rodgers.
Matt Canada, offensive coordinator at Maryland
It is unclear if new Terrapins’ head coach Mike Locksley will keep Canada on board, but if he’s available, you have to interview this dude. In addition to Maryland, he’s held positions at Indiana, Wisconsin, NC State, Pittsburgh and LSU.
Canada is revered for his innovation in the pro spread offense. During each of his stops stops, he’s mixed in looks under center, shotgun, pistol and empty sets. Despite its simplicity, his sets are almost completely different every play, utilizing motions and shifts to confuse the defense and manipulate coverage schemes.
In 2016, his Pitt offense finished fourth in S&P+ and upset eventual national champion Clemson. At LSU, despite shuffling quarterbacks, his offense finished 42nd in S&P+. And this year at Maryland, the Terps were a joy to watch on offense when they damn near upset Big Ten champ Ohio State in overtime.
Also, his Terrapin offense finished 3rd(!) in red zone scoring in 2018.
If Ole Miss is going to empty the bank account on someone, Canada wouldn’t be a bad one to do it on given his track record utilizing pro spread and tempo schemes, something most believe Matt Luke wants to use moving forward.
Zac Roper, offensive coordinator at Duke
An Ole Miss grad, Roper has spent nearly all of his coaching career on staff with former Rebel coach David Cutcliffe at Duke. He was promoted to run the offense in 2018 and rewarded Cutcliffe by jumping 13 spots in S&P+ this season.
Roper’s offense also produced, for the first time in school history, not one, not two, but three players with 500-plus rushing yards each. The three were one of just two in the ACC to post 500-plus rushing yards and six-plus rushing scores each, the same as league champion and College Football Playoff semifinalist Clemson.
I know, I know, he’s a “good Reb”, but he has been a coordinator for several years at a Power 5 school and has done a lot with a limited recruiting network and challenging enrollment standards. If you take away the diploma and his mentor, he’s a pretty good candidate.