In one of the more shocking bits of college football news recently, Southern Mississippi Head Coach Todd Monken abruptly departed to become the offensive coordinator for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, today.
It's rare that a college football head coach leaves his job to be an offensive coordinator in the NFL. I honestly can't say that I can think of a single example. However, it happened today. What makes it crazier is that it happened a week and a half before National Signing Day in college football. It leaves Southern Miss reeling in a search for a new head coach.
What does this have to do with Auburn, though? Well, just look at the offense Southern Miss was running. Normally you would think they would promote from within. The offense has been a strength, recently. However, their offensive coordinator - former Auburn offensive analyst from the 2013 team Chip Lindsey - left in December to take the Arizona State offensive coordinator job. They promoted Wide Receivers Coach John Wozniak to OC. It's doubtful they think he's ready to be the head man, and their AD indicated as much by announcing he'd start a head coaching search.
That's the connection. Southern Miss had experienced a big turnaround under Monken and were expected to be even better in 2016. They've been running an offense that is similar to a Malzahn offense. If they want continuity on offense and someone who can come in and take advantage of the situation this late in the game, then Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee is a possible perfect choice.
Would Lashlee take it?
Now that's an interesting question. There's a lot involved in this situation. First, there's the fact that he'd be leaving his employer a week and a half before signing day, himself. That's never a good look. However, Auburn would not be in horrible shape if he did. That's especially true now that Herb Hand is on staff. Dameyune Craig and Herb Hand would be able to handle the offense. The biggest question would be how it would affect Auburn with QB commit Woody Barrett, who is the only commitment I see Lashlee listed as the primary recruiter on after a quick glance.
On the other hand, what is the situation in Hattiesburg? It's got to be crazy for Todd Monken to leave right now. It's absolutely crazy for a head coach to leave their job this close to signing day. Either he just really wants to go to the NFL and doesn't care that means he'll likely never get another big college head job again after this stunt, or there are some crazy behind-the-scenes things that have him frustrated with the USM leadership. I seem to remember there being word about there being more behind Ellis Johnson's season there, as well. Or, maybe, USM's leadership are the ones pushing Monken out the door for reasons yet to be revealed. It's just a strange situation.
On top of that, in order to keep any sort of continuity with a recruiting class, the next head coach will likely have to keep as many of the coaches currently on staff as possible. I don't think that's the situation Lashlee would like to go into for his first head coaching job. A coach wants to build his own staff, not have to jump into one that's already been in place and filled with people he knows nothing about.
All of this shows some of the dark sides of college football. All of Southern Mississippi's current commits are left wondering what their situation will be with little time to find new homes if the next staff doesn't want them. The Golden Eagles currently have the #2 recruiting class in Conference-USA behind UAB (who is able to sign considerably more than the other teams). The coaches will come and go, but the players who were preparing to sign on the dotted line on February 3rd have no recourse once they sign except to sit out for a year if they transfer elsewhere.
This whole thing is idle speculation on my part right now - and its speculation shared by some from our G5 blog, UnderdogDynasty.com (where I'm also a contributor) - but it really does make sense that Lashlee may end up a candidate at USM. I'm not saying he'd listen or that he'd take the job, but given the offensive situation at USM, you have to think he may be someone on their radar. Personally, I think the cons of what the situation at USM may be along with having to build a staff the week of signing day (or just rolling with the one already there) far outweigh the roster on hand and the projections for the team.
I'm not advocating this, by the way. I've been one of those who argues Lashlee has gotten a bad rap in Auburn's offensive struggles. I even wrote a whole series of articles on all of the things that went wrong in 2015. I'm just idly speculating that he may be a candidate for that position given the situation there, because this is a blog and idle speculation is what I do best.