News broke recently that Kentucky offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello has been let go after just one season. Now Mark Stoops looks to hire his fourth play caller in as many years. Suffice it to say, it is far from a hot take that this next hire is one that the Wildcat’s head coach must get right.
Of course, there are circumstances within this situation and things haven’t been as bleak as they may seem on paper. Eddie Gran was relieved of his duties as offensive coordinator after the 2020 season, however, had a nice run in prior seasons which included a ten-win season that was capped off with a Citrus Bowl victory. He was then replaced by Liam Coen who had a spectacular debut season calling plays for the Wildcats.
Maybe too spectacular as he was snatched up by the LA Rams of the NFL for the same position after just one season in college. Then came Scangarello who was chosen due to his familiarity with the scheme as well as having an NFL pedigree in his own right. Unfortunately, things didn’t work out for the former 49ers assistant.
There were a number of issues including the early season suspension of running back Chris Rodriguez, Offensive line issues, and numerous injuries to quarterback Will Levis. However, outside of these issues, it was hard to ignore the disconnect between playcalling and scheme. At the end of the day, Kentucky had an offense with an all-time school-great running back, a first-round prospect at quarterback, and a plethora of explosive playmakers at receiver and tight end. The truth of the matter is the offense was significantly underwhelming even after most issues were resolved.
With signing day on the horizon and the transfer portal kicking into full gear, it is imperative that Stoops has a new coordinator in place sooner rather than later, however, it is even more important that he hires the right candidate. This is especially true due to replacing Will Levis at quarterback this off-season. So with that, the first big question is, what direction do the Wildcats go on offense?
It is possible that Stoops decides to stand pat from a scheme standpoint. With the hiring of Liam Coen, Kentucky adopted a west coast outside zone offensive scheme. Once again, in his lone season in Lexington the was very successful. So successful in fact that after only one season in college he was called back up to the NFL with his buddy Sean McVey.
However, the Rams have struggled in 2022, especially on offense. There are many directions that the situation could go in LA and though Coen is still the offensive coordinator as of this writing, his availability to return to Lexington is a possibility. If he were to become available, I’m confident he would be welcomed back with open arms, however, that is speculation at this juncture.
Another possibility is former Florida head coach Dan Mullen. This would be a change schematically as Mullen comes from a spread background. However, this may be a perfect fit for what Stoops likes from his offenses. An athletic quarterback with high-level rushing ability is a must for this offense and the running game in general is the staple of this offense which could be an attractive aspect for Stoops.
However, Mullen’s offense also has shown the ability to display an explosive passing attack as well which makes this a possible fit. Add in Mullen’s experience as not only a play-caller but running a program as well. This is someone Stoops could completely turn the offense over to in full confidence. Once again, just another candidate to monitor.
A third candidate is Ohio State wide receivers coach Brian Hartline. Of the top three candidates we will speak on today, this may be the longest shot. Hartline is one of the hottest names on the college market, and with good reason. Though he has never called plays, Hartline is one of the top recruiters in the nation, especially in Ohio which is a pipeline Kentucky relies on heavily.
He is also considered one of the brightest offensive minds in college football due to his success as passing game coordinator for the Buckeyes on top of coaching receivers. Now, Hartline is a candidate for a few head coaching openings as well. However, if he does not land one of these jobs, he would be a very strong candidate for Stoops to consider.
There will be other candidates to emerge as we go through the process, however, these are the top three candidates as of this moment. With that, in order for Kentucky to find success on the recruiting trail as well as on the field, Mark Stoops must strongly do some consideration on his own offensive philosophy. If Kentucky is going to keep up with not only Georgia but a rising Tennessee, South Carolina, and Florida as well.
There will always be a place for physical football. However, slow-paced ball control offense is slowly phasing out, even in the SEC. There was a time when fast-paced air attacks didn’t work in the SEC, however, that is not the case anymore. To compete at a high level, you have to be able to score, that’s where we are now in college football.
No matter who Mark Stoops hires as offensive coordinator, he needs someone he can trust to run that area of the program. It is time that Stoops finds the candidate right for him and the program and respectfully, stays out of the way. This hire is absolutely critical for the future of this still-rising program. With that being said, the right hire can take this program to the next level.