After evaluating their programs amid some undesirable circumstances, a handful of SEC coaches faced a critical question this offseason: As former coordinators, should they continue calling plays while navigating all the other duties required of head coaches in college football’s modern era?
Ultimately, their responses at SEC Media Days varied between yes, no and — in Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher’s case — maybe. Fisheron whether he or first-year offensive coordinator Bobby Petrino will have the final say on the Aggies’ calls this season.
“Hopefully he’ll call the game,” Fisher said of Petrino before adding that playcalling “is a more collective thing than people want to give it room for.”
Fisher’s remarks provided little insight into the offensive leadership hierarchy for an Aggies squad coming off a disastrous 5-7 season in which they ranked 13th in the SEC in scoring offense.
At Florida, things are a bit clearer as head coach Billy Napier enters Year 2 on the sideline. The former offensive coordinator at Clemson and Arizona State said his role as offensive play-caller was subject to evaluation this offseason. However, he has no plans to relinquish the duty in 2023 after a 6-7 debut campaign.
“I like having my hand on the scripts, the installation, that process,” Napier said. “I think I can help establish our identity and personality as a team through that process. I think if you get too far away from that, I think there could be some things from a sustainable, repeatable part. So I want to continue to do it, and I think each year, much like all parts of what we do, we’ll continue to evaluate.”
Drinkwitz relinquishes control
Napier’s SEC East colleague Eli Drinkwitz is taking a different approach at Missouri. Entering Year 4 with a 17-19 (11-14 SEC) record, Drinkwitz has turned over the offensive play-calling to first-year coordinator Kirby Moore, who held the same position at Fresno State last season.
“I tell him all the time, if we can just average one more touchdown a game, we’re going to be really happy at the end of the season,” Drinkwitz said. “We’re in that constant quest to find one more touchdown, but I have no qualms about handing it over to somebody and feel like that Kirby will do an outstanding job for us.”
Drinkwitz noted there is a sign in the Missouri team room that says “embrace your role.” Following a season in which Missouri ranked 11th in the SEC in total offense, he opted to heed the sign’s advice.
“I wasn’t giving us the best advantage that we could have offensively to be successful, and so it was my estimation that I needed to embrace my role more as the head coach and do the things that needed to be done there and turn over the play-calling to somebody else,” Drinkwitz said. “I do not plan on calling plays. I plan on being involved on the offensive side of the ball just like I am on special teams and on the defensive side of the ball as the CEO of the organization.”
No-brainer for Zach Arnett
No SEC coach faced a more daunting offseason than Mississippi State’s Zach Arnett. The 36-year-old found himself thrust into the position of head coach following the death of Mike Leach. After three seasons as the program’s defensive coordinator, he had to decide whether he should continue calling the shots defensively while trying to cut his teeth as the youngest head coach in the SEC.
Ultimately, he promoted former linebackers coach Matt Brock, who previously stepped in to the interim defensive coordinator role for Mississippi State’s 19-10 ReliaQuest Bowl victory over Illinois.
“Obviously, as a head coach in the ballgame and leading up to that I did not think I could prepare as well as the other defensive coaches with all the other hats and responsibilities I was wearing,” Arnett said. “So I gave over play-calling duties in that bowl game to Matt Brock, who was our linebacker coach at the time because I knew he’d do a better job at preparing and calling the defense in that game.”
The Bulldogs surrendered just 22 yards rushing in their win over the Illini. That made Arnett’s final decision to relinquish defensive play-calling an easy choice.
“In my opinion it was a no-brainer,” Arnett said. “Matt was a very successful special teams coordinator already in his career. He’s been a Broyles Award finalist as a special teams coordinator. I think you talk with anyone who’s ever worked with him or had experience with him, he’s probably about the hardest working, most prepared guy on any staff he’s ever been on. I have complete trust, faith, and confidence in him leading our defense.”