Skip to main content
Publish date:

"I learned how to be a head coach by coaching the offensive line."

There's never been a better time to be an offensive line coach than right now.

The top-end guys are getting paid like never before, but it's more than that. Three offensive line coaches jumped to the big chair in the 2019-20 hiring cycle, a number that outpaces the 1.8 yearly average from the 10 previous cycles, according to a study conducted by the Winston-Salem Journal.

The three new O-line/head coaches are Appalachian State's Shawn Clark, Memphis' Ryan Silverfield and Arkansas's Sam Pittman. All three are first-time head coaches.

They join a fraternity that boasts Iowa State's Matt Campbell, Colorado State's Steve Addazio, Oregon's Mario Cristobal, Georgia State's Shawn Elliott, Kansas's Les Miles, Temple's Rod Carey and the dean of FBS head coaches, Iowa's Kirk Ferentz.

The very nature of the job requires mixing and matching not only the five personalities and five skill sets on the first string, but the 10 to 15 players behind them. It also helps that the offensive line typically requires the longest lag time between when players arrive on campus and when they're physically and mentally mature enough to contribute on the field, thereby requiring O-line coaches to be elite developers of talent.

“I learned how to be a head coach by coaching the offensive line," Elliott told the WSJ. "By coaching 15 to 20 guys, by having really a team within a team, I really molded it after how I coached the offensive line. I coached those guys to be tough, physical, and to not take crap off people. To really stand for something and to have a strong backbone right there. And that’s what I really built it off of.”

A chunk of the O-line fraternity first got their head coaching jobs on an interim basis before getting that tag removed: Campbell at Toledo, Carey at Northern Illinois, Cristobal at Oregon, along with Clark and Silverfield this year. Clark and Silverfield both ascended to head coaching positions after their previous bosses turned 1-loss, conference championship seasons (Eli Drinkwitz at App State, Mike Norvell at Memphis) into Power 5 opportunities.

Those promotions are a statement unto themselves -- when the original head coach leaves, the AD trusts the offensive line coach above everyone else on the remaining staff to take over as interim head coach.

And it's no surprise to those within the fraternity that offensive line coaches are often successful head coaches. They just needed the opportunity.

“It was just more people kind of locked into their positions,” Tennessee AD Phillip Fulmer, himself a former offensive line coach, said of the changing times. “It was kind of the common practice that the quarterback was the guy that had all the understanding, or maybe it was the linebackers on the defensive side, and they were the guys and everybody had their roles.

“And those roles went on to be, he can be the coordinator easier, he can be the head coach easier. I do think all that’s changed professionally. It’s not necessarily the case.”

Read the full piece here.