Back by overwhelming demand, FootballScoop will once again examine the assistant coaching hires that will have the biggest impact on the college football season and the coaching job market in the 2019 season and beyond.
No. 19: Bryan Brown, Louisville
No. 18: Phil Longo, North Carolina
No. 17: Les Koenning, Kansas
No. 16: Andy Avalos, Oregon
No. 15: Joe Cauthen, Houston
No. 14: Bodie Reeder, North Texas
No. 13: Mike MacIntyre, Ole Miss
No. 12: Andy Ludwig, Utah
Who: Kenny Dillingham, Auburn
Title: Offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach
Previous stop: Memphis quarterbacks coach (2016), offensive coordinator (2017-18)
Why he’s important: First things first — Kenny Dillingham will not call plays for Auburn this season. That’s Gus’s job. It’s the same arrangement he worked under with Mike Norvell at Memphis, and it’s one Dillingham supports. Better to go ahead and put the play sheet in the head man’s hands than have him peering over your shoulder.
“When you look at his success, it speaks for itself,” Dillingham said in April. “For me, it’s exactly what I expected, for him to be extremely hands-on, and I like it because he’s the head football coach.”
But that doesn’t mean Dillingham will be in some back office pushing papers. Far from it. There’s simply too much to do.
The 13 months between November 2017 and November 2018 were Peak Auburn, when the Malzahn signed a $50 million contract to stay on the Plains, then had to deal with rumors about Bob Stoops maneuvering to replace him.
Now, all Malzahn has to do is push Auburn back to the top of college football’s most competitive division against a schedule that includes three of the top six teams in the country, according to most preseason rankings, while breaking in a new starting quarterback.
Which, of course, is where Dillingham comes in.
After “losing” Chip Lindsey to Kansas (Lindsey would later leave KU to become the head coach at Troy), Malzahn turned to a 28-year-old (Dillingham recently turned 29) with whom he had no prior experience, and he did so for a reason. An native Arizonan who became a high school offensive coordinator while still an undergraduate at Arizona State, Dillingham attached himself to Norvell, a Malzahn understudy dating back to the Tulsa days, at Arizona State and followed him to Memphis. It was there that Malzahn became aware of Dillingham, when Malzahn observed Dillingham run a meeting of Memphis quarterbacks and became a fan.
“Kenny is one of the rising stars in our profession, coaching two top 10 nationally ranked offenses the last two years,” Malzahn said upon Dillingham’s hiring. “Because of Kenny’s energy, intelligence and genuine care for his players, he’s been highly successful coaching quarterbacks and is an outstanding recruiter, while working closely with Mike Norvell in developing one of the nation’s top offenses.”
While Malzahn will call the plays on Saturdays, Dillingham will work hand-in-glove to develop the game plan. Oh, and he’ll also serve as the excitable yin to Malzahn’s cerebral, vest-and-visor wearing yang.
“He’s like a hype man, like… all the time,” wideout Eli Stove told The Athletic this spring. “He has some crazy speeches. He’s a loud dude, but he’s a good coach.”
Alongside Norvell, Dillingham ran a Memphis offense that produced a 3,200-yard passer, two 1,000-yard rushers (Darrell Henderson nearly hit 2,000 yards) and an 1,100-yard receiver. Auburn didn’t have a single one of those last season. The receiving corps loses top targets Darius Slayton and Ryan Davis (who combined for 104 of the club’s 233 total receptions last season), but though they’ll be light on experience, they’re long on athleticism and potential. Veterans Will Hastings and Eli Stove return from ACL injuries, adding to a unit that includes sophomore Anthony Schwartz, one of the fastest players in the country, and fellow sophomore Seth Williams, who averaged 20.5 yards on his 26 receptions a year ago.
At running back, Auburn returns all three players who logged at least 70 carries in 2018, led by sophomore JaTarvious Whitlow, who averaged 5.25 yards on 150 attempts.
And then there’s the quarterback room. The competition is down to true freshman Bo Nix and redshirt freshman Joey Gatewood. Though the offense will largely be the same regardless of who catches the shotgun snap, it’s hard not to squint and see the divergent directions the offense will go depending on who wins the job. Nix is a prototypical 6’2″, 207-pound pocket passer who threw for 12,000 yards at Pinson Valley High School. Gatewood is the closest thing Auburn has had to Cam Newton since the man himself.
The stakes here are obvious. It’s Auburn, after all. If Auburn’s 2019 is like its 2018, well, you do the math. But if the Malzahn-Dillingham pair works like all involved think it will, the youngest coordinator in the SEC won’t hold that title for long. He’ll become the youngest head coach in the country.