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Best Coaching and Coordinator Hires of the 2023 CFB Offseason

Morgan Moriarty

We're deep into the heart of the 2023 college football offseason. Although most sports fans are focusing on March Madness this time of year, we can't resist looking at which gridiron programs made the best coaching hires.

While this piece will focus mainly on the bigger-name coordinator hires of the offseason, we'll touch on some of the best head coaching hires as well. We included coaches with some of the most impressive resumes and best fits with their respective schools, so not every coaching hire will be listed here.

We'll start with hires made in December 2022—with the exception of Wisconsin's Luke Fickell, who missed the cutoff by a few days—since that's the start of the offseason for a lot of teams, especially those that failed to make a bowl game.

Honorable Mentions

Pete Golding AP Photo/Vasha Hunt, File

UNC offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey: To replace Phil Longo, Mack Brown hired former Troy head coach Lindsey. Although he went 15-19 over three seasons, he spent 2022 as UCF's offensive coordinator. The Knights finished 31st nationally in scoring during a 9-5 campaign.

Ole Miss defensive coordinator Pete Golding: Golding joins Lane Kiffin's staff after spending the last four seasons as Alabama's defensive coordinator with Nick Saban. Every unit Golding oversaw finished inside the top 20 in scoring defense.

Maryland co-offensive coordinator Kevin Sumlin: Sumlin's head coaching stints at Texas A&M and Arizona weren't successful. But after he spent 2022 as the USFL's Houston Gamblers' head coach, he's back as an associate head coach and college coordinator. It's his first time in the latter role since 2007—he was Bob Stoops' co-offensive coordinator at Oklahoma in 2006 and '07, when the Sooners finished 19th and fifth in points per game, respectively.

Miami offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson: Following a 5-7 season in 2022, head coach Mario Cristobal hired Dawson to replace Josh Gattis, who lasted just one year in the role. Dawson spent the last three seasons as Houston's offensive coordinator, the last two of which the Cougars finished inside the top 25 in scoring.

NC State Offensive Coordinator Robert Anae

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All signs are pointing toward an offensive evolution for NC State. A big reason for that is the reunion of offensive coordinator Robert Anae and Virginia transfer quarterback Brennan Armstrong. The latter is expected to replace longtime Wolfpack signal-caller Devin Leary, who transferred to Kentucky this offseason.

Although head coach Dave Doeren told reporters there will be an open competition at quarterback, Armstrong appears to have a big edge. He spent the last five seasons with the Cavaliers and broke out in 2021 under Anae's play-calling. He threw for a school-record 4,449 yards to go with 31 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

For the first time in his UVA career, Armstrong played without Anae, who coached at Syracuse last year. The QB had the worst season of his career, finishing with just 2,210 yards, seven touchdowns and 12 interceptions as UVA sputtered to a 3-7 record.

Armstrong hasn't been named the starter just yet. But regardless, Anae thinks NC State has one of the most talented QB rooms in the country. Armstrong is expected to compete against redshirt sophomore Ben Finley and redshirt freshman MJ Morris for the starting job.

Anae said last month:

"Brennan [Armstrong] in the quarterback room, if everybody stays healthy, this should be one of the top position groups in the conference. In terms of production, in terms of experience. So yeah, I think the group now, that room has a chance to really make a statement in the conference, and very excited that Brennan's going to be a part of that, and as well as the other guys we got."

If Armstrong can win the competition, it could be one of NC State's most productive passing seasons yet.

Louisville's Jeff Brohm, OC Brian Brohm

Jeff Brohm AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley

Louisville's new head coach, Jeff Brohm, is pretty familiar with the expectations surrounding the Cardinals.

That's because Brohm played quarterback at Louisville under Howard Schnellenberger from 1989 to 1993, throwing for 5,451 yards and going 15-10 as a starter. Perhaps most impressively, the new Cardinals head coach is still among the school's top 10 in touchdown passes (38) and total offense.

Brohm arrives at Louisville after spending the last six seasons at Purdue, where he compiled a 36-34 record.

His 2022 campaign with the Boilermakers might've been his most impressive yet—Purdue won its last three regular-season games to clinch the Boilermakers' first-ever Big Ten West title and a berth in the Big Ten title game.

The Boilermakers, led by quarterback Aidan O'Connell, finished second in the Big Ten in passing offense behind Ohio State, averaging 278.8 yards per game.

Brohm should be able to replicate some of the offensive success he had at Purdue. He's bringing his younger brother, Brian Brohm, to run the offense just as he did with the Boilermakers.

Brian, who also played quarterback at Louisville from 2004 to 2007, was also his brother's co-offensive coordinator while the two were at Western Kentucky for the 2016 season. The Hilltoppers finished 10-3 that year and finished fifth nationally in yards per game.

With the revamped passing offense the Brohm brothers are bringing to town, the Cardinals could get back to being an ACC contender in the coming years.

Oregon Offensive Coordinator Will Stein

Dan Lanning Jordon Kelly/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Oregon head coach Dan Lanning had to replace his offensive coordinator after his first season in Eugene, as Kenny Dillingham accepted the head coaching job at Arizona State.

Will Stein was a great choice. He spent the last three seasons at UTSA, where he moved up to co-offensive coordinator and QBs coach in 2022 as the Roadrunners posted their second consecutive double-digit-win season.

The offense, led by quarterback Frank Harris, finished 12th in yards and was tied for 11th in the country in 2021 while Stein served as pass game coordinator and wide receivers coach. Harris was top-20 in total yards in 2021 and fifth last season, accounting for 4,665 yards in the latter campaign.

Before joining UTSA's staff in 2020, Stein coached at Louisville from 2013 to '14, Texas from 2015 to '17 and Lake Travis High School in Texas from 2018 to '19.

Lanning said of Stein's hire in December, per 247Sports' Erik Skopil:

"He's an elite coach, he's experienced as a play-caller and a coach. I love hiring people with high school experience as well because you see it through a different lens. So he's done that, and he's done it at a really high level. The guy has won everywhere he's been, so we're really excited to have him on our team."

Stein inherits an attack that finished sixth nationally in total offense and tied for ninth in scoring offense, averaging 38.8 points per game. The Ducks also get back leading receiver Troy Franklin and starting quarterback Bo Nix, who threw for 3,593 yards and 29 touchdowns with seven interceptions last season.

Alabama Offensive Coordinator Tommy Rees

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For the ninth time in Nick Saban's Alabama tenure, the Crimson Tide have a new offensive coordinator, as Bill O'Brien is headed back to the NFL to rejoin Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots.

To replace him, Saban hired Notre Dame offensive coordinator Tommy Rees. The 30-year-old was a Fighting Irish quarterback from 2010 to '13 and ND's offensive coordinator from 2020 to '22. During Rees' first season as coordinator, ND went 10-2, ultimately losing to the Tide in the playoff semifinal.

Rees runs a more traditionally pro-style offense than what Bama's featured in recent years. But as Saban tries to clean up some things on defense while he replaces the likes of quarterback Bryce Young and running back Jahmyr Gibbs on offense, it makes sense.

Here's more, via ESPN's Alex Scarborough:

Saban landed on Rees, who has a more pro-style approach compared to some of his contemporaries. That's no accident. Saban is after more balance and ball control. Alabama ranked 80th in time of possession per play last season. Notre Dame ranked 19th. If Saban is looking to fix a defense that's struggled to meet expectations in recent years, a good first step would be fielding an offense that chews up some clock and limits the opposing team's possessions.

Most of Saban's OC hires, including Lane Kiffin and Steve Sarkisian, have had success, so he obviously sees something special in Rees.

Even if Saban doesn't envision Rees as the Tide's coordinator for the long term, it looks like he's just what Alabama needs for 2023.

Wisconsin's Luke Fickell, Badgers Offensive Coordinator Phil Longo

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It was a bit surprising when Wisconsin announced longtime Badgers head coach Paul Chryst, who had never had a losing season in Madison, was fired in early October. But following a 2-3 start, the school made a change for the first time since 2015.

In hindsight, it looks like a pretty smart decision, as Wisconsin landed Cincinnati head coach Luke Fickell. The 49-year-old compiled a 57-18 record over six seasons with the Bearcats. In 2021, he helped Cincy become the first Group of Five school to ever make the College Football Playoff.

Fickell has plenty of Big Ten experience too. Before landing at Cincinnati, the first full-time head coaching job of his career, he was on Ohio State's staff from 2002 to 2016. In 2011, he served as the Buckeyes' interim head coach in place of Jim Tressel, who resigned before the season, going 6-7. He stayed on Urban Meyer's staff as the Buckeyes' co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach before accepting the Cincy job.

Although Wisconsin traditionally ran a run-heavy offense under Chryst, it looks like the Badgers will air it out a whole lot more. That's because Fickell hired Phil Longo, who was at North Carolina since 2019, as his offensive coordinator. Longo helped Tar Heels quarterback Drake Maye break out in 2022, as the signal-caller finished first overall in the nation in total yards (5,019).

Fickell also landed big-time transfer quarterback Tanner Mordecai from SMU. During his two-year tenure as the Mustangs starter, Mordecai threw for 7,152 yards, 72 touchdowns and only 22 interceptions.

Things are off to a hot start in Madison heading into the 2023 season.

Colorado's Deion Sanders, Charles Kelly and Sal Sunseri

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Colorado is hoping Deion "Prime Time" Sanders can swing a massive turnaround. The Buffaloes have gone 14-28 over the last four seasons and haven't finished above .500 since Mike MacIntyre's 10-4 showing in 2016.

Sanders arrived in Boulder in December after leading HBCU Jackson State to a 27-6 record over three seasons.

If recruiting and coordinator hires are any indication, Sanders is off to a solid start. The Buffaloes have the No. 1 transfer portal class, per 247Sports. The group includes cornerback Travis Hunter, 2022's No. 1 overall recruit, and QB Shedeur Sanders—Deion's son—both of whom followed Coach Prime from JSU. Other big names include Arkansas State tight end Seydou Traore and Alabama linebacker Demouy Kennedy.

Speaking of Alabama, Sanders snagged a pair of assistants from Saban's staff in Tuscaloosa. The Buffaloes' new defensive coordinator will be Charles Kelly, who spent 2019-22 as the Tide's associate defensive coordinator and safeties coach.

Joining Kelly in Boulder is former Tide assistant Sal Sunseri, who was a special assistant to the head coach last season, an off-field role that included monitoring the transfer portal. He was the outside linebackers coach in Tuscaloosa from 2019 to '21. Sunseri was at Alabama previously, from 2009 to '11 as the linebackers coach.

Sanders has a long way to go to rebuild things at Colorado, but it looks like he has the right pieces in place.

Clemson Offensive Coordinator Garrett Riley

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Clemson's hiring of TCU's Garrett Riley as offensive coordinator was by far the coaching move that made the most offseason noise.

Riley, the younger brother of USC's Lincoln Riley, spent 2022 as TCU's OC. He won the Broyles Award, given to the nation's top assistant, after leading quarterback Max Duggan and the Horned Frogs to a national championship berth. TCU finished last season as a top-10 scoring offense, averaging 38.8 points per game.

Prior to landing at TCU, he was on Sonny Dykes' SMU staff from 2020 to '21. The Mustangs finished 10th nationally in scoring offense in 2021 and were 12th in total offense in 2020. In 2019, he was Appalachian State's running backs coach after spending the prior three seasons as an assistant at Kansas.

It was a bit of an unconventional hire for Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney, who traditionally hired from within. Last season marked the first time since 2011 that Swinney had to coach without longtime offensive coordinator Tony Elliott, who took over the role in 2015 but became the head coach at Virginia.

For the 2022 season, Swinney elevated Clemson QBs coach Brandon Streeter, who had been at the program since 2015, to offensive coordinator, and the Tigers finished 48th in total offense.

One of the most glaring indicators of Clemson's struggles came against Tennessee in the Orange Bowl. In the 31-14 loss, the Tigers had just 34 first downs in 101 plays.

It looks like Swinney's nontraditional hire of Riley might be the start of a sort of evolution for the program. And it could be just what the Tigers need after back-to-back seasons of missing the College Football Playoff.

With new starting quarterback Cade Klubnik under center for 2023, the future looks very bright at Clemson following Riley's hire.


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