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Turns Out Offensive And Defensive Coordinators Are Important

Who knew?

Bethune-Cookman v Miami Photo by Megan Briggs/Getty Images

What a difference a year makes. Just twelve short months ago, the Miami Hurricanes were coming off of an uninspiring loss to Texas A&M. If that wasn’t bad enough, Miami fans then watched one of the worst losses in school history the following week to Middle Tennessee State, in Hard Rock Stadium no less.

At that point, I was beginning to question Mario Cristobal. Was he the right man for the job? He’s responsible to have his team ready to play every week. And they didn’t seem ready. The offensive and defensive coordinators weren’t as high on my list of people to blame. Fortunately for me and my fellow Canes fans, I was wrong. Dead wrong.

Let’s start on offense. I don’t think I was alone in my excitement when Josh Gattis decided to leave Michigan as their OC to come to the real UM in the same role. He had just won the 2021 Broyles Award, given to the top assistant coach of the year. Gattis helped lead the Wolverines to the College Football Playoff and was one of the hottest names in sport. And then the season started.

Bethune-Cookman v Miami
Josh Gattis was..underwhelming as Miami’s OC in 2022.
Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

The play calling was predictable and largely ineffective. I was consistently baffled watching Henry Parrish Jr. crash into his offensive line for a minimal gain on many a first down. It made no sense. Parrish isn’t a big, bruising back and Miami’s offensive line was not a strong unit in 2022. Worse than that, TVD looked like a shell of himself. He wasn’t playing with confidence and missed throws and reads far more often than he did in the past.

If Gattis’ running-game attack wasn’t bad enough, there was a severe lack of explosive plays too. Our editor-in-chief Cam Underwood would point this out on a nearly weekly basis in his Good, Bad, and Ugly article. It drove him crazy. Reading it drove me crazy. Josh Gattis’ dream of leading a methodical, run-heavy, ball-control offense was a delusional nightmare that frustrated Canes fans, and I imagine, at least some Canes players as well.

Miami’s offensive scoring output was putrid in multiple games last season: 9 points vs Texas A&M, 14 points vs Virginia, 3 points vs FSU, 10 points vs Clemson, 16 points vs Pittsburgh. I know the Canes weren’t the better team for those matchups (besides Virginia), but their point totals were unacceptable in today’s college football. I missed former OC Rhett Lashlee more and more with each passing loss and/or anemic offensive showing. Yet, even with his no good, awful debut season, could Coach Cristobal really fire Gattis after only one year on the job?

On January 27th, 2023, Josh Gattis was dismissed as Miami’s offensive coordinator. And there was much rejoicing. The Canes went from a top-20 offense in 2021 to No. 86 in 2022 under Gattis. They averaged 3.7 yards per carry. Those numbers are depressing. Sadly, the offense looked even worse than said numbers when watching them live. Who would Coach Cristobal bring in to be TVD’s third offensive coordinator in three years? Names like James Coley and Marcus Arroyo were floated; neither of them did it for me. I wanted someone similar to Lashlee and his spread philosophy. Lashlee wasn’t perfect, but he put his players in positions to succeed and dialed up explosive plays. He also effectively coached two completely different types of QBs in D’Eriq King and TVD.

My hope was rewarded on February 14th, 2023 when Shannon Dawson was hired as Miami’s new offensive coordinator. Dawson came from the University of Houston where he coached under offensive wizard Dana Holgorsen. In Dawson’s two seasons as Houston’s OC, the Cougars averaged 36 points per game, top-20 in the country. I didn’t know much about Dawson, but after a quick google search, I was optimistic.

NCAA Football: Bethune Cookman at Miami
Shannon Dawson has Miami’s offense back where it should be.
Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

So far, my optimism has been rewarded in 2023. Miami’s offense is explosive again. The play calling is not predictable. Guys are in position to make plays. TVD looks like the guy Canes fans fell in love with two years ago. Lastly, the players on offense look like they’re having fun when they’re out there. That wasn’t happening in 2022 under Gattis.

Now that the non-conference part of the schedule is complete, let’s compare Miami’s offensive numbers through three games from the last two seasons. I’m excluding the Bethune Cookman games. FBS teams only here. One more quick note: Miami’s 2023 non-conference schedule of Miami (OH), Texas A&M, and Temple is probably more difficult than last year’s schedule of Southern Miss, Texas A&M, and Middle Tennessee. Just saying.

2022: 21 ppg, 403 total ypg, 267 passing ypg, 136 rushing ypg

2023: 40 ppg, 496 total ypg, 279 passing ypg, 217 rushing ypg

Look at those numbers. They are much more in line with where a Canes offense should be in the modern world of college football offenses.

Last thing on Dawson: he has some swagger to him. You can tell by watching him on the sidelines that he is a confident dude. Dawson was strutting around after some of the touchdown plays he called against A&M. It was great to see and very Miami. He appears to be fitting perfectly into the Canes culture.

On the defensive side of the ball, Coach Cristobal brought in Kevin Steele in 2022. Steele is a veteran defensive coordinator who coached under Nick Saban at Alabama and led some great defenses at Florida State, Auburn, and LSU. I volunteered to write his preseason coaching profile article. Just like with Gattis, I was excited. Steele was going to get the guys on defense in line. The sloppy tackling and bad positioning was going to end. The scheme was going to be effective. And then the season started.

Bethune-Cookman v Miami
Kevin Steele didn’t bring the defensive discipline I thought he would.
Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

The Middle Tennessee State debacle I mentioned earlier was a turning point. Getting burned deep four times against a team from Conference USA was a bad sign. It was also a sign of things to come. The Canes proceeded to give up more than 40 points against Duke, Florida State, Clemson, and Pittsburgh in their regular season finale. As much as I dislike Pitt, I really didn’t want Miami to win, get to 6-6 on the season, and play in a meaningless, lower-tier bowl game. I didn’t want to watch them play again. I wanted Coach Cristobal and his staff to hit the recruiting trail.

I hate to keep going back to the Middle Tennessee State game, but indulge me for a minute. What made the pass defense by the Canes that day even more perplexing is the fact that they had two 2023 NFL Draft picks playing cornerback that day: Tyrique Stevenson was selected by the Chicago Bears in the second round and DJ Ivey was selected by the Cincinnati Bengals in the sixth round. Ivey stood out in the preseason and made the team. Oh, and Kamren Kinchens and James Williams were playing safety alongside them. The more I think and write about this, the crazier it seems. Miami’s defensive backs were the strength of their defense in 2022, yet opponents put up big-time passing yards on a regular basis. I finally had concerns about Kevin Steele. Would Coach Cristobal keep him despite his poor debut season?

Fortunately, Alabama’s DC Pete Golding left for Ole Miss, so Nick Saban came calling for a familiar face in Steele. On February 5th, 2023, it was made official. Kevin Steele was hired as ‘Bama’s DC. I let out a sigh of relief and then thought about who Coach Cristobal would hire to replace him.

I wanted Jim Leonard from Wisconsin after he wasn’t brought back to be the Badgers’ permanent head coach after the end of last season. He’s a young, smart coach who gets the most out of his players every season. I could only imagine what he could do with the athletes he’d be coaching at Miami. More importantly, I wanted someone young, or at least younger than the 64-year old Steele. Not to sound ageist, but this was the time for Coach Cristobal to find a young, bright defensive mind to lead that side of the ball.

On February 15th, 2023, former Marshall DC Lance Guidry was hired in the same role for the Canes. Guidry had accepted the Tulane DC job a couple weeks prior, but then Coach Cristobal came calling. Guidry was a hot name on defense. He had just led Marshall’s defense to top-10 rankings in 11 FBS categories in 2022. 11! I couldn’t find a recent picture of Guidry, so I’ll let him show you the list below.

So far, so good for Guidry at Miami. To get it out of the way, I understand he is working with more talent in the front seven than Steele was last season. Moving on. The defense is tackling. They’re flying around the field making plays. Best of all to me, they’re not getting burned deep. The Canes defense has done a great job keeping everything in front of them so far this season. Let’s go to the numbers! Same deal as the offense, no Bethune Cookman.

2022: 21 ppg, 334 total ypg, 252 passing ypg, 82 rushing ypg

2023: 14 ppg, 309 total ypg, 256 passing ypg, 53 rushing ypg

While the numbers are better so far this season, especially the scoring defense, the Canes look far more focused and prepared than they did in 2022.

Meanwhile at ‘Bama, Steele might not be calling the defense anymore. Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin started some drama last week by saying it seemed like cornerbacks coach Travaris Robinson was now calling the defense based on what Kiffin and his staff was watching on tape. Saban denied it the next day. Shocking. Kiffin is a funny irritant who used to work for Saban. Having said that, It’s still an interesting observation.

It took some cojones for Coach Cristobal to admit he made two pretty big mistakes in hiring Gattis and Steele. Lucky for Cristobal and Canes fans, it happened in his first season, which was definitely a rebuilding one. Shannon Dawson and Lance Guidry have brought youth, excitement, and great schemes to the Miami Hurricanes football team. Their energy has helped Coach Cristobal breathe new life into this program.

It turns out offensive and defensive coordinators are important.