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
No. 19: Larry Fedora, Baylor
No. 18: Justin Hamilton, Virginia Tech
No. 17: Sean Gleeson, Rutgers
No. 16: Adam Fuller, Florida State
No. 15: Matt Lubick, Nebraska
No. 14: Mike Bobo, South Carolina
Who: Rhett Lashlee, Miami
Titles: Offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach
Previous stop: SMU offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach (2018-19)
Why he’s important: It was all supposed to be so simple. Miami’s 2018 defense was nationally elite — No. 4 in total yardage, No. 3 in yards per play, No. 1 in pass efficiency defense, No. 1 on third down and No. 1 in tackles for loss. When Mark Richt retired, Manny Diaz ascended to the head coaching role (after an extended trip to Philadelphia), and Dan Enos turned down a promotion at Alabama to come to South Beach, Miami seemingly had all the pieces in place.
The ‘Canes were picked a close second behind Virginia in the ACC Coastal, an improvement from the 7-6, 4-4 finish of 2018.
“If it works, Miami could be back in Charlotte as the ACC Coastal champions,” I wrote in naming Enos the eighth most important hire of 2019. “If it doesn’t, Enos could be asking himself why he left Tuscaloosa in the first place.”
Suffice to say, it didn’t work. Miami went 6-7, closing with a complete dud of a bowl game — a 14-0 loss at the hands of Louisiana Tech in the Independence Bowl. Getting blanked by a Conference USA team in a mid-tier bowl game is about a rocky a bottom as rock bottom gets on one side of the ball.
Enos was let go almost immediately after the Independence Bowl debacle, and Diaz hired Lashlee just over a week later.
It’s an oversimplification to say a new coordinator needs to work; they all do. But Diaz really needs Lashlee to hit, and hit quickly. He’s Miami’s third offensive coordinator in three years, dating back to the Richt era, and how likely is it that Diaz gets a third chance to find an effective offensive coordinator?
Lashlee’s job is make sure that question never gets answered.
The original Gus Malzahn protege dating back to the Shiloh Christian days, the 36-year-old was Malzahn’s offensive coordinator from 2013 through ’16, when it became apparent both sides would benefit in a breakup. Lashlee left for Connecticut, where in one year he boosted the Huskies’ offense from 122nd in yards per play to 83rd.
He then landed on Sonny Dykes’s new SMU staff in 2018. After a 5-7 debut, SMU was one of college football’s most pleasant surprises of 2019: an 8-0 start, a No. 15 ranking, a GameDay/Saturday Night Football showdown with Memphis and, ultimately, the school’s first 10-win season since 1984.
Lashlee’s offense made that possible: Shane Buechele threw for nearly 4,000 yards and 24 touchdowns; Xavier Jones rushed for 1,276 yards and 23 scores; James Proche caught 111 balls for 1,225 yards and 15 touchdowns.
Only one other FBS team produced a 3,900-yard passer, a 1,200-yard rusher and a 1,200-yard receiver. That team was LSU.
Miami’s leading passer threw for 2,187 yards. Its leading rusher ran for 693. Its leading receiver had 547 yards.
So, we’ve established Miami could use help producing yards and points. That’s why Lashlee was hired in the first place.
Whereas Enos emphasized shifts and motions to find and exploit mismatches, Lashlee wants to get the ball snapped and get speed in space.
In a Signing Day press conference, Lashlee mentioned tempo will be a core part of Miami’s identity.
“That’s just kind of what I’ve always done and what I’ve always been a part of,” he said, mentioning he’s been part of offenses that led the nation in total offense despite not having a single player that runs faster than a 4.6.
Though the teams played the same amount of games, SMU ran off 215 more snaps than Miami. Miami averaged 65 plays a game, SMU was just shy of 80.
“When you talk about the University of Miami, we do have access to really good speed and really good athletes, so why would we not make a defense defend the whole field and tackle those guys in space? Getting our guys in space allows their speed to be opened up and used to our advantage and let their DNA take over.”
Speaking of speed, help is on the way in the form of D’Eriq King. You’ll recall King as the guy who used the new redshirt rule to hit the reset button on his senior season, and the reason that was such big news last September is that King can play. He accounted for an even 50 touchdowns in 2018; 36 through the air and 14 on the ground.
Watch this and tell me you can’t see Lashlee dipping into the Auburn playbook and drawing up the same stuff he and Gus did for Nick Marshall, back when he threw for 34 touchdowns and rushed for 23 more in 2013-14.
“His combination of where he has been, who he has learned from, and the successes of the different types of quarterbacks,” Diaz told The Athletic of Lashlee back in February. “When Miami has had the quarterback position humming, Miami has competed for championships. When you have a guy that develops quarterbacks that are runners, non-runners, and guys in between, that is exciting as well.”
You heard the man: When Miami has had the quarterback position humming, Diaz said, Miami has competed for championships.
From Diaz’s lips to Lashlee’s call sheet.