Everybody has finished spring practice and next week we will break down every team in the SEC and ACC as they head into the offseason.
I’ve always felt that one of the major benefits of spring practice is to get players adjusted to new assistant coaches and their ways of doing things. You can literally change the culture on one side of the ball with the right or wrong hire.
Here are five new SEC assistant coaches I believe will have the greatest impact come fall:
John Chavis, defensive coordinator, LSU: Given the talent that LSU had last season, it is fair to say that the Tiger defense underachieved. They had a pair of All-SEC defensive ends in Tyson Jackson (the No. 3 pick in the NFL Draft) and Kirsten Pittman, plus an excellent linebacker in Darry Beckwith. What the Tigers didn’t have was defensive coordinator Bo Pelini, who became head coach at Nebraska. Head coach Les Miles thought he could promote from within by naming two loyal assistants—Doug Mallory and Bradley Dale Peveto—as co-defensive coordinators. It didn’t work. The Tigers were ninth in the SEC in total defense (325.5 ypg) and scoring defense (24.2 ppg). LSU gave up over 50 points twice (to Georgia and Florida) and allowed over 30 points three other times.
Enter Chavis, who was Phillip Fulmer’s long-time defensive coordinator at Tennessee and was looking for another opportunity. In 14 years under Chavis, Tennessee’s defense finished third or better in SEC total defense nine times.
“There was just a real comfort level because we had played against his defenses,” Miles said. “(Our players) recognize his expertise. It was a pretty good fit.”
Monte Kiffin, defensive coordinator, Tennessee: Defense was not the issue last season at Tennessee. Despite their struggles as a team (5-7), Tennessee tied for first in the SEC in total defense (263.5 ypg). Five starters return from that unit and there is optimism because Kiffin, considered to be one of the best defensive minds of his generation, agreed to come to Tennessee and work for his son, head coach Lane Kiffin.
“It’s been great,” the younger Kiffin said about his dad, 69, who recently had back surgery. “When you have a chance to hire the best defensive coordinator in the history of football…it was the easiest hire I’ve made since I came here.”
Kiffin’s “Tampa 2” scheme that he developed in his 13 years with the Tampa Bay Bucs has had an incredible influence at all levels of football.
Kiffin is considered one of the best ever when it comes to organization and teaching players how to maximize their talent within his scheme, which favors speed over size. Kiffin’s resume will certainly help when it comes time for Tennessee to recruit defensive players.
Gus Malzahn, offensive coordinator, Auburn: When defensive coordinators become head coaches, they all look for the same thing when it comes time to pick their offensive coordinator.
“I look for a guy who runs the stuff I had trouble stopping,” said Auburn head coach Gene Chizik, who was the DC at Auburn and Texas before a two-year stint as Iowa State’s head coach.
Chizik believes that some form of the spread offense is the way to go and that is why he hired Malzahn away from Tulsa. Malzahn was an ultra-successful high school coach in Springdale, Ark., where he won two state championships in five seasons. He went to Arkansas with his prized recruit, quarterback Mitch Mustain, in 2006. Neither Malzahn nor Mustain were compatible with the Razorbacks’ run-oriented offense. Mustain transferred to Southern Cal. Malzahn went to Tulsa, where his offense was ranked No. 1 nationally in 2007 and No. 2 in 2008.
Malzahn’s offense spreads the field in order to create running lanes. He demands that his offensive linemen be very tough and very physical. Auburn, however, may not have a quarterback in the program who can run this offense the way it is intended. No starter has been named.
Scot Loeffler, quarterbacks coach, Florida: Loeffler was the quarterbacks coach at Michigan for six seasons and then left when Rich Rodriguez became head coach. As a grad assistant at Michigan he worked with Tom Brady and Brian Griese. When he returned to Michigan he tutored Chad Henne, who would become the school’s all-time passer. With the departure of OC Dan Mullen (head coach at Mississippi State), Florida coach Urban Meyer promoted offensive line coach Steve Adazzio to OC. Then he hired Loeffler to work with the Florida quarterbacks. He has already changed Tim Tebow’s throwing motion to make it more compact and efficient. He is also working with sophomore John Brantley, who will play significant possessions this season and is expected take over after Tebow departs. “He’s (Loeffler) already had an impact on those guys,” Meyer said. “I can see our quarterbacks getting better.”
Carl Torbush, defensive coordinator, Mississippi State: Torbush was working at his alma mater, Carson-Newman, when he was hired to become Dan Mullen’s first defensive coordinator in Starkville. Torbush has a strong track record of building defenses every where he has been. Has been the defensive coordinator at North Carolina, Alabama, Ole Miss and Texas A&M. He has been the head coach at Louisiana Tech and North Carolina. He was Mack Brown’s defensive coordinator at North Carolina and became head coach when Brown left for Texas after the 1997 season. Things did not work out for Torbush as North Carolina’s head coach and he was let go after three seasons. Then he went to Alabama with Dennis Franchione and then on to Texas A&M when Franchione took that job. He knows how to build a defense in the SEC. His 1986 defense at Ole Miss led the SEC. His 2001 defense at Alabama also led the SEC and was third nationally (257.3 ypg). A young head coach like Mullen, who is turned 37 on Monday, needs some experience on his first staff. He can turn the defense over to Torbush and concentrate on his expertise, which is offense.