Mountain West Football: Examining The Conference’s 2022 Coordinator Hires
There wasn’t nearly as much coaching turnover as last year, but the Mountain West has a number of intriguing new hires beyond its new head coaches.
New faces in new spaces.
Most of what we can do with regards to the Falcons is conjecture, as Troy Calhoun hasn’t been shy about playing his cards close to the vest with past transitions among his coaching staff. He did it with John Rudzinski several years ago and, now that Rudzinski is gone to Virginia, it seems likely he will do the same for the new defensive coordinator.
Brent Briggeman of the Colorado Springs Gazette noted that new defensive backs coach Charlie Jackson (who replaces Curome Cox, another Virginia hire) will also be the Falcons’ assistant head coach. This is perhaps fitting since Jackson, a former Air Force player, was most recently the head coach at Division II Kentucky State and, in two full seasons (2019 and 2021), led the Thorobreds to more wins (14) than they’d had in the five years (13) which preceded his arrival.
There are also in-house options who could be elevated, as well. Defensive line coach Bill Sheridan served as Boston College’s defensive coordinator in 2019 before coming to Colorado Springs and previously did the same for a pair of NFL teams, too, in Tampa Bay (2012-13) and with the New York Giants (2009). Brian Knorr, listed as a co-DC and inside linebackers coach among the 2021 staff, has also flown solo as a coordinator at Ohio (1999-2000), Wake Forest (2012-13), and Indiana (2014-15).
Jay Norvell didn’t waste much time importing a number of key figures from his tenure in Nevada, both on and off the field, and none may be more important than new Rams offensive coordinator Matt Mumme. Though it took some time for the Air Raid to find its footing in Reno, the Wolf Pack ranked in the top 40 nationally by points per drive in both 2020 and 2021 and developed a number of talents, notably quarterback Carson Strong and wide receiver Romeo Doubs, with bright NFL futures ahead.
On the other side of the ball, defensive coordinator Freddie Banks comes to Fort Collins with some pretty impressive recent achievements on his resume. After a one-year stint on Norvell’s Nevada staff in 2020, Banks jumped to Montana State and helped the Bobcats reach the FCS championship game. His defense ranked 18th in allowing 4.78 yards per play and sixth with just 15.1 points per game allowed, featuring linebacker Troy Andersen, the 2021 Big Sky Defensive Player of the Year, and eight all-conference honorees.
In spite of the early off-season turnover that followed Kalen DeBoer’s departure for Washington, the Bulldogs found a way to quickly stabilize and maintain continuity under new (old?) head coach Jeff Tedford. On offense, that meant promoting from within and replacing Ryan Grubb with Kirby Moore. The promotion made all the sense in the world considering Tedford had brought Moore to Fresno in the first place back in 2017 as a wide receivers coach. More recently, Moore added the responsibility of being a passing game coordinator under DeBoer in 2020-21.
It’s been hard to argue with the results: The Bulldogs are the only team in the Mountain West to have averaged at least six yards per play in each of the last four seasons.
By contrast, defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle is a seasoned veteran with a wealth of experience in both the collegiate and professional ranks. Before coming back to Fresno for a second stint as DC (he held the same role under Pat Hill from 1997 to 2000), Coyle worked under Ed Orgeron at LSU as a defensive analyst. In fact, it’s been a decade since he’s been hired as a coordinator, when he did so for the Miami Dolphins from 2012 to 2015; his units finished between 13th and 18th by defensive DVOA in his first three years before plummeting to 28th in the last. Whatever risk there is is probably mitigated by a relative wealth of experienced position coaches like Tim Skipper and J.D. Williams on staff, as well.
New head coach Timmy Chang didn’t waste a lot of time building his staff and, if nothing else, the fresh mix has equal amounts of familiarity and intrigue. Newly elevated defensive coordinator Jacob Yoro reflects the former, as he now enters his sixth year with the Warriors having worked with three different head coaches.
A Miliani, Oahu native, Yoro has received high marks as a communicator and been integral as part of defensive staffs which have coached a bend-but-don’t-break unit over the last few years: Hawaii tied for the Mountain West lead with 27 takeaways in 2021 and led the conference with 17 in 2020.
On the other side of the ball, offensive coordinator Ian Shoemaker is a fascinating newcomer with plenty on his resume to suggest the Warriors could get back to lighting up scoreboards in no time. Working under Aaron Best at FCS Eastern Washington, Shoemaker helped Eagles quarterback Eric Barriere become the Walter Payton Award runner-up in the 2020-21 season and its winner this past fall. By offensive SP+, EWU ranked second among all FCS teams in 2021; in terms of yards per play, the Eagles ranked fourth (6.83 YPP).
What remains to be seen is how Chang, Shoemaker and company marry concepts from the Run and Shoot and Air Raid: Chang, of course, set records as a Hawaii quarterback running the former, but he operated with the latter under Jay Norvell at Nevada while Shoemaker did the same up in Cheney.
Wolf Pack head coach Ken Wilson will get time to turn the page from the Jay Norvell era and, with that in mind, brought in some fresh faces which could have Nevada looking much different in no time.
On offense, new coordinator Derek Sage will take on that role for the first time in his career after spending most of his time coaching wide receivers and, more recently, tight ends. Before making the jump to Reno, Sage worked under Chip Kelly at UCLA and, when the NFL Draft gets underway in the spring, will likely be able to boast of having helped develop two professional tight ends in Caleb Wilson and Greg Dulcich.
Before that, though, Sage worked under Mike Leach at Washington State, Matt Campbell and Jason Candle at Toledo, and Dave Christensen at Wyoming, giving him a familiarity with numerous offensive styles that could prove useful for retooling the Pack.
Mike Bethea and Kwame Agyeman, the team’s new co-defensive coordinators, will be tested with big steps up from their careers to date. Bethea did play for the Wolf Pack and served as a graduate assistant under Chris Ault, but his lone role as a coordinator came in the NAIA ranks at Ottawa University Arizona. To Bethea’s credit, however, the Spirit made the equivalent playoffs in both 2019 and 2021 and averaged two takeaways per game last season.
Agyeman, meanwhile, followed Wilson from Oregon after serving as an analyst for the Ducks over the past four years. His experience working with different position groups in that time paid dividends for a program that won the Pac-12 in both 2019 and 2020, most notably in the development of players like Mykael Wright, Deommodore Lenoir, and Jevon Holland.
After Glenn Thomas and Peter Hansen left the Rebels program relatively far into the off-season, Marcus Arroyo needed to replace both coordinators and dug deep to do just that.
On offense, Nick Holz joins UNLV from his role as an assistant wide receiver coach with the Las Vegas Raiders. Interestingly enough, Holtz was a part of the Raiders organization for ten years, staying on through multiple head coaching changes in a number of assistant roles. Before that, he worked at Stanford as part of Jim Habaugh’s staff with a focus on recruiting, operations, and the scout team, so his mix of on-field and off-field skills should mesh well with a Rebels program that has done well on the recruiting trail under Arroyo.
Keith Hayward, meanwhile, left his post as Justin Wilcox’s outside linebackers coach at Cal for Las Vegas. He and Arroyo worked together under Mario Cristobal at Oregon, though his coaching resume stretches all the way back to 2005, including other stops at Oregon State, Cal Poly, Washington, USC and Louisville. Still just 42 years old, Heyward has already had a hand in developing four different first-round NFL Draft picks, all defensive backs, and is perhaps exactly the kind of rising coaching star which could help put UNLV over the top.