Lots of football coaches change jobs around this time of year. Few hires are all that shocking. One that is definitely shocking: Connecticut hiring away Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee for the same position, as the Huskies announced Wednesday night.
Arizona State's Chip Lindsey and Cal’s Jake Spavital are considered potential candidates to replace Lashlee, a source told SB Nation. The Sun Devils hired Lindsey as their offensive coordinator before the 2016 season; he was an offensive analyst at Auburn in 2013. Spavital’s experience has mostly been in Big 12 country, though that includes an SEC West stint at Texas A&M. Spavital is also reportedly in the running for Cal’s head coaching job.
Lashlee was Auburn’s offensive coordinator for the last four seasons, coming aboard with head coach Gus Malzahn (and Lindsey) for 2013. That first year, Lashlee helped turn the inexperienced Nick Marshall into an dangerous option QB, and the Tigers came minutes away from a national championship. Lashlee was a rising star.
Things haven’t gone as well for the Tigers over the last few seasons. Lashlee, 33, didn’t get an offense to 32 points per game in 2015 or 2016. This year’s team never found consistency at quarterback, even after Lashlee took over play-calling duties from Malzahn at the end of September.
Uh, still. Lashlee is going from an SEC West legacy program to UConn. In football! At the surface, it’s exceptionally odd, and this doesn’t make it any less so:
Auburn OC Rhett Lashlee named offensive coordinator at UConn. Lashlee receives 3-year deal at UConn worth $350,000 a year— Brett McMurphy (@McMurphyESPN) January 12, 2017
Lashlee’s salary at Auburn was $600,000, according to USA Today.
He played for Malzahn in high school, before either man made the SEC big-time. The two have a highly similar, run-based offensive philosophy. That they’re splitting up at all is surprising, and that they’re doing it with Lashlee on his way to UConn is fairly stunning.
Malzahn said the move was a chance for Lashlee to “run his own offense.”
Gus Malzahn on Rhett Lashlee: pic.twitter.com/vBrsoNNOiR— Ryan Brown (@RyanBrownWJOX) January 12, 2017
There’s a major Auburn connection at UConn, in the form of former Auburn COO David Benedict, hired last year as UConn’s athletic director.
The Huskies recently re-hired former head coach Randy Edsall, who left six years ago for Maryland and flamed out after four-and-a-half seasons in College Park. That Edsall could lure Lashlee at a pay cut seems quite weird, but UConn fans won’t complain.
Lashlee was reportedly an important part of Auburn’s recruiting of Baylor transfer quarterback Jarrett Stidham, though Malzahn recruited him, too.
When UConn hired back Edsall, I thought it was a decent idea as a high-floor, low-ceiling play. It wasn’t exciting. Hiring a still-young coordinator a few years removed from a national championship appearance definitely is exciting, though. It doesn’t make sense, but this sport rarely does.