Things are going less than ideally for the Northwestern offense right now. That’s the bottom line! The unit is putting up historically bad numbers, and although Pat Fitzgerald has said he won’t reevaluate his staff until the end of the year, a failure to make a change at offensive coordinator after this disastrous season might send this Wildcat fanbase into eternal insanity.
So, we’re gonna get the process started ourselves!
This piece is completely speculative and theoretical with absolutely no official reporting done whatsoever, but we poked around on the Worldwide Web to identify a few candidates who might garner some interest should Mick McCall have his duties stripped.
We searched for candidates with past ties to Northwestern, as well as those who might be familiar with the Wildcats’ academic standards when it comes to recruiting. A tertiary concern was focusing on candidates whose offensive schemes are not too much of a departure from McCall’s current style; no matter how much we might want him to, Fitz is never going to go full Air Raid.
That being said, here is our shortlist, in no particular order:
Tommy Rees (Notre Dame - QB Coach)
In 2010, Rees, a three-star high school recruit from Lake Forest High School (roughly a 30 minute drive from Northwestern), held an interesting connection to the Wildcats. His father, Bill Rees, served as Northwestern’s coordinator of player personnel and assistant director of football operations.
The younger Rees was heavily recruited by Northwestern, but ultimately spurned Pat Fitzgerald to attend Notre Dame. He started at quarterback in two of his four seasons and left ND with the highest completion percentage in program history. After his collegiate career, Rees went undrafted in the 2014 NFL draft. He signed as a UDFA with the Washington Redskins before being released a week later.
In 2015, Rees ended his playing career after being recruited by Pat Fitzgerald yet again. He joined the Northwestern coaching staff as an offensive graduate assistant. During the ensuing season, the team achieved plenty. The Wildcats finished 2015 10-3, an impressive milestone in Clayton Thorson’s freshman year. Rees left Northwestern after the season to join the San Diego Chargers offensive coaching staff.
According to head coach Pat Fitzgerald, Rees’s coaching responsibilities fell with the wide receivers because “it would have been easy for him to work with the quarterbacks every day, but I wanted him to expand his understanding of how to teach and how to coach.” Fitzgerald continued, “he was a quarterback, and he never would say this, but a lot of quarterbacks operate this way. They always get mad when the receiver drops the ball, right? Well, why don’t you go out and coach that guy now and see how hard it is to be him?”
Fitzgerald called Rees an excellent assistant coach and said he was not surprised by his success in leaving for the NFL.
After one season with the Chargers, Rees rejoined his alma mater as the quarterbacks coach. Under his tutelage, Ian Book has thrived and led Notre Dame to the College Football Playoff in 2018. Rees, like Mike Kafka (check back on this in a bit), could be an up-and-coming coaching rockstar that continues to climb the coaching ranks.
So, if the Northwestern offensive coordinator position opens in 2020, can the third time be the charm for Pat Fitzgerald recruiting Rees back to Evanston?
Bob Surace (Princeton - Head Coach)
Credit goes out to former Inside NU editor-in-chief Josh Rosenblat for this one. In last week’s edition of ‘Blame the Phones’ (a weekly newsletter compiled by Rosenblat that ALL NU fans should subscribe to), he brought up the idea of Surace — who has completely revitalized a Princeton program that currently boasts a 17-game win streak across the course of two seasons.
Surace has won three Ivy League titles, and is currently serving his ninth year in charge of the Tigers, but more importantly, he’s brought an innovative offensive scheme to Princeton, as Rosenblat points out in the newsletter. Here’s a clip he included:
Seriously, go watch some 2016 Princeton Offense!— Coach Dan Casey (@CoachDanCasey) December 8, 2017
That year their offensive coordinator was current Bryant Head Coach James Perry (@BryantHCPerry).
The pre snap movement and creativity are incredible! Shoutout to @A_Finch1 for the lead on this one! pic.twitter.com/esR114YrJK
Little bit more creativity than McCall, eh? There are questions as to what would be needed to tempt Surace away from the Tigers, his alma mater, but Northwestern has the money to spend, and in many ways, the 51-year-old coach (who maybe running out of time to bump himself up to the highest level of college football) is a very nice fit.
Kevin Daft (Dartmouth - Offensive Coordinator/QBs)
Why not stay in the Ivy League? Daft leads a Dartmouth offense that sits atop the conference standings with Princeton at 7-0. His Big Green offense has scored 35+ points in five of the team’s seven games this year, and he’s 24-3 overall since arriving in Hanover three seasons ago.
Heading into the Ivy League for a coordinator seems logical given Northwestern’s emphasis on recruiting kids with high academic standards, and Daft certainly has the track record to make the jump. The UC Davis alum was an assistant at Cal for four years, a stretch that included time at receivers coach when Marvin Jones, Jr. was in the room, before moving onto the FCS level.
Daft has plenty of coaching experience despite being just 44 years old, with much of it coming for schools with academic standards on par with those of Northwestern, and though Dartmouth is putting up plenty of points this season, they are doing so with real offensive balance. Also, the Big Green aren’t dependent on the success of any one quarterback: last year, they rotated passers due to injuries and still put up massive numbers. Daft is certainly an intriguing enough option to be worth a look should the NU job open up.
Tsuyoshi Kawata (Stanford - Offensive Quality Control Analyst)
Northwestern’s next offensive coordinator must have experience at a school with high academic standards. It is imperative that the coach knows how to recruit within the constraints of Northwestern’s program. In Kawata, the Wildcats would secure an offensive coordinator who has experience recruiting and coaching student-athletes to those standards, even though he might be an out-of-the-box pick given his lack of experience in a top-level assistant role.
The Tokyo native has been a member of the Stanford Cardinal offensive staff for the past 13 seasons as an offensive quality control assistant. While he is not a quarterbacks coach or offensive coordinator, Kawata has been credited with making “invaluable contributions to Stanford’s running game by incorporating advanced statistics analysis and preparing customized strategic reports in advance of each game,” per his coaching staff page on Stanford’s website.
While it may be concerning that Kawata does not play a significant role in Stanford’s passing game, his background in analytics is highly encouraging. In order to bring passing experience to Northwestern, he could bring fellow offensive quality control coach Greg Mangan, who helps assist Stanford’s quarterbacks.
Kawata could certainly be an intriguing hire for the Wildcats, bringing global experience and a new way of thinking about the game despite coming from a similar source to that of Northwestern. He would need an experienced, impressive staff around him, but the longtime coach could be just what the Wildcats need to shake things up a bit.
Mike Kafka (Kansas City Chiefs - QB Coach)
Ah, the crown jewel. Mike Kafka, as many on this board and elsewhere have noted, is the dream pick for Northwestern’s next offensive coordinator. Kafka went to St. Rita high school before heading to Evanston for college. He redshirted his true freshman season in 2005, started a couple games in 2006 and was a backup in 2007 and 2008 before becoming Northwestern’s starting quarterback in 2009.
That season, Kafka led Northwestern to the Outback Bowl against Auburn, where he had 47 completions on 78 passing attempts for 532 passing yards in an overtime loss. Kafka finished the year leading the Big Ten in passing yards. He was selected in the fourth round in the 2010 NFL draft to the Philadelphia Eagles, bouncing around the league for a few seasons before retiring after the 2015 season.
In 2016, he served as an offensive graduate assistant at Northwestern. Kafka primarily worked with the wide receivers and Austin Carr broke out under his watch. The next year, Andy Reid hired his former fourth round draft pick to be an offensive quality control coach with the Chiefs. The rest is history.
Kafka was promoted to be Reid’s quarterbacks coach in 2018, the year in which Patrick Mahomes dazzled the football world. He is considered one of the brightest coaching candidates working at the next level, and is sure to garner an NFL offensive coordinator job or head coaching job in the near future.
It would take a miracle for him to come back to Northwestern, but we have seen crazier things happen!
Jake Moreland (Western Michigan - offensive coordinator)
Another relative long shot (though much more likely to be available than Kafka), but we love a good MAC coordinator, right? After all, that’s how Mick McCall came around in the first place. Moreland is currently in charge of a Western Michigan offense that sits at a respectable 55th in SP+.
He’s been around the program for ten seasons in total, serving as a co-offensive coordinator and OL coach for many years — most notably, doing so for the 2016 Bronco squad that had an undefeated regular season (including a season-opening win in Evanston). Moreland is still only 42, and the Western Michigan grad also has experience coaching at Syracuse and Air Force, who, though not exactly comparable to Northwestern academically, both certainly have raised standards to contend with.
If Fitz is going to venture out of the Power Five, it feels like the MAC would be the first and most logical place to look, and Moreland might just be looking to take the next step and his career.
Did you like our selections? Thinking of any candidates that we missed? Let us know in the comments below!