The 2011 College Football season allows two of the most highly regarded offensive minds to ply their trade in the most competitive, most talented and toughest league in the Football Bowl Subdivision—the Southeastern Conference.
Steve Kragthorpe and Charlie Weiss come from very different backgrounds, but both have been head coaches at BCS schools and understand the intense pressure that comes with playing at such a high level. Both have also coached in the NFL, with roles ranging from QB’s coach to Offensive Coordinator.
They have the boxes checked on their resumes. But can they get their squads to succeed in the SEC? The 2011 season will give us a much clearer picture. The two teams whose offenses they’re charged with leading were disappointments in the 2010 season, so there’s a set of yardsticks available.
Steve Kragthorpe was the successful Head Coach at Tulsa, where the Golden Hurricanes racked up a Conference USA Title in 2005 and beat Fresno State in the Liberty Bowl. Kragthorpe’s innovative offensive playcalling and eye-popping statistics garnered lots of national attention. Kragthorpe was frequently mentioned as a top candidate for bigger coaching jobs and was mentioned as potential replacement for Alabama’s Mike Shula, who was dismissed after the 2006 season. Alabama hired Nick Saban instead, and Kragthorpe went on to a disappointing stint at Louisville, winning only 15 games in three years. LSU Head Coach Les Miles hired Kragthorpe to take over the Tigers struggling offense after the 2010 season. His task: Get LSU Quarterback Jordan Jefferson to take his game to the next level and develop backup Zack Mettenberger as a capable replacement and heir apparent. LSU returns the talent at Offensive Line and Wide Receiver to make this job a bit easier, and the frighteningly efficient Spencer Ware at Tailback will take some of the pressure off of the signal caller. What remains to be seen is if Kragthorpe can recreate the offensive wonder of the Tulsa years, or if it that was really Charlie Stubbs’ offense.
Charlie Weiss has four Super Bowl rings as an assistant coach and Offensive Coordinator, but by all accounts the promising 2005 Notre Dame hire famously flopped in South Bend. The offensive whiz with the "decided schematic advantage" quickly learned that schemes and strategies were only part of offensive performance at the FBS level. It takes talent, preparation and execution to make any scheme work and there were numerous games during his tenure where the Fighting Irish simply looked lost. He had the talent in QB’s Brady Quinn and Jimmy Clausen, but despite back-to-back-to-back Top 10 recruiting classes from 2005-2007, the supporting cast either never materialized or was never sufficiently developed to win consistently. He was fired after the 2009 season. After one year as the Offensive Coordinator of the Kansas City Chiefs, incoming Florida Gators Head Coach Will Muschamp hired Weiss to lead his offense. Weiss’ pro-style, multiple set offense seems much more suited to expected starter John Brantley’s abilities, and Florida never has a problem stockpiling talent. The athletic ability and depth look good.
Both Kragthorpe and Weiss appear to have the mental skills to develop quarterbacks and implement effective offensive schemes. Both appear to be ideally suited for assistant coaching positions rather than head coaches. Weiss’ recruiting credentials are respectable; Kragthorpe’s may still need some time to examine, but like Florida, the school typically has its pick of the state’s top talent.
What’s most tantalizing about these two offensive gurus is that we get to see them match wits, head-to-head, when the Gators visit Death Valley for what should be a first class slobber-knocker on October 8. The date—fully four weeks into the season—is late enough to see where both teams are offensively. It’ll be one of many must-see matchups in the upcoming season. If things fall the right way through the season, we might even see a rematch on the first Saturday of December in the Georgia Dome.