10 Possible Candidates to Replace Bill O’Brien As Ohio State’s Offensive Coordinator

By Dan Hope on February 9, 2024 at 11:05 am
Chip Kelly
Alex Gallardo – USA TODAY Sports

Ohio State is back in the market for a new offensive coordinator.

The Buckeyes thought they had their new offensive play caller for the 2024 season when they hired Bill O’Brien as their new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach in January, but the former New England Patriots offensive coordinator is now on his way back to Massachusetts as the new head coach at Boston College.

As a result, Ryan Day must now find a new assistant coach to call Ohio State’s offensive plays and lead the quarterbacks’ development if he still wants to delegate those duties this year.

It’s never ideal to be thrust into a coaching search more than a month after the end of the season, but there are still plenty of coaches Ohio State could pursue that could fit what Day is looking for.

The following 10 coaches would each be logical candidates for the job based both on what they would bring to the Buckeyes and their potential availability for the right price.

Chip Kelly, UCLA head coach

The initial decision to hire O’Brien suggests Day is looking for someone with significant experience as an offensive play caller and/or a head coach at the college and/or NFL levels. Kelly would check all four of those boxes like O’Brien did, and there’s a real chance he would consider taking the job.

Leaving a job as a Big Ten head coach to become a Big Ten offensive coordinator would certainly be an unconventional move, but Kelly appears to be looking for an exit ramp out of Westwood. Kelly has expressed interest in NFL offensive coordinator jobs and reportedly interviewed with the Seattle Seahawks on Tuesday, but he’s already missed out on multiple NFL jobs as the Washington Commanders hired Kliff Kingsbury and the Las Vegas Raiders hired Luke Getsy.

Kelly has a close relationship with Day dating back to when Kelly was one of Day’s coaches at New Hampshire, and they previously worked together when Day was Kelly’s quarterbacks coach for the Philadelphia Eagles and San Francisco 49ers. Day’s offensive scheme at Ohio State is similar to the schemes Kelly has used both in college and the NFL, so this pairing wouldn’t require a philosophical change from either coach.

If Kelly is actually interested in the job, his familiarity with Day and his résumé could put him at the top of Day’s list. Hiring him could come with an additional expense to Ohio State, though, as he’d owe a $1.5 million buyout to UCLA for leaving early while still under contract.

Jason Candle, Toledo head coach

Candle was reportedly a candidate to get the job the first time around before O’Brien was hired, so it wouldn’t be surprising if he emerges as a candidate to replace O’Brien. While Candle was linked to several Power 4 head coaching jobs (including the Boston College job) over the past two months, Candle was not chosen for any of those jobs, which could make him consider taking a coordinator position.

Ohio State could give Candle a pay raise, as he made just $1.125 million at Toledo last season, and a successful run as OSU’s OC could improve Candle’s prospects of landing a future head coaching job at a bigger program.

A native of Salem, Ohio, Candle has spent his entire coaching career in the Buckeye State. He was Toledo’s offensive coordinator from 2012-15 before becoming the Rockets’ head coach in 2016. His offenses at Toledo have consistently ranked among the best in the MAC; the Rockets led the MAC in both points and yards per game in 2023 with an offense that ranked 19th in the country with 6.51 yards per play.

Candle has never coached in a major conference and has only two years of experience as a quarterbacks coach. But Candle’s head coaching experience, track record of successful offenses and Ohio roots all make him an appealing candidate for the job nonetheless.

Jason Candle
Jason Candle was among the rumored candidates to be Ohio State’s offensive coordinator before Bill O’Brien’s hiring. (Photo: Adam Cairns – USA TODAY Sports)

Dan Mullen, former Florida head coach

Like Kelly, Mullen grew up in Day’s hometown of Manchester, New Hampshire and has worked with Day before. Day was a graduate assistant at Florida during Mullen’s first year as the Gators’ offensive coordinator in 2005.

Mullen helped Florida win two national championships and Tim Tebow win a Heisman Trophy in his four-year stint as the Gators’ OC under Urban Meyer. Before that, Mullen was Meyer’s quarterbacks coach at Utah, where he helped Alex Smith become a No. 1 overall pick.

Mullen also has the head coaching experience that Day seemingly wants in his new offensive coordinator as he was the head man at Mississippi State from 2009-17 and at Florida from 2018-21.

Mullen would have to decide whether he actually wants to return to coaching – he was linked to Syracuse’s vacancy before the Orange hired Fran Brown, but denied being an actual candidate for the job – but the current ESPN analyst has the right qualifications for the job.

Press Taylor, Jacksonville Jaguars offensive coordinator

Taylor’s name was one from the NFL ranks that came up in connection with Ohio State’s offensive coordinator search before O’Brien’s hiring.

The Jaguars struggled down the stretch last season, and Taylor drew his share of criticism as a result. But the Jaguars have finished in the top 13 of the NFL in both points and yards per game in both of Taylor’s seasons as their offensive coordinator, and he worked alongside Day in 2015 as part of an eight-year run as an offensive assistant with the Eagles.

The younger brother of Cincinnati Bengals head coach Zac Taylor, Press Taylor remains with the Jaguars and has never been a full-time coach at the collegiate level. Day would likely prefer to hire someone with more college experience, but Taylor’s experience coordinating an NFL offense is why he’s been linked to this job, at least loosely.

Tommy Rees, Cleveland Browns passing game specialist

Ohio State could theoretically replace O’Brien with the offensive coordinator who replaced him at Alabama last season.

While Rees was recently hired by the Cleveland Browns as a pass game specialist and tight ends coach, he was Alabama’s offensive coordinator last year and Notre Dame’s offensive coordinator for two seasons before that. Football Scoop’s John Brice named Rees earlier this week as a potential candidate to replace O’Brien if O’Brien left for Boston College.

Rees’ offenses at Notre Dame and Alabama didn’t light the world on fire – none of them ranked higher than 45th nationally in total yards per game – so this wouldn’t be a particularly sexy hire for the Buckeyes. But his quick rise to becoming an offensive coordinator at two of college football’s premier programs shows that the 31-year-old former Notre Dame quarterback is highly regarded in coaching circles.

Josh McDaniels, former Las Vegas Raiders head coach

Ohio State could also theoretically replace O’Brien with another former New England Patriots offensive coordinator and NFL head coach in McDaniels, who has yet to land in a new job since being fired by the Raiders in November.

McDaniels is a native of Canton, Ohio, so returning to his home state to coach at the state’s flagship program would likely be more appealing to him than other college jobs. Like O’Brien, he’d bring with him a track record of helping Tom Brady become one of the NFL’s all-time great quarterbacks. McDaniels’ Patriots offenses were consistently among the league’s best, and he was on staff for all six of the Patriots’ Super Bowl wins, including three as offensive coordinator.

That said, it’s unknown whether McDaniels has any interest in coaching at the collegiate level and whether Ohio State has any interest in him. His only previous experience as a college coach came as a Michigan State graduate assistant in 1999.

Frank Reich, former Carolina Panthers head coach

Reich is on this list for the same reasons as McDaniels: He’s a former NFL head coach and offensive coordinator who’s still looking for work after he was fired during the 2023 season.

Reich lasted less than one year as the Panthers’ head coach, but he has a great track record as an NFL offensive coordinator, helping the Eagles win Super Bowl LII, in which they beat McDaniels and the Patriots.

As with McDaniels, it’s unknown whether there’s any mutual interest between Reich and Ohio State. Reich has never coached at the collegiate level. But he’d bring the expertise as an offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach that Day is looking for.

Jerrod Johnson, Houston Texans quarterbacks coach

Unlike the rest of the coaches on this list, Johnson has never been an offensive coordinator. He drew interest from several NFL teams looking for offensive coordinators this offseason, though, after helping lead C.J. Stroud to one of the best seasons ever for an NFL rookie quarterback.

Stroud has praised Johnson for instilling both knowledge and confidence in him, and Day would surely listen to a recommendation from his former star passer. And while Day would likely prefer a more experienced coordinator, Johnson is a rising star whose upside might be worth betting on.

That said, Johnson already pulled himself out of the running for NFL offensive coordinator jobs this offseason to remain with the Texans, so it would take a change of heart for him to leave Houston. He’s also never coached at the collegiate level, and he’ll have plenty of opportunities to move up the coaching ladder within the NFL if he coaches Stroud to more success in 2024.

Joe Moorhead, Akron head coach

While Candle has been connected to Ohio State as a potential candidate, one could argue that Moorhead is the MAC head coach who makes the most sense for this job. Unlike Candle, Moorhead has experience coordinating Power 4 offenses, and he excelled in that role at both Penn State and Oregon.

He’s also been a head coach at a major program, leading Mississippi State for two years in 2018 and 2019, while he has more than a decade of experience directly coaching quarterbacks. His contract at Akron wouldn’t be prohibitive, considering his salary last season was only $620,000.

Unlike Candle, however, there’s been no clear indication that Ohio State is interested in Moorhead or that Moorhead would leave Akron for a coordinator job. 

Will Stein, Oregon offensive coordinator

If Ohio State was to hire a current offensive coordinator from another college program, Stein would be a great choice. He was a Broyles Award finalist last year as one of the best assistant coaches in all of college football, leading an Oregon offense that ranked second nationally in both total and scoring offense.

There’s been no indication that Stein is looking to leave Oregon, but he did make only $800,000 in 2023. He’ll likely be rewarded for his success last season even if he stays in Eugene, but Ohio State could certainly try to sway the former Louisville quarterback with a big offer.

Given that Stein has only been a full-time collegiate coach for four years with the first three of those years coming at UTSA, however, Day could look to hire someone with more experience after initially hiring O’Brien.

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