The mad dash to complete the foundation of Mack Brown’s coaching staff at North Carolina took a major step forward this afternoon, as first reported by Bruce Feldman and confirmed by UNC: UNC’s new offensive coordinator is (drumroll, please) Phil Longo from Ole Miss. Longo will also serve as QB coach.
After the failed hire of Graham Harrell from North Texas for the same position after losing top candidates Kliff Kingsbury and David Yost to USC and Texas Tech, respectively and the ill-fated attempt to bring in Greg Robinson for the DC position before hiring Jay Bateman, Mack Brown somehow managed to hit a grand slam with the OC hire with this one. Brown has also brought in former Texas Tech OL coach Brandon Jones and Louisville wide receivers coach Lonnie Galloway, which are both also great hires (Jones in bringing an understanding of what an OL needs to do in an Air Raid alongside an impressive resume at a young age, and Galloway has strong recruiting ties in the South), but the big news, understandably, is Longo.
Longo has been at Ole Miss for two years, where he ran essentially exactly what Brown has reportedly been looking for: an Air Raid-style offense with a downhill rushing attack. To wit: Feldman on Longo two years ago.
Longo’s plays are more like an “initial mapping.” His offense can run, say, 4 Verticals or “95” (an Air-Raid staple) 10 times in a game and it can look like six different things depending on what the receivers are seeing.
“I’m not going to try and guess (what defenses might do when I call the play),” Longo says. “We want to teach them how to react.”
Whatever Longo was teaching at Sam Houston State, it translated to the SEC— Ole Miss’ offense ranked 9th nationally in S&P+ in 2017, and 12th in 2018. While aided by one of the nation’s best receiving corps (D.K. Metcalf, A.J. Brown, Demarkus Lodge, Van Jefferson, among others), the Rebels were able to be productive in the air and on the ground. This year’s version ranked 5th in Rushing S&P...and 15th in the passing category. Their 7.12 yards per play on offense were equal-opportunity.
- Quarterback Jordan Ta’Amu ranked 4th nationally with 326.5 passing yards per game and was 21st in quarterback rating (one should note that Ole Miss’ defense was BAD, leading to some interception problems as some risks were taken on offense that wouldn’t have been normally). He threw for 9.4 yards per attempt for the season.
- They attempted, total, 419 rushes and 441 passes, so balance was a major factor. Leading rusher Scottie Phillips averaged 6 yards per clip on 153 carries— and scored 12 touchdowns. Ta’Amu was second on the team with just under 10 totes per game, so the QB read option is very much in play.
- 9 players caught at least 8 balls, but Brown (85 receptions) and Lodge (65) were the workhorses. The third-and-fourth leading receivers caught 36 and 26, respectively, and tight ends contributed another 23— there’ll be a balance between “get the ball to your best playmakers” and “spread the ball around.”
In the comments debating the merits of the failed Greg Robinson hire, and the Brown hire, I had this to say in my thesis on how the Return of the Mack could be a success:
In the interest of full disclosure, I did not like the Brown hire. In my view, a lot of things have to go right to make this a success. That list is as follows:
- Dynamic, innovative assistant coaching hires: thus far, a colossal failure. If we had hired Jay Bateman from Army, or if we end up with David Yost from Utah State, or something along those lines— I would have/will be writing with a more positive tune.
This is my apology. He has assembled a great staff. Longo and Bateman both fit the bill of “dynamic and innovative” perfectly, and Galloway and Jones, not to mention Tommy Thigpen, Tim Brewster, and Dre Bly have already upgraded to preferred status on their airline(s) of choice.
With the crew out on the recruiting trail in (almost) full force, you can expect some more names to be added to the six (wide receiver Justin Olson committed on Sunday) Brown and Co. added to the 2019 commitment list last weekend.