Over the next few weeks, we will be taking part in a debate series called “Buy/Sell,” in which two writers take opposing sides on a statement about the current state or future happenings of Pac-12 football.
Today, Chantel Jennings and Ted Miller discuss one of the hot topics of the offseason -- coordinator hires -- by looking at this statement: Arizona State’s Chip Lindsey will prove to be the best Pac-12 coordinator hire of the year.
Arizona State coach Todd Graham’s best recruiting job this month may end up being his retention of Lindsey, who was pursued by Southern Miss after Golden Eagles coach Todd Monken joined the Tampa Bay Buccaneers staff.
Lindsey was a great initial hire for Graham in December when he replaced Mike Norvell, who was hired as Memphis’ new coach. For one, Lindsey runs pretty much the same offense that Norvell/Graham had been running with the Sun Devils, so that minimizes the transition. Further, he’s a quarterback specialist, and the Sun Devils will be embroiled in a wide-open QB competition this spring and into fall camp.
Lindsey, who came with a strong recommendation from Auburn's Gus Malzahn, Graham’s best friend in coaching, also is a longtime high school coach, something Graham was and admires. So this feels like a good fit. And, by the way, good fit matters, because Graham isn’t the easiest guy to work for. That “high-octane” deal he’s always talking about? That’s actually who Graham is, and if you can’t endure it 24/7, then he’s not the right boss for you.
Beyond fit, Lindsey’s work at Southern Miss was impressive. His first season, the Eagles were coming off a 1-11 finish, and they were pretty awful on offense, averaging less than 19 points per game. This year, they more than doubled that total and finished 9-5. They ranked 13th in the nation with 40 points per game and ninth in yards per play with 6.91. While their best work was against weak Conference USA foes, it’s notable that Southern Miss scored 31 points against Washington’s defense in the Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl.
Just two Pac-12 teams scored that many points against the Huskies' top-ranked defense this year.
The Sun Devils have a lot of questions heading into 2016, but a new offensive coordinator is well down the list.
Lindsey is a great hire, and he’ll help as Arizona State eases in a new quarterback in a relatively similar offense. However, the Sun Devil offense isn’t the unit with a new coordinator that needs to make the greatest strides (that I think will make the greatest strides). That is Oregon and Brady Hoke.
I covered Hoke at Michigan from 2011 to 2013. His 2014 season was the biggest disappointment for fans and administrators, and that’s ultimately what pushed him out the door in Ann Arbor. There were a few issues with the Wolverines, mainly how he was handled by athletic director Dave Brandon. But one thing was always obvious -- he was passionate about defense and he got it.
Since Hoke was announced as the defensive coordinator I’ve reached out to a few players from Michigan and every single one of them has immense faith that Hoke as a defensive coordinator -- despite the fact he has never held that job -- is going to be great.
Look no further than what he did with the Michigan group he was left by now-Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez. The Wolverines didn’t rank in the top 100 in any important statistical category during the 2010 season (yards per game, yards per play, opponent points per game, red zone yards per game). During Hoke’s first year in 2011, all of those statistics improved dramatically. Michigan became the sixth-best scoring defense in the nation, giving up just 17.4 points per game as opposed to 35.2 the season before. The Wolverines gave up just 27.8 yards per game in the red zone, as opposed to 54 the season before. In less than a season (and with the same personnel) Hoke took a group that had done very little and helped it accomplish a lot.
And what does he have to work with from the 2015 Oregon season? A group that didn’t finish in the top 80 nationally in yards per play, plays of 10 or more yards and red zone defense. He has done this before. He has done this well before. Oregon needed a very good defensive coordinator. I think the Ducks got a great one with Hoke, and I think he’ll prove to be the most important hire of the offseason.