Rebels eagerly await announcement of offensive, defensive coordinator hires
Up until recently, very little had changed in the on-field coaching staff during Hugh Freeze’s tenure at Ole Miss. However, last week’s announcement by Ole Miss athletics that co-offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Dan Werner would not be returning to the Rebels means Coach Freeze is now searching for both an offensive and defensive coordinator.
Currently, only two members of Freeze’s original on-field staff (Tom Allen and Wesley McGriff) are working at different schools. Tom Allen, who coached linebackers at Ole Miss from 2012-14, recently accepted the head coaching position at Indiana, while Wesley McGriff, who left for the New Orleans Saints after one season in Oxford, is currently the secondary coach and co-defensive coordinator at Auburn.
Changes coming on both sides of the ball
The staff continuity changes with the announcement regarding Werner, and this comes on the heels of defensive coordinator Dave Wommack announcing his retirement the day of the Egg Bowl.
Personnel moves have been the subject of speculation throughout a difficult 2016 season that saw the Rebels finish 5-7 and miss a trip to a fifth straight bowl game under Coach Freeze. The initial changes came on the final day of the season with Wommack’s announcement. That move, in itself, was significant as Wommack had been Freeze’s defensive coordinator and play caller not only since his arrival at Ole Miss, but dating back to his time at Arkansas State.
Offensive coordinator – Could it be Longo?
Up until now, the Rebels’ offensive staff has remained the same since Freeze’s initial personnel hires upon his arrival at Ole Miss. (Running backs coach Derrick Nix has been at Ole Miss since Houston Nutt was hired.) But with Werner not returning, there could be some significant shake-up on that side of the ball.
Many names have been mentioned as replacements for Werner–with the most common one, as of late, being that of Sam Houston State University offensive coordinator Phil Longo.
Since joining the Bearkats’ staff in 2014, Longo has led Sam Houston State’s up-tempo offense to the top of the league’s statistics. In 2014 and 15, the Bearkats notched 15,128 yards of total offense. In 2016, Longo’s offense tallied a conference-leading 7,115 yards, more than 1,115 yards ahead of the closest opponent.
A prolific 2016 for the Bearkats: In 2016, Sam Houston finished undefeated and first in the conference and led the league in scoring offense (49.5 points per game), total offense (547.3 yards per game), passing offense (368.3 yards per game), and pass efficiency (165.7).
Fox Sports’ Bruce Feldman offers an excellent look at Longo in this October, 2016 article on the offensive coordinator.
There are plenty of unknowns with respect to the coaching staff right now–unfamiliar territory in the Freeze era at Ole Miss. What is known, however, is that recruiting is the lifeblood of any program. Ole Miss finds itself in a pivotal period of time right now. Longo is regarded as an outstanding recruiter and quarterbacks coach, so if he is Freeze’s hire, the Rebels should be in capable hands.
Numerous prospects will be making their decisions in December as many are early enrollees. Even for players who will sign in February, December is considered late in the process. Numerous key targets are set to announce their decisions in the coming weeks or by all-star games in January. It’s not an ideal time to have a coaching staff overhaul; however, Ole Miss can use this to its advantage by making a solid offensive coordinator hire.
From many of the “sources,” out there, it appears former Ole Miss staffer — the aforementioned Wesley McGriff — is one of the leading candidates to become the Rebels’ next defensive coordinator. That would seem to the be a solid hire on all fronts.
“Crime Dog,” as McGriff is affectionately known, is not only an exceptional recruiter and a familiar face around the program, but he is a coach who has been on a constant rise even before he arrived at Ole Miss back in 2012. It only makes sense that he would step into a coordinator role now to use all the experience he has gained along the way at stops such as Kentucky, Miami, Baylor, Vanderbilt, the New Orleans Saints, and now Auburn.
Recently, Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn praised McGriff, the Tigers’ secondary coach and co-defensive coordinator, and added, “I hope we hold onto him.”
There was speculation for a bit that Colorado defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt was under consideration for the Rebels’ defensive coordinator job; however, on Wednesday he was hired by Oregon for that position.
While questions about who will be the next defensive coordinator remain, one thing is certain. When you finish 5-7 in a season where the expectations were to compete for the SEC championship, changes are sure to be made.
Rebels hoping for answers soon
Ole Miss fans are chomping at the bit to learn the identity of Freeze’s new coordinators, and they could be hearing something as soon as Thursday or Friday. That being said, this is a defining time in Freeze’s tenure in Oxford, so it is understandable he would want to take his time and get it right–both for recruiting efforts as well as on-field results in 2017.