There’s natural staff turnover — primarily assistants getting poached for better opportunities elsewhere — and then there’s what Ohio State and LSU are purportedly doing. Each head coach is under pressure to make changes after showings not up to program standards, and if history is an indication of anything, it’s that the fixes better work — or else.
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Staff alterations originating from grumblings within the program are not great signs for Ryan Day and Brian Kelly (See: Fisher, Jimbo.) It means both LSU and OSU skippers are heading into next season on varying degrees of hot seats, and will be expected to correct what may or may not be broken, exact revenge on their rivals, and do it all while winning as convincingly as possible en route to a playoff berth.
Day’s offense, usually the crown jewel of the Big Ten, never completely got going this season, and now the Buckeye coach is reportedly tinkering with play calling and possibly the QB coach. Brian Hartline’s first year as offensive coordinator might be his only season as those duties appear to be shifting elsewhere.
Reports say Day is looking for a new offensive coordinator, who will be empowered to evaluate and change his assistants accordingly. Quarterbacks coach Corey Dennis is on an expiring contract, and probably isn’t super stoked about his job security after Kyle McCord’s blasé year. With Day trying to scapegoat his way out of the crosshairs, someone has to take the fall.
The tricky part regarding that plan is Hartline is one of the best, if not the best, wide receivers coach in the country. Marvin Harrison Jr. is the latest first-round pick he’s produced, so whatever demotion/restructuring happens there, ideally it’s done deftly enough not to piss off Hartline.
To me, this is silly. The mood in Columbus is extra sour because the Wolverines are playing for a title. Ohio State fans’ irrational anger over losing to their rival is expected, but it also could be destructive. While the Cotton Bowl was ugly, Devin Brown was the backup all season, and he got hurt in the first quarter. Bowl wins are now coin tosses for coaches with depleted rosters and third-string QBs, yet they’re still expected to put a polished product on the field.
The coach who tabbed Will Howard as the answer to the Buckeyes’ quarterback conundrum is the only coach who should be fired. If that was Day, so be it.
However, Ohio State is months past taking a deep breath, stepping back and trying to make an objective assessment. The wheels are in motion for an offensive overhaul that fans better hope doesn’t end up as a homonym.
In Baton Rouge, Kelly’s defense won Jayden Daniels the Heisman, but far from enough games. Seeing as Kelly is one of the greasier head coaches going, he fired defensive coordinator Matt House and three other assistants on that side of the ball this week.
Enter now ex-Missouri D-coordinator Blake Baker, whose defense allowed 21 points per game this season. On the surface, it’s fine, I guess. LSU fans watched Daniels and the offense go for 49 points and 533 yards against Baker’s group in Columbia, so they’re assuredly happy that he’s now the highest-paid assistant coach in the country.
The SEC East also was low-key garbage in 2023. Joe Milton routinely missed Tennessee’s normally explosive skill players all season, and Georgia didn’t have Brock Bowers against the Tigers. Hell, Baker’s group gave up 500 yards to a 5-7 Florida team. Obviously, the talent level will be elevated in the bayou, with Harold Perkins Jr. at the top of that list.
The linebacker was All-SEC first-team as a freshman, but had an up-and-down year in 2023 largely because he was playing out of position for most of it. Friday was the last day to enter the transfer portal for the winter window, so as long as Perkins sticks around through spring ball, everything is cool. He did tweet “It ain’t funny when the bunny got the gun” during this week’s restructuring.
I’m not going to pretend to know what that means, or decipher the social media posts of a sophomore in college, but Kelly emits heavy dictator vibes. That’s why there are few news conferences as enthralling as Brian Kelly’s under-fire news conferences. And we’re going to get plenty more of those if the LSU defense fails to perform like an LSU defense next year.
There is a possible upside to all of this, but that’s contingent on the new hires delivering results. Changes saved Jim Harbaugh’s job at Michigan, so they could work. It’s just an ominous sign whenever a head coach starts replacing assistants out of self-preservation.