Mark Stoops is in the market for a new offensive coordinator for the third consecutive offseason after firing Rich Scangarello on Tuesday.
Kentucky’s next offensive coordinator will be Stoops’ sixth in 11 seasons as Kentucky’s head coach and fourth in the last four years. First, Stoops will need to decide if he wants to stick with the same pro-style system used the last two years with former NFL assistants Liam Coen and Scangarello in charge or if he wants to pivot to a more up-tempo style like some of college football’s most effective offenses.
Stoops’ track record suggests regardless of the specific system he chooses, he will value offensive balance when making the hire. Specific names in the running for the job should emerge in the coming days, but here is a look at five potential candidates who might make sense for Stoops to consider.
Liam Coen (Los Angeles Rams offensive coordinator)
When Coen left Lexington a year ago to become the offensive coordinator of the Super Bowl champions, he appeared to be on the fast track to an NFL head coaching position. The Rams have struggled to a 3-8 record this season with one of the worst offenses in the NFL, so a move back to the college coaching ranks is not out of the question for Coen. Head coach Sean McVay calls the plays for the Rams, but his coordinators have been hot commodities for NFL head coaching jobs in recent years. Still, the Herald-Leader was recently told Coen does not necessarily see himself on that same career path. With the NFL regular season not ending until January, timing and contract issues would be a hurdle, but Stoops must first at least explore the possibility of bringing back the coordinator who led Kentucky’s best offense of his tenure.
Brian Hartline (Ohio State passing game coordinator)
Rebuilding the offense should be goal No. 1 with the next coordinator hire, but Stoops also needs to increase the recruiting strength of his staff. Hartline, considered one of the best recruiters in the country, could solve both problems if he is interested in taking his first play-calling position. Hartline has played a key role in developing Ohio State’s deep group of wide receivers, but he has yet to run his own offense. Bringing in a rookie play-caller would be a risk for Stoops, but Hartline is considered a rising star in the business. Kentucky would face plenty of competition for him, especially since he has been mentioned as one of the leading candidates for the now open Cincinnati head coaching job.
Rob Calabrese (New York Jets quarterbacks coach)
When Coen left Lexington a year ago, Calabrese was one of the coaches in the running to replace him at Kentucky. In the end, Calabrese elected to remain in the NFL, but perhaps a year later he would have a different plan? Calabrese comes from the same offensive system developed by McVay and Kyle Shanahan that produced Coen and Scangarello. Calabrese might be too close to Scangarello for Stoops’ comfort after the struggles this year, but he would present another option if Stoops wants to look to the NFL again. With the Jets in playoff contention, timing would be an issue for this hire though.
Dan Mullen (ESPN analyst)
If Stoops decides to run an offense with proven success at the college level, expect the former Florida and Mississippi State head coach to be mentioned in the search. Mullen did not coach this year after being fired by Florida. If he wants to return to coaching, he probably will have the chance to pursue Power Five head coaching opportunities. But if Mullen is open to easing back into things as an offensive coordinator like he was at Florida from 2005 to 2008, Kentucky might have a chance. There are few available coaches who have a better quarterback resume than Mullen, who coached Alex Smith, Tim Tebow and Dak Prescott in college.
Chip Lindsey (UCF offensive coordinator)
Another candidate with previous head coaching experience, Lindsey leads one of the most effective offenses in the country this year. UCF ranks ninth nationally in total yards per game (486.5) and sixth in rushing yards per game (243.7). Lindsey previously worked as Troy’s head coach from 2019 to 2021 and has SEC coordinator experience at Auburn. There is no obvious tie to Stoops or Kentucky, but if Stoops wants to hire a successful Group of Five coordinator, Lindsey would be a logical name to pursue.