Big 12 Up To Old Tricks With New Assistants
By Mike Casazza
No matter the cause, Big 12 teams seem to spend a part of every offseason looking for an assistant coach. In the best cases, a head coach has to replace an assistant because an outside program thought enough of that assistant to pick him to lead its program. On many other occasions, an assistant, and typically an offensive coordinator or an assistant on that side of the ball, is lured to coordinate or just coach and recruit at another program.
There are times when the necessity is less fortunate. Sometimes a head coach is tired of watching opponents wear out his defense and has to make a change at coordinator. In the worst scenarios, an athletic director has to fire a coach and hire a new one and then that coach has to choose a staff — and multiply the grief on campus when the athletic director has to hire a coach because the former coach left on his own.
Hiring assistants is an increasingly more critical part of a head coach’s longevity as schools sign off on larger salaries and multi-year contracts with raises to lure and to keep assistants. Recruiting isn’t more important than ever before, but it’s more competitive, more saturated and thus a greater indicator of a head coach’s competence than ever before. Where an assistant is known to recruit geographically often is as important or as interesting as the position he’s known to coach.
Given the length of spring practice, the preseason, the regular season and bowl prep as well as the value of recruiting, fundraising and self-scouting, it does pay to have nine guys who can handle it all throughout the calendar.
This offseason hasn’t been any different. If anything, it’s been more active. There’s a new head coach and just about a completely new staff at Texas Tech. Assistants came and went everywhere but Baylor. A couple of the additions are obviously important, like offensive line coach Chris Klenakis at Iowa State, where he figures to teach the Cyclones about the Pistol offense he learned working for Chris Ault at Nevada. Others are obviously interesting, like Mike Yurcich, the new offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State, where three of the last four coordinators worked wonders and earned head coaching gigs.
There was plenty of other movement and a host of hires worth a look.
Offensive Line, West Virginia
Nobody did more maneuvering in the offseason than Mountaineers coach Dana Holgorsen. He appointed a new defensive coordinator, put the former defensive coordinator in charge of special teams and asked his offensive coordinator to move from coaching receivers to quarterbacks. Holgorsen also hired a new receivers coach, cornerbacks coach, safeties coach and Crook.
This nod could have easily gone to safeties coach Tony Gibson because of his recruiting ties to the Pittsburgh area WVU didn’t mine nearly well enough during dips for Penn State, Pitt and Ohio State, but Crook is such a compelling hire.
He’s worked plenty in spread offenses, though at smaller schools, including a successful run at Harvard, but he spent his last two seasons at Stanford. Simply put, Stanford’s running game is nothing like WVU’s. Crook wasn’t Holgorsen’s first pick, but Holgorsen nevertheless liked the prospect of using some smash-mouth tactics in a spread offense to add a toughness WVU’s running game lacked at key times in Holgorsen’s first two seasons. It’s not a major transition, either. What Holgorsen likes to do with three-back shotgun sets isn’t dramatically different from Stanford’s one-back sets with two tight ends from under center. If WVU can incorporate tight ends in the run and pass game, this could be fun to watch.
Running backs, Texas
Porter, the former Memphis coach, isn’t likely to replace Mack Brown, but Brown’s decision to hire Porter is likely to take some heat off the Longhorns coach. For starters, Porter is a former running back and a career running backs coach, which is something his predecessor, Major Applewhite, could not say. Applewhite now coaches quarterbacks as the co-offensive coordinator.
Greater than that is the fact there just aren’t many other recruiters as accomplished as Porter. Texas, believe it or not, could use that.
In 2011, Rivals.com called Porter the best recruiter of the previous decade. The site named Porter, who was an LSU assistant at the time, the recruiter of the year in 2007 and 2009. Jimbo Fisher wasn’t the only star on that Tigers staff. Today, nobody has more commitments for the 2015 class — yes, 2015 — than Texas.
Porter can coach a little, by the way. He’s familiar with the Big 12 after working from 2002-04 for Les Miles at Oklahoma State and leading Vernand Morency and Tatum Bell to all-conference honors. Those two also played together in 2004 and combined for 2,204 yards and 24 touchdowns. That was the start of a series of successful Porter platoons at LSU, Memphis and last year at Arizona State.
Why does that matter? Texas is loaded in the backfield with Johnathan Gray, Joe Bergeron and Malcolm Brown all back for next season. Gray had the most yards (701), Brown the highest average (5.3) and Bergeron the most touchdowns (16) as they combined for 1,625 yards and 23 touchdowns. It takes a savvy touch to juggle three backs, but Porter has it.
Defensive Line, Oklahoma
Hard to say who liked the other more here, but the union of Oklahoma and the 33-year-old Montgomery, who many consider one of the best young coaches out there, speaks loudly. This is a promising coach leaving a great program for a great program replacing a longtime coach.
Montgomery had a good thing going after coaching two seasons at Michigan and recruiting at a high level as the Wolverines rejoined the nation’s elite programs and defenses. He got a lot of responsibility for making the move, though. Montgomery replaced Jackie Shipp, who’d been at Oklahoma for 14 seasons. Previously, Stoops let Shipp coach defensive tackles and let Bobby Jack Wright coach defensive ends. Montgomery, who looks like he could still play, will get the entire line while Wright will lead the cornerbacks.
Did it hurt that Montgomery, like coach Bob Stoops, played for Iowa? Probably not, but line play is critical in the Big 12, where ends and tackles have to get in the backfield and tackle running backs and sack or rattle quarterbacks to make life easier on the defensive backs. The Sooners are usually talented and productive up front, but were No. 89 against the run and No. 70 in sacks per game last season. Montgomery’s potential and his eye for talent have to help.
Luper certainly has the coolest background among the newcomers. He was a running back at Oklahoma State from 1984-87, but then spent five years in the Army as an air traffic controller. Luper closed his career at Stephen F. Austin and in 1993 made the all-Southland Conference team with 1,054 yards rushing and nine touchdowns.
He’d later return to the Big 12 as Porter’s successor at Oklahoma State in 2005 and the Cowboys would boast the Big 12’s leading rusher from 2006-08. Luper spent the last four years with Auburn, which won the 2010 national title. Luper gets a lot of credit for some of the nation’s most potent running offenses and the successes of guys like Ben Tate and Michael Dyer.
Luper was also on board for a line of highly-regarded recruiting classes and TCU is trying hard to do more than simply hold its own recruiting in Texas. That’s a key part of the plan for sustaining wins and bowl games as the Horned Frogs transition to the Big 12. Luper will have his hands full working with the receivers for the first time in his career, too. JaJuan Story and Josh Doctson are eligible after transferring from Florida and Wyoming and sitting out last season. Sophomore LaDarius Brown and junior Brandon Carter were two of TCU’s most celebrated recruits in many years and are poised for big seasons.
Keep an eye on a 6-foot freshman from Auburn, Ala. Cameron Echols-Luper probably knows a thing or two about the sport.