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POAPS: Offensive Coordinator

Let’s take a look at some potential candidates to lead the Wolfpack offense in 2020

West Virginia v Rutgers
Could new Wolfpack DC Tony Gibson be reunited in Raleigh with his former head coach?
Photo by Ned Dishman/Getty Images

So you’re an NC State Football fan? So your team is looking for a new offensive coordinator? You’ve come to the right place, friend.

I whittled the POAPS OC list down to eight, and then it crept back up to 11. There are a few guys that I would have originally looked at but they have already moved on to other positions since the end of the regular season.

So let’s just jump in, shall we?

Well, hold on. Before I begin, there are also a few names that I’m not going to profile, but I’ll mention quickly because they are names that will be linked to the job for other reasons.

Current NC State Co-OC and WR Coach George McDonald and current NC State QB Coach Kurt Roper are two names that are potential candidates, but also very unlikely to get the job. Both have prior OC experience, but not to any level of success that makes them key candidates. On top of that, they were both heavily involved with the unmitigated offensive disaster that was the 2019 Wolfpack season. If either McDonald or Roper end up as the OC hire for Doeren, that means this whole process went very poorly for State out in the market.

The other name worth mentioning is Matt Canada, the original OC for Dave Doeren at NC State. Canada is currently unemployed and was last in the coaching game as the interim HC at Maryland back in 2018. There’s no doubt that Canada would be an incredibly solid hire, but given that Doeren gave him the boot once before, it’s highly unlikely that either he or Doeren would want to get the band back together again.

Okay, on to the POAPS OC candidates...

Rhett Lashlee

Current Gig: SMU Offensive Coordinator and Quarterbacks Coach (2018-2019)

Current Salary: Unknown (previously made $600k+ as Auburn’s OC)

Other Experience: UConn OC (2017), Auburn OC (2013-2016), Arkansas State OC (2012)

Stats as a OC (SP+ Offense Ranking): 27th (2019); 105th (2018); 105th (2017), 49th (2016), 28th (2015), 3rd (2014), 5th (2013), 42nd (2012)

Lashlee is an accomplished offensive coordinator who is a branch straight off the Gus Malzahn coaching tree. I mean a big ol’ branch. Lashlee played high school football for Malzahn at Shiloh Christian School in Springdale, Arkansas. He then got his coaching start as an assistant on Malzahn’s staff at Springdale High School in Arkansas in 2004 and 2005 while finishing his degree at Arkansas (Eliah Drinkwitz started coaching at Springdale in 2006, for those wondering). Lashlee then followed Malzahn to Arkansas, Auburn, Arkansas State, and then back to Auburn again. All told, he spent 11 of his first 12 seasons as a coach under Malzahn (the one year apart was in 2011 when Lashlee was the OC at Samford).

After five years (2012-2016) as “Offensive Coordinator” under Malzahn, Lashlee left to take the OC job at UConn where he would finally get the opportunity to run an offense and call plays. After one season at UConn (one is enough for anyone), he joined Sonny Dykes at SMU where he’s been the OC for the last two years.

And here’s where the real red flags come up. In two of his three years as a standalone OC, Lashless has put up SP+ Offense rankings of 105. For those wondering, SMU’s SP+ Offense ranking in 2017 (the year prior to Lashlee and Sonny Dykes arriving) was 25th. UConn’s was 119th in 2016.

That also leads to another point of concern: Lashlee’s only success as an OC outside of working under Malzahn has come while working under Sonny Dykes, another college head coach who is well regarded as a powerful offensive mind.

However, Lashlee has now twice been a finalist for the Broyles Award (nation’s top assistant coach), in 2013 and 2019. That’s not an award that’s handed out lightly, so obviously the guy can coach.

Needless to say, if Doeren is looking for another Drinkwitz-like, Malzahn-styled OC, then Lashlee is a good bet.

His 2019 SMU team ranked 7th in Scoring Offense, 9th in Total Offense, 13th in Passing Offense, 45th in Ruishing Offense, 32nd in 3rd Down Conversion Rate, 11th in First Downs, 47th in Yards per Completion, 52nd in Turnovers Lost, and 14th in Sacks Allowed. The biggest negative here is the his offense was 107th in the country in Red Zone Scoring Rate (NC State was 67th).

Lashlee’s 2019 SMU offense has been more balanced, whereas the 2018 version he ran was more pass-heavy - although that may have been due to having to play behind much more frequently in 2018. His Auburn offenses were very run-heavy (2:1 run-to-pass ratios and higher), but that may have been more predicated by the lack of quality passing QBs on the rosters during his time there.

Shane Montgomery

Current Gig: James Madison Offensive Coordinator and Quarterbacks Coach (2019)

Current Salary: $140k

Other Experience: Charlotte OC (2018), Youngstown State OC (2010-2017), Akron OC (2009), Miami-Ohio HC (2005-2008), Miami-Ohio OC (2001-2004)

Stats as a OC (SP+ Offense Ranking): 125th (2018), 110th (2009), 111th (2008), 103rd (2007), 100th (2006), 59th (2005)

This one almost just seems too obvious. The former NC State quarterback is the current OC for a James Madison squad that will be playing for the FCS National Championship this weekend under first-year Head Coach (and former NC State assistant coach) Curt Cignetti. 2019 isn’t just a fluke year for Montgomery in terms of play-calling - he led Youngstown State to the National Championship game in 2016 as OC (where they oddly enough lost to his current employer).

Before joining JMU this year, Montgomery was the OC at Charlotte for the 2018 season. Despite the 5-7 finish and 125th ranked SP+ Offense, that squad was the best under Brad Lambert, and the offense for that 2018 team was the 2nd best in the six years under Charlotte’s initial head coach.

Prior to Charlotte, Montgomery spent one season as the OC at Akron (for those wondering, Chuck Amato was the Akron DC from 2012-2017), and spent the eight seasons before that as the OC at Youngstown State where his offenses were some of the most prolific in the storied history of the school.

Of course, Montgomery is most famous for being Ben Roethlisberger’s OC and QB coach at Miami-OH. After that incredibly successful run (and then-HC Terry Hoeppner’s jump to the Indiana HC position), Montgomery was promoted to the HC at Miami-OH, where he continued to call the offensive plays. After an initial 7-4 year in 2005 with a 59th ranked SP+ Offense, the O steadily declined as the wins became more infrequent and Montgomery was relieved of his duties.

At the FCS level this year, Montgomery’s JMU squad ranks 2nd in Scoring Offense, 9th in Total Offense, 56th in Passing Offense, 10th in Rushing Offense, 2nd in 3rd Down Conversion Rate, 1st in First Downs, 47th in Yards per Completion, 22nd in Turnovers Lost, 36th in Sacks Allowed, and 5th in Red Zone Scoring Rate.

At Youngstown State, Charlotte, and James Madison, Montgomery has instituted more run-heavy offensive approaches, with the play-calling typically going on a 3:2 run-to-pass blend (with as high as 2:1 in some seasons), which differs greatly from his almost even run-to-pass ratio during his time at Miami-OH which sometimes went slightly more in favor of the pass.

If the draw to return to his alma mater and coordinate an offense at the highest level of his career wasn’t enough, Montgomery also has a son who is a sophomore on the Catawba College baseball team. It’s just a two hour drive between the two campuses, and I’m sure Montgomery would like to catch some more of his son’s college baseball games.

Rich Rodriguez

Current Gig: Ole Miss Offensive Coordinator (2019)

Current Salary: $900k

Other Experience: Arizona HC (2012-2017), Michigan HC (2008-2010), West Virginia HC (2001-2007), Clemson OC (1999-2000), Tulane OC (1997-1998)

Stats as a OC (SP+ Offense Ranking): 70th (2019), 14th (2017), 64th (2016), 22nd (2015), 39th (2014), 24th (2013), 15th (2012), 11th (2010), 32nd (2009), 90th (2008), 8th (2007), 3rd (2006), 29th (2005)

Yes, this is absolutely a long-shot - no doubt about it. This would, however, be a home run hire for Doeren... but the chances are slim here for a couple reasons. First off, Rodriguez is going to have no shortage of suitors for his services, whether that be the open P5 OC jobs at Miami, Minnesota, Oregon, Rutgers, TCU, or Washington. Secondly, the guy has commanded more money as an assistant than NC State has ever handed out to a single assistant coach. NC State’s not going to be RichRod’s only option.

There are a couple of reasons that make this seem not so far-fetched. The most important of which is Rodriguez’s ties to new NC State DC Tony Gibson. Rodriguez recruited and coached Gibson at Glenville State in the 1990’s and then gave Gibson his start in coaching. When Rodriguez climbed the coaching ladder to the position of head coach at West Virginia in 2001, Gibson was on his initial staff and stuck with Rodriguez throughout his time at WVU and on through the Rodriguez’s stint as HC at Michigan, even joining Rodriguez on his initial staff at Arizona. If Gibson is as great of a recruiter as his reputation says, maybe this will be his biggest recruiting win yet in bringing in his mentor and good friend to run the other side of the ball opposite him in Raleigh.

To touch back on the salary point here, while NC State has never come close to paying an assistant a $900k salary, that might be possible in 2020. With all the coaching turnover currently going on within the program, NC State could put move around money and put together the cash to get a $900k offer out there to match what Rodriguez made in 2019 at Ole Miss.

Now then, as for actual on-the-field coaching, I’m not really sure Rodriguez needs an introduction. His WVU offenses were among the best in the sport while he was there, and prior to that he put together some impressive scoring machines as an OC at Clemson and Tulane. Go up and look again at those SP+ numbers he’s put up - even his failed times at Michigan and Arizona featured offenses that could move the ball and put point on the board.

This year’s Ole Miss offense ranked 30th in Scoring Offense, 9th in Total Offense, 5th in Passing Offense, 72nd in Rushing Offense, 109th in 3rd Down Conversion Rate, 19th in First Downs, 56th in Yards per Completion, 15th in Turnovers Lost, 97th in Sacks Allowed, and 23rd in Red Zone Scoring Rate. The biggest issues for the Rebels offense this year were an inability to convert on 3rd downs and a lack of pass protection for the QBs.

Aside from the early and middle portions of his Arizona tenure when he went with a more balanced apporach, Rodriguez has always implemented offenses that are run-first and feature a run-heavy blend of play-calling, but still with a dynamic spread passing attack.

Bottom line: if RichRod were to come to Raleigh, this would probably be Doeren’s biggest win on or off the field. But that being said, don’t get your hopes up. Just because it kinda makes sens and would be awesome doesn’t mean it’s going to happen.

Frank Ponce

Current Gig: Louisville Quarterbacks Coach (2019)

Current Salary: $300k

Other Experience: Appalachian State OC (2013-2018), Florida International WR (2007-2012)

Stats as a OC (SP+ Offense Ranking): 56th (2018); 55th (2017), 61st (2016), 43rd (2015), 80th (2014)

Ponce may be considered as a bit more of a long-shot than others on this list if only because of Scott Satterfield. Ponce served as OC for Satterifield at Appalachian State for six seasons, but even though Satterfield brought Ponce along for his Louisville staff when he left Boone, he chose to bring in a new OC instead of keeping Ponce in the same role. That’s an interesting move and one that Ponce will need to explain in any future job interview.

As the QB Coach at Louisville this year, Sophomore Malik Cunningham blossomed from a run-first, iffy-passing freshman QB to a true dual-threat QB. Cunningham’s development speaks greatly to Ponce’s ability to coach and develop QBs (the development of Appalachian State QBs Taylor Lamb and Zac Thomas was also notable) and certainly raised his stock within the coaching ranks.

Under Ponce (and Satterfield), Appalachian State was a very run-heavy team, with a 3:2 and higher run-to-pass ratio. Louisville this year under OC (and former NC State assistant) Dwayne Ledford kept around that same balance.

In 2018, Appalachian State’s offense ranked 16th in Scoring Offense, 37th in Total Offense, 100th in Passing Offense, 14th in Rushing Offense, 44th in 3rd Down Conversion Rate, 80th in First Downs, 40th in Turnovers Lost, 57th in Sacks Allowed, and 56th in Red Zone Scoring Rate.

Given how much Doeren values the ability of his assistants to recruit, Ponce would seem like an obvious candidate. Furthermore, given that Ponce is regarded as having great recruiting ties in the state of Florida, now that Kevin Patrick and Dave Huxtable are gone (two of NC State’s assistants with assigned Florida recruiting areas), the fit seems even better.