Rhett Lashlee: Could Auburn’s OC Be The Next Head Coach at SMU?


Aug 30, 2014; Auburn, AL, USA; Auburn Tigers offensive coordinator

Rhett Lashlee

during warm-ups prior to the game against the Arkansas Razorbacks at Jordan Hare Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports

The coaching carousel is already up and running now that June Jones has resigned at SMU. Could Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee be a candidate to take his place?

After a very disappointing 0-2 start to the 2014 season, which included losses to Baylor and North Texas by a combined score of 88-6, Jones has stepped down at SMU citing “personal issues.” The news broke Tuesday and was first reported by Bill Nichols at the Dallas Morning News. Not long after, Leigh Steinber, Jones’ agent, confirmed the report and Jones himself issued a statement.

Auburn fans that are also Atlanta Falcons fans may remember Jones best as the head coach of the Falcons from 1994 to 1996. However, he is best known nationally as the head coach that breathed life into two worn down college football programs: Hawaii and SMU.

In Dallas, Jones led the Mustangs to a 36-43 record in seven seasons, which included four bowl appearances. The 2009 Hawaii Bowl was SMU’s first since the Death Penalty rocked the program in 1987 and Jones was able to put the Mustangs into the post-season each of the next three seasons as well before things turned sour.

Now, Jones’ tenure is over and the SMU Mustangs are looking for a new head football coach. And it is possible that Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee could be on SMU’s radar.

Most early reports indicate that Chad Morris is alone at the top of SMU’s wish list, and there is likely to be mutual interest. Morris is a Texas native and high school coaching legend in the state. He has become the highest paid offensive coordinator in the nation while at Clemson and appears ready to be a college head coach.

While Morris has been linked to job openings in the past, and could perhaps find a “better” job in terms of prestige or conference strength, he would be a good fit at SMU. There is a ton of talent in the area to be recruited, there is potential to win big, but expectations are reasonable. Plus, and perhaps most importantly, there is money in the program from influential boosters (Jones had an annual salary in excess of $2 million).

But, as we often know, the initial candidate is not always the one that ends up with the job. Should Morris decide to pursue a “bigger” job towards the tail end of 2014, or if he simply decides SMU isn’t the place for him, the Mustangs will have many coaches to turn to.

The folks at Football Scoop, and Scott Roussel in particular, have some of the best connections and greatest insight into coaching changes. Roussel released an early list of candidates on Tuesday that includes up-and-comers like UL-Lafayette head coach Mark Hudspeth, Texas A&M offensive coordinator Jake Spavital, Baylor OC Phillip Montgomery, Ohio State’s Tom Herman and Arizona State’s Mike Norvell.

Sep 6, 2014; Auburn, AL, USA; Auburn Tigers offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee reacts to a play during the second half against the San Jose State Spartans at Jordan Hare Stadium. The Tigers beat the Spartans 59-13. Mandatory Credit: John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

Other potential hires could be veteran head coaches that are currently in television roles, including a couple of national champions: Gene Chizik, Mack Brown and Houston Nutt.

However, and as Roussel points out, it does not seem likely that SMU would go for one of those three. The program needs some new blood. There’s even some talk about former Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley, the current wide receivers coach of the Dallas Cowboys, but he doesn’t quite fit the profile either.

Today, ESPN put out its own list of candidates. New names provided by the Worldwide Leader include Texas A&M recruiting coordinator David Beaty, Oklahoma OC Josh Heupel and Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables. But there’s one young coach that would be a great fit in Dallas that hasn’t been mentioned: Rhett Lashlee.

Lashlee is not from Texas (but he sounds like a Lone Star head coach by name, right?) and instead from neighboring Arkansas where he played quarterback for Gus Malzahn in high school. This connection, of course, is one of the biggest reason’s Lashlee will enter the conversation for not only the SMU job, but for others that come up over the course of the season.

Simply put, there is no hotter name in college coaching that Malzahn. His offense has been revolutionary and is seen by some across the nation as the magic elixir that turned the Tigers from a disappointment into a national champion as an assistant. Once he left town, the Tigers’ program again fell into disrepair only to be rejuvenated by Malzahn into SEC Champions and a national title contender as a head coach.

Of course, the SMU position would not appeal to Gus, who has a legitimate shot at national championships at Auburn. But Lashlee could be seen as the next best thing. The 31-year-old is a shooting star in the coaching world because of his first hand knowledge of Malzahn’s hurry-up no huddle attack.

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“He knows this offense inside and out,” Malzahn told Joel A. Erickson in 2013. “He responds to pressure very good, he’s coached and been in pressure situations, and he’s got the ability to stay calm and make wise decisions, especially for somebody his age.”

His age is something that has likely kept Lashlee off of the early SMU candidate lists, but with Kliff Kingsbury, 33, taking over in Lubbock and the desire from athletic directors to catch lightning in a bottle with a bright young head football coach, it shouldn’t.

After playing for Malzahn at Shiloh Christian School, Lashlee returned to coach under him at Springdale High School in 2004. Lashlee followed Malzahn to Arkansas as a graduate assistant and then took two years off from coaching when Malzahn became the offensive coordinator at Tulsa. Then, Lashlee returned to the workld of film rooms and practice fields to be a GA at Auburn from 2009 to 2011.

Lashlee left Malzahn’s side again for one season in 2011 to coach at Samford (where he coached under Auburn legend Pat Sullivan), but reunited with Gus at Arkansas State one season later, and of course now he is the OC at Auburn.

Those two breaks in the working relationship between Lashlee and his mentor are important to note. It means that as much as Lashlee has learned from one of the greatest offensive minds of our generation, he is his own person. It can be seen first hand when Lashlee meets with the media. While Malzahn is somewhat rigid and guarded, Lashlee is as charismatic and personable as they come.

His personality, perhaps even more than his offensive mind, should make an impression with decision makers in interviews.

“If I was the one running Arkansas State, it would have been a no-brainer who should take over after Gus left,” said Dykes. “I would have hired Rhett Lashlee.”

And despite his age, Lashlee may be ready for the challenge of running his own program. In a 2013 interview with Erickson, Jimmy Dykes, Lashlee’s former athletic director at Shiloh Christian and now the head women’s basketball coach at the University of Arkansas, shared his belief in the Tigers’ offensive coordinator.

“If I was the one running Arkansas State, it would have been a no-brainer who should take over after Gus left,” said Dykes. “I would have hired Rhett Lashlee.”

That was a year-and-a-half ago, when Lashlee was just 29 years old and before the Tigers went on a magical run to the BCS National Championship Game.

Two weeks ago, we took a quick look at Lashlee’s potential opportunities for a “better job” in 2015 after he made Dan Wolken’s list at USA Today, and SMU fits the profile. It’s a good job, in a great location, but the program isn’t too big for a first time head coach with limited play-calling experience.

Do Auburn fans want to lose Rhett Lashlee to SMU or another head coaching opportunity? Of course not. But when a coach is ready, and an opportunity presents itself, he must be ready to pounce. And Lashlee is ready.