A Dozen Or So Candidates For WVU’s Offensive Coordinator Job
As West Virginia head football coach Dana Holgorsen sifts through a stack of resumes in search of a new offensive coordinator, history tells us he’ll often hire someone he knows.
That certainly was the case when he enticed Jake Spavital to return to WVU prior to the 2017 season to become the team’s offensive coordinator. After his second stint with the Mountaineers – Spavital was West Virginia’s quarterback coach in 2011 and ’12 – the 39-year-old from Tulsa is now taking over his own FBS program. He was hired recently to become the head coach at Texas State, which is a member of the Sun Belt Conference.
Spavital’s departure leaves Holgorsen with a big hole to fill in his staff. WVU’s head coach had served as the primary playcaller for his offense from the time he arrived at West Virginia in 2011 until turning those duties over to Spavital in 2017.
Not only does Holgorsen need to find a replacement for Spavital, who besides serving as offensive coordinator but also was the team’s quarterback coach, but Dana also must decide how directly involved he will become in the playcalling. Much of that decision will probably be determined by who Holgorsen ultimately hires.
WVU’s defensive coordinator, Tony Gibson, has had major input on assistant coaching hires on that side of the ball in recent years, and thus you get coaches like Bruce Tall and Matt Caponi who have previous ties to the West Virginia native.
Offensively, when West Virginia has searched for an assistant, it’s often been someone with a prior relationship with Holgorsen, like Tyron Carrier and Joe Wickline.
There’s no guarantee that the next Mountaineer offensive coordinator will have a direct connection with Holgorsen’s past, or West Virginia’s, but it would seem a logical place to start when we begin exploring the candidates for WVU’s OC position.
Joe Wickline (West Virginia) – The only current West Virginia offensive assistant coach who has enough experience to be a viable candidate for the offensive coordinator job is current offensive line coach Joe Wickline. The other WVU offensive coaches – wide receiver coach Tyron Carrier, tight end coach Dan Gerberry and running back coach Marquel Blackwell – all are bright young minds, but none has served as a full-time college assistant coach for more than three seasons. Wickline has 37 in the profession. He also was previously the offensive coordinator at Texas in 2014-15, though his time with the Longhorns didn’t go so well , as head coach Charlie Strong’s teams posted an 11-14 record while Wickline was at UT. Wickline knows Holgorsen’s offense well, having worked with him the past three seasons at WVU and previously in 2010 at Oklahoma State. Having primarily been an offensive line coach through his career, if Wickline did take over as offensive coordinator, he would likely remain in charge of West Virginia’s O-Line, and Holgorsen would probably then need to hire someone to work separately with WVU’s quarterbacks.
Shannon Dawson (Southern Miss) – A member of Holgorsen’s original staff at WVU, Dawson coached the Mountaineer inside receivers from 2011-13 and then oversaw the quarterbacks in 2014. He also held the title of offensive coordinator at West Virginia his final two years in the program, though in reality Holgorsen was the primary offensive coordinator at that time. Dawson left WVU in 2015 to run his own offense at Kentucky, though he took over a talent-deficient Wildcat offense and had little success at UK in his one season there (5-7). In 2016 he moved on to Southern Mississippi and things haven’t gone much better in his time at that Conference USA school. The Golden Eagles have had winning records in each of Dawson’s three seasons at USM, including a 6-5 mark this year. His Southern Miss offense averaged 26.2 points per game (89th in the FBS) and 367.6 total yards (99th in the FBS) this season.
Lonnie Galloway (Louisville) – Galloway was WVU’s wide receiver coach in two different stints, working on Bill Stewart’s staff from 2008-10 and then returning to coach under Holgorsen from 2013-15. He left for Louisville to become the Cardinals’ co-offensive coordinator in 2016 and has spent the past three seasons at U of L. He split the OC duties at Louisville the past two seasons with Mike Summers, and not much went right for the Cards this year. They finished 2-8, averaged just 19.8 points per game (122nd in the FBS ranks), and head coach Bobby Petrino was fired at the end of the season. Louisville has not hired a new head coach yet, so technically Galloway is still working for Louisville, but the odds are that Petrino’s replacement will want his own staff, and thus Galloway will be looking for a new job.
Graham Harrell (North Texas) – An All-American quarterback at Texas Tech from 2005-08, Harrell spent part of his career in Lubbock playing for Holgorsen, who was an assistant at TTU from 2000-07 and the Red Raiders’ co-offensive coordinator from 2005-07. After a stretch as a player in pro football, including three seasons with the Green Bay Packers (2010-12), Harrell got into coaching. He was the outside receivers coach at Washington State in 2014-15, where he worked under his old Texas Tech mentor Mike Leach. In 2016, he became the offensive coordinator and quarterback coach at North Texas. This past season he led a Mean Green offense that was 22nd in the FBS in scoring (36.4 points per game) and 15th in total yards (472.8 per game), as UNT finished 9-3. North Texas head coach Seth Littrell is rumored to be in line to replace Bill Snyder at Kansas State, so that could potentially influence Harrell’s decision.
Kliff Kingsbury (formerly Texas Tech) – The recently-fired head coach of Texas Tech is a hot commodity in both the pro and college ranks, and he’ll have multiple offers to run an offense at either level. His offense at TTU always put up huge numbers, though this year injuries at the quarterback position in Lubbock cause a bit of a slip there, as the Red Raider, who finished with a 5-7 record this season, averaged 37.3 points per game, which was 16th in the FBS.
Kingsbury has close connections with Holgorsen, having been a quarterback at Texas Tech from 1999-2002. Dana was the Red Raiders’ receiver coach those last two seasons. Then after Kingsbury’s five-year pro career, he got his coaching start working under Holgorsen at Houston in 2008-09 when the latter was the Cougars’ offensive coordinator. Kingsbury took over as Houston’s OC in 2010 when Holgorsen moved on to Oklahoma State and eventually spent a season as the coordinator at Texas A&M before getting the head coaching job at his alma mater in 2013.
Still just 39, Kingsbury’s head coaching record of 35-40 may not impress many but the numbers his offenses put up do. There is speculation that USC may be his ultimate landing spot, though any number of others, including NFL jobs, are also possible.
Calvin Magee (New Mexico) – Magee doesn’t have any ties with Holgorsen, but he does with West Virginia. He was WVU’s running back coach in the Rich Rodriguez years from 2001-07. He also held the title of offensive coordinator from 2004-07, though it was Rodriguez who was calling the plays. Like much of the Mountaineer staff at that time, Magee followed Rodriguez to Michigan after the 2007 season and was with the Wolverines as running back coach and offensive coordinator from 2008-10, spent the 2011 season at Pitt as co-offensive coordinator and then moved to Arizona in 2012 after Rodriguez became the Wildcats’ head coach. He was in Tucson for six years, but the entire staff was released after the 2017 season as the result of accusations against Rodriguez. Magee landed at New Mexico this year, where he was the Lobos’ offensive coordinator and running back coach. UNM struggled this season under seventh-year head coach Bob Davie, finishing with a 3-9 record. Its offense was 84th in the FBS in scoring (26.4 points a game) and 119th in total yards (330.4 per game). Under Magee, the Lobos ran the ball nearly two-thirds of the time (505-288), so adjusting to Holgorsen’s spread passing scheme could be difficult.
Matt Mumme (Nevada) – Holgorsen never coached with Matt Mumme, who is now in his second season as the offensive coordinator at Nevada, but Dana knows Matt’s father, Hal, very well. Hal Mumme was the head coach at Iowa Wesleyan (1989-91) when Holgorsen was a wide receiver at the school, and the man who is regarded as the architect of the Air Raid system. He gave Holgorsen his first coaching job at Valdosta State. The 43-year-old Matt was a quarterback at Kentucky in the late ‘90s when his dad was the Wildcats’ head coach, and he also coached for his father at Southeastern Louisiana (2003-04) and New Mexico State (2005-08) before charting his own course. At Nevada, which was 7-5 this season under second-year head coach Jay Norvell, Matt has developed more of a balanced offense than his father was known for. The Wolfpack finished 40th in the FBS in scoring his year (32.3 points per game) and 36th in total yards (442.9). Former WVU assistant coach Jeff Casteel is Nevada’s defensive coordinator.
JaJuan Seider (Penn State) – A quarterback at West Virginia in the Don Nehlen era, Seider finished his college playing career at Florida A&M, as his opportunity behind center at WVU was blocked at the time by Marc Bulger. Seider returned to West Virginia as a graduate assistant under Bill Stewart from 2008-09, followed Doc Holliday to Marshall from 2010-12 to become a full-time assistant and then came back to WVU, where he coached running backs for Holgorsen from 2013-16. The Belle Glade, Fla., native left to coach running backs at Florida in 2017 and then moved to coach that same position at Penn State this past season. Despite losing running back Saquon Barkley to the NFL, the Nittany Lions (9-3) actually ran the ball better this year than they did in 2017 (208.6 to 170.2) when Barkley headlining the PSU ground game. Seider has never served as a coordinator in the college ranks, but his four seasons coaching under Holgorsen make him familiar with the WVU system, and his recruiting chops in the Sunshine State would also be a plus.
Rod Smith (Indiana) – Smith’s resume reads similar to Calvin Magee’s. The Franklin, W.Va., native never coached under Holgorsen, as his WVU link is through Rich Rodriguez. Smith was a quarterback for Rodriguez at Glenville State in the mid-‘90s, and then after working up through the coaching ranks, including a six-year stint at South Florida (2001-06), the final two of which he was the Bulls’ offensive coordinator as well as QB coach, Smith was hired to mentor WVU’s quarterbacks in 2007. But one year later Rodriguez took the Michigan head coaching job, and Smith followed him to Ann Arbor. He was the Wolverines’ QB coach from 2008-10, then after the entire staff was fired, he spent the 2011 season as the co-offensive coordinator and QB coach at Indiana. He held the same title after reuniting with Rodriguez at Arizona from 2012-17, and then after that staff was let go, he landed at Illinois as offensive coordinator/quarterback coach this season. The 4-8 Illini, who ran the ball 60 percent of the time, were 92nd in the FBS in scoring (26.0 points per game) and 62nd in total offense (408.7 yards per game).
Clint Trickett (FAU) – The former WVU quarterback (2013-14) obviously comes from a well-known coaching family, but Clint himself has only two years of coaching experience at the Division I level. After obtaining his master’s degree from WVU in 2014, he spent two years coaching quarterbacks at East Mississippi Community College. In 2017, he was hired to coach tight ends by Lane Kiffin at Florida Atlantic. He remained in that role this year for the Owls, who finished 5-7 this year and were 14th in the FBS in total offense (478.8 yards per game) and 49th in scoring (31.1 points per game). Clint will likely ascend to a coordinator’s job some day, but he’s very young to take on that role at a Power 5 school at this point.
Travis Trickett (Georgia State) – Clint’s older brother Travis has more coaching experience, including time as an offensive coordinator. A student assistant coach who was heavily involved with the offense while attending West Virginia from 2003-07, Travis was a graduate assistant coach at Alabama (2007) and then Florida State (2008-10). He landed his first full-time job at Samford (2011-15), and served as the FCS program’s offensive coordinator the last three seasons. He then spent 2016 as the offensive coordinator and quarterback coach at Florida Atlantic before moving to Georgia State to take that same role under GSU’s new coach Shawn Elliott. The Panthers, who are a member of the Sun Belt Conference, were 2-10 this past season, averaging 23.9 points per game (104th in the FBS) and 378.2 yards (89th).
All of the above have some connection to WVU and/or Holgorsen. If you’re looking for an outside candidate, one of the hot young coordinators at the FBS level is Kenny Dillingham of Memphis. A high school coach as recently as 2013, Dillingham spent 2014-15 as an offensive control coach at Arizona State. He was hired as the tight ends coach at Memphis in 2016, and after just one season with the Tigers, he was promoted to offensive coordinator and quarterback coach.
In his first season as OC, Memphis (10-3) was second in the FBS in scoring (45.5 points per game) and this past season the American Athletic Conference program was 8-4, averaged 43.8 points per game (sixth in the FBS) and 530.3 yards per game (sixth).
Dana Holgorsen (West Virginia) – Maybe the most obvious candidate is Holgorsen himself. While Dana seemed to enjoy the fact that he could serve as the CEO of the Mountaineer program the past couple of years, and wasn’t spending all his time being the offensive coordinator, certainly he could return to that OC role. He was even WVU’s primary QB coach during part of that time, so he could hold both jobs again, if he wants.