The B1G’s 5 most impactful offseason hires
There is significant coaching turnover in college football every offseason. Some moves are overstated. Some, like Joe Brady at LSU, can lead to national titles.
Who were the the most impactful hires in the Big Ten? Here are 5 who will leave a mark:
5. Matt Lubick (Nebraska offensive coordinator)
Someone had to take the fall for an underwhelming first 2 seasons of the Scott Frost era, and it wasn’t Frost. It wound up being offensive coordinator Troy Walters, who came with Frost from UCF. In the past 2 years, Nebraska ranked just 9th in the Big Ten in points and 8th in total yards while tying for the 4th-most turnovers. Not exactly the return to glory the fan base was hoping for.
Enter Matt Lubick, who coached with Frost at Oregon. Lubick’s experience with Frost — as well as an offensive coordinator at Oregon and Washington — will serve him well. There is that built-in trust that will be critical during a pandemic with limited in-person interaction. And there’s also the type of buy-in to what Frost is trying to build in Lincoln. Frost lauded Lubick’s organizational skills and the level of detail he’s bringing to an offense that needs a jolt.
Lubick will also coach the receivers and can overhaul a position group that desperately needs it, as the Huskers began spring practice with just 4 scholarship receivers available. He has already been a huge success on the recruiting trail, too, flipping wideout Latrell Neville (No. 66 wide receiver nationally in 2021 class) from Virginia Tech.
The on-field impact should be felt sooner than the recruiting, though, as Nebraska looks to make a leap in Frost’s third season.
4. Greg Schiano (Rutgers head coach)
There might not have been a more important hire than Rutgers convincing Greg Schiano to return to New Brunswick. Sure, Schiano went 68-67 in his 11 seasons in his first stint at Rutgers — hardly numbers that would make most athletic directors jump for joy that he’s back. But it’s about what Schiano built a Scarlett Knights program into more so than the overall record. He took a team that had won 11 games in the 5 seasons before he arrived into a team that went to a bowl game in 6 of his final 7 seasons (and the three years after he left, with his players).
Now, he takes over a team that has won 13 games over the past 5 seasons. This isn’t an identical situation, by any means, since Rutgers is in the Big Ten instead of the Big East. And the Big Ten East Division — featuring Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and Michigan State — is among the most difficult in college football.
Schiano is the unique person who can pitch recruits in talent-rich New Jersey about what Rutgers can be at its peak. The crop of high school players was in elementary and middle school the last time Rutgers football was relevant. Rutgers already has 22 commits in the 2021 class — tops in the Big Ten — and its class ranks 8th.
It will take a few years, no doubt, but Schiano will have Rutgers at least at a competitive level. The only reason Schiano isn’t higher on this list is because there is a ceiling at this job because of the aforementioned gauntlet that is the Big Ten East. The best Rutgers could probably hope for is a season like Indiana had in 2019 — and that will take time.
3. Mel Tucker (Michigan State head coach)
Some people might forget that the only Big Ten program to reach the College Football Playoff besides Ohio State is Michigan State. And yet the Spartans were in dire straights when Mark Dantonio decided to retire in February. The coaching carousel had already come and gone, leaving Michigan State in the unenviable position of luring a coach right before a bunch of recruits were about to sign.
Michigan State probably overpaid for Mel Tucker to leave Colorado, but it was worth it. Tucker will figure it out in East Lansing, though like Schiano’s situation at Rutgers, it will require time. Four years after reaching the CFP, the Spartans had absolutely zero momentum under Dantonio, with back-to-back 7-6 seasons and a 2020 recruiting class that ranked 10th in the Big Ten and no 4-star recruits.
To get someone on short notice with Tucker’s résumé — a former NFL defensive coordinator and defensive coordinator at Georgia, plus assistant coaching stints on national championship-winning staffs at Ohio State and Alabama — was rather remarkable. He is also a former Michigan State assistant under Nick Saban, so he knows what it takes to win there. (Hint: Recruit Ohio!)
In 3 years, he might be the most impactful hire of this cycle — but in the short term, 2 assistants have a greater potential impact.
2. Kerry Coombs (Ohio State defensive coordinator)
Those around the Ohio State program knew Jeff Hafley wanted to run his own program, but they certainly didn’t expect him to bolt to Boston College after just one season. His impact was immense — from No. 71 in total defense in 2018 to No. 1 in 2019. The Buckeyes didn’t have an inexplicable collapse like in past seasons against Iowa and Purdue.
It certainly helps that co-defensive coordinator Greg Mattison can provide continuity, but with the Buckeyes paying Kerry Coombs $1.4 million, it’s safe to say they expect him to have the same impact that Hafley had.
Coombs will be a great fit at Ohio State. He’s a former Ohio State assistant who has NFL experience. He’s regarded as the best recruiter from Urban Meyer’s tenure. And the fact that he’s on the defensive side of the ball, while head coach Ryan Day can primarily focus on recruiting offense, will be critical in helping the Buckeyes continue their recruiting roll.
He’ll also help keep the defense on the roll that was 2019 — even without Chase Young and Jeff Okudah, who were the top players in the country at their respective positions.
Coombs could be a coordinator on a national championship squad, but he falls just short of the top spot.
1. Kirk Ciarrocca (Penn State offensive coordinator)
The reason Kirk Ciarrocca takes the top spot is two-fold. For one, he did an outstanding job at Minnesota as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach with Tanner Morgan. And secondly, Penn State’s gain is Minnesota’s loss. Penn State and Minnesota would have been 2 of the top 5 teams in the Big Ten coming into this year, on paper. A prominent assistant coach going from one of those teams to the other bumps one up even more and weakens the other.
Minnesota’s breakthrough coincided with Morgan’s breakthrough. Morgan totaled 30 touchdowns and 7 interceptions in 2019, and his 178.7 passer rating was the 22nd-best since 1956. The Golden Gophers were a run-heavy offense, but they punished defenses through the air, finishing 6th in the country in passing yards per attempt.
Translate that to a Penn State offense that is already expected to be among the conference’s best with Sean Clifford, one of the best tight ends in the country in Pat Freiermuth and a talented trio at running back, and Ciarrocca is in a great situation. Penn State couldn’t ask for much more after Ricky Rahne left to become the head coach at Old Dominion.
James Franklin has built a great program and deserves all the credit in the world for bringing the Nittany Lions back to national relevance after Joe Paterno, but he needs a great offensive coordinator alongside him, and Ciarrocca is exactly that. Penn State will be College Football Playoff contenders once again with an offensive coordinator capable of maximizing the talent he has at his disposal.