The 15 Best Offensive Coordinators in College Football
The coaching carousel was a little bit different in 2013-14. All of the biggest-name hires seemed to be former head coaches bouncing around from one school to another, as opposed to big-name coordinators getting a promotion.
The two best offensive coordinators who became head coaches this offseason—Blake Anderson (North Carolina to Arkansas State) and Chuck Martin (Notre Dame to Miami-Ohio)—were considered among the best in their profession, but neither was considered at the top.
Without a Kliff Kingsbury to Texas Tech-type move this winter, the names on this list are stacked. Almost all of the hottest offensive coordinators in the country will remain offensive coordinators for at least another season, which means it was hard to crack the top 15.
But based on their resume, their recent success and whom they have learned from by coaching under, a group of offensive coordinators did stand out as the most adept in the country for next season.
Sound off below and let me know who I overlooked.
T-15. Lane Kiffin (Alabama) and Garrick McGee (Louisville)
Lane Kiffin and Garrick McGee return to the coordinator ranks after largely unsuccessful stints as head coaches. Kiffin has left sewage in his wake after leaving the Oakland Raiders, Tennessee and USC, while McGee could never gain proper traction at UAB.
But each was a successful offensive coordinator in a previous life, which is why they are linked on this list. Kiffin coached a couple of the most successful USC teams under Pete Carroll, and McGee was a Broyles Award finalist under Bobby Petrino at Arkansas in 2011.
Now McGee has been reunited with Petrino at Louisville, and Kiffin is under Nick Saban at Alabama. Both coordinators have the talent on the roster and proper mentor in place to be successful once again.
14. Tim Beck, Nebraska
Nebraska's offense took a major step back last season, falling from No. 8 to No. 61 in Football Outsiders' offensive F/+ ratings.
Tim Beck's fall to the bottom of this list corresponds to that, but he does not fall off entirely, because a lot of last season was out of his control.
Injuries to quarterback Taylor Martinez forced his hand was forced, and neither Ron Kellogg nor Tommy Armstrong was ready to lead the team. Beck realized this and did the only thing he could, force-feeding the ball to Ameer Abdullah, the nation's leading returning rusher.
With more consistent play from Armstrong, whom Bleacher Report's Erin Sorensen raved about during spring practice, Beck should have this offense looking much more like 2012's than it did last season.
13. Mike Norvell, Arizona State
Mike Norvell is one of the hottest young coaching names in college football, and with another season like the one he and Arizona State enjoyed in 2013, he is not likely to remain a coordinator for long.
A big part of that is the names that he has worked under.
In addition to longtime mentor Todd Graham, Norvell's time as the passing game coordinator at Tulsa included collaborations with Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn and Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris (whom we'll get to in a bit).
The results of that tutelage have been difficult to ignore. ASU finished with the 11th-most efficient offense in the country last season, per Football Outsiders' offensive F/+ ratings, and with Taylor Kelly and Jaelen Strong returning, it could be just as good in 2014.
In which case, bye-bye, Coach Norvell.
12. Kurt Roper, Florida
Kurt Roper was a Broyles Award finalist in 2013 after leading Duke to the ACC Championship Game, and he parlayed that season into one of the best jobs in the country: offensive coordinator at Florida.
Despite an obvious talent disadvantage, Duke finished No. 33 to Florida's No. 99 in offensive efficiency last season, per Football Outsiders' offensive F/+ ratings. With former blue-chippers such as quarterback Jeff Driskel and running back Kelvin Taylor at his disposal, Roper has a chance to lead a massive turnaround in Gainesville.
If he can get the offensive line playing at a much higher level than last season, Roper should be able to do precisely that.
"We've got some guys up front that that are pretty good," he told Bruce Feldman of FoxSports.com (then writing for CBS Sports) back in April. "We've just got to stay healthy because we're not loaded with numbers, but our starting five is pretty talented."
This could be a team to watch in 2014.
11. Doug Nussmeier, Michigan
The stigma against Doug Nussmeier's resume—that "anyone could win at Alabama"—is a little bit unfair but also a little bit justified. The talent he got to coach under Nick Saban was overwhelming.
As far as drop-offs go, Michigan is as good a place as any for Nussmeier to land. It is not like he will be coaching MAC-level talent; he will be coaching, once again, some of the best prospects in the country. He just won't be coaching exclusively the best prospects in the country, as he had been the past two seasons.
All of that is to say that there's a reason he falls just outside the top 10 on this list. I need to see him re-establish himself outside of Alabama—especially since his offensive play-calling, at times, left a bit to be desired during the 2013 season.
If he can turn around Michigan's stagnant attack—particularly on the ground—Nussmeier could vault into the top five by next year.
10. Jake Spavital, Texas A&M
Where were you at the age of 29?
Jake Spavital has taken over play-calling duties at Texas A&M before his 30th birthday, which is ridiculous considering how far the Aggies have come as a program these past two seasons. And a big part of Johnny Manziel's improvement—as a passer, that is—during the 2013 season should be credited to Spavital's expertise.
Before coming to College Stattion, Spavital spent two years as the quarterbacks coach under Dana Holgorsen at West Virginia, one year as a graduate assistant under Mike Gundy at Oklahoma State and one year as a graduate assistant under current A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin when he was at Houston.
Think about what that means.
Every quarterback Spavital has worked with since 2009—Case Keenum, Brandon Weeden, Geno Smith and Johnny Manziel—has either started an NFL game or got drafted in the first round. Manziel should make that qualifier irrelevant at some point during 2014.
Whom would you trust more to groom a signal-caller?
9. Josh Heupel, Oklahoma
Josh Heupel didn't have his best year in 2013.
Oklahoma struggled until the very end of the season trying to replace Landry Jones at quarterback, and at times the results were ugly.
However, struggles such as those are customary when a team replaces a four-year starter under center. It is one of the reasons I am wary of Georgia in 2014 (despite all the great things I've heard about Hutson Mason). All things considered, Heupel did a pretty good job.
Besides, one year is only one year. Heupel's resume before last season is impressive enough to land him in the top 10 regardless. The Sooners rank consistently among the top 20 offenses in America, and Trevor Knight's performance in the Sugar Bowl inspires hope (to say the least). Not many coordinators can drop 45 points on Alabama.
8. Scott Frost, Oregon
Oregon's offense faltered down the stretch of last season, but for a good portion of 2013, the Ducks did not miss a beat despite losing former head coach/offensive savant Chip Kelly to the NFL.
A good portion of the credit for that success ought to go to offensive coordinator Scott Frost, who was promoted from receivers coach after his predecessor Mark Helfrich was tabbed to replace Kelly.
Here is how Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports described Frost after Oregon demolished Washington in the second half of last year's meeting:
Kelly was the master of this offense, this program. He called the plays as head coach from the sideline. When he left, Kelly tossed the keys to his offensive coordinator, Helfrich, who tossed the keys to Frost -- formerly the receivers coach. You can joke all you want about Frost being born on third base in terms of getting that coordinator's gig, but he earned it.
Success finds him. As far as anyone knows, Frost also dated the hottest cheerleader in high school and drove the hottest car. We know he drove a powerhouse offense as Nebraska's quarterback in the 90s. Before age 40, his coaching life is just beginning. Having steadily moved up the coaching latter, this is Frost's fifth year with Oregon. During that run, the Ducks have played for a national championship (2010) and seem destined to play for another soon.
Quarterback Marcus Mariota was playing through an injured knee during the second half of last season but should be healthy at the start of 2014. If you subscribe to the theory saying his health was the reason for Oregon's slow finish—which, for posterity, I do—it is hard not to consider the Ducks the favorites to win the Pac-12.
Frost is a big reason why.
7. Seth Littrell, North Carolina
Seth Littrell turned Indiana into an offensive powerhouse.
Really, that is where the argument should end.
And if you think "powerhouse" is a strong word—which is understandable—look a little closer at the numbers. Despite losing their best offensive player (running back Tevin Coleman) for the last three games of last season, the Hoosiers finished No. 16 on Football Outsiders' offensive F/+ ratings, ahead of teams such as Missouri, Clemson, Louisville, Oklahoma and Wisconsin.
Before joining Kevin Wilson in Bloomington, Littrell did a good job with the offense under Mike Stoops at Arizona. He parlayed his success with IU into the offensive coordinator gig at North Carolina, where he and Larry Fedora should lead one of the sneaky-best offenses in America next season and compete for an ACC Championship.
He belongs near the top of this list.
6. Cam Cameron, LSU
Cam Cameron might be the biggest name on this list.
He is a former NFL head coach and offensive coordinator, and even though his last professional stint didn't end so well—his firing from the Baltimore Ravens helped spur their Super Bowl run in 2012-13—he is a respected mind with a specialty in vertical passing.
His first season at LSU could not have gone much better, so it may come as a surprise to see him ranked this "low." I admit that this might look foolish if the Tigers repeat last year's success in 2014.
However, it is difficult to rank Cameron any higher considering the surplus of talent he had at his disposal last year.
In the 2014 NFL draft, Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry were both selected in the first two rounds, Jeremy Hill came within one pick of being the first running back off the board, and Zach Mettenberger—who went in the sixth round—probably would have been selected much higher if not for the torn ACL he suffered against Arkansas.
Fair or not, I need to see Cameron duplicate last year's success without so much NFL-ready talent. Other coordinators on this list have proved themselves capable of doing that the past few years.
5. Mike Bobo, Georgia
For reasons that are hard to understand, Mike Bobo is often used as a scapegoat for Georgia's inability to "get over the hump" in the SEC.
But why? His job is to run the offense, right? The same offense that finished No. 4 in the country in 2012 and No. 8 in the country in 2013 on Football Outsiders' offensive F/+ ratings? The same offense that did the latter despite massive injury attrition?
Bobo was a Broyles Award finalist in 2012 and backed up that campaign with another good season in 2013. He is tenured and has a good rapport with head coach Mark Richt, which should have 'Dawgs fans feeling comfortable about their offense heading into next season.
4. Tom Herman, Ohio State
Tom Herman is a product of meritocracy, having worked his way all the way up from Division III to Ohio State by installing his offense and succeeding at every stop of his assistant coaching career.
Before arriving in Columbus to join Urban Meyer in 2012, Herman helped establish Iowa State as a perennial giant-killer in the Big 12. The Cyclones scored 28 points in an upset of Texas in 2010, 41 points in an upset of Texas Tech in 2011 and 37 points in a double-overtime upset of No. 2-ranked Oklahoma State that same season.
It's easy to see why Herman was offered the job at Ohio State.
And he's done well with that position since joining the staff. Ohio State ranked No. 2 in the country in offensive efficiency last season, per Football Outsiders' offensive F/+ ratings. Only Texas A&M scored higher—and not many teams seem poised to score higher in 2014.
The Herman-Meyer combo is a difficult one to compete with.
3. Rhett Lashlee, Auburn
Rhett Lashlee has spent the better part of the last 13 years working side by side with Gus Malzahn—who is not a bad mentor to have.
He played quarterback under Malzahn at Shiloh Christian during his high school years and eventually joined him as a graduate assistant during his first stint under Gene Chizik at Auburn. When Malzahn went to Arkansas State, Lashlee followed; when the head coach came back to the Plains one year later, Lashlee followed once again.
In that time, Lashlee has mastered Malzahn's arcane offensive system, which could make him a hot name in future coaching searches.
"He knows this offense inside and out," Malzahn said of his protege, per Joel Erickson of AL.com. "He responds to pressure very good, he's coached and been in pressure situations, and he's got the ability to stay calm and make wise decisions, especially for somebody his age."
2. Chad Morris, Clemson
The highest-paid assistant in college football, Chad Morris has helped make Clemson one of the two annually relevant teams in the ACC.
His offense wasn't as good as some projected in 2013 but still finished in the top 20 on Football Outsiders' offensive F/+ ratings, checking in at No. 19. In his first two seasons with the Tigers, they finished No. 21 and No. 7, respectively. Combined, that is good for an average of 12.3.
Not many teams can compete with that.
Morris will have to earn his paycheck more than ever in 2014 now that Tajh Boyd, Sammy Watkins, Brandon Thomas, Roderick McDowell and Martavis Bryant are all in the NFL. But there is nothing in Morris' past that suggests he will not be up to the task.
1. Philip Montgomery, Baylor
Baylor has been at the pinnacle of college football offense the past three seasons—or, at the very least, it has been tied with Oregon for that title. Either way, Philip Montgomery ends up at No. 1 on this list.
Head coach Art Briles get most of the credit for Baylor's turnaround—and not a single note of that is undeserved—but most people fail to realize that he is not calling the plays. Whenever Baylor finds a gaping crease in a defense and turns it into an effortless 70-yard touchdown, Montgomery is the one who dialed it up.
So why haven't most people heard of him?
It's hard to say for sure. Most people probably will in time, but for now, Montgomery prefers the relative anonymity.
"I think that’s definitely his style," said former Baylor quarterback Nick Florence, according to Max Olsen of ESPN.com. "He likes being in the background, doing his part and running the machine."
If it ain't broke, don't fix it.