College football teams can rise and fall at a rapid pace — in large part due to coaching changes.
Example: Defensive coordinator Mike Elko was with Notre Dame for one season, and moved the passing defense from 116th in 2016 to 21st in 2017. He’s now with Texas A&M, where the Aggies expect similar improvement.
There are a few key things to pay attention to when it comes to coaching and coaching changes. Some stats can fluctuate year to year, but a coach such as USC’s Clay Helton has ranked outside the top 100 in penalty yards per game in two-plus years with the Trojans. And Clemson’s Brent Venables consistently has defenses that cause turnovers and havoc. Those aren’t coincidences.
Here are the three of the characteristics I’m looking for to consider whether or not a coaching change matters:
- Offensive line success
- Defensive havoc
Head Coaching Changes That Matter
South Alabama hit a home run with Steve Campbell, formerly of Central Arkansas. Not only has he won a Division II national title, a JUCO co-national title and 2017 Southland Conference championship are also on his resume.
The Central Arkansas Bears went 20-5 over the past two years, including a victory over Sun Belt staple Arkansas State in 2016. I’m betting South Alabama’s win total over (4), and will find spots to bet it throughout the year.
Need a change of pace? Chad Morris brings his smash-mouth spread offense to an Arkansas offense that ranked 108th in adjusted pace. The Razorbacks tied for 61st in points per game in 2017, which was steadily dropping each year under Bret Bielema.
Whether this translates to wins will take a while to answer, but with a Razorbacks schedule that includes Colorado State, North Texas and Ole Miss, there should be plenty of overs for bettors to cash on.
Coordinator Changes That Matter
Dan Mullen and Scott Frost get plenty of praise as head coaches, but the defensive coordinators deserve partial credit. Todd Grantham had a ferocious defense at Mississippi State last year that ranked 13th in efficiency and seventh in overall havoc. Expect him to continue that with the talent he’s got now at Florida.
Nebraska defensive coordinator Erik Chinander was a must-hire for Frost, as they worked well together at Central Florida. With the pace of Frost’s up-tempo option offense, it’s important that the defensive coordinator knows how to scheme and create an efficient substitution rhythm to keep up.
A July piece I wrote covered coaches who consistently rank in the top 25 for havoc (tackles for loss, forced fumbles and passes defensed). It’s important to know who the best coaches are at causing disruption on Saturday, and where they are now.
Offensive Line Coach Changes That Matter
But offensive line coaches cannot be ignored. Tom Herman sought out Herb Hand for the Longhorns’ offensive line. Hand has had success at every stop in his coaching tenure, according to every advanced metric, recently ranking Auburn fifth in power success rate and ninth in stuff rate. Both stats are indicators of the offensive line dominating the line of scrimmage.
The Longhorns’ biggest question mark is on the offensive line, so Herman is hoping Hand will clean things up quickly. Texas finished in the bottom third of FBS teams in nearly every offensive line metric last season, per FootballOutsiders.
It’s also important to pay attention to the departures that aren’t backfilled. Notre Dame offensive line coach Harry Hiestand moved on to the NFL after a successful run with the Irish. Notre Dame ranked fifth in adjusted line yards and 12th in opportunity rate during 2017, and Hiestand developed two top-10 NFL draft picks in 2018.
New offensive line coach Jeff Quinn was promoted after being on the Irish staff since 2015, and it could take a little longer to revamp the line.