The Biggest Offseason Priority for Every New Power 5 CFB Coach in 2022

Brad Shepard@@Brad_ShepardFeatured ColumnistJanuary 25, 2022

The Biggest Offseason Priority for Every New Power 5 CFB Coach in 2022

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    If you only pay attention to what happens on the college football field, you're going to have a difficult time figuring out all of the new faces roaming the sidelines in 2022.

    There was more turnover than an Olympic swimming event in this year's coaching carousel, and plenty of big names got lured elsewhere with big-money contracts.

    With increased dollar signs come increased responsibility, and Power Five coaches need to hit the ground running at their new locations (or, in some cases, new positions) to try to fix gaps that caused the changes in the first place.

    From filling out staffs to recruiting difference-makers to hitting the transfer portal to retooling positions on both sides of the ball, every new coach has big priorities before things kick off next September.

    There's no way you can accomplish everything needed in one offseason, but you can get off to a quality start. Here are each new Power Five coach's first step toward turning things around.

    *Coaches are listed alphabetically by first name.

Billy Napier, Florida: Help Anthony Richardson Realize He's a Star

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    If you'd have said a year ago that a Florida team coming off an SEC Championship Game appearance would be replacing Dan Mullen, many would have laughed. But that's how quickly things can fall apart.

    Now, the Gators are hoping Billy Napier can keep them from wandering further into this wilderness they've had to navigate since Urban Meyer left following the 2010 campaign. 

    Given the deficiencies on both sides of the ball in 2021, there are a lot of things that need to be adjusted, starting with a culture change and reinforcements on offense and defense. But the biggest key to Florida's success is moving on from the Emory Jones debacle.

    Napier secured a commitment from former Ohio State backup Jack Miller after Jones announced his plans to enter the transfer portal, but this should be Anthony Richardson's team.

    The dual-threat signal-caller has shown flashes of brilliance with his big arm and fast feet despite being inconsistent and not always making the best decisions with the ball. 

    Napier has to get the 4-star quarterback to unlock his potential. If you've got elite quarterback play, it can cover up a lot of warts, and Richardson has that type of ability. Florida needs to cultivate that in throwing sessions, especially this spring, and tailor the offense to Richardson's skill set.

Brent Pry, Virginia Tech: Take Steps to Get Back to 'Bud Ball'

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    Remember the heyday of Virginia Tech football when Frank Beamer was calling the plays, the special teams was getting game-changing blocks and the defense was carrying the Hokies with "Buddy Ball" under coordinator Bud Foster?

    The Hokies have lost that over the past few years.  

    While it's going to take time to rebuild things on offense following the Justin Fuente era—the Hokies lost their starting quarterback, top two runners and top three receivers—the defense can start carrying the team again.

    Moving to defensive-minded Brent Pry may just be what was necessary despite his lack of head coaching experience. Pry was a graduate assistant with Virginia Tech from 1995 to '97, learning under Foster, and his hard-nosed, tough-minded defenses have been the bedrock of Penn State over the past few years.

    Even when the Nittany Lions struggled offensively, they could rely on Pry's defense. Now, the Hokies need to be able to do the same.

    A renewed emphasis on defense and special teams would be a strong start for a proud program hoping to return to prominence. That starts this spring.

Brent Venables, Oklahoma: Refortify the Sooners Roster

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    The powerful Oklahoma football program is so much bigger than Lincoln Riley. But the Sooners had become synonymous with Riley's wide-open, high-octane philosophy. When Riley left Norman for USC, the program came apart at the seams.

    Now it's new coach Brent Venables' job to rebuild some of the exterior walls.

    Getting OU graduate and former Ole Miss offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby to join his staff hasn't hurt. But Venables is a defensive guru who has built his resume by authoring quality defenses with the Sooners and Clemson Tigers. While it would be refreshing for OU fans to see things get better on that side of the ball, Venables needs to replenish the roster through recruiting and the portal.   

    He's already secured commitments from UCF quarterback Dillon Gabriel, California offensive lineman McKade Mettauer, Missouri tight end Daniel Parker Jr., Hawaii defensive lineman Jonah Laulu and Appalachian State linebacker T.D. Roof.

    According to The Athletic's Jason Kersey, the Sooners are still active in the portal. Couple that with a 10th-ranked 2022 recruiting class full of defensive players and two quality running backs, and there's a lot to like.

    Venables has a lot left to do, but continuing to refortify the roster is the top priority. And it looks like he's retooling to compete right away.

Brian Kelly, LSU: Rebuild a Culture

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    The LSU Tigers need a culture adjustment, and it appears they're going to get it.

    Under former head coach Ed Orgeron, they experienced the highest of highs in 2019 when they went undefeated with Joe Burrow under center and won the national championship. Since then, they haven't put together a winning campaign

    It wasn't out of the ordinary to see Coach O recruit strong but stitched-together classes in which decommitments were replaced with other quality players late in the cycle. That instability continued.

    In this year's Texas Bowl, LSU played with only 51 scholarship players and no quarterback.

    Now Brian Kelly is in Baton Rouge, and he has basically rebuilt the coaching staff and is on his way to gutting the roster. There are no teams more active (or successful) in the transfer portal than the Tigers, who have brought in Power Five playmakers to essentially replace their secondary. Kelly also convinced quarterback Myles Brennan to return.

    The biggest question remaining is about whether Kelly can rebuild the culture of the program and get everything to mesh this spring.

Dan Lanning, Oregon: Fix the QB Situation (for Now and the Future)

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    Dan Lanning has a first major hurdle as the head coach at Oregon, and if he can get over it, it bodes well for the future.

    The 35-year-old former Georgia defensive coordinator and first-time head coach is going to be able to recruit because he's relentless in that area. 

    But he has to convince the future to hang around when that future may not be the present answer at the most important position: quarterback.   

    The Ducks secured a commitment from Auburn transfer Bo Nix, who is a great leader and a playmaker with his arm and his legs. While he's inconsistent, his ceiling is so high, you almost have to play him.

    What does that mean for 4-star Ty Thompson, who hardly got to play while former coach Mario Cristobal trotted out Anthony Brown? It appears Thompson is sticking it out to battle Nix for the starting job in the spring, and the uber-talented player should be future of the team.

    But if he doesn't win the job, will he hang around in Eugene with three years of eligibility remaining? What about Jay Butterfield, the No. 5 pro-style quarterback from the 2020 class? 

    The new portal rules make it more difficult to keep everyone happy. But if Nix wins the job (as expected) and Lanning can keep Thompson around to mature another year, it may be the biggest program-building win he can have.

Jake Dickert, Washington State: Get Cameron Ward Ready for the D-I Jump

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    If you fix the quarterback position, you go a long way toward fixing the team.

    That's why several of the coaches on this list have that priority. 

    It's no different at Washington State, where defensive coordinator Jake Dickert took over for fired Nick Rolovich during the 2021 season and did such a good job the Cougars removed the "interim" tag.

    While the defense looks to be on firm footing, WSU must replace starting quarterback Jayden de Laura, who transferred to Arizona after the season. The Cougars received a pledge from the dynamic Cameron Ward, who torched the opposition at FCS program Incarnate Word.

    Eric Morris coached Ward at the FCS level in an Air Raid offense and is now the Wazzu offensive coordinator, and Ward has three years of eligibility remaining. 

    The 6'3", 220-pound Ward has to win the job, but his ceiling is high. And he already has familiarity with the system. If Ward continues to develop, it could be a huge deal for a team coming off the Apple Cup win and looking to compete in the Pac-12 North.

Joey McGuire, Texas Tech: Recruit to Fix the Defense Long-Term

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    The Texas Tech football program has a much higher ceiling than many believe.

    If you recall the Mike Leach era with the Red Raiders, winning is possible in Lubbock, and the program hopes new coach Joey McGuire is the answer after he replaced Matt Wells, who was fired midway through last year.

    The cupboard is far from bare. Texas Tech has quality options at quarterback, where there will be an open battle between Donovan Smith and former Oregon transfer Tyler Shough. 

    The legendary former high school coach has ties across the state and is known for being an exceptional recruiter. While it has pieces to win now, Texas Tech needs to develop its NIL program and win major battles for players in the fertile recruiting grounds not far from home.

    This year's recruiting class is rated 42nd, and while McGuire needs to be scouring the transfer portal, he also should get another couple of guys to help outfit the roster, especially to help a woeful pass defense that was the Big 12's worst and 119th out of 130 FBS teams in 2021.

    Texas transfer Tyler Owens could mean big things to the secondary, as well as three other youngsters in the 2022 class. The Red Raiders have nine transfers, and they're trying for more. McGuire needs to now lay his own foundation.

Kalen DeBoer, Washington: Work His Offensive Magic

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    To pin Washington's offensive struggles under Jimmy Lake on quarterback trouble would be akin to saying a rusted-out car in a junkyard has engine trouble.

    It's a true statement, but there are tons of things to fix.

    Enter Kalen DeBoer, an offensive mastermind who has made a living out of rebuilding train-wreck offenses into powerhouse units. After spending time at Indiana and Fresno State, he is heading to Seattle for his first head job in the Power Five. 

    Last season, the Huskies struggled to move the ball, finishing 115th out of 130 FBS teams. It may be time for DeBoer to give a long look at Sam Huard. Former Indiana quarterback Michael Penix Jr. is there too, and Dylan Morris is still around.

    While it's no secret DeBoer likes to throw the ball around, a team can't usually win in the Power Five without some semblance of a running game.

    Stanford was the only team in the Pac-12 with a worse rushing offense last year, and Washington has had just one 100-yard rusher in the past 19 games. With Sean McGrew gone, the Huskies will turn to a committee of Emeka Megwa, Cameron Davis, Richard Newton, Jay'Veon Sunday and Caleb Berry.

    With open competition expected everywhere this spring, DeBoer needs to find some answers and develop a group of dependable players.

Lincoln Riley, USC: Convince Caleb Williams to Join Him in L.A.

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    At USC, new head coach Lincoln Riley is trying to flex his recent resume to get an influx of transfers, and there is no bigger need than at quarterback. Kedon Slovis (Pittsburgh) and elite freshman Jaxson Dart (undecided) have left Los Angeles for other homes.

    While Dart could eschew going to Ole Miss, Oklahoma or even BYU and ultimately play for the Trojans, Riley is trying to get elite signal-caller Caleb Williams to rejoin him. Williams unseated Spencer Rattler as the Sooners' starter as a true freshman and looks like a star-in-the-making.

    With Malachi Nelson coming in 2023, the Trojans are set for the future. But nothing would be better than Williams continuing his development under Riley and helping lead the Trojans back to contention.

    According to Yahoo's Pete Thamel, Williams' father, Carl, said the quarterback's priority is finding a program that'll best prepare him for the NFL. Dean Blevins of OKC-KWTV reported his decision is down to USC and LSU.

    It would be surprising if Riley didn't have the advantage. After all, he developed Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray and Jalen Hurts while in Norman. There may not be a better quarterback whisperer out there.

    This seems to be a match that makes too much sense.

Marcus Freeman, Notre Dame: Develop a Fast, Aggressive Defense

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    Note: We know Notre Dame is an Independent school and not a Power Five program, but based on the program's level of play over the years, it made sense to include Marcus Freeman and the Fighting Irish.

    Developing Tyler Buchner into a better passing quarterback this offseason is vital for Notre Dame, but it isn't the biggest priority.

    Marcus Freeman was the defensive coordinator for the Irish during the '21 season after building a monster unit at Cincinnati, and he has as much upside as any young head coach in the country.   

    But the Irish had far too much talent to collapse the way they did in the Fiesta Bowl, allowing Oklahoma State to come from 21 points down to win 37-35. That needs to fuel Freeman in the offseason.

    With Notre Dame having to replace some key pieces on the defense, including safety Kyle Hamilton (who dealt with injuries last year), it's time for Freeman's elite recruiting to shine. 

    The Irish's seventh-rated recruiting class features 12 midterm enrollees, led by linebacker Jaylen Sneed and fellow second-level defenders Joshua Burnham, Niuafe Tuihalamaka and Nolan Ziegler. Multiple 4-star defensive linemen and secondary members are already in school too.

    Sneed is a speedy playmaker from SEC country, and Tuihalamaka has notable closing speed. When you add Northwestern All-American safety transfer Brandon Joseph into the equation, the pieces are there for Freeman to develop a quality, quicker unit.

    Capitalizing on those building blocks to develop an aggressive defense needs to be the primary focus this offseason. Notre Dame could be a playoff contender again if everything falls into place.      

Mario Cristobal, Miami: 'Coordinating' the Direction of the 'Canes

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    Mario Cristobal finally feels like the right coach to lead Miami back to being The U.

    First, he knows the area. It's his home (like former coach Manny Diaz's), but he brings the pedigree of being a dynamic recruiter. That's already been shown with the signing of 4-star edge-rusher Cyrus Moss. 

    While recruiting is the most vital part of the future, Cristobal also has to find his coordinators on both sides of the ball. Once those are in place, it'll help sell the program's direction to the players of the future.

    According to John Brice of Football Scoop, Cristobal has zeroed in on Toledo head coach Jason Candle to be his offensive coordinator. Landing him would be a coup.

    Cristobal is also still searching for the right defensive coordinator and should want to build the same type of tough-minded defense he possessed at Oregon. 

    Yes, recruiting is vital, but Cristobal hasn't had issues with that aspect of the game. Luring the right assistants to Coral Gables is going to be pivotal.

Mike Elko, Duke: Rebuild the Blue Devils Defense in His Image

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    At one point last year, Duke looked like a bunch of high schoolers running around on defense, fruitlessly trying to stop Louisville quarterback Malik Cunningham.

    So, no matter how many improved seasons longtime coach David Cutcliffe had in Durham, the time had come to make a change. The Blue Devils were last in the FBS in defense by a long shot, allowing 517 yards per game. 

    That's why the administration pegged Texas A&M defensive coordinator Mike Elko to be Duke's next head coach after recent stints as DC at Wake Forest (2014-16), Notre Dame (2017) and with the Aggies (2018-21)

    While he has a complete rebuild on his hands at the basketball school, he has proved before he can build a strong defense.

    "We need to spread the word that Duke football now stands for excellence nationwide. The vision I have for this program is that we will achieve the highest levels of success in everything we do," Elko said, according to North Carolina Public Radio's Mitchell Northam. "And we will win championships on the field in the fall. I want to make sure we say that again. We will win championships on the field in the fall."

    Those are lofty aspirations for a program not used to winning, but the groundwork needs to be laid defensively in order for that to happen.

Sonny Dykes, TCU: Continue to Mine Portal for and Cultivate Defensive Playmakers

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    Rarely has there been a Sonny Dykes-coached team that failed to put up points, so even though the TCU Horned Frogs are having to replace stars like running back Zach Evans, they will find a way.

    Defense is another thing altogether.

    The Horned Frogs were known for a strong defense for much of former coach Gary Patterson's tenure, but they fell apart in 2021. They allowed 34.9 points per game (118th nationally) and 7.2 yards per play (126th). The proud program fell to 119th in total defense, allowing 461.8 yards per game.

    Perhaps the biggest loss is edge-rusher Ochaun Mathis, who is in the transfer portal. Dykes is off to a great start, plucking Joseph Gillespie from Tulsa to be his defensive coordinator.

    "It was heck, yeah, I'll be there tomorrow and how soon can I get there," Gillespie told 247Sports' Horned Frog Blitz's Jeremy Clark. "Obviously, it was an immense amount of excitement."

    Getting safeties Mark Perry (Colorado) and Ishmael Burdine (Missouri) along with linebacker Terrence Cooks (Texas) are big portal wins and hopefully plug-and-play components. Four-star safety Chace Biddle flipping from SMU was big too.

    Now those guys have to jell, and Gillespie and crew must continue to mine the portal and settle some position battles and find dependable guys already on the roster. The Frogs need to get a lot better on that side of the ball. If they do, a massive turnaround is possible.

Tony Elliott, Virginia: Try to Fix Recruiting Relationships in Talent-Rich State

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    This past season wasn't the best one for Tony Elliott, who went from being coveted by several programs to struggling big-time as Clemson's offensive coordinator in the post-Trevor Lawrence era.

    Still, Elliott eventually landed in Charlottesville as the Virginia Cavaliers' head coach following Bronco Mendenhall's unexpected retirement.

    Elliott is inheriting a team that was bolstered by a strong offense, but the Hoos only had two winning seasons over Mendenhall's six years as head coach. Much of that is because of his inability to keep elite talent at home.

    Elliott has to change that.

    Since the 2018 recruiting class (five cycles), Virginia has signed only eight prospects in the state's top 25. Meanwhile, schools like North Carolina, Clemson, Ohio State and Penn State have poached tons of talent from the Commonwealth.

    Elliott told 247Sports' Jacquie Franciulli last month that "we're going to make the state a priority," which is vital if Virginia is ever going to get back to being the program it's capable of being.

    Elliott was a terrific recruiter under Dabo Swinney in South Carolina. Will he replicate that in Virginia? It's doubtful it'll be a quick fix, but he needs to flip the narrative.


    All stats courtesy of CFBStats and Sports ReferencePlayer and recruiting class rankings courtesy of 247Sports.

    Follow Brad Shepard on Twitter, @Brad_Shepard.