4 best college football coordinator hires of 2017 (and the 5 worst)

Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (basketball celebration party supplies sold separately in Lawrence, where they welcome the change of subject from football):

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SECOND QUARTER: THE FOUR BEST COORDINATOR HIRES OF 2017

In the era of the CEO head coach, the importance of making good coordinator hires has increased. That’s why the high-end coordinators are millionaires these days. (Well, that and to act as a layer of plausible deniability when the season goes bad. Millionaire coordinators whose units are underperforming are first in the line of fire, then the head coach.) The new guys doing the best work this season:

Mike Elko (11), Notre Dame. Elko was a strong Broyles Award candidate as the top assistant coach in the country — right up until he was caught on video profanely trash-talking Miami pregame Saturday, and then his defensive unit failed to back it up, surrendering 237 rushing yards to the Hurricanes. Still, since he was hired from Wake Forest, the Fighting Irish defense has been significantly improved. Specifically, Notre Dame has 19 takeaways on the season, its most since 2014 and on pace for the most in a season since 2010.

Todd Grantham (12), Mississippi State. The before-and-after numbers are startling, both at Grantham’s current employer and his previous one, Louisville. Mississippi State is surrendering 144 yards per game and 12.5 points per game fewer than 2016, and is on pace to allow its fewest points per game this century. Meanwhile, Louisville’s defense is allowing 75 more yards and six more points per game than it did under Grantham. Of course, the Grantham Method comes with risk attached — his blitzing style gave up two huge pass plays on Alabama’s winning drive Saturday night.

Jim Leonhard (13), Wisconsin. Doesn’t seem to matter who holds the defensive coordinator job in Madison — that unit just stops offenses. Leonhard, a longtime NFL player and a second-year coach who is a first-time coordinator, has picked up right where Justin Wilcox and Dave Aranda left off. Actually, the Badgers have gotten better — despite a season-ending injury before the year to standout linebacker Jack Cichy. Wisconsin leads the nation in total defense and is on pace to allow the fewest yards per game since Alabama in 2011. He’s technically a promotion, not a hire from the outside, but clearly an inspired choice by Paul Chryst.

Wisconsin defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard holds a football before an NCAA college football game against Florida Atlantic Saturday, Sept. 9, 2017 in Madison, Wis. (AP Photo/Aaron Gash)

Orlondo Steinauer (14), Fresno State. Nobody had heard of Steinauer before new Bulldogs coach Jeff Tedford hired him out of the Canadian Football League, where he had played and coached for 20 years. People in the Mountain West know who he is now. Fresno is 12th nationally in total defense, after ranking 68th last year. The only two teams to score more than 26 points or gain more than 330 yards against Fresno all season are Alabama and Washington. Tedford has improved the entire product, but better defense is the biggest reason why Fresno has gone from 1-11 last year to 7-3.

…. AND THE FIVE WORST

Peter Sirmon (15), Louisville. As noted above, the Cardinals’ defense has regressed since Grantham departed and Sirmon arrived in what was a virtual coordinator trade with Mississippi State. Louisville hasn’t allowed this many points per game, yards per game or yards per play since the Steve Kragthorpe Era a decade ago. Defensive collapses cost Louisville games against Boston College and Wake Forest, and those losses have helped scuttle Lamar Jackson’s repeat Heisman Trophy bid. It would be a surprise if Sirmon is around for a second season as coordinator at Louisville.

Bob Diaco (16), Nebraska. Speaking of short-timers: Diaco and the rest of Mike Riley’s staff are playing out the string in Lincoln. Replacing the fired Mark Banker, Diaco is being paid $825,000 to coach a unit that is on pace to be the worst at Nebraska since Bill Callahan’s last season in 2008. Giving up 500 yards to Oregon and 600 to Ohio State is bad — but giving up 54 points to mediocre Minnesota — on just 61 snaps — is a sure sign of a team that is packing it in. At least Diaco’s hair is perfect.

Shawn Watson (17), Pittsburgh. Watson did not inherit an easy situation, with running back James Conner and quarterback Nathan Peterman graduating. But still, post-Matt Canada drop-off has been pronounced. Scoring is down 16 points per game, and overall offensive production is on pace for its lowest levels since 2011 — and that’s with the Atlantic Coast Conference’s No. 1 (Virginia Tech) and No. 3 (Miami) scoring defenses left on the schedule.

Tim Beck (18), Texas. Beck was pushed out at Ohio State after the Buckeyes’ passing game ground to a halt in 2016 and rejoined former colleague Tom Herman in Austin. Results have not been great. The only Big 12 team with a lower pass-efficiency rating or averaging fewer yards per play than the Longhorns is Kansas, which only marginally counts as a conference colleague. Texas has averaged 3.2 yards or fewer per running play in six of 10 games this season, and the passing attack hasn’t been productive enough to pick up that slack.

Larry Scott (19), Tennessee. Promoted from tight ends coach by Butch Jones just in time to pilot the Titanic into an iceberg of inefficiency. Replacing three-year fixture Josh Dobbs at quarterback was going to be a challenge, but nobody knew it would turn out to be impossible. Tennessee actually went more than three full games without an offensive touchdown, hasn’t scored more than 28 in regulation against an FBS opponent and ranks last in the SEC in pass efficiency — and the SEC isn’t a very good passing league.

… AND THE WORST CAREER MOVE BY A COORDINATOR

Doug Meachem (20), Kansas. This is more a case of Meachem making a terrible career move than the Jayhawks hiring the wrong guy. He left the wins and security of Gary Patterson’s staff at TCU to join the worst program in the Big 12, and now the only question is whether David Beaty and staff will be fired at the end of yet another ignominious Kansas season. Meachem is being paid more than half a million dollars to coordinate the worst offense in the Big 12, but it has to be tough going to a 1-9 team when your old squad is 8-2.



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