Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Doing things right

There were a couple of noteworthy hirings this week that were somewhat lost in the bowl shuffle:
  • LSU hired John Chavis (formerly of Tennessee) as defensive coordinator
  • Auburn hired Gus Malzahn (formerly of Tulsa via Arkansas) as offensive coordinator
While Les Miles has plenty of enemies, few can argue that he's been extremely successful, and the primary reason for that has been his ability to delegate. Look at the coordinators he has hired in his time at LSU: Gary Crowton (former Oregon offensive coordinator and BYU head coach), Jimbo Fisher (now offensive coordinator and coach-in-waiting at Florida State), Bo Pelini (now head coach at Nebraska), etc.

Miles has consistently identified the best and brightest assistants at the national level, brought them to Baton Rouge and allowed them to do what they do best. His failure to bring in a quality successor for Pelini is what led to the Tigers' struggles on defense this season, as it quickly became clear that the combo of Bradley Dale Pevoto and Doug Mallory wasn't getting the job done. As usual, though, Miles identified an elite candidate (Chavis) to shore up a struggling area and got him locked up before anyone else could. This is why he has been consistently successful despite his, um, difficulties with clock management.

While Tennessee has struggled the last few years on offense, Chavis hasn't had the same issues. In nine of his 14 seasons as the Vols' defensive coordinator, Tennessee ranked among the top three in the SEC in total defense (that's how you keep your job for 14 years).

As for the hiring of Gus Malzahn at Auburn, Gene Chizik hit the jackpot. Malzahn -- mostly known for bringing Mitch Mustain, Damian Williams and an assortment of other high school stars to Arkansas and then aiding in the development of the Wildcat formation with Darren McFadden -- is the type of coordinator Auburn was looking for when Tony Franklin was hired last year.

The reason that the Franklin hire failed is that he was never given a chance to run his patented "Air Raid" offense. For whatever reason, it appeared evident that Tommy Tuberville was set on a more run-focused philosophy, as the Tigers' offense last year resembled in no way the offense Franklin developed, taught and ran everywhere else he had coached.

Malzahn clearly favors the passing game, but his is quite a bit different than Franklin's, as discussed in this article at Smart Football. His offense is unique in that it is based more on a no-huddle tempo than on a particular scheme, but in general, Malzahn prefers extensive use of vertical routes and downfield passing, and not always out of a typical spread formation with four or five wide receivers. In other words, Malzahn's offense is closer to what you see at Oklahoma than what you see at Texas Tech.

But most importantly, just take a look at what Malzahn has done as offensive coordinator at Tulsa. You can argue about Conference USA's general lack of defense if you like, but the numbers speak for themselves:
  • 2008: 2nd in total offense, 2nd in scoring offense, 8th in rushing offense, 7th in passing offense, 3rd in pass efficiency
  • 2007: 1st in total offense, 6th in scoring offense, 41st in rushing offense, 3rd in passing offense, 4th in pass efficiency
The guy knows how to run an effective offense, and if given a chance -- which I have to imagine he will be, as Chizik knows how important it is for Auburn to quickly establish an offensive identity -- this could be one of the best hires of the offseason.

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