The Huskies are not the only Pac-12 team christening a new Head Coach in 2022. In fact, the programs that most would describe as the Dawgs’ three biggest rivals will usher in new staffs along with UW. We have extensively discussed Kalen Deboer on this blog over this off-season. Oregon, Washington State, and USC are all under new management. As part of the 30 Day Countdown, I will profile the new Head Coaches at each of these programs. Today, let’s start the process with an examination of Dan Lanning, the new Head Coach of the Oregon Ducks.
Dan Lanning, Oregon
A fast-rising defensive coordinator takes his first head coaching position. He brings an energetic, dynamic personality with an emphasis on an attacking, aggressive on-field style. His track record features high-end recruiting within his position groups. Stop me if you have heard this one before. Washington has run this course and the Jimmy Lake era failed.
Does Washington’s experience dictate that Dan Lanning will fail at Oregon? No. Virtually every head coach was a position coach and a coordinator at some point before becoming a head coach. Nick Saban and Kirby Smart were DCs. The archetype can work and often does. On the other hand, the lack of head coaching experience means that there is no track record to prove success in that role. Lanning’s youth (36) and relative lack of experience (he only became a position coach in 2016 and got his first coordinator job in 2019) mean that we know less about him, which makes very good and very bad outcomes more possible.
Lanning’s resume is short but excellent. He won last year’s National Championship by coordinating the best defense in the country at Georgia. He has worked for both Saban and Smart, which is one of the best coaching trees a defensive specialist could have. If you have watched Georgia over the last three years, you have seen that Lanning’s defenses did it all- they flew around the field without sacrificing physicality and power; they made explosive plays without giving up anything easy in return. Lanning will presumably lead the defense and hired ace recruiter Tosh Lupoi as his DC. Lupoi does not have a sterling track record as a play-caller, but Lanning’s support should put the unit in a position to succeed. On the offensive side, Lanning hired FSU’s Kenny Dililngham, with whom he worked at Memphis from 2016-17. While the Noles did not dominate under Dillingham, he built a successful rushing attack.
Does it make more sense to dedicate resources to covering your weaknesses or enhancing your strengths? In Oregon’s case, the weakness is a lack of head coaching and coordinator experience. Teams with a first-time head coach often hire coordinators with significant experience and tenure who can look around corners and advise the new HC on likely pitfalls and preventative measures. Lanning did not hire that sort of steady hand for his staff. Even his co-coordinators have maxed out as position coaches in college or the NFL.
I can see the good and bad in this approach. Lanning seems to have hired the highest-potential candidate available for every job. The likelihood that each coach will fully realize his potential is low. Some will hit and some will bust. The ratio of hits to busts will dictate how successful the program is. Lanning is the most important “hit or bust” candidate of the group and his own success is entwined with his ability to hire and retain the right talent on his staff. If Lanning maximizes his own potential and becomes a superstar, will he follow his Oregon predecessors like Mario Cristobal and Chip Kelly to greener pastures of a bigger conference or the NFL? Would Oregon even mind if he did so if it meant winning big in his tenure with the Ducks? These questions are complicated and different fans, administrators, and boosters would likely have different answers.
The more immediate question is what Lanning will accomplish in 2022. I believe in Lanning as a defensive coach and I think the team will see immediate improvement on that side of the ball. Oregon has the coaches and resources to keep recruiting at an elite level for a West Coast program. Offensively, the new coordinator with good (not great) resume takes over a unit that lost some of its best players. This coaching staff will make mistakes. Someone will stick their foot in their mouth to the media, air dirty laundry in public, or get into a spat with a player. The team will suffer a losing streak or drop a game it should’ve won. Bad things happen to every program. How will the coaching staff adapt and learn from those situations? I would bet on Lanning to learn and succeed in time. I would bet against this staff and roster have the chops to overcome the inexperience to win the conference in year one.