Instant Analysis: McGee to Arkansas
by Jonathan Hodges

Northwestern Football received a new year's gift starting 2008, and it was not the naming of a new defensive coordinator, but instead the sight of its current offensive coordinator, Garrick McGee, shipping off to Arkansas to take over as their QB coach under new HC Bobby Petrino (who sneaked out of Atlanta with much fanfare).  This is the third time since 2000 that NU's offensive coordinator (all whom were considered successful while at NU) has bolted for another position - and the second time that they left for a lower position (Wilson left to be offensive line coach at Oklahoma, but has since moved up to an offensive coordinator role).  In a recent article in the Daily Herald by Adam Rittenberg, that very same former NU OC Wilson basically confirmed what is suspected by many NU fans - that the Northwestern assistants are not paid very well (especially considering the cost of living in the Chicago area), and that it would have been beneficial for NU to institute pay raises for its assistants.

What does this mean for Northwestern football?  Well, it means even more instability for the team and leaves the offensive coaching staff without much in the way of experience.  Even as NU lost its previous two OCs, Wilson and Dunbar, nobody worried too much about the offense because Coach Walker was always deemed to be the offensive "guru" on the team and had a lot to do with the success of NU's offense under his leadership.  Now, though, Fitz - a guy with only 2 seasons of HC experience and, prior to that, basically no experience coaching on offense - lost an "up and comer" in the ranks of offensive coaches (who led NU's offense to a pretty good 2007 campaign in which the offense put up a lot of yards) and now has to deal with replacing BOTH coordinators on his staff.

Also not to be lost in this, once a new coordinator is named, is what will be the fate of the 2008 NU offense?  In 2006, with a new inexperienced OC, new inexperienced HC, and new QBs (with the assumed starter missing over half the season due to injury and the other two being redshirt freshmen) the offense sputtered although things noticeably improved once CJ Bacher got healthy and took the helm.  In 2007, OC McGee showed some promise as he led the NU offense in a new pass-heavy attack that led the Big Ten in offense, although it had its issues especially in scoring (partially thanks to the loss of Sutton for over half of the year).  2008 looked to be the year things could really come together with key skill players returning for their senior years (Bacher, Sutton, Peterman, Lane) and McGee hopefully coming into his own during his 3rd year as OC.  Northwestern cannot let a change at OC disrupt its offensive performance as that will be the key to NU's success in 2008.

The pressure will be on Fitz to do a few things now that he has two very important vacant positions on his staff:

- Install both a DC and OC quickly in order to help shore up the recruiting class by early February.
- Build a coaching staff that allows both immediate and future success.  Fitz is still a young coach and needs some guys that can provide some experience on both sides of the ball (but particularly offense where he has precious little experience) BUT also provide some stability in the program - i.e. won't bolt for a better position in a year or two.  It's inevitable that assistants will move on in time, but the NU program needs some consistency especially due to the turmoil over the past couple years.
- Finally, get the administration to cough up the funds necessary to bring in good assistants and keep them around.  It was rumored that the pay for NU assistants was never very good and basically confirmed by former OC Wilson, and to put a solid program together Fitz needs good assistants to both help in recruiting and put together a team to succeed on the field.

I wouldn't be surprised to hear about a new DC in short order now that the bowl season is winding down and the new year is upon us.  Unfortunately, though, the OC change comes as a bit of a surprise, and it very well may take a while for Fitz to find his guy for that position.  At this point, though, sooner will be better for finding new coordinators, and this is Fitz's time to put his stamp on the program and the pressure is on to do so quickly.

Much like the open DC position, not a whole lot is known about available options, but on the short list must probably be an internal candidate, in this case current WR coach and recruiting coordinator Kevin Johns who came aboard at NU just before the 2003 Motor City Bowl (he was a grad assistant prior to that).  But, right now it appears that things are wide open - but much like the DC position I would not expect to see a high profile name coming to Evanston, but instead an up and comer from a relatively lower position looking to make a name for himself.

e-mail: j-hodges@alumni.northwestern.edu

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