Sallee: Grading The SEC Coordinator Hires
New Auburn DC Brian VanGorder
New Auburn DC Brian VanGorder
Posted Jan 28, 2012

Once again, there was a lot of turnover on SEC staffs. Who makes the grad and who doesn’t? CFN SEC columnist Barrett Sallee grades the SEC coordinator hires.

By: Barrett Sallee
Follow me on Twitter: @BarrettSallee

The role of coordinators in the SEC varies from team to team. For some head coaches, it’s important to act as a CEO, while others are more hands on. There were 10 new coordinator hires this offseason in the SEC? How do each of the hires grade out?


Doug Nussmeier - Offensive Coordinator
Grade: B+
For proof of what Nussmeier is capable of, look no further than his last game with Washington - that Alamo Bowl shootout loss to Baylor that saw Washington’s offense total 620 yards and quarterback Keith Price out-Heisman Robert Griffin III. Yes, it was against Baylor, and you, me and the dog could put together a better defense than the Bears; but putting up that kind of yardage against air would still be impressive. Nussmeier’s offense scored touchdowns on 42 of its 52 trips to the red zone in 2011, which ranked second in the nation in red zone touchdown efficiency (80 percent). With the kind of defense that Alabama boasts on an annual basis, that’ll be more than enough to keep the Crimson Tide in annual title contention.

Paul Haynes - Defensive Coordinator
Grade: B+
Haynes comes to Fayetteville from Ohio State, where he was co-defensive coordinator and coached defensive backs. The downside is that Haynes hasn’t had the keys to himself before; but that didn’t seem to be an issue in Arkansas’ Cotton Bowl win over Kansas State, where the Hogs gave up 87 rushing yards to the potent Wildcat attack that finished No. 29 in the nation in rushing offense. Even more impressive, that was accomplished with Haynes calling plays in the language of his own system and having the calls delivered through a translator that converted them to fit former defensive coordinator Willy Robinson’s system. The biggest thing that Haynes has going for him is that he’s not Robinson. That’s an upgrade for Arkansas.

Paul Petrino - Offensive Coordinator
Grade: B
What former Arkansas offensive coordinator Garrick McGee did last year with a young offensive line, no Knile Davis and Tyler Wilson at quarterback was very underrated. Losing Davis could have sent that team into a tailspin, but McGee’s offense thrived, and finished the season as the SEC’s No. 1 offense. Petrino’s offenses at Illinois weren’t spectacular, but the familiarity his brother Bobby Petrino and how he wants the offense to operate will be the most important factor. Besides, Bobby Petrino has his fingerprints all over that offense. As long as that’s the case, Arkansas will be fine.

Brian VanGorder - Defensive Coordinator
Grade: A
This is a home run hire for the Tigers. The defense was a big time sore spot under former defensive coordinator Ted Roof, and VanGorder is the right man to turn things around. His defenses during his final three seasons at Georgia finished in the top 10 in virtually every major defensive category. Job No. 1 for VanGorder is teaching the Tigers how to tackle, which was more of a myth than a reality under Roof. Once he accomplishes that - which shouldn’t take long - he’ll be well on his way to restoring the Tigers to the defensive power they once were under former head coach Tommy Tuberville.

Scot Loeffler - Offensive Coordinator
Grade: C
The hire itself isn’t bad. As a matter of fact, Loeffler’s resume is quite impressive. He’s coached Tom Brady and Tim Tebow, two quarterbacks that thrived in very different systems, which should help Loeffler fit his offense at Auburn to the players already on the roster. The reason this hire gets a C is because of the timing. Loeffler last coached on December 17, more than a month-and-a-half before he was hired at Auburn. Head coach Gene Chizik said he took his time during the hiring process, due in part because he was occupied acting as the defensive coordinator for the Chick-Fil-A Bowl. But Chizik himself said that he only talked to one guy - VanGorder - for the defensive coordinator spot. Was he waiting around for NFL coaches for the offensive coordinator spot? Maybe. Even if those coaches were still in the playoffs, Chizik should have known the answer beforehand. “Taking your time” isn’t a good enough answer in this instance.

Ole Miss
Dan Werner and Matt Luke - Co-Offensive Coordinators
Grade: C
I’m not a fan of having co-coordinators, but new Rebel head coach Hugh Freeze has indicated that he will call plays for Ole Miss, so this move is really a non-factor. Werner, who served on the Ole Miss staff under former head coach Ed Orgeron, returns and will coach quarterbacks; while Luke, a former Ole Miss offensive lineman in the late 90’s, will coach the offensive line. This move is to “keep it in the family,” which is fine. I have no problem with that. Hugh Freeze will make that offense tick, so that’s why the grade is low.

Texas A&M
Mark Synder - Defensive Coordinator
Grade: B
Snyder has been around the block a time or two. Most recently, Snyder served in the same position on Skip Holtz’ staff at South Florida. He was the head coach at Marshall from 2005-2009, and won a national championship as a part of Ohio State’s staff in 2002. Texas A&M needed a veteran that can compliment new head coach Kevin Sumlin’s high octane style, and Snyder is a good fit. He’s never been in the SEC, so there will be an adjustment; but Snyder has seen a lot during his time, so there won’t be much of a down time during the transition.

Kliff Kingsbury - Offensive Coordinator
Grade: C+
We all know Kingsbury from his days as Texas Tech’s quarterback, but he’s established himself as a pretty good coach since those days. Need proof? See: Case Keenum. The air raid that Kingsbury ran in Lubbock and coached at Houston won’t fly in the SEC, so he’ll need to tone it down a little bit. Is that possible? Is he willing? We’ll see. We won’t know for sure until toe meets leather in September. As a young coordinator, going up against the top defensive minds in college football is quite a tall order. Color me skeptical.

Brent Pease - Offensive Coordinator
Grade: C+
Pease comes from a good pedigree. Learning under Boise State head coach Chris Petersen will certainly help him, and he won’t be stuck to one particular system like former Florida offensive coordinator Charlie Weis was. That should benefit the Gators, since most of the players on the roster were recruited to run Urban Meyer’s spread option. Our good friends at Coaches By The Numbers are skeptical of the hire, since Pease has struggled with the running game throughout his career and has not been great in years in which he wasn’t with Petersen. Could it work out? Sure. It’s hardly a certainty though.

South Carolina
Lorenzo Ward - Defensive Coordinator
Grade: A-
This one was a no-brainer. Ellis Johnson was awesome for the Gamecocks, and consider Ward “Johnson Light.” Ward had the title of defensive coordinator for the previous three seasons while working with the cornerbacks, but it was Johnson - whose title was “assistant head coach for defense” - that actually called the plays. Semantics aside, Ward knows what to do. He’s been heavily involved in game planning since arriving in Columbia, so any transition issues should be minimal.

Sal Sunseri - Defensive Coordinator
Grade: B-
I know, I know...Sunseri comes from the Nick Saban tree, so he has to be good, right? Wrong. While Saban is the unquestioned top coach in college football, some of his former assistants are struggling. Will Muschamp’s first season in Florida was a disaster, Jimbo Fisher’s Florida State team isn’t even close to becoming a contender yet and Derek Dooley - Sunseri’s boss at Tennessee - has been woeful at Tennessee. As outside linebacker coach at Alabama, Sunseri was certainly blessed with some great talent to work with. Did he develop that talent? Sure. But does that make him a good defense coordinator? Nope. Consider this a “work in progress” for Tennessee; but if things don’t progress quickly, that whole staff will be gone.

Barrett Sallee covers the SEC for He can be reached at, or on Twitter at @BarrettSallee

2011/2012 Offseason Column Archive
Grading The SEC Coordinator Hires - January 29, 2012
CFN Analysis: Schiano To The NFL - January 26, 2012
CFN Analysis: Joe Paterno Will Be Missed - January 23, 2012
Final Thoughts From Bowl Season - January 11, 2012
Where Was Jarrett Lee? - January 10, 2012
Bama/LSU: Who Has Improved More? - January 9, 2012
Bama/LSU: Taking The Other Team’s Side - January 7, 2012
Bama/LSU: Five Thoughts On Who Wins The Rematch - January 6, 2012
SEC New Year’s Resolutions - January 1, 2012
Thoughts On The SEC Schedule - December 28, 2011
End Of The Year Accountability - December 25, 2011

Click here for the 2011 Three & Out Archive
Click Here for the 2011 regular season column archive

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