Kentucky football hires Rams assistant Liam Coen as new offensive coordinator

Jon Hale
Louisville Courier Journal
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LEXINGTON - Mark Stoops has found his new offensive coordinator.

Los Angeles Rams assistant quarterbacks coach Liam Coen is Stoops' pick to replace Eddie Gran as Kentucky's offensive coordinator, the school confirmed in a news release Tuesday afternoon. He will also coach the Kentucky quarterbacks.

Coen, 35, has worked on the Rams' staff for the last three seasons, first as the team's assistant wide receivers coach. He was named assistant quarterbacks coach prior to the 2020-21 season

"I think bringing people from the NFL has worked for me before," Stoops said in a Zoom news conference Tuesday. "I really liked how detailed he was. The biggest area that needs improvement for us is the quarterbacks and receivers, and he has expertise in both of those areas and worked with both groups in the NFL. That was very attractive to me."

Working with Rams coach Sean McVay, Coen has been a part of one of the NFL's most exciting offenses. His first year on the staff coincided with the Rams' run to the 2019 Super Bowl. The Rams are currently tied for first place in the NFC West at 9-4 and rank fifth in the NFL in yards per game (389.4).

Rams quarterback Jared Goff ranks eighth in the NFL in passing yards. Two different Rams receivers have totaled at least 1,000 receiving yards in both of Coen's seasons as assistant receivers coach.

"I believe that truly marrying the run and the pass is something I’ve learned is such an advantage in winning for us here," Coen said. "We’ve run the football effectively, but all of our play-actions and keepers and movements and things like that are directly married to the run game that we’re able to utilize here."

Before moving to the NFL, Coen served as offensive coordinator at FCS Maine for two seasons in 2016 and 2017. He previously worked as quarterbacks coach at UMass, Brown and Rhode Island.

With Coen as offensive coordinator, Maine running back Josh Mack led the FCS in rushing yards in 2017, averaging 133.9 yards per game and 5.5 yards per carry.

Earlier:Mark Stoops promises evaluation of Kentucky football offense coming after regular season

Coen still holds many of UMass' career passing records after leading the Minutemen to the 2006 FCS national championship game as quarterback. Like Kentucky defensive coordinator Brad White, Coen was a high school football star in Rhode Island, where he played for his father at La Salle Academy.

"I grew up watching college football and football in general," Coen said. "I’ve read all of Mike Leach’s books. Hal Mumme, Tim Couch, Jared Lorenzen, some of these guys I’ve watched. I’ve emulated Tim Couch. I wanted to be Tim Couch. I really loved him."

The move represents a significant change in philosophy for Stoops, who fired Gran and quarterbacks coach Darin Hinshaw after the Kentucky offense ranked outside the top 100 nationally in points per game (21.7), 117th in yards per game (311.8) and 121st passing yards per game (124.4) this season.

When Stoops brought Gran to Kentucky from Cincinnati prior to the 2016 season, he cited Gran's extensive experience as an assistant coach in the SEC and their personal history together as assistants at Florida State as being instrumental in the decision. Coen is light on experience, but Stoops is likely trying to find the same lightning in a bottle that LSU did when it hired little-known New Orleans Saints assistant Joe Brady as passing game coordinator.

In one season at LSU in 2019, Brady helped lead the Tigers to a national championship. He was then hired as the Carolina Panthers offensive coordinator.

Gran's offense, which thrived thanks to a power run game in 2016 and 2017, was criticized for becoming too one-dimensional in recent years. Part of that progression was due to a series of quarterback injuries that forced wide receiver Lynn Bowden to move to the position for the second half of the 2019 season, but even after quarterback Terry Wilson returned to full health this fall, the Kentucky passing game never recovered.

"There’s many different styles that you can go with in today’s day and age with college football, but I also had to go with something I was comfortable with as well and something that can mesh with the good things we’ve been doing and what we wanted to look like as you move forward," Stoops said. "Certainly you don’t have to look very far to look at LA’s offense to know that they are very creative and very innovative with what they’re doing offensively."

By hiring Coen from one of the most exciting NFL offenses on the eve of the early signing period, Stoops can send a message to four-star wide receiver commits Dekel Crowdus and Christian Lewis that the offense will be more balanced moving forward. The decision could also be important in keeping several of Kentucky's young offensive playmakers on campus with the NCAA expected to allow all players to transfer once without sitting out a season starting in January.

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

While the addition of an NFL-style passing game should excite recruits and current players, Kentucky is not expected to suddenly shift to an "Air Raid" offense with Coen at the helm.

The Rams rank 12th in the NFL in passing yards and eighth in rushing yards through 13 games. They have scored 18 touchdowns through the air and 19 on the ground.

Considering running back Chris Rodriguez is Kentucky's most productive returning player, it would make sense for Coen to build around that strength while developing sophomore Joey Gatewood or freshman Beau Allen at quarterback.

"Everything starts with the quarterback, but it also starts up front," Coen said. "We’re going to be able to run the football. That’s something that Sean wants to do on a week-to-week basis. It’s part of our core philosophy, running the football. I plan to continue to do so at Kentucky, but truly marrying the run and the pass. Being able to put pressure on the defense and make them defend every blade of grass."

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

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