Questions still remain concerning Longo, McGriff hires for Ole Miss

Published 7:55 am Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze made two critical coaching decisions Friday morning in hiring Auburn’s co-defensive coordinator and secondary coach Wesley McGriff to lead the defense and Sam Houston State offensive coordinator Phil Longo to lead the offense.

Dylan Rubino

Dylan Rubino

The name Wesley McGriff should sound familiar to Ole Miss fans. McGriff was an assistant coach on Freeze’s staff when he first got the Ole Miss job back in 2012. McGriff followed up his time in Oxford with successful tenures with the New Orleans Saints and Auburn Tigers.

Last season at Auburn, McGriff helped transform an Auburn defense that was bottom three in the SEC in total defense before he got there to top three in the conference in 2016. The 2016 Auburn defense ranked fourth in the country in red zone defense and fifth in the country in scoring defense.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

However, McGriff has a tall task at hand transforming an Ole Miss defense that ranked dead last in the SEC in scoring defense and 12th in total defense.

McGriff had a bold statement Friday in his Ole Miss teleconference answering what type of defense he would run.

“We’re going to run a defense that’s going to stop every offense that’s playing football in America.”

That’s a hot take from the new defensive coordinator given the fact that opposing offenses could score what seemed like an infinite amount of points against a porous Ole Miss defense.

The talent is there in Oxford to have a defense that McGriff envisions, but during the 2016 season, the players seemed lost at times and got burned constantly for big plays in the air and on the ground.

McGriff said it best during his teleconference. “It’s one thing to have the right guys on the bus, but you got to get them in the right seat.”

The talent is there. You just have to get them in the right spot at the right times.

Is it as simple as that to transform a defense like McGriff helped transform at Auburn? Is switching from a 4-2-5 to a 4-3 defense going to fix the woes? That remains to be seen, but hiring a familiar face with the program and with a track record like McGriff has could be a step in the right direction.

The bigger questions mark for Ole Miss came with the hiring of Sam Houston State offensive coordinator Phil Longo for the same position.

It’s hard to question the success Longo had at Same Houston State. At the FCS powerhouse, Longo led an offense that set many records. Sam Houston State went 12-1 overall and held the top ranked offense in the nation, averaging 547.3 yards per game, the No. 2 scoring offense with 49.5 points per game, and the No. 2 passing offense in the FCS.

Over the past three seasons, Sam Houston State scored more touchdowns in the red zone that any other FCS team with 145.

While the air raid concept was the main feature of the Bearkat offense, Longo’s offense also ranked in the top 10 of the FCS in rushing in the 2014 and 2015 seasons. The balance on offense is something Freeze strives for and hopes to get with Longo in Oxford.

Is the air raid concept that Longo brings really the change that Ole Miss needs?

The Rebel offense under Dan Werner in 2016 ranked fourth in total offense and scoring offense in the SEC. The passing offense was No. 1 in the SEC as well. What difference does Longo really bring in 2017?

Balance will be key when it comes to Longo’s offense in 2017 for the Rebels. The air raid concept with a strong running game is a difficult concept to take a hold of, but if it works, the offense could be a thing of beauty during Longo’s tenure.

Will the Longo hire help the chances of five-star Clinton running back Cam Akers commit to Ole Miss? That’s a stretch.

Will McGriff and Longo help rebuild an Ole Miss program that’s looking for answers? We’ll have to wait and find out.

Sports editor Dylan Rubino can be reached at