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Heel Tough Blog: Who Should Be the Tar Heels' Next Offensive Coordinator?


The past six days have been some of the most insane in the history of the Tar Heel football program with unprecedented roster turnover and a pair of decommitments from the 2023 class. The biggest loss, though, came when it was announced that Phil Longo was leaving the program to take the offensive coordinator job at Wisconsin under new head coach Luke Fickell. That now forces the team to replace one of the most successful offensive coordinators in the country during his time in Chapel Hill, something that will be aided by the return of Drake Maye. Here is a look at the top names that I believe the Tar Heels should consider to fill the shoes of Longo.


Detroit Free Press

Ben Johnson

This one is probably a pipe dream, but it would have been my first call if I was Mack Brown. Johnson, a former walk-on quarterback for the Tar Heels from 2004-06, is in his first season as the offensive coordinator for the Detroit Lions and he had some really nice success. His offense this season is top ten in the NFL in both yards per game and yards per play this season and he has helped to turn the career of Jared Goff back in the right direction after many had written him off. His offense is the main reason that the Lions are 5-7 this season, as they average 26.3 points per game, the most for the franchise since the 2011 season. He will be a guy that shows up on some head coaching candidate lists as people search for the next great offensive guru. When you combine that with the salary that an NFL offensive coordinator makes as opposed to what the Tar Heels would likely offer, you can see why it would be hard to see this actually happening. Still, this is worth the call to see if he would be interested in being the coach-in-waiting at his alma mater.


Associated Press

Garrett Riley

This is the name that most of the Tar Heel fanbase has at the top of their wish lists and for good reason. Riley, the brother of USC head coach Lincoln Riley, is getting set to coach in the College Football Playoff for the TCU Horned Frogs as they look to cap a fantastic season with a national title. His offense is one of the tops in all of college football this season, averaging 40.3 points per game (6th), 473.0 yards per game (16th) and 6.8 yards per play (T-10th) while being headed up by the Heisman runner-up Max Duggan, who took a major step forward this season despite not starting the season opener. In his seasons as an offensive coordinator, his offenses have ranked inside the top 15 in scoring offense, outside of the top 20 total offense and the top 25 in passing offense. The third down and red zone percentages are the only real concerns with his offenses so far, but even those numbers are still at or above average. This hire would be a big splash and could set the Tar Heels up for the future as well.


North Texas Athletics

Seth Littrell

Littrell was another popular name amongst Tar Heel fans and for good reason. He had plenty of success in his first stint in Chapel Hill, helping lead the Tar Heels to the 2015 ACC Championship Game with an offense whose numbers resembled the ones that Longo had been coordinating under Mack Brown. His offenses averaged 37.0 points per game, 458.4 yards per game and 270.1 passing yards per game. He is currently a free agent after he was relieved of his duties as the North Texas head coach after losing the Conference USA title game last weekend. In his seven seasons at North Texas, the offense was the strength of the team, averaging 31.6 points per game and 441.0 yards per game in his seven seasons there. Mack Brown doesn’t have a relationship with Littrell, but Gene Chizik and some of the other members of the staff do and he knows what it takes to win with Chizik on the other side of the ball.


Coastal Carolina Athletics

Willy Korn

Korn might be the least-known name on this list, but it is one that you should know about. He has coordinated one of the best offenses at the G5 level with the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers. The Chanticleer offense wasn’t nearly as potent this season, but in his four seasons as the Chanticleers' co-offensive coordinator, the team has averaged 34.4 points per game, 437.8 yards per game and 6.5 yards per play. He is also a major part of the development of Grayson McCall, who had himself in some preseason Heisman conversations in each of the last two seasons. This wouldn’t be nearly as popular a move as giving the job to the others ahead of him on this list, but it would be a really solid hire.


USA Today Sports

Graham Harrell

Harrell was a guy that Mack Brown considered for his initial staff and he should get another look if things get to this point. Harrell concluded his first season on Neal Brown’s staff a couple of weeks ago after he was let go at USC when Lincoln Riley took over for Clay Helton. The Mountaineers' offense wasn’t the issue for them this season, but it wasn’t exactly a well oiled machine. The team averaged 30.6 points per game (55th), 399.0 yards per game (60th) and 227.5 passing yards per game (T-69th), all of which were expected to be better based on what he had done at USC the prior three years. With the Trojans, two of his three offenses ranked inside of the top 25 in terms of yards per game and each of his passing offenses in LA ranked inside of the 20. The biggest issue for Harrell, much like with Longo, has come in the red zone. Harrell’s offense has failed to post a red zone touchdown percentage of above 65% in a single season since 2017 when he was with North Texas. This is the main reason that he is not higher on this list and should only be contacted if things were to get this far down the chain.

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