College Football’s 10 Biggest Coordinator Changes in 2023
John Byrum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Clemson offensive coordinator Garrett Riley.
Between programs switching conferences, the transfer portal and gaudy NIL deals stealing headlines all offseason, we’ll forgive you if you missed every single highlight from the 2023 college football coaching carousel.
Coordinator hires are a common casualty of the news cycle, but their importance cannot be overstated. As play-callers, they have as much, and in some cases more, of an impact than head coaches on Saturdays.
For that reason, I’ve identified 10 coordinator hires that have the potential to change their team's fortune this fall.
Garrett Riley, Clemson
Let’s start with arguably the best hire of the entire offseason.
Riley helped turn a below-average TCU attack (28.7 PPG in 2021, 65th) into a well-oiled machine.
And he did it with a backup quarterback who was known more for his legs than his arm. Max Duggan became a Heisman finalist in Riley’s Air Raid system, shredding defenses en route to a berth in the National Championship game.
Beyond Duggan’s statistical glow-up, Riley unlocked Kendre Miller’s potential. The feature back scored 17 rushing touchdowns and piled up over 1,500 all-purpose yards.
Now, Riley inherits a five-star passer in Cade Klubnik, a first-team All-ACC running back in Will Shipley and an offensive line that returns 80% of its starts from last season.
His real task will be putting his receiving corps in the best possible position to succeed, namely Beaux Collins and Antonio Williams. The four-star receivers flashed potential last season and could be the difference between the Tigers fielding a good offense or an elite one in 2023.
This hire has the potential to keep the Tigers atop the ACC and push them back into the College Football Playoff for the first time since 2020.
Phil Longo, Wisconsin
Aside from Army pivoting away from the flexbone up at West Point, the Badgers' shift from ground-and-pound to Longo’s Air Raid will be the most jarring reversal from tradition in college football this season.
Last season, Wisconsin averaged 25 pass attempts per game, placing itself in the bottom 10 of FBS. Under Longo's leadership, North Carolina averaged 37.5 attempts per game. Drake Maye exploded onto the scene and could very well become a top-five NFL Draft pick next spring.
The difference for the Badgers is that while Maye had weapons on the outside like Josh Downs, Wisconsin is light on experience out wide.
Chimere Dike leads the pack with 78 career receptions, but the Badgers will need Cincinnati transfer Will Pauling and USC transfer C.J. Williams to pop right away. Williams was a four-star recruit out of high school and simply got buried on the Trojans' depth chart, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Mater Dei product make a difference right away.
The schedule allows for Longo and quarterback Tanner Mordecai to settle in as the Badgers face Buffalo (72nd in pass defense), Wazzu (114th), Georgia Southern (103rd) and Purdue (67th) in the opening month.
I’m expecting big things early from this passing attack against those porous secondaries.
Will Stein, Oregon
Oregon has an incredible offensive coordinator track record. It starts way back in the late 1980s when Mike Bellotti took over as the Ducks’ OC. In 1994, Bellotti called plays for the Ducks' first trip to the Rose Bowl since 1957. In 1996, Dirk Koetter launched his career by calling plays for UO.
But the OC train in Eugene was only heating up.
Jeff Tedford spent four years with Bellotti and nearly got the Ducks into the national title game in 2001. In 2005, Gary Crowton was a Broyles Award finalist. And this all just set the stage for the arrival of Chip Kelly in 2007.
Toss in some successful years of Scott Frost calling plays, and it’s easy to see why the Oregon OC job is one of the most coveted in all of college football.
Stein, a 33-year-old wunderkind, rolls into town just four years removed from calling plays in high school. His time in San Antonio was formative, and as the UTSA OC last season, he was the maestro of one of the nation’s most dynamic offenses.
The Roadrunners averaged just shy of 37 points per game, the third-best scoring average among Group of Five teams. Quarterback Frank Harris finished the season with the third-highest raw QBR score, higher than all four Heisman finalists (Caleb Williams, Max Duggan, CJ Stroud, Stetson Bennett).
With Bo Nix and a fantastic receiving corps, he has the potential to keep the scoreboards lit up in the Pacific Northwest.
His big challenge will be the Ducks’ offensive line, which is thin on experience. A'lique Terry is also a young coach tasked with mentoring the offensive line. This is the only fly in the ointment for an offense that has a top-five ceiling.
Brennan Marion, UNLV
Let’s stay with the young up-and-comers in this group.
Marion has a fantastic mix of experience, a novelty in his schematic approach, and an impressive array of apprenticeships under his belt.
He’s been an offensive coordinator for three years (Howard, William & Mary), worked as both a wide receiver coach and passing game coordinator in his stops at Pitt and Texas, and rubbed elbows with great offensive minds including Steve Sarkisian, G.J. Kinne and Mark Whipple.
His GoGo offenses at the FCS level always featured a lot of running out of his quarterbacks and a lightning-fast tempo, which is great news for UNLV’s Doug Brumfield.
The 6-foot-6 lefty could explode with Marion calling the plays, particularly when he dials up the read option. Brumfield burned North Texas for 100 yards on the ground last season, and despite missing action due to injury, he still punched in six scores using his legs.
If he plays 12 games in the GoGo, expect 500-plus rushing yards and 10 rushing scores.
Ricky White is also a name to remember because Marion will target the former Michigan State Spartan early and often through the air. I expect the Runnin’ Rebels to move from their 2022 scoring level (26.3 PPG, 76th) into the top 40 this fall.
Robert Anae, NC State
In most professions, taking three different jobs in three years may be a bit of a red flag. But the opposite is true of Anae, who appears to be getting better with age.
The 64-year-old unlocked Brennan Armstrong’s full potential in 2021 while at Virginia. Armstrong went berserk, for lack of a better word, exploding for 40 total touchdowns and 4,700 total yards.
Last season, Anae was tasked with revitalizing the Syracuse offense, and he did that in short order. The season before he got to SU, the Orange ranked 91st in scoring and 94th in total offense. Last fall, under Anae’s guidance, the offense improved by over 20 slots in both categories and flashed brilliance as they stormed out to a 6-0 start.
Now, Anae is on the move again, this time heading to Raleigh, where he’s set to reunite with Armstrong. NC State is replacing 194 targets and all of its starting wideouts, but Rice transfer Bradley Rozner could shine in the Anae system.
If the Wolfpack can upset Notre Dame in Week 2, a 7-0 start isn’t out of the question. If that happens, look for Anae to be on the move again this offseason as a hot coaching commodity.
Lance Guidry, Miami
Miami was on this list last year with the buzzy hire of Josh Gattis from Michigan. While that didn’t work out, the Canes are back to the drawing board with another ballyhooed coordinator.
Guidry isn’t a youngster in the coaching ranks, having worked as a DC at Western Kentucky and a few stops at the FCS ranks.
What he built at Marshall was nothing short of sensational. The Thundering Herd closed last season in the top 10 in 12 different defensive categories. They took the ball away 29 times (fifth), surrendered only 15 red-zone touchdowns (seventh) and fielded the nation’s best third-down defense.
This was enough to upset Notre Dame in South Bend, the program’s second road upset of a top-10 team after a victory over Kansas State in 2003.
Guidry has a chance to hit the ground running in Coral Gables given the talent at his disposal. Pro Football Focus caught a lot of flack over the summer for listing four Miami defenders on its All-ACC first-team. But Phil Steele did put those four on his All-ACC teams as well, albeit first through third teams.
The Canes get a chance to make a statement early when they host Texas A&M at Hard Rock Stadium. If Guidry can draw up a game plan to flummox the Aggies, who may still be fighting over who will be calling plays, Miami could be a surprise undefeated team deep into October.
Jay Hill, BYU
Hill coached under Urban Meyer and Kyle Whittingham at Utah from 2004-13. From there, he headed to Weber State and resurrected a program that had gone 4-19 in the previous two seasons before his arrival in Ogden. From there, he took the Wildcats to five FCS Playoffs, including a trip to the national semifinals in 2019.
The Wildcats regularly led the Big Sky in total defense, scoring defense, rushing defense and interceptions. He’s produced some great defensive backs, including former FCS All-American Taron Johnson, who's now a starter in the Buffalo Bills’ secondary.
Last fall, the Cougs got pushed around for the first time in recent memory. They were buried in the 90s in a few key metrics, namely scoring and total defense.
Hill’s first task is generating pressure, something BYU struggled to do last season. Spring practice reports indicated that his unit was far more aggressive than the lackluster 2022 defense.
Eddie Heckard, an FCS All-American at Weber State, transferred in and apparently is a lockdown cornerback for the Cougars.
If he is, and Hill can manufacture some pressure this season, BYU could see a big jump on the defensive side of the ball.
Charles Kelly, Colorado
Deion Sanders has understandably been courting attention and controversy at every turn since arriving in Boulder.
But “Coach Prime” has done more than infuse his roster with talent from the transfer portal. He also dipped into the coaching carousel and plucked two fantastic coordinators in Kent State’s Sean Lewis and Alabama’s Charles Kelly.
Kelly has won two national titles as an assistant at Florida State and Alabama and spent the last four years working closely with Nick Saban. There may not be a better defensive laboratory to work in than the one Saban built, and Kelly has some intriguing pieces to help turn around the CU defense in short order.
For starters, the Buffs have a slew of super-talented defensive backs.
Travis Hunter and Cormani McClain form a five-star cornerback tandem and are joined by former four-star Myles Slusher from Arkansas, second-team All-SWAC safety Shilo Sanders from Jackson State, first-team All-SWAC safety Cam'Ron Silmon-Craig from Jackson State and the best holdover from last year’s roster, Trevor Woods, who put up 84 tackles and five pass breakups last season.
If Kelly and a few interesting transfers at edge rusher find a way to generate even an average amount of pressure, this could be a surprisingly competitive defense this fall.
Brandon Bailey, Georgia Southern
The average age of the first three defensive coordinators I’ve written about was 52. That’s nearly double the age of Bailey, who was a GA at Texas A&M as recently as 2020.
The rising star was a revelation last year in the MAC, coaching up one of the most impressive defenses from a negative play perspective in the entire country. Buffalo finished 13th in passes defended, seventh in forced turnovers (26), sixth in forced fumbles and first in Havoc.
It appears that Bailey picked up a ton coaching at A&M under Mike Elko, another defensive mastermind who knows how to generate Havoc and turnovers.
This season, Bailey takes over a horrific Georgia Southern defense that finished 129th in total defense and 84th in takeaways.
From a personnel standpoint, this is nearly a gut job, but I like the Washington and Kansas State transfers the Eagles are bringing in at safety. Their two returning linebackers — Marques Watson-Trent and Khadry Jackson — also combined for 198 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss and five pass breakups last fall.
The schedule also allows for them to work out the kinks early with home games against The Citadel, a rebuilding UAB and a road trip to face Ball State.
If Bailey is as good as he appeared to be last year in western New York, he’ll whip this defense into shape in short order.
Shiel Wood, Tulane
Last season, Troy broke through and won the Sun Belt thanks to a rugged defense. The Trojans were absolutely elite, ranking in the top 10 nationally in yards per play allowed, yards per pass attempt and scoring defense.
Wood was equally effective as Army and Wofford’s DC in recent years, and he earned a reputation for stopping the run, getting off the field on third down and limiting big plays. Troy gave up just 38 plays of 20 yards or more last season, the fifth-best mark in the entire country.
Now, Shiel is moving onto Tulane, the defending Cotton Bowl champions, and he’s positioned to take on a familiar foe right away.
Tulane opens with South Alabama, a team that Shiel put in a straitjacket last season. His defense held South Alabama to 255 total yards while forcing seven punts. The Jags scored just six points, and Troy beat them on the road, a win that propelled them to a Sun Belt West Division title.
Chris Hampton built a solid defense last season in New Orleans — a unit that excelled at limiting big plays. Wood has plenty of returning experience and a few solid additions in the portal to build off of that success.
Kam Pedescleaux, a PFF preseason first-team All-Sun Belt safety in 2022, is a fantastic get. He gives Wood a chance to blend what should be a disruptive front with a promising, if light-on-experience, secondary.
I trust in Wood to protect a relatively green secondary while they gel and to have this defense clicking by October.