THE BIG PICTURE
Saturday’s regular-season finale results from the top teams in the Big Ten and the CFP rankings: Wisconsin won the Big Ten West and will play Ohio State for the Big Ten title next week.
No. 1 Ohio State 56 No. 13 Michigan 27 No. 12 Wisconsin 38 No. 8 Minnesota 17 No. 2 LSU 50 Texas A&M 7 No. 3 Clemson 38 South Carolina 3
No. 4 Georgia 52 Georgia Tech 7 No. 15 Auburn 48 No. 5 Alabama 45 No. 6 Utah 45 Colorado 15
When Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald railed on his quarterbacks after Aidan Smith’s poor performance against Massachusetts two weeks ago, the quotes also sounded like an indictment of offensive coordinator Mick McCall. After all, McCall has tutored the NU quarterbacks since 2008.
“It’s pretty obvious that some of our guys did not do the things they needed to do to prepare for the season,” Fitzgerald said. “Those are all great kids. But they were not prepared for what it takes to be the starting quarterback, and it shows.”
Fitzgerald also said this: “That is the number one room that I will get fixed. Period. End of discussion.”
How will he get it fixed?
Start by bringing in a new coordinator and quarterbacks coach. Period. End of discussion.
McCall is a kind soul who helped Northwestern enjoy three 10-win seasons. But starting in 2013, these are the national scoring rankings of his offenses: 83, 101, 114, 87, 56, 100, 128 (before Saturday’s 29-10 win at Illinois).
So if he gets sacked, here’s a list of nine names Fitzgerald should consider:
1. Matt Canada
He inherited a brutal situation last year at Maryland and fell a two-point conversion against Ohio State shy of leading the Terrapins to a bowl game. Instead of stripping “interim” from Canada’s title, Maryland hired Mike Locksley and is suffering the consequences.
Sports Illustrated profiled Canada in August, asking why this innovator whose system emphasizes pre-snap shifts and option football could be out of work. Canada is an Indiana alumnus who flourished at Northern Illinois before helping Wisconsin win the 2012 Big Ten title game (70-31 over Nebraska) and improving the fortunes of N.C. State (2013-15) and Pittsburgh (2016). He left for LSU and a $1.5 million salary but didn’t mesh with coach Ed Orgeron.
Canada’s wife, Erin, is a Providence High School alumna who played softball at DePaul. Canada is said to be seeking a stable new home when he returns to coaching.
2. Tom Rees
The Notre Dame quarterbacks coach has helped Ian Book become an efficient signal-caller with 48 touchdown passes and 13 interceptions heading into Saturday’s game at Stanford. Rees, a Lake Forest graduate, also played at Notre Dame, throwing for 3,257 yards and 27 touchdowns in 2013.
He worked at Northwestern as a graduate assistant in 2015, coaxing Clayton Thorson through his first season as a starter. (Thorson finished 14th in the Big Ten in passing efficiency, but the Wildcats went 10-3.)
Rees spent 2016 with the Chargers before joining Brian Kelly’s staff. The obvious knock on Rees, 27, is his lack of play-calling experience; Chip Long handles that for the Irish.
3. Kevin Johns
From 2008 to 2017, there was only one change on the NU coaching staff. It came when Johns, the receivers coach, left for a higher salary and more opportunity at Indiana. He coordinated Kevin Wilson’s offenses in his final three seasons in Bloomington — the Hoosiers ranked 10th, first and eighth in the Big Ten in scoring — and then landed at Western Michigan in 2017. He worked under Kliff Kingsbury in 2018 at Texas Tech, which averaged 37.3 points.
Memphis coach Mike Norvell scooped up Johns, and the Tigers have had a fantastic season — 11-1 with the nation’s No. 8 scoring offense. But it’s unclear whether the former Dayton quarterback calls the plays, given Norvell’s offensive background. 4. Mike Kafka
The former standout quarterback for Northwestern isn’t higher on the list because he’s overqualified. Insiders say the Chiefs quarterbacks coach is so highly regarded for his work with Patrick Mahomes, he’s more likely to become an NFL coach before he takes a job as a college coordinator.
5. Chad Morris
He flamed out quickly and spectacularly as head coach at Arkansas, but his supporters say he got stuck trying to run up-tempo with Bret Bielema-recruited hogs. Whoever hires Morris as a reclamation product is in line for a potential bonus: Son Chandler is an uncommitted four-star quarterback.
6. Warren Ruggiero
The opposite of Rees, he isn’t wellknown in the Midwest but has a wealth of experience, having coordinated offenses for 30 years at seven schools. He’s in his sixth season at Wake Forest, which is scoring 33 points a game in a pass-heavy system. And he’s doing it at an academically minded school, like Northwestern.
7. Kalen DeBoer
Indiana’s first-year coordinator is credited with transforming the Hoosiers offense and helping two quarterbacks — Peyton Ramsey and Michael Penix Jr. — excel. DeBoer is a South Dakota native who guided Sioux Falls of the NAIA to a 67-3 record. He also has worked at Southern Illinois, Eastern Michigan and Fresno State.
8-9. Will Hall and Rhett Lashlee
We’re pairing these two because they’re successful coordinators whom some view as more likely to stay in the South than work in the Big Ten. Hall is coordinating a Tulane attack ringing up 34.5 points per game, and Lashlee, who played quarterback at Arkansas, is killing it at SMU (43.5 ppg).