For the past several years, Kentucky has been under fire for extending/giving raises to assistants based on hope for the future and recruiting success, rather than actual product on the field. Vince Marrow was a guy that most fans agreed with keeping on board at all costs, but other staff raises have left a bad taste in the mouth of the fan base, including early on this season with head coach Mark Stoops’ massive buyout.
But this one might be necessary.
Eddie Gran has absolutely dominated in his first year as Kentucky’s offensive coordinator, with his unit putting up record-setting numbers and developing an identity that wasn’t forcing groans and confusion throughout the fanbase. The Shannon Dawson experiment last year was an epic failure by all aspects of the game, and everyone knew the next hire at offensive coordinator for Mark Stoops was absolutely crucial for long term success. Not only has the Cincinnati product been successful, he has exceeded every expectation for this offense imaginable.
Calling Gran a home-run hire would be an understatement.
To open the year, we saw the high-powered offense Gran is capable of calling, with a first half for the ages against Southern Miss. Fans lit up social media with praise for Kentucky’s new offensive coordinator, calling it the most entertaining half of Kentucky football in recent memory, and it was well deserved. We saw shots taken down the field, a well-balanced attack of the team’s most valuable weapons on offense, an absolute scorching of the defense. Obviously the second half was a disaster on both sides of the ball, but we saw just a hint of what Eddie Gran’s offense was capable of.
When the season seemed in doubt following Barker’s back injury against New Mexico State, Gran completely changed the offense’s approach to fit around the skill-set of his new starter, Stephen Johnson. When most teams would be lost without their “guy,” Gran just went back to work and did his part to keep the offense firing on all cylinders.
In the first few games with Johnson under center, Kentucky’s offense consisted of mostly short passes and a heavy dose of running. When Johnson struggled to complete passes, Gran opened up the run game to Boom Williams, Benny Snell, and Jojo Kemp while the JUCO transfer got into his groove. After Johnson’s passing developed, as did the offense, and trick plays and long balls were worked into the system.
As each game passed, the offense just continued to develop and national praise for the veteran OC began to spike. His unit was being discussed as one of the best in the SEC by big-name media members, which was placed even higher on the pedestal considering how awful Cincinnati’s offense has been since Gran moved on. For those wondering, the Bearcats went from nearly 540 total yards per game last year to just 360 per outing, good for 107th in the nation. The impact he makes on the game is apparent.
There have been times Gran has been criticized for being too “predictable” and “conservative,” and some of it has been deserved. Should he have looked to pass in the red zone against Georgia on that final drive to potentially win the game? Absolutely. Have there been times that running the Wildcat on consecutive plays seemed like the “lazy” approach, where defenses finally stacked the box and slowed it down? Sure.
But he’s proven his weekly gameplan is a step ahead of the competition, as one of the smartest offensive minds in all of college football. If you disagree, ask Bobby Petrino what he thinks about the guy. He did outgain the supposed “greatest offensive playcaller in America” 581 total yards to 561 on Saturday.
Gran has managed to maximize his offense’s strengths and minimize their weaknesses with his playcalling alone, allowing the greatest possible product on the field at all times. When a particular unit has flourished, he kept the offense flowing in that direction. When a unit struggled, he went elsewhere. He’s been outsmarting opposing defenses left and right, and last Saturday was no exception. In fact, it may have been Gran’s best performance of the season.
Against Louisville, Gran absolutely outcoached UofL defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, and it really wasn’t even close. When the entire nation expected Kentucky to come out and attack with the run game, what does Gran do? He lets it fly on the first play from scrimmage, a call he claims to have known was coming three days prior. Again, just a step ahead of the competition.
When you look at it from a statistical standpoint, the offensive development from just last year to this year has been phenomenal. Kentucky went from averaging roughly 387 yards and 26 points per game last season under Shannon Dawson to 430 yards and 32 points per game this year. When you factor in the offensive explosion where Kentucky had over 500 yards of offense in four of their last six regular season games, Gran just looks that much more impressive.
The playcalling has been nothing short of brilliant this year, but that may eventually come at a price.
He’s already been rumored for the Florida Atlantic head-coaching position, and when firings start piling up in the next few weeks, you can guarantee Gran’s name will be thrown in there, as well. He’s a proven commodity, has 15-plus years of experience in the SEC, and has shown he can get the job done just about anywhere he goes.
Mitch Barnhart has got to open up the pocketbook and sign this guy up for the long haul. Give him whatever it takes to stay. Eddie Gran has been an absolute game-changer for Kentucky’s offense.