“The Green Bay Packers may offer him $3 million, I can’t say for sure,” the Cowboy coach said a little over a week ago when asked about his defensive coordinator’s future. “But within reason, I’m very, very certain that he’ll be coaching here next year.”
Ohio State isn’t Green Bay, but the Buckeyes may well be the Packers of college football. When they offered Knowles a chance to be their defensive coordinator and receive what is likely to be a significant pay raise, he decided to leave Stillwater for Columbus.
It’s a monumental loss for the Cowboys. No reason to sugarcoat that. In four years, Knowles transformed the OSU defense from constant concern to smashing strength. It was the reason the Cowboys played for a Big 12 title and had a legit shot at a spot in the College Football Playoff this season.
But as Cowboys everywhere ponder moving forward without Knowles, it’s important to remember the track record of the guy who'll be finding Knowles' replacement.
Gundy has done a masterful job hiring coordinators.
His most notable work has come on the offensive side of the ball. Since 2010, Gundy has hired Dana Holgorsen, Todd Monken, Mike Yurcich, Sean Gleeson and Kasey Dunn. Sure, Gleeson was only in Stillwater a year and the returns on Dunn are still early, but Holgorsen, Monken and Yurcich were all big-time hires.
They had the Cowboy offense humming like the OSU defense hummed this season.
Yurcich, you’ll remember, was the longest tenured of those offensive coordinators, and he was the least-known of any when Gundy hired him. He was calling plays at tiny Shippensburg. He was in Division II.
He was on no one’s radar.
Search for “Shippensburg” and “Yurcich” on YouTube, and you’ll find a video of him describing a fake play using Legos. It's equal parts charming and cringeworthy.
A year later, Gundy hired him to coach the Cowboys.
Gundy made a similarly off-the-beaten path hire four years ago when he fired Glenn Spencer and brought in Knowles. Now, he wasn’t as far in the weeds as Yurcich had been. Knowles was the defensive coordinator at Duke, a Power 5 school. Still, being a football assistant at Duke isn’t nearly as high profile as being a basketball assistant there.
No one was crowing about Jim Knowles.
But Gundy has long said after Knowles came to Stillwater to interview, Gundy had no doubt about who he should hire. Knowles went into the film room and started breaking down plays, and Gundy and the assistants who were in the room were instantly hooked. Knowles had energy and passion and understanding.
Gundy knew Knowles would connect with players and improve the defense.
He did those things in ways longtime OSU types could’ve never imagined. Leading the Big 12 in defense? Ranking toward the top nationally in several categories? Winning games with defense?
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Knowles was so good at what he did that reports indicate OSU was looking to significantly boost his salary from $800,000 a year to $1.3 million.
But sources have indicated Ohio State offered him a multi-year deal with $2 million a year.
Not $3 million. Not the Packers.
But pretty darn close.
Now, OSU must find Knowles’ replacement. Maybe Gundy won’t go as far under the radar this time; when he hired Knowles, Gundy said he thought defensive line coach Joe Bob Clements would have made an excellent coordinator. Clements is still a Cowboy assistant, and considering the success his defensive line has had, maybe he’s ready to lead the defense.
Or perhaps Gundy can lure more of an up-and-comer because of the players already on the roster. Coastal Carolina’s Chad Staggs or Houston’s Doug Belk or Texas-San Antonio’s Rod Wright could be possibilities.
There are also a few familiar names to remember. Longtime TCU coach and defensive mastermind Gary Patterson is out of a job. So is Todd Orlando, who was at USC before Lincoln Riley arrived.
Who will Gundy hire? Will it be someone on one of these lists that everyone formulates when jobs like this come open?
It’s impossible to know — Mike Gundy’s track record is as unpredictable as it is outstanding.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok, and support her work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.
OSU VS. NOTRE DAME: Noon Saturday, Jan. 1, at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Ariz. (ESPN)
This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: OSU football: Jim Knowles tough to replace, not impossible for Cowboys