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 2020 season and beyond.
No. 20: Zach Arnett, Mississippi State
Who: Larry Fedora, Baylor
Title: Offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach
Previous stop: Texas offensive analyst (2019)
Why he’s important: For the first time in 13 years, Larry Fedora is back in the coordinator’s chair. The 2020 season represents a return on two fronts for Fedora, bringing him back to the school where he earned his first full-time coaching job at the college level, when he served as Baylor’s wide receivers, tight ends and running backs coach over a 6-year tenure from 1991-96.
Fedora returns to Waco leading a melting pot of an offensive staff:
— Joe Wickline will coach the offensive line, a job he previously held under Fedora at Middle Tennessee, Florida and Oklahoma State
— Jorge Munoz, an analyst on LSU’s 2019 title time, followed Aranda from Baton Rouge to serve as wide receivers coach and passing game coordinator
— Shawn Bell remains from the Matt Rhule staff, switching from offensive line to tight ends
— Running backs coach Justin Johnson is a newcomer, both to Baylor and the rest of the staff
Consequently, the scheme will be as ideologically diverse as the people building it.
“We’ll be pretty multiple,” Fedora told the Waco Tribune-Herald in February. “The key is we’ll have a philosophy that we’re going to base out of one back. We’re going to spread the field and be multi-tempo, and we’re going to try to get the ball in our playmakers’ hands however we need to do that. I think for us it will be discovering in the spring the talent we have and the skill level of what we have and putting those guys in position to be successful.”
“We want to take whatever’s here and mold the offense around it,” Fedora continued. In short, everyone agrees on the broad-strokes philosophy, but the particulars will remain filed under “TBD – Pandemic” until the team gets back on the field. Especially since Fedora has purposefully not watched film on previous Baylor seasons in order to enter 2020 without any preconceived impressions on his new players.
“I think the way Coach Fedora sees the passing game is how I see the passing game,” Munoz said. “He’s got his thoughts and I’ve got mine, and we’re just trying to mesh those concepts. But I think we’re on the same page right now and I think it’s going to be smooth. Up until this point, it’s been easy and fun.”
Baylor should be able to hit the ground throwing, so to speak, behind an offensive line that returns four starters. Starting quarterback Charlie Brewer is also back, having thrown 983 passes over his first three seasons. Backups Jacob Zeno and Gerry Bohanon both saw action in big-time moments last season, experience that could come in handy this fall, given that Brewer — to his credit and his detriment — plays like he’s 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds despite his 6-1, 206 frame.
After going 1-11 in 2017, Baylor was thisclose to reaching the College Football Playoff in 2019. The Bears built a 28-3 lead over Oklahoma in November before falling 34-31, then took the Sooners to overtime in the Big 12 Championship in a game where Brewer threw only six passes.
So, yes, they could have gone 13-0, and they also could have gone 6-6. Baylor beat 3-9 Rice by eight points; they blew a 20-point lead to Iowa State before saving the game on a last-minute field goal; they needed an incorrect penalty call to survive Texas Tech in double overtime; they beat West Virginia by three and needed three overtimes to defeat TCU, neither of whom reached a bowl game.
This season’s schedule opens with Ole Miss in Houston, then builds toward a make-or-break 5-game stretch: at Oklahoma, at Texas Tech, the annual knife fight against TCU, a trip to Austin and then a home game with an Oklahoma State team that will enter the fall with Playoff hype.
After 11 seasons as a head coach — the last team he OC’ed for was the “I’m a man! I’m 40!” Oklahoma State team in 2007 — Fedora says he’s a wiser play-caller than he was the last time around.
“For me now, when I first started as an offensive coordinator it was, ‘Be the best offense out there and score as many points (as you can). Well, now it’s about, yeah, you want to be the best offense out there but you want to score enough points to win the football game, and so you want to compliment the defense, you want compliment the special teams,” he said. “It’s not just about the offense.”