Mark Stoops has made his choice. He has decided on who will direct his offense this coming season. Eddie Gran will be Kentucky’s third offensive coordinator in four seasons, with help from fellow Cincinnati assistant Darin Hinshaw.
And the Big Blue Nation has responded with a resounding, “M’eh.”
It’s not that UK football fans don’t care if they succeed. They’re dying to see an offense that can rock opposing defenses back on their collective heels, one that can set scoreboards spinning against Southeastern Conference teams – not just the Charlottes of the college football world.
Gran’s body of work, as well as his resume’, says he can get it done. And that’s where Wildcat fans begin to squint. They heard the same advance PR on Shannon Dawson and believed Neal Brown was the second coming of Hal Mumme. Brown’s offense, in his second season, approached (but did not top) 30 points per game. Dawson’s was nearly a touchdown shy of that.
Gran and Hinshaw were vital cogs in a high-octane Cincinnati offense and a guy who saw every UC down this past season is here to tell us, they were good hires.
“You got yourselves a good offensive coordinator,” says Jim Kelly, color analyst on the Bearcats football radio network. “You’re gonna like ‘em both. I think they bring some real nice things to the table in Lexington.”
The two new assistants will meet with the media Monday afternoon at the new Commonwealth Stadium (the news conference to be televised live on The CW-Lexington). Expect a low-keyed, “down to earth” guy in Gran, according to Kelly. “But at the same time,” he says, “don’t let that fool you. He’s a fiery guy but the one thing I like about him on the sideline is, he really keeps a cool head. He looks like a true pro down there. He does a nice job.”
As for Hinshaw, well, apparently, he’s another story – with a game-day personality that perhaps rivals the fire that burns in his new boss.
“Absolutely fiery,” is the way Kelly describes him. At the Hawai’I Bowl, the UC coaches’ booth was right next door to the Bearcat radio network. “I saw him jump out of the box a few times,” Kelly says. “There were a couple of times – we had open windows – we had to take our crowd mic down. He was trying to fire everybody up.” No sense risking a yellow flag from the FCC for language that doesn’t even originate in your own broadcast booth.
“I think you got two really, really good coaches,” Kelly says. “They’re a little bit opposite in their demeanor on the field but they do a great job of working with each other and they complement each other in a big time way.”
It’s a combination that’s been successful up the interstate for the past three seasons. This year, Cincinnati was ranked seventh in the nation in total offense, sixth in passing and averaged 178 yards per game on the ground with a quick-tempo attack that didn’t allow opposing defenses to get comfortable.
Short drops for the quarterbacks, Kelly says. “Three steps; catch and throw with the shotgun, to set up deep balls.
“They mix in the run so play-action works. You get eight, 10, five and then, boom – 57.”
Gran may not be a branch on the Mumme coaching tree but, Kelly says, his offense does resemble what was working in Lexington in the late ‘90s, although it has evolved through the years. Expect to see more of the pistol formation, he says, with the quarterback about four yards behind the center and a running back directly behind him.
“The one thing Cincinnati did incredibly well was throw the ball deep,” Kelly says, the Bearcats’ best offensive performance coming in a wild, 53-46 loss to Memphis. “You don’t get 557 yards by running jail break screens to the inside and hoping a guy breaks a tackle. They set that up throughout the game.”
And, he says, the offense is perfect for a physical, pass-catching tight end. “If there’s somebody down there that fits that bill, they just got a nice payday,” Kelly says, “because they’ll flourish in this offense.”
C.J. Conrad, anyone? He, Darryl Long and transfer Greg Hart may finally get a chance to flourish.
All of which sounds nice to Wildcat football fans. But you can’t blame them for being skeptical after two seasons that started with such promise and slid into disappointment.
Kelly believes both Hinshaw and Gran not only can create offensive power, but help bring in players who can execute, noting that UC head coach Tommy Tuberville has been known to fire assistants who aren’t productive on the recruiting trail. Kelly is also aware of the success Stoops and his staff have had at UK. “These guys will help feed that and do a nice job of getting people in there that will fit their system,” he says.
There will be no honeymoon at Kentucky. The Wildcats this coming season need to move the ball, put up points and win more than they lose. The immediate future of the Mark Stoops Era depends on it.
Cincinnati’s offense was explosive and it had Eddie Gran’s fingerprints all over it. Darin Hinshaw’s, too. They need to light the fuse in Lexington as soon as they can.