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Updated: Cal Football Offensive Coordinator Search Big Board ver1.5

Plenty of interesting names

NCAA Football: Oregon State at California Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports

Cal Football Head Coach Justin Wilcox now has a decision to make regarding who will lead the Bears’ Offense in 2020 and beyond.

The Bears now begin their search for a new offensive coordinator.

This article will serve as the big board for coaches that could be the next in line along with news updates regarding candidates. This article will be updated as news is announced.

Zak Hill - Boise State Offensive Coordinator

Former Positions: Hawaii OC/QB (15), Eastern Washington Passing Game Coordinator & QB (09-15)

Zak Hill has more ties to the guy he is potentially replacing than the staff he’ll be a part of. Hill was the QB Coach and Passing Game Coordinator under Beau Baldwin for 7 years before making the jump to OC at Hawaii. He coached up QB Vernon Adams Jr and QB Matt Nichols to become finalists for the Walter Payton Award, honoring the top FCS player in the country. Hill’s offenses for the Broncos since 2016 have been quite impressive. Hill was the Co-OC in 2016, but took over the job in 2017. The offense in 2016 was ranked 38th in the country in scoring and 21st in total offense. The offense increased in scoring yearly from 2016 at 33.8 ppg to 36.8 ppg. The last 3 years he has had a QB throw for at least 2700 yards, 15 TDs and a 60%+ completion percentage. (Caveat, in 2019 Hank Bachmeier and Jaylon Henderson both played at QB due to injury and form. They were a combined 2700+ yards, 20 TDs and 63% completion.) Also during the last 3 years, the offense had a running back and wide receiver eclipse or get fairly close to 1000+ yards rushing and 1000+ yards receiving, respectively.

Christopher_h’s analysis: Zak Hill has a reputation for developing quarterbacks, most notably Vernon Adams Jr. during his time at Eastern Washington. (Starting to notice a trend here with Cal and Boise St/EWU coaches). At Boise State, Hill helped Brett Rypien improve his passing efficiency. As a former assistant under Beau Baldwin at EWU, it probably wouldn’t surprise you to hear that Boise State also runs a “multiple” offense (borrowing both spread and pro-style concepts).

Nick Kranz’s Take: This would probably be a decent ‘continuity’ pick, as Hill spent lots of time working with Beau Baldwin while on Eastern Washington’s coaching staff. And the play of Boise St.’s offense under Hill has certainly been solid if not spectacular. But it’s also true that head coach Bryan Harsin is also an offensively minded head coach, so it’s hard to say how to split out credit for Boise’s performance.


Update #2: Zak Hill has been hired by Herm Edwards and ASU

New Orleans Saints v Chicago Bears Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images

Mark Helfrich - Current Chicago Bears Offensive Coordinator

Former Positions: Oregon HC (13-16), Oregon OC/QB (09-12), Colorado OC/QB (06-08)

The former Oregon HC and OC would be a familiar choice to revamp the Cal offense. Helfrich is an established offensive coordinator in the Pac-12 with huge ties to the west coast. Helfrich’s offenses also fit with the type of offense that Wilcox would like to run with establishing a power run game inside a modern spread offense. He also has ties to the current staff with HC Justin Wilcox being a player when Helfrich was a grad assistant at Oregon. OL Coach Steve Greatwood was Helfrich’s OL coach during his OC and HC years. Through his 4 year tenure as the HC of the Oregon Ducks, they averaged 45.5ppg in 2013, 45.4ppg in 2014, 43.0ppg in 2015, 35.4ppg in 2016. In all four years the offense never dropped outside the top 30 in the country, in his first 3 years as HC the offense stayed in the top 5. Of course, we have to add the caveat that his QB the first 2 years of his head coaching tenure was Marcus Mariota. He then had EWU Transfer Vernon Adams Jr in year 3 and Justin Herbert in his final year.

Christopher_h’s analysis: Mark Helfrich was the offensive coordinator under Chip Kelly when Oregon ran their ridiculously uptempo spread offense (led by a dual-threat QB). Although Helfrich had a bit of success in the immediate wake of Kelly’s departure (due in large part to the Heisman season of Marcus Mariota), Oregon steadily declined after he took the reigns, and he’s currently the offensive coordinator for the Chicago Bears, one of the worst offenses in the NFL. The Bears have Mitch Trubisky at quarterback, a QB more known for his running prowess than his, uh, arm.

Nick Kranz’s Take: For what it’s worth, offense was NOT the problem for Mark Helfrich at Oregon. Sure, in his final season the Ducks went 4-8, but they averaged 30 points/game in those 8 losses. But the hard part with Helfrich is trying to figure out how much credit he deserves for Oregon’s offensive success vs. Chip Kelly and Scott Frost. Helfrich has spent the last year as offensive coordinator Chicago with the NFL Bears, who are performing similarly on offense this year as 2018 prior to Helfrich’s arrival.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: AUG 29 Kent State at Arizona State Photo by Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Rob Likens - Former ASU Offensive Coordinator & QB Coach (18-19)

Former Positions: ASU Passing Game Coordinator & WR (17), Kansas OC/QB (15-16), Cal Assistant HC & outside receivers (13-14)

This potential hire seems to be on a lot of Cal fans’ wishlist. Likens was just let go by ASU and is on the open market. He has ties to the Bears as he coached here for the first two years of Sonny Dykes’ tenure. Likens was crucial in recruiting and developing the prolific Cal WRs under Sonny Dykes. He also has stated his regret in leaving the Bears for Kansas in his press conference earlier this year. (Watch the first two and a half minutes.)

As for his time at ASU, Likens coordinated the passing game along with WRs his first year, helping Manny Wilkins throw for over 3200 yards with 20 TDs and a completion percentage of 63.4%. He also coached up future NFL 1st rounder WR N’Keal Harry to go for 82 catches and 1142 yards with 8 touchdowns. WR Kyle Williams and Jalen Harvey also received more than 500 yards each that season. The following season, Likens would take over as OC and run a more rush balanced offense. Eno Benjamin had his break out year with 1642 yards and 16 touchdowns on 300 carries. Additionally, Wilkins had another 3000 yard season and Harry another 1000 yard season. Three other receivers would catch over 20 balls and account for 400+ yards each. This past season Likens helped develop true freshman QB Jayden Daniels, who threw for 2748 yards with 17 TDs and just 2 INTs. The offense also relied on Eno Benjamin who had 1083 yards on 253 carries with 10 TDs. Likens had another 1000 yard receiver in Brandon Aiyuk who had 1192 yards on 65 catches with 8 TDs.

Christopher_h’s analysis: Former ASU OC/QB coach Rob Likens led the Jayden Daniels offense, one with conservative play-calling as Likens was concerned for the safety of his undersized quarterback. ASU mainly ran the ball with their power RB Eno Benjamin while occasionally peppering in some short screen passes and QB run/slides.

Nick Kranz’s Take: Rob Likens is available because ASU’s offense undeniably took a big step backwards this year. But is that offensive step back Likens’ fault? ASU lost 1st round WR N’Keal Harry to the NFL, had to replace their QB with a true freshman, and had to replace four starters on the offensive line. As a result the ASU running game died (12th in the conference in yards/carry) and QB Jayden Daniels was often running for his life. So: we know about the pros Likens brings to the table - he’s a brilliant WR coach (all those guys at Cal, Harry and Aiyuk at ASU) and knows how to help build a strong passing game. He might be weaker in terms of his impact on the offensive line and the running game.

NCAA Football: Nevada at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Mike Sanford Jr. - Current Utah State Offensive Coordinator

Former Positions: Western Kentucky HC (17-18), Notre Dame OC/QB (15-16), Boise State OC (14), Stanford Recruiting Coordinator & QB/WR (13), Stanford Recruiting Coordinator & RB (12), Stanford RB (11)

Sanford is one of the hot commodities in the assistant coaching pool in college football. He also has significant experience in recruiting on the West Coast and specifically California. Before becoming the OC at Utah State this season, he served as the head coach at Western Kentucky from 2017-2018. His prior stops include OC/QB at Notre Dame from 2015-2016, OC/QB at Boise State in 2014, Recruiting Coordinator/QB/RB/WR at Stanford from 2011-2013. While at Stanford, he added to his role yearly during David Shaw’s first three years as the head coach. He was the RB coach in 2011, Recruiting Coordinator & RB coach in 2012, Recruiting coordinator & QB & WR coach in 2013. As recruiting coordinator at Stanford, he had two top 25 recruiting classes highlighted by multiple 4-stars and 5-stars in 2011-2012. As the OC at Boise State, the offense averaged 39.7 ppg, good for 9th in the country. He had Grant Hedrick throw for over 3600 yards with 23 TDs, and Jay Ajayi rush for 1823 yards and 28 touchdowns on 347 carries. In his two years at Notre Dame the offense averaged 34.2 ppg in 2015 and 30.9 in 2016. QB DeShone Kizer had 2900 yards passing in both seasons with 20+ Touchdowns. In 2015, the #7 offense by S&P+ had C.J. Prosise eclipse 1000 yards rushing with 11 touchdowns and Will Fuller eclipse 1000 yards receiving with 14 touchdowns. Finally at Utah State, this past season, the Aggies averaged 28.2 ppg behind 3085 yards and 17 touchdowns by QB Jordan Love on 60.6% completion. Gerold Bright lead the rushing with 827 yards on 161 carries with 8 TDs. Siaosi Mariner led the team in catches with 56 for 874 yards and 8 TDs.

Christopher_h’s analysis: Speaking of Rypien at Boise State, he was actually recruited to Boise St by none other than current Utah State OC Mike Sanford. Sanford was the Offensive Coordinator and QB coach for Boise State in 2014, the year Boise State beat #10 Arizona in the Fiesta Bowl. Before that, Sanford coached at some garbage school you should definitely not bother to look up. Utah State runs a decidedly uptempo spread offense, reminiscent of Kelly-era Oregon. Unfortunately, Utah State’s offense has been struggling a bit this year. I forgot to mention Deshone Kizer, but to be fair I never had a high opinion of Kizer. I guess if you point it out, you can use it to show that pretty much all of these candidates have experience developing dual-threat QBs.

Nick Kranz’s Take: Cal fans perhaps first heard of Sanford when he coached at Stanford under David Shaw, but he first became an OC at Boise St. in 2014, then Notre Dame in 2015 and 2016. For those three seasons, he inherited solid situations and largely maintained solid offensive production. But his career has taken backwards steps since. In 2017 and 2018 he oversaw a Western Kentucky offense that massively backslid from the 2016 squad that won Conference USA. Disconcertingly, Utah State had a returning QB in 2019 (Jordan Love) who saw significant statistical declines across the board under Sanford (64% completion rate to 60% completion rate, 8.6 yards/attempt to 7.1). Maybe there are extenuating circumstances here, but I don’t really see anything to get excited about. Hard pass.

NCAA Football: Cactus Bowl-Kansas State vs UCLA Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

Jedd Fisch - Current LA Rams Assistant Offensive Coordinator

Former Positions: UCLA OC/QB/HC (17), Michigan QB/WR/Passing Game Coordinator (15-16), Jacksonville Jaguars OC (13-14), Miami OC/QB (11-12), Seattle Seahawks QB (10), Minnesota OC/QB (09), Denver Broncos WR (08)

Jedd Fisch is a very well traveled offensive, and specifically passing game mind that has had stints in college and the pros. His most recent collegiate stops was as the OC under Jim Mora at UCLA for Josh Rosen’s final season. Under Fisch, the Bruins averaged 32.5 ppg behind the play of future NFL QB Josh Rosen. Rosen threw for 26 touchdowns with 3756 yards with a completion percentage of 62.6%. Jordan Lasley caught 69 passes for 1264 yards and 9 touchdowns. Bolu Olorunfunmi and Soso Jamabo combined for 1000 yards and 11 rushing touchdowns on 200 total carries. He also took over for the Bruins as the interim head coach when Jim Mora was fired. Current Cal QB Devon Modster was on the roster along with TE coach Marques Tuiasosopo. Bears fans will remember the UCLA game in 2017, played in Pasadena, for bowl eligibility. Before that he was the passing game coordinator along with the QB and WR coach at Michigan under Jim Harbaugh. At Michigan in 2015, he developed Jake Rudock to throw for 3017 yards and 20 TDs on a 64% completion rate. Three different receivers had 50+ catches on the season with 650+ yards. The three receivers combined for 17 touchdowns. In 2016, the offense jumped to an average scoring of 40.3 from 31.4 in 2015. Wilton Speight threw for 2538 yards with 18 touchdowns and a completion percentage of 61.6%. The Wolverines had another 3 receivers catch for over 500 yards each. Amara Darboh had 862 yards on 57 catches. Current Cal WR Kekoa Crawford was coached by Fisch in 2016, catching 4 passes for 47 yards and 1 touchdown.

Christopher_h’s analysis: Jedd Fisch was the UCLA OC for a year in Josh Rosen’s final season, and briefly the head coach after Jim Mora was fired. His signature win: helping Devon Modster lead UCLA to bowl-eligibility over Justin Wilcox’s 5-6 California Golden Bears. I believe he once said some nonsense about Josh Rosen being better than Jared Goff, so his quarterback evaluation skills should be taken with a grain of salt. To be fair, that was before he was hired as a senior offensive assistant with the LA Rams, so he’s presumably seen the errors of his ways since then.

Nick Kranz’s Take: Fisch has been with eight different teams over the last twelve seasons, which means it would take an unreasonable amount of time (and maybe would be impossible) to try to sort through his resume and figure out what his strengths and weaknesses are. He’s bounced around between college and the pros, has worked for a variety of different coaches with different styles, and doesn’t seem to have anything on his resume that either gets me excited or makes me fearful.

Brian Lindgren - Current Oregon State Offensive Coordinator & QB Coach

Former Positions: Colorado OC/QB (13-17), San Jose State OC/QB (12), Northern Arizona OC/QB (09-11), Northern Arizona QB/Passing Game Coordinator (08), Northern Arizona RB (07)

Brian Lindgren is the hot commodity on the west coast after transforming the Beavers offense in just two years. The Beavers averaged just 20.7 ppg in 2017 for Gary Andersen’s final season in Corvallis. Lindgren would come in for 2018 along with Jonathan Smith and raise the average to 26.1 ppg, and then 31.2 ppg in 2019. In his 2 years, Lindgren has gotten over 2500 yards passing from his QBs, Luton and Blount combined in 2018, Luton in 2019. Luton finished with 62% passing the last two seasons. He had 28 touchdowns to just 3 interceptions in 2019. Art Pierce and Jermar Jefferson combined for over 1500 yards rushing on a combined 289 carries and 14 touchdowns. Isaiah Hodgins had his breakout season with 1171 yards receiving on 86 catches along with 13 touchdowns. Before his time in Corvallis, Lindgren spent 5 seasons as the OC of the Colorado Buffaloes under Mike MacIntyre. He developed Sefo Liufau and Steven Montez into legitimate Pac-12 QBs. In terms of offense, the Buffs averaged around 28 ppg during his time as the OC. Lindgren also turned Phillip Lindsay into a 1000+ yard rusher, Nelson Spruce into a 1000+ yard receiver, and recruited the likes Devin Ross, Bryce Bobo, Shay Fields and Laviska Shenault.

Christopher_h’s analysis: Current Oregon St OC Brian Lindgren is yet another OC/QB coach, who most notably worked with both Sefo Liufau and Steven Montez during his time at Colorado, both stellar dual-threat QBs. Lindgren helped turn cellar-dweller Oregon State into a respectable Pac-12 contender led by their offense. Lindgren ran a run-heavy offense on the backs of talented RBs (Jermar Jefferson, Artavis Pierce) and an efficient passing QB (Jake Luton) that rarely turned the ball over.

Nick Kranz’s Take: Lindgren spent five seasons in Colorado under defensively minded head coach Mike MacIntyre, and the results were . . . mostly middling, to be honest. To be fair, Lindgren didn’t exactly have access to high end Pac-12 talent, so it’s not like the results were terrible, but nothing really to get excited about. Lindgren has perhaps done his best work over the last two seasons at Oregon State, where the Beavers have developed some truly exciting skill position talent and blossomed into a legitimately dangerous offense this year. But it’s also true that this growth coincides with the arrival of head coach Jonathan Smith, who was OC at Washington for four years prior to his hire at OSU. In other words, I’d be more inclined to credit Smith for OSU’s rebirth on offense.


Howard v UNLV Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Brennan Marion - Current William & Mary Offensive Coordinator & QB Coach

Former Positions: Howard OC (17-18), Oklahoma Baptist Assistant (16), Arizona State Assistant (15), Waynesboro Area HS HC (14), St. Patrick-St. Vincent HS HC (13), Harker School HC (12)

News Update: Marion is said to be interested in the open position according to 247. No information if Cal is also interested.

Missouri v Tennessee Photo by Donald Page/Getty Images

Derek Dooley - Current Missouri OC & QB Coach

Former Positions: Dallas Cowboys WR (13-17), Tennessee HC (10-12), Louisiana Tech (07-09), Miami Dolphins TE (05-06), LSU Assistant Head Coach & RB & Special Teams (03-04), LSU TE & Recruiting Coordinator (00-02), SMU WR (97-99)

Christopher_h’s analysis: Derek Dooley seems like a strange candidate for OC. It’s a lateral move at best (OC/QB coach at Mizzou, where he had an NFL QB in Drew Lock), and Justin Wilcox was actually his defensive coordinator when Dooley was the head coach at Tennessee. Mizzou is the first time he’s held either an OC and QB coaching role, and the fact that he’s jumped around coaching different positions suggests he doesn’t really have one area of expertise. Mizzou ran a pro-style offense with Drew Lock (apparently at his request). This year, Mizzou relied a lot on the legs of dual-threat QB Kelly Bryant, the Clemson transfer usurped by Trevor Lawrence, to extend plays and improvise. It should be noted that Bryant has pro potential himself, so Dooley was hardly working with a bare cupboard. This is probably not the most inspiring hire.

Nick Kranz’s Take: Derek Dooley has had an odd career that has seen him bounce around the southeast, back and forth between college and pro ball. He rose to prominence first as an ace recruiter under Nick Saban at LSU, then followed Saban to the NFL, then getting hired as head coach at Louisiana Tech, then Tennessee. At Tennessee he inherited a nuclear disaster of a program and failed to right the ship, though it’s worth noting that in his three years he did slowly rehabilitate the Tennessee offense such that they were producing at a top 25 level in his final season. Unfortunately for Dooley, defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox left after Dooley’s 2nd season in charge, he replaced Wilcox with Sal Sunseri and the defense collapsed. Tennessee went 4-7 and Dooley was fired. Dooley returned to the NFL for five years as a WR coach before getting hired as Missouri’s offensive coordinator, and the Tigers had a pretty solid 2018 on offense, though it’s worth noting that they returned a good senior QB in Drew Lock and were even better in 2017. Missouri brought in Kelly Bryant as a transfer QB for 2019, and started the season gangbusters on offense, but Bryant picked up a few injuries, the schedule stiffened in the 2nd half, and Missouri’s offensive production fell off a cliff to help end the Barry Odom era. Was that offensive collapse injury related, or was it going to happen anyway because the 2nd half of Missouri’s schedule was much tougher? How much blame does Dooley take for that collapse? Hard to say. Add it all up and you get the mixed picture of a coach with some successes and some failures on his resume, and lots of complicating factors that make it really difficult to parse out credit and blame. The distinction between ‘spread’ and ‘pro-style’ offense is increasingly meaningless in modern football, but it’s worth noting that Dooley is nominally more of a pro-style offensive coach. Whether or not that preferred style would suit Cal’s personnel I can only begin to guess.