Coaching staff turnover can be disruptive. When assistants leave for other opportunities, the position group they previously oversaw must adjust to new leadership. Maybe the old assistant’s scheme and philosophy remains in place, but his successor will typically make at least a few minor tweaks, if not wholesale changes. Sometimes, new assistants to a better job than their predecessors. Sometimes they don’t.
Since 2011, Northwestern has never been forced to find out, because none of its assistants have left for other jobs or been fired. The Wildcats and Minnesota are the only two FBS programs to lose zero assistants over that period. Because Northwestern fell well short of expectations this season, there’s a chance head coach Pat Fitzgerald could opt to make a few changes to his staff. That possibility feels remote, though. “Let me be crystal clear here: I understand fans, I understand the media, but this is a staff that has done a terrific job here of winning a ton of football games,” Fitzgerald said November 26 on the Big Ten conference call.
One Northwestern assistant could have an opportunity to leave on his own accord. A recent article in The Toledo Blade named offensive coordinator Mick McCall as a candidate for the vacant Bowling Green head coaching position. Other potential candidates, according to the Blade, include interim coach Adam Scheier, Florida defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin and Ohio State running backs coach Stan Drayton.
McCall spent four years as Bowling Green’s quarterbacks coach and one year as its offensive coordinator before being hired by Northwestern after the 2007 season. He is credited with developing Falcons star quarterbacks Josh Harris* and Omar Jacobs, prolific passers who were selected as late-round NFL draft picks in 2004 and 2006, respectively.
There are two questions to consider here. First, would Bowling Green even be interested in hiring McCall? Northwestern’s offense slipped as injuries piled up during a seven-game losing streak this season – and there are plenty of fans who’d no doubt love to see McCall bolt for another job – but McCall’s offenses have otherwise performed reasonably well during his tenure. The Wildcats’ scoring steadily increased over the five seasons leading up to 2013 – from 24.38 points per game in 2008 to 25.92 in 2009 to 26.38 in 2010 to 28.92 in 2011 to 31.69 in 2012.
Meanwhile, McCall has done an excellent job adapting his playbook to quarterbacks with different skill sets. Whereas CJ Bacher and Mike Kafka (and Trevor Siemian) were more traditional pocket passers, Dan Persa and Kain Colter were often more dangerous when scrambling away from the pocket and making plays on the run. McCall managed to craft game plans that accentuated those quarterbacks’ skills, which has helped make Northwestern’s spread offense one of the Big Ten’s most productive in recent years.
The next question is whether McCall, if offered the BGSU head coach position, would leave Northwestern. It’s impossible for me to say – I don’t know McCall personally. He does at least appear to enjoy working alongside Fitzgerald and, based on what he recently told the Chicago Tribune’s Teddy Greenstein, it seems safe to assume fan criticism does not bother him. "All I care and all we (coaches) care about is what happens between these four walls," McCall told Greenstein. "They're fans. They're passionate. They don't know everything that goes on. Since being a little kid with my father coaching (high school) football, that's what it is."
(Also worth considering: McCall, a quarterback at Southern Colorado between 1975 and 1978, may not fall into the age range BGSU is looking for in its new head coach).
Plenty of assistants strive to attain head coaching positions even if it means moving to a less prestigious program. For others, maybe the tradeoff isn’t worth it. Perhaps McCall, if offered the BGSU job, would simply say no – more content to stay on with Northwestern, a Big Ten program, as an assistant than become the head coach of a Mid American Conference team. Without asking McCall, it’s hard to know what he would do. The fact he once coached and had success at Bowling Green may be a selling point, but that’s just speculation.
This story – if it can even be labeled as such at this stage – may turn into nothing. Bowling Green could hire someone else, and McCall will enter next season as Northwestern’s OC looking to rebound from a disappointing 2013. Or maybe there is enough interest from both parties that McCall will be considered a serious candidate to replace former BGSU coach (and new Wake Forest coach) Dave Clawson. Unless things heat up, it’s best to assume Northwestern will not be losing its offensive coordinator this offseason.
*Harris threw for 386 yards and three touchdowns and ran for a score to lead the Falcons to a 28-24 victory over Northwestern in the 2003 Motor City Bowl. Harris was named the game’s MVP.