This is the latest in a series examining the 15 most important assistant coaching hires of the 2018 season. Previous installments:
No. 15: Rod Smith, Illinois
No. 14: Matt Canada, Maryland
No. 13: Harlon Barnett, Florida State
No. 12: Jerry Azzinaro, UCLA
No. 11: Bob Shoop, Mississippi State
No. 10: Clark Lea, Notre Dame
No. 9: Bush Hamdan, Washington
No. 8: Herb Hand, Texas
No. 7: Tyson Helton, Tennessee
No. 6: Kendal Briles/Randy Clements, Houston
No. 5: Ed Warinner, Michigan
No. 4: James Cregg, LSU
No. 3: Pete Golding, Alabama
No. 2: Alex Grinch, Ohio State
Who: Darrell Dickey, Texas A&M
Title: Offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach
Previous stop: Memphis offensive coordinator (2012-17)
Why he’s important: This lists examines the most important assistant coaching hire of the 2018 season because the head coaching list would lead to an obvious answer — Jimbo Fisher. Jimbo-to-A&M is obviously the most important head coaching move of 2018, and it’s inarguably one of the biggest in the sport’s history. Only four active coaches have national titles on their resumes, and one of them just switched jobs. That doesn’t happen every year… or every decade. In fact, Fisher is the first such coach to leave his job for another college gig since Johnny Majors, fresh off leading Pittsburgh to the 1976 national title, immediately left for Tennessee.
And then there’s the contract. Ten years, $75 million, fully guaranteed. That contract comes with national championship expectations… and not in Year 10. Everyone in maroon understands that.
“You have a timetable, your timetable is now,” Fisher said at SEC media days earlier this week.
And all this is happening at a school whose lone national title came before World War II and who hasn’t won a conference title in 20 years.
It’s going to be a fascinating pressure cooker on Fisher, his staff, and everyone in College Station.
The obvious answer here would be to go with defensive coordinator Mike Elko, but he’s not the most interesting choice. That would be Dickey: the offensive coordinator for a head coach famous for having control over every aspect of his offense.
In talking with sources at Texas A&M, Dickey is a natural choice as Fisher’s offensive coordinator in more ways than one. He’s a Texas native with plenty of experience coaching in the state — Dickey led North Texas to four straight Sun Belt crowns from 2001-04 — but he also has a wealth of experience working as the coordinator for an offensive-minded head coach, as he did for Justin Fuente and Mike Norvell at Memphis.
Those experiences taught Dickey how to work with his head coach in shaping an offense rather than wielding outright control over it. The A&M offense will be written in Fisher’s terminology with his pro-style principles forming as the foundation: controlling the tempo, establishing the run with a heaping helping of play-action. But in between there will be the stuff Fisher did and got away from at Florida State, and the things Dickey majored in with Fuente and Norvell at Memphis: no-huddle, RPOs and spread-based concepts.
After leading the nation in yards per play in their 2013 national title season, Florida State slunk to 62nd nationally last season. Their tempo was even slower — FSU ran just 808 plays in 2017 (107th nationally), more than 10 fewer per game than both A&M (954) and Memphis (941). (Playing a true freshman quarterback had a lot to do with that, obviously.)
Fisher became too conservative as time passed at Florida State. This is where Dickey comes in.
“He’s kept emerging himself as a coach and changing, whether he ran the football at North Texas, they were a great running team, and then you saw him at Memphis, what they did offensively, no-huddle and throwing the football. We want to implement those into our offense,” Fisher said. “He has always been a great learner. He’s not been one of those guys (that said), ‘This is what I do.’ I think he’s a great football mind, I think he understands the game very well and he’ll be a tremendous addition to our staff.”
While running back Trayveon Williams will be the focal point of the offense, the all-important quarterback position has yet to be decided. Sources say sophomores Nick Starkel and Kellen Mond will enter the fall deadlocked for the starting job and both may be used throughout the fall. Starkel is more of a pocket passer, Mond more the runner, but whoever ultimately wins the job will do so by making more correct decisions — getting the team in the right play, getting the ball to the right receiver and putting said ball in the right spot.
The schedule is brutal from the start. There are the usual suspects of the SEC West plus, for the next two seasons, Clemson. The last two national champions finished Nos. 1 and 2 in yards per play and scoring defense in 2017, and enter 2018 as co-favorites to win it all again. (Texas A&M is one of two teams to face both the Tide and Tigers this year, Louisville is the other.) But the schedule is the schedule. That’s life in the SEC West. This is the challenge A&M and Fisher’s staff hoisted upon themselves: climb Everest, or don’t come back. It’s going to be a fascinating experiment.