Monday, December 15, 2008

so who's this Ed Zaunbrecher guy?

Since there's a lot of nothing going on at the moment, except for an offensive coordinator search which has turned up nothing beyond idle press speculation, I decided to indulge my curiosity. Before he was brought up in the paper as a possibility, I had basically never heard of Ed Zaunbrecher; now, there's nary a newspaper out there that doesn't think he's at least a candidate, based on his past association with Al Groh. So what the hell; let's see what this guy's all about and if this is a good idea or what.

First, Zaunbrecher's coaching history, courtesy of Wikipedia, the repository of all human knowledge.

1975-76: Arizona (OL)
1977-79: Purdue (backs and receivers)
1980-83: Wake Forest (OC, quarterbacks, receivers)
1984-90: LSU (OC, quarterbacks)
1991-93: Michigan State (quarterbacks '91, linebackers '92-'93)
1994-98: Louisiana-Monroe (Head Coach - then known as NE La.)
1999-01: Marshall (quarterbacks '99-'01, OC '00-'01)
2002-04: Florida (quarterbacks '02-'04, OC '02-'03)
2005: Illinois (quarterbacks, passing game coordinator)
2006-08: Purdue (quarterbacks, co-OC)

So mostly quarterbacks. With a couple exceptions, he's coached quarterbacks since 1980. Hey, that's good: we're in need of one of those coaches, since Mike Groh handled those duties too. You begin to suspect maybe this is why the media types have brought up this name, yes?

Lot of job changes, though. Lot of job changes. Makes you wonder. Some of them are steps up, the kind you make when you're looking for that higher-profile job that'll get your name in someone's head coaching hat. Zaunbrecher has changed jobs nine times; four of these, I'd consider that kind of up-step: Wake, LSU, ULM, Florida. Wake was his first OC gig; LSU is a better gig than Wake; ULM was his big chance as a head coach; and when you get the chance to go from Marshall to Florida, you take it.

Zaunbrecher's been the unfortunate victim of a lot of head coaching changes, as well. (And if he comes here, you can probably chalk up another one in a year or two.) But check out the list:

2008: Not retained at Purdue when Joe Tiller left.
2004: Followed Ron Zook out of Florida to Illinois.
1990: Swept out the door at LSU with Mike Archer (who in fact came to UVA the next year.)
1976: Hired at the very end of Jim Young's tenure at Arizona; left when Young did that year.

So Zaunbrecher's job changes have essentially been either steps up, or the result of a regime change. Including his own. Speaking of which, how did he do at Northeastern Louisiana?

Zaunbrecher's predecessors there were quite successful; the most successful that ULM has ever seen, as a matter of fact. In five years there, Dave Roberts was 38-19-2, with two Southland Conference championships and three I-AA playoff appearances. His predecessor, Pat Collins, won NE La. a I-AA national championship. Zaunbrecher was hired in 1994 to oversee the team's jump from I-AA to I-A. As you might expect, winning seasons were not in the cards early on, though the Indians did post a couple victories over SEC doormats Kentucky and Mississippi State. In 1996, NE La., being an independent team still, starting scheduling a whole bunch more I-AA teams to boost the ol' win column. This was a moderate success, bringing Zaunbrecher respectable-ish (for Northeastern Louisiana) records of 5-6, 5-7, and 5-6, though they were still getting waxed by the likes of UAB and Louisiana Tech. Apparently tired of five-win seasons (and hey, who isn't?) the NE La. brass let Zaunbrecher go and hired Bobby Keasler, who produced a record of: 5-6. (Keasler then proceeded to break the pattern in spectacular fashion the following year by delivering a 1-10 season.) ULM has never had a winning season since taking the I-A plunge.

So, you can look at Zaunbrecher's tenure there one of two ways. Either he brought that team as much success as they ever had playing at this level of football, or he was never particularly good and artificially inflated his record against the Nicholls States and Portland States of the world.

But the main thing is, what does it mean for us? It'd be nice to say he had any success as a head coach, but if he had, he probably wouldn't be a speculative candidate for a likely dead-end job under a practically lame duck head coach. You can't read anything into that co-OC job at Purdue; basically, his offenses were okay as long Curtis Painter had anyone to throw to, which he no longer does, and anyway he didn't call the plays, Joe Tiller called the plays and it was Joe Tiller's offense and Joe Tiller's show, not Ed Zaunbrecher's. Coaching Curtis Painter to any success at all is probably worth something, because Painter's recruit-guru rankings were wicked mediocre. But we learn nothing from the play-calling. Purdue was a big fan of the five-receiver set; Al Groh probably didn't know you're even allowed to do that until Mike took that trip to Lubbock, Texas and heard all about having the quarterback make throws longer than five yards in the air.

On the whole, Zaunbrecher seems like a pretty fair candidate, if that's the direction the administration is headed. He's bounced around, and yes, when the coach is fired, the OC bears a share of the blame. But he's got 15 years experience as an offensive coordinator. He's no great shakes, nothing spectacular, but 15 years is 15 years, and it's 15 years more experience than Mike had. And let's face it: "Pretty fair" is probably the best we can hope for, given the coaching situation these days. I see nothing in Zaunbrecher's past that would make me head out to CHO to throw things at Craig Littlepage if he were hired, and that's fine by me.

Post Script: If you want to read some li'l stories about the days when the end zone was uphill both ways, in the snow, then take a look at the CDP today. It's worth a read.


TimmyG said...

One guess (and just a guess - no insider info here):

Besides Sabre-generated rumors, it's been very quiet since MG let go. Might the silence indicate that AG is targeting someone still busy coaching - either an assistant at a bowl-bound team, or an NFL coach?

If so, Zaunbrecher wouldn't be the answer.

Brendan said...

Excellent point. I don't think it eliminates Zaunbrecher, but it certainly seems to mean he's not the #1 choice, or he'd be interviewing by now. Bowl-bound teams make up about half the coaching pool these days. I'm not so concerned about the NFL. It didn't seem to stop Arkansas, and really, I doubt anyone worth hiring is going to step down from the NFL to take a risky, possibly dead-end coordinator's position in college.