Mario Cristobal has found his man. Air Raid offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson has been tabbed by Miami as their new play caller. Dawson is a former quarterback and wide receiver at Wingate, where he played under Houston head coach Dana Holgorsen.
Miami is expected to hire Houston’s Shannon Dawson as offensive coordinator and QBs coach, sources tell @SINow.— Ross Dellenger (@RossDellenger) February 14, 2023
Dawson, a longtime Dana Holgorsen assistant, has tutored some of the nation’s most prolific passers & called plays at UH.
The 45-year-old Dawson, has coached in Air Raid offenses under Holgorsen and Hal Mumme. Dawson worked as a quality control coach and running backs coach for Mumme while at Southeastern Louisiana in the early 2000’s.
Dawson’s well traveled, having then served as a Graduate Assistant at New Mexico State, the OC at Millsaps (D3), and a four year stint as OC at Stephen F. Austin before moving to the FBS level.
Dawson joined the WVU staff under Coach Holgorsen in 2011 as Inside WR’s coach. In 2011, WVU posted the 14th best offense per the SP+. In 2012, he was promoted to OC/WR’s and the Mountaineers had the 20th best offense per SP+. In ‘12, West Virginia averaged 39.5 PPG (9th in FBS) with Geno Smith at QB. Smith threw 42 TD’s and six INT’s on 8.1 yards per attempt.
And then the wheels fell off at WVU. The offense sputtered to 78th in SP+ in 2013, and 52nd in SP+ in ‘14. In 2013, the ‘Eers scored only 26.3 PPG (79th in FBS) with three QB’s getting reps. The QB trio threw 16 TD’s, 16 INT’s, and not a single one averaged more than 6.9 yards per passing attempt.
In 2014, WVU scored 33.5 PPG (37th in FBS). QB Clint Trickett threw 18 TD’s and 10 INT’s while averaging 7.8 yards per attempt. Dawson headed off to Kentucky under Mark Stoops, and the offense bounced back to 38th in 2015.
In ‘15 Dana took control over the WVU offense again, before the WVU glory years with Will Grier at QB and Jake Spavital as the OC.
Dawson lasted one season in Lexington under Mark Stoops. In 2014, before his arrival, the offense was 60th in SP+. In Dawson’s lone season in 2015, the offense slid to 79th per the SP+. Dawson was fired by Stoops and the next season the offense rebounded a bit to 57th in SP+. That season, KU scored only 24.7 PPG (95th in FBS).
Wildcats QB Patrick Towles threw more INT’s and TD’s under Dawson, and averaged only 6.6 yards per passing attempt. Dawson being paired with defensive minded head coach Mark Stoops was not a recipe for success.
Jay Hopson hired Dawson to be his OC at Southern Miss in 2016. In ‘15, the Golden Eagles had the 53rd ranked offense per SP+. Dawson had the same effect he had on the WVU and Kentucky offenses- they got worse per the SP+ analytics.
So Miss. dropped to 67th, 92nd and 122nd (yes, 122nd) in SP+ on offense under Dawson. And once he departed for another tour of duty with Dana, this time at Houston, the So. Miss. offense rebounded to 92nd in SP+.
One point to keep in mind is that much like Stoops, Hopson is a ‘defensive minded’ head coach. That’s not a good sign as he heads to a CEO style head coach in Mario Cristobal who is rumored to be very weak when it comes to offensive scheme.
Reunited and it feels so good. Dawson reunited with Holgorsen at Houston in 2019. In 2018 with familiar face D’Eriq ing at QB, Houston had the 20th ranked offense per SP+.
In ‘19, the Houston offense was 58th per SP+, when Dawson arrived to coach tight ends. 2019 was the season where D’Eriq King decided to use his redshirt after four games. King threw six TD’s with two INT’s to open the year, and Tune struggled with an 11:9 TD:INT ratio and 8.6 yards per attempt.
In 2020, Dawson was promoted to OC and the Cougs slipped a smidge to 60th in SP+. King was in Miami and replaced by QB Clayton Tune full time. Tune was seen as a more “Air Raid” friendly QB. Houston struggled, scoring only 30 PPG (53rd in FBS). Tune threw for only 7.2 yards per attempt in 2020.
In 2021, Houston’s offense was 51st in SP+, even though they scored 35.9 PPG. QB Clayton Tune threw 30 TD’s with 10 INT’s while Alton McCaskill rushed for almost 1,000 yards and 16 TD’s. Tune averaged 8.4 yards per attempt in ‘21.
And then a major turn happened for Dawson, Holgorsen, and the offense at Houston- in 2022 the Cougs offense was ranked 18th in the nation in SP+. Last season, Houston scored 36.1 PPG (17th in FBS).
QB Clayton Tune threw 40 TD’s with 10 INT’s and rushed for another five TD’s on the ground. Tune was also Houston’s leading rusher with only 544 rushing yards. Tune averaged 8.2 yards per attempt in his fourth year with major starting reps under his belt.
Besides Tune, four players rushed for 359 or more yards for Houston in ‘22. They combined for 12 TD’s on the ground (17 with Tune’s five). Undersized junior WR Nathaniel Dell caught 32 TD’s in three seasons for the Cougs. Maybe that’s a good sign for Xavier Restrepo and the wide receiver room.
Pros and Cons
If I’m Shannon Dawson I know that if I ever want to be a head coach I need to get out from Dana Holgorsen’s shadow. There was no time like after a solid showing in ‘22 to parlay that success and make that move. Houston QB Clayton Tune is headed to the NFL and this was the time to make the leap. If Dawson has a good season resurrecting Tyler Van Dyke’s I could see him as a head coaching candidate by 2024.
The pros of Shannon Dawson are that he has coached QB’s, TE’s, RB’s, and WR’s. Outside of offensive line, he’s been in every meeting room as a position coach on the offensive side of the ball. He’s a former QB and WR, which gives him a special insight into the relationship between them- which Miami desperately needs to improve and grow.
Dawson has prior coordinating experience, and at multiple stops in multiple conferences. He’s experienced, having called plays in the Big 12, SEC, and AAC before now heading to the ACC. He’s seen his fair share of 4-2-5’s, 3-4’s and 3-3-5’s.
Another pro is that he does have two really big seasons under his belt from QB’s. Geno Smith in 2012, and Clayton Tune in 2022. Smith was in his 4th season seeing major PT having played in 44 games before heading to the 2013 NFL Draft. Tune just played in his 47th game this past season. Van Dyke has played in 20 games heading into his 4th season at Miami.
Shannon Dawson has seen almost no success without being hitched to Dana. His Kentucky offense got him fired in one season and his time at Southern Miss. sent him packing back to Holgo’s Red Bull stained bosom. In 10 seasons as an FBS OC, he’s had two years above 51st in SP+ (‘12 and ‘22).
To counter punch my point about having coached every position group but O-Line, he also doesn’t seem to be a master of any one group. There wasn’t a consistent shift from WR to QB, he’s gone back and forth from QB to WR and back, including TE’s at Houston.
While Dell played well in ‘21 and ‘22 for Houston, Tune clearly relied on one target. I’m not sure who that guy will be for Miami in ‘23. A lot of work is going to have to take place in the WR room in order to make Van Dyke look good again.
Don’t you worry, film is going to come soon from Dawson’s time as OC at Houston. My guys around college football have been underwhelmed by the hire. When you look at the Cougs game against Tulane from 2022, Houston was held to 24 points in a three point loss.
Tune threw two touchdowns with no interceptions on 6.3 yards per attempt. Brandon Campbell scored the other TD on the ground while averaging 3.5 yards per carry. Dell caught both touchdowns from Tune on only 9.1 yards per catch.
KeShaun Carter averaged 20.1 yards per grab, while Tulane’s defense sacked Tune twice and picked up four tackles for loss. Not a great game all around, but not a horrible one either.
The Two Questions
There are two questions to ask heading into spring football this March:
1- Was the 2022 season the exception or the rule moving forward for Coach Dawson? We’ll find out this fall, welcome to Greentree.
2- Will Mario Cristobal really step aside and let Dawson run the Air Raid offense I’m assuming he wants to run, or will Dawson run the Cristobal / 2012 Alabama Offense?
Let me know what you think in the comments.