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ASU Football: Weighing the Sun Devils’ best options at offensive coordinator

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A look at candidates the Sun Devils may consider to fill in their vacancy at offensive coordinator.

NCAA Football: Oregon at Southern California Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Following Chip Lindsey’s departure for Auburn, the Arizona State Sun Devils stand without an offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.

Below, House of Sparky’s Max Madden, Connor Pelton and Kaelen Jones discuss a handful of candidates suggested as potential marks for the Sun Devils’ open offensive coordinator role.


Mark Helfrich

Madden: Helfrich’s tenure in Eugene may be forever marred by a historically poor defensive ranking, but when the former Sun Devil coach found a quarterback he liked in Justin Herbert the Ducks offense exploded. He also knew how to manage having two talented backs on his roster, as both Royce Freeman and Tony Brooks-James both ran for over 770 yards in 2016. With Alabama transfer quarterback Blake Barnett under center and a combination of Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage in the backfield, Helfrich should create success with a similar unit in Tempe. This does seem like the least likely option, especially with how much he could cost.

Jones: This would be an ideal fit. Since Todd Graham is a strong proponent of being a run-first offense, my liking/disliking for a candidate will most likely trend positively if they incorporate a run-oriented attack. Helfrich employs a high-powered offensive scheme predicated rushing the football, playing fast and hitting home runs. Depending on the price tag, he could be a strong candidate.

Pelton: This should be Todd Graham’s first phone call. Helfrich needs to land somewhere where he can take a few years to rebuild his image, and Arizona State provides him with a perfect opportunity to do so. Already deeply familiar with Pac-12 defenses, you aren’t going to find a better option than Helfrich.


Rob Likens

Madden: Likens isn’t necessarily the most exciting option to take over the offense, but that doesn’t mean he’s a poor one. Unlike Helfrich, he has extensive experience working with Chip Lindsey and has been instrumental in the development of former Golden Bear receivers Kenny Lawler and Bryce Treggs while in Berkley. Although with Norvell this season to coach Nevada, it seems unlikely ASU would move Likens to the coordinator position and leave a hole at receivers coach again.

Jones: Likens was the former offensive coordinator at Kansas. His successful development rate at Cal as the Golden Bears’ wide receivers coach is impressive, but his track record doesn’t exactly scream run-first. He’ll be wonderful for N’Keal Harry in the interim, but I would be surprised if he were to be immediately promoted.

Pelton: Like Max said, Likens isn’t exactly the sexiest choice here. I don’t think any Sun Devil fans would love to see an immediate promotion for the former Kansas OC. With that being said, his track record in developing receivers has been impressive, and this wouldn’t be terrible option if Graham’s other top targets decide to pass.


Josh Henson

Madden: Henson looks like a great candidate for this job. In fact, he may be the most qualified hire Todd Graham made this offseason. Missouri’s offenses under Henson in 2013 and 2014, the years Missouri won back to back SEC East titles, remained near the top of the conference. Additionally, Henson had a knack for taking overlooked recruits and turning them into NFL talent in Columbia, and it definitely helps that he was great with spread offenses, something I will definitely expect ASU to run when Barnett inevitably gets that starting job.

Jones: From the moment Henson was hired, I figured he was essentially the incumbent to Lindsey’s job after being named assistant head coach. Just a couple of weeks later, and I still feel the same. Though it’s a personal assumption, I think this is a well-founded prediction. Henson’s rushing attack averaged 237.9 yards per contest during his first year as Missouri’s offensive coordinator. He has the experience and resume to boot.

Pelton: If the team does promote from within, I think Henson is the better choice. The SEC experience is attractive, and he was hired in the first place in large part due to a recommendation from Lindsey.


John Simon

Madden: Simon is another great candidate for this job, as he was part of an offensive coaching staff at Southern Miss that broke five single season school records in 2015, and helped lead running backs Jalen Richard and Ito Smith for a combined 3,000 yards. Graham’s offenses have always been run first, which will definitely help Simon’s case. If Graham elects to stay in house and decide to choose between Henson and Simon, the decision could go a long way to dictate the direction in which the Sun Devils will go offensively in 2017.

Jones: Graham has reiterated it time and again—winning teams run the ball, and run it well. Who better to activate the Sun Devils’ rushing attack than Simon, who helped Ballage really break out last season, and Demario Richard—albeit nicked up for a stretch—developed a bit as a runner. Considering Simon also worked with Lindsey for three years, it would make sense to hire someone whose offense will resemble Graham’s philosophy.

Pelton: I don’t consider Simon to be a top candidate for this job. He came in with Lindsey and is more of his guy than Graham’s. Again, this feels more like a last-resort option if some of the top candidates don’t pan out.


Taylor Kelly

Madden: Kelly seems the most unlikely of the bunch, but it’s still an interesting storyline to follow. Todd Graham has spoken highly of Kelly’s knowledge for the game and he does have familiarity in the ASU system. The problem, though, is that the former Sun Devil has relatively no experience in such a prominent role. In his years since he’s donned the Maroon and Gold he’s primarily been instructing high school quarterbacks in his self-created camps and didn’t stay on for a second year as a grad assistant in Tempe. I find it far more likely that ASU looks to someone with more experience, but hiring Kelly back on the staff would definitely assist in the development of all the quarterbacks on ASU’s roster.

Jones: It won’t happen, but down the road, this could become something in future seasons. Kelly has worked a bit with those in the ASU quarterbacks corps, and he could land the open quarterbacks coach gig. In the future, an offensive coordinator role may be in his future, but not for now.

Pelton: This would be fun, but like Max and Kaelen noted, Kelly getting the offensive coordinator position seems highly unlikely. I do love him for that potential quarterbacks coach slot, and think he could do great work with the host of options this team has under center. Offensive coordinator though? Not in this cycle.