Kentucky football offensive coordinator hot board: Candidates to replace Eddie Gran

Jon Hale
Louisville Courier Journal
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LEXINGTON — Kentucky football's offseason will begin with a search for a new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.

Mark Stoops fired offensive coordinator Eddie Gran and co-offensive coordinator Darin Hinshaw on Sunday after their offense ranked outside the top 100 nationally in passing yards per game, total yards per game and points per game in the regular season.

Kentucky's next offensive coordinator will face significant personnel change with the bulk of the Wildcats' offensive line and quarterback Terry Wilson leaving. Stoops has spoken openly about the need for Kentucky to become more balanced offensively with a credible passing attack, but it is unlikely he would hire a coordinator who runs a pass-happy attack that does not also emphasize the run.

"I’m wide open," Stoops said Sunday. "I think it would be extremely difficult to go from one extreme to the other. We’ve seen that in this league, and it’s difficult. I want to be balanced, but I want to be exciting to watch as well."

More:Kentucky football fires offensive coordinator Eddie Gran and QB coach Darin Hinshaw

More information about the coordinator search will emerge in the coming days, but here is a look at 10 possible candidates that could make sense for the job. The coaches are listed in alphabetical order:

Major Applewhite (Alabama analyst)

Why he makes sense: Kentucky’s offensive struggles this season have often been judged through the lens of legendary Alabama coach Nick Saban modernizing his own offense and saying good defense doesn’t beat good offense anymore, so why not hire someone from Saban’s staff? Applewhite is working in an off-field role at Alabama, but he previously served as offensive coordinator at Alabama (2007), Texas (2011-13) and Houston (2015-16) and was head coach at Houston (2016-18). Applewhite is currently coaching alongside Stoops’ brother Mike on the Alabama support staff.

Why he might not: Applewhite figures to have his pick of coordinator or head coaching jobs if he is ready to move back into a on-field coaching role. Considering how prominently Alabama offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian is being mentioned for head coaching jobs, Applewhite might even be able to take over the Crimson Tide offense next season. This looks like a long shot for Kentucky right now, especially without knowing how much UK can afford to pay its new coordinator while paying Gran's and Hinshaw's buyouts the next two years.

Tim Beck (NC State offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach)

Why he makes sense: Like Stoops and UK recruiting coordinator Vince Marrow, Beck graduated from Cardinal Mooney High School in Youngstown, Ohio. Beck worked for fellow Cardinal Mooney alum Bo Pelini at Nebraska and has held the offensive coordinator or co-offensive coordinator title at Nebraska, Ohio State, Texas and NC State.

Why he might not: Despite his impressive resume, Beck’s offenses have found less success recently. Texas coach Tom Herman stripped him of his play-calling responsibilities in 2018 and then took away his offensive coordinator title after the 2019 season. Beck then left Texas for NC State. In his first year as offensive coordinator there, NC State ranks 69th nationally in total yards per game (391.5) and 49th in points per game (31.1)

Mike Bobo (South Carolina interim head coach)

Why he makes sense: Like Applewhite, Bobo would bring head coaching experience to Kentucky’s staff. Like Gran did when he came to Kentucky from Cincinnati, Bobo also boasts a wealth of experience coaching in the SEC. Bobo rose to prominence helping run a pro-style offense at Georgia for Mark Richt from 2001 to 2014. After being fired as Colorado State’s head coach after the 2019 season, he returned to the SEC as South Carolina’s offensive coordinator, then was promoted to interim head coach after Will Muschamp was fired. Stoops applauded South Carolina's effort despite roster limitations in Saturday's game and noted how frustrating the Gamecocks' rushing attack was for UK's defense.

Why he might not: Despite posting just a 28-35 record in five seasons at Colorado State, Bobo was seen as a hot name on the coordinator market a year ago. Still, it is difficult to argue his star has not dimmed since his Georgia days. It might not be fair to judge his South Carolina tenure considering the tumultuous season in Columbia, but hiring a coordinator whose offense ranks 99th nationally in yards per game is unlikely to move the needle much for recruits or fans. He does not have a clear tie to Stoops or Kentucky either.

Dan Enos (Cincinnati associate head coach/running backs coach)

Why he makes sense: Enos checks the head coaching experience box after serving as head coach at Central Michigan from 2010 to 2014. Most of Stoops' staffs have featured at least one assistant with head coaching experience. More recently, Enos has made stops at Arkansas, Alabama, Miami and Cincinnati. Enos served as the offensive coordinator at Arkansas under Stoops’ close friend Brett Bielema. He has spent much of his career as a quarterbacks coach, including for Tua Tagovailoa and Alabama in 2018.

Why he might not: Like Beck, Enos’s impressive resume must be weighed against his more recent track record. Miami fired Enos after just one season as offensive coordinator. His Miami offense 98th nationally in yards per game (367.2), and his tenure there ended with an embarrassing 14-0 loss to Louisiana Tech in the Independence Bowl. He deserves credit for helping Cincinnati to an undefeated record thus far this season, but he does not call plays for the Bearcats.

Cale Gundy (Oklahoma co-offensive coordinator/inside receivers coach)

Why he makes sense: The brother of Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy, Cale Gundy worked for Bob Stoops throughout his run at Oklahoma. He has held a variety of positions in Norman, including running backs coach, receivers coach, assistant head coach and co-offensive coordinator. Mark Stoops previously pursued Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley as his offensive coordinator to replace Neal Brown in 2014, so it would make sense to hire someone familiar with Riley's offense, which ranks 16th nationally in yards per game (485.1) and ninth in points per game (43.4).

Why he might not: Gundy has never called plays for the Oklahoma offense during his 22 seasons in Norman. While the connection to the Stoops family is strong, does the Oklahoma native really want to leave his alma mater? He has only coached at one other program (UAB from 1995 to 1998). While he played quarterback at Oklahoma, he has not coached the position since 1995, so it is unclear if he could fill that role on Kentucky's staff.

Maurice Harris (Liberty co-offensive coordinator/wide receivers coach)

Why he makes sense: With a 9-1 record and wins over Syracuse and Virginia Tech this season, Liberty has as much buzz as any small program in the country thanks in large part to head coach Hugh Freeze’s high-octane offense. Freeze seems likely to land a Power Five head coaching position this offseason, but could Kentucky try to join the bandwagon by taking one of his co-offensive coordinators? Harris has worked for Freeze at three different programs, including an SEC stop at Ole Miss. He eventually will need to step out from Freeze’s shadow if he wants to run his own offense. Liberty is one of just four teams with at least 2,000 rushing yards and 2,000 passing yards this season, providing the type of offensive balance Stoops wants.

Why he might not: There is no obvious connection between Harris and Stoops or Kentucky, and he lacks experience as a play caller because Freeze fills that role for the Liberty’s offense. Harris has coached wide receivers, tight ends and running backs in his career, so his hire would not solve the need for better quarterback development. It is possible that following Freeze to his next job as offensive coordinator might be a more attractive option than starting fresh at a program like Kentucky.

Brian Hartline (Ohio State wide receivers coach)

Why he makes sense: It seems unlikely Stoops will hire someone without coordinator experience to replace Gran, but if he decides to take a risk by hiring an up-and-coming position coach, Hartline checks several boxes. 247Sports named him its National Recruiter of the Year in the 2020 class. He has spent three years working as a wide receivers coach for Urban Meyer and Ryan Day at Ohio State and should be ready for a jump in responsibility soon. There is a Kentucky connection too, as Hartline’s brother Mike, currently offensive coordinator for Division II program Ohio Dominican, played quarterback for the Wildcats.

Why he might not: Stoops has gone for experience in his first three offensive coordinator hires, and it seems difficult to imagine him hiring someone who has not at least held the title before. Hartline also might not be interested in leaving Ohio State, where he starred as a player and figures to earn a more prominent role on Day’s staff in the coming years.

Tommy Mainord (North Texas co-offensive coordinator/wide receivers coach)

Why he makes sense: Of the candidates on this list, none has a closer connection to Stoops and Kentucky than Mainord as he served as the wide receivers coach on Stoops’ first three UK staffs. While North Texas head coach Seth Littrell and Mainord both come from the “Air Raid” coaching tree, the Mean Green’s offense is fairly balanced with 1,883 rushing yards and 2,261 passing yards through eight games. North Texas ranks eighth nationally in total yards per game (518) and 28th in points per game (33.9).

Why he might not: Stoops fired Mainord after the 2015 season when he needed to clear a spot on the offensive staff for Gran and Hinshaw. Would he want to bring back a coach that he already cut from the staff once? Mainord’s specialty is coaching wide receivers, so his hire would likely require additional shuffling on the offensive staff. While Mainord serves as North Texas’s co-offensive coordinator, Littrell has called the plays for the Mean Green this season.

Andrew Sowder (Kent State offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach)

Why he makes sense: Kentucky could do worse than nabbing the offensive coordinator from one of college football’s most dynamic offenses. Kent State leads the country in yards per game (606.5) and second in points per game (49.8). The balance in the Golden Flash’s offense is sure to appeal to Stoops as Kent State’s yards are almost equally split between rushing (1,132) and passing (1,294) through four games.

Why he might not: Head coach Sean Lewis deservedly gets most of the credit for Kent State’s offensive success, so it is unclear how much the video game-like numbers have elevated Sowder’s stock. Sowder previously worked alongside Lewis at Bowling Green and Eastern Illinois, so he is well entrenched in the system, but his only experience coaching at a Power Five program came in one year as a quality control coach at Texas (2016) and two years as a student assistant on Art Briles’ Baylor staff. Sowder, who played wide receiver and tight end at Baylor, does not have any direct ties to Stoops or Kentucky, but Kentucky's staff likely spent time this summer studying the Kent State offense as the Golden Flashes were originally on UK's 2020 schedule.

Mike Yurcich (Texas offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach)

Why he makes sense: File this one as a pipe dream hire. Yurcich only warrants mention because he might be looking for a new job shortly if Texas coach Tom Herman is fired after a disappointing season. An Ohio native, Yurcich has coordinator experience at Oklahoma State, Ohio State and Texas. The Longhorns rank 11th nationally in points per game (41.3) after Saturday's games. Yurcich's wife, Julie, is from Youngstown.

Why he might not: Firstly, Herman might not be fired, keeping Yurcich at Texas and off the coordinator market. Even if Herman is fired, Yurcich will likely be an in-demand hire for many new head coaches creating their staffs over the next couple of months. If Stoops wants to send a message to recruits about the future of the offense before the Dec. 16 signing period, he may not have time to wait and see with Power Five coordinators become available due to staff firings after the regular season concludes. There are no direct ties between Yurcich and Stoops or Kentucky.

Email Jon Hale at; Follow him on Twitter at @JonHale_CJ

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