Posted: 7/23/2012 6:42:31 AM
Coach: Jeff Casteel, DC, Arizona Wildcats
Biggest challenges: Implementing the 3-3-5, super-thin roster
Casteel was a West Virginia fixture for 11 years, including a decade as defensive coordinator under three different head coaches -- Rich Rodriguez, Bill Stewart and Dana Holgorsen. Now he rejoins RichRod, this time in the desert of Tucson. He's installing his 3-3-5 stack defense but is shockingly low on personnel to pull it off. There is experience up front, but the linebacker corps has zero returning starters from 2011 and a season-ending spring knee injury to safety Adam Hall is devastating.
Add all of that to the challenge of overhauling the scheme, and it's already time to preach patience to your followers. "How you handle that is a risk you run for sure," admitted Rodriguez during a chat last fall while he was still a commentator with CBS Sports.
His three-year stint at Michigan is the most infamous example of a program attempting to take on a whole new football philosophy, from the ultimate stronghold of old school Big Ten tank division football to the video game spread. The result -- a 15-22 record and embarrassing internal tensions -- has made AD's and presidents somewhat gun-shy about cleaning the slate. "How much change is too much seems to vary depending on the person's point of view," Rodriguez said.
Extreme makeover: Football edition
Coaches: Vic Koenning and Blake Anderson, DC and OC, North Carolina Tar Heels
Biggest challenge: Educating personnel on schemes they weren't recruited for, especially offense
Some programs are so desperate for a total culture change -- both on and off the field -- that they know better than to resist total reconstructions. They embrace it. For the school, it's worth the risk. And for the coaches, it's worth the work.
In Chapel Hill, Larry Fedora and his staff have been given free rein, and they've run with it. That's most obvious on offense, where the Butch Davis pro style has been gutted in favor of Fedora and Anderson's no-huddle attack that won the Conference USA title for Southern Miss last fall. So far quarterback Bryn Renner and tailback Giovanni Bernard are catching on. Good thing.
"We can't take it easy and wait around for this to work," Fedora said. "There's not a lot of room in this sport for patience. The best players are the guys who can adapt. A great player is a smart player. That means he can handle no matter what you throw at him. And we've been throwing a lot at these guys."
Coach: Tom Herman, OC, Ohio State Buckeyes
Biggest challenge: Same as UNC
There was some speculation that Urban Meyer and his staff might take a more methodical approach to instituting their new offensive philosophies in the Horseshoe.
But that talk quickly vanished when, in Ohio State's spring game, the Buckeyes put the ball in the air 55 times. It disappeared altogether afterward when quarterback Braxton Miller estimated that they ran only about 30 percent of their new offense in the scrimmage.
If it ain't broke ...
Coach: Mike Nesbitt, OC, Houston Cougars
Biggest challenges: Living up to the pace of the past, replacing Case Keenum and his receivers
"It's just a lot of evaluation," says Nesbitt, who fesses up to countless late nights in the film room examining every player on his roster. A former punter, he spent last year calling the plays at FCS powerhouse Stephen F. Austin, which finished last year ranked ninth in total offense. "It's looking at the personnel that you've inherited and figuring how they fit into your philosophy."
Fortunately for Nesbitt, the roster he's been handed fits his philosophy just fine.
New Cougars head coach Tony Levine was promoted within and immediately announced his mantra as, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." So he promoted linebackers coach Jamie Bryant to defensive coordinator and hired Nesbitt knowing that the longtime small-college coach was also a longtime student of the Air Raid offense that nearly propelled Houston into the BCS and around which its roster has been recruited.
"I'm very fortunate that I feel like I fit into a successful model," Nesbitt admits. "Now it's my job to maintain and elevate that." He'll have to do it without Keenum, four receivers and two running backs from last year's track-meet roster.
The lone wolf
Coach: Brent Venables, DC, Clemson Tigers
Biggest challenges: Implementing the 4-3, strengthening the secondary, erasing all Orange Bowl memories