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Where do Mullen, Taggart rank among college football’s offensive masterminds?

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Published Jul. 20, 2018

With offensive-minded head coaches taking over Florida and Florida State, we wanted to know how the recent offensive successes of Dan Mullen and Willie Taggart rank among their peers.

After crunching thousands of numbers, here's our answer: Not as high as you might think.

Mullen's production in key offensive categories ranked No. 46 nationally among active head coaches, according to a Tampa Bay Times analysis. Taggart was No. 77 — below the coach he replaced at USF (Skip Holtz) and the one who replaced him (Charlie Strong).

Neither Mullen nor Taggart was even the top new coach in the state; UCF's Josh Heupel ranked 21st.

To come up with our list, we ranked every coach's yearly offensive production (as head coach or offensive coordinator) in five categories: scoring average, passer rating, yards per rush, yards per play and the S&P+ advanced metric. We ignored stats from the NFL and teams outside Division I-A, and our analysis only stretched back to 2009 (Mullen's first year at Mississippi State). We also excluded coaches with fewer than three years of data.

The methodology and data aren't perfect, and there are mitigating factors that don't show up in the numbers. But consider this one attempt to try to quantify whether a coach's offensive reputation matches his production.

The top crop

1. Chip Kelly, UCLA
2. Nick Saban, Alabama
3. Urban Meyer, Ohio State
4. Scott Frost, Nebraska
5. Kliff Kingsbury, Texas Tech
6. Lane Kiffin, Florida Atlantic
7. Jason Candle, Toledo
8. Chris Petersen, Washington
9. Mike Bobo, Colorado State
10. Kevin Sumlin, Arizona

No surprise that Kelly and Meyer crack the top three, but Saban at No. 2? The defensive guru's collective offenses rank third in passer rating and ninth in rushing. Some of the credit goes to Kiffin, who helped assemble a pair of top-12 offenses during his three seasons as a Crimson Tide coordinator. Kiffin's Owls ranked No. 5 in our analysis last year, behind only Oklahoma, Memphis, UCF and Ohio State.

Frost was not a one-hit UCF wonder. His success shows up in scoring (second only to his former Oregon boss, Kelly) and the No. 1 passer rating (159.572). Having Marcus Mariota at Oregon helped, but he also produced top-10 passing seasons with Vernon Adams and McKenzie Milton.

In this file photo, then-UCF coach Scott Frost holds the winning trophy after defeating Memphis in the American Athletic Conference championship NCAA college football game, Saturday, Dec. 2, 2017, in Orlando, Fla. Central Florida won in overtime 62-55. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
In this file photo, then-UCF coach Scott Frost holds the winning trophy after defeating Memphis in the American Athletic Conference championship NCAA college football game, Saturday, Dec. 2, 2017, in Orlando, Fla. Central Florida won in overtime 62-55. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
Scott Frost

Overall offense ranking
2017 (UCF head coach): T-2
2016 (UCF head coach): 115
2015 (Oregon offensive coordinator): 2
2014 (Oregon offensive coordinator): 1
2013 (Oregon offensive coordinator): 4

Passer rating (rank)
2017 (UCF head coach): 178.45 (2)
2016 (UCF head coach): 111.86 (115)
2015 (Oregon offensive coordinator): 161.86 (9)
2014 (Oregon offensive coordinator): 180.78 (1)
2013 (Oregon offensive coordinator): 164.91 (5)

If you need proof that a great offense isn't enough, Sumlin was just fired at Texas A&M, and Kingsbury is on the hot seat at Tech. If you need proof that a great offense helps a lot, Candle, Bobo and Kiffin could all jump to Power Five jobs in the next year or two.

Richt, the QB whisperer?

11. Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State
12. Gus Malzahn, Auburn
13. Clay Helton, USC
14. Bobby Petrino, Louisville
15. Philip Montgomery, Tulsa
16. David Shaw, Stanford
17. Jimbo Fisher, Texas A&M
18. Bryan Harsin, Boise State
19. Mark Richt, Miami
20. Jonathan Smith, Oregon State
21. Josh Heupel, UCF
22. Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia
23. Ken Niumatalolo, Navy
24. Mike Bloomgren, Rice
25. Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech

His recruiting rankings might not be great, but Gundy knows how to put up points; his scoring average (39.6) ranks fourth.

Fisher and Richt are both known for developing quarterbacks, so it's interesting that Richt's teams have a slightly higher passer rating (147.4) than what Fisher produced with the Seminoles (146.7).

Miami Hurricanes head coach Mark Richt is seen on the sidelines during the second quarter against the Clemson Tigers in their ACC Championship game Saturday, Dec. 02, 2017 in Charlotte, NC. (MONICA HERNDON | Times)
Miami Hurricanes head coach Mark Richt is seen on the sidelines during the second quarter against the Clemson Tigers in their ACC Championship game Saturday, Dec. 02, 2017 in Charlotte, NC. (MONICA HERNDON | Times)
Mark Richt

Points per game: 33.2 (36th)
Passer rating: 147.40 (18th)
Yards per rush: 4.77 (35th)

Jimbo Fisher

Points per game: 34.59 (25th)
Passer rating: 146.71 (21st)
Yards per rush: 4.76 (36th)

Jimbo Fisher

With Jameis Winston (2013-14)
Average S&P+ rank: 10
Yards per play: 7.03
Passer rating: 158.33
Points per game: 42.7

Without Jameis Winston
Average S&P+ rank: 34.3
Yards per play: 6.26
Passer rating: 143.39
Points per game: 32.3

Holgorsen helped build top-10 offenses at three different programs (West Virginia as head coach, Oklahoma State and Houston as coordinator). Petrino, Malzahn and Harsin had top-20 offenses at two different schools.
UCF is betting a lot on Heupel's last season as Missouri's coordinator, when the Tigers ranked seventh. His offenses the previous two years (Mizzou in 2016, Utah State in 2015) both ranked outside the top 40.

Two other first-time head coaches (Smith and Bloomgren) cracked the top 25 thanks to their time coordinating top-tier offenses for Petersen and Shaw. We'll see whether they can continue their success on their own, at two hard-to-win programs.

No surprise that Niumatalolo and Johnson both have top-six rushing attacks with their triple-option offenses. Both also had above-average passer ratings.

Stunned runs

26. Gary Patterson, TCU
27. Jeff Brohm, Purdue
28. Jay Norvell, Nevada
29. Brian Kelly, Notre Dame
30. Mike Sanford, Western Kentucky
31. Lincoln Riley, Oklahoma
32. Larry Fedora, North Carolina
33. Mike Norvell, Memphis
34 Jim Harbaugh, Michigan
35. Matt Campbell, Iowa State
36. Chad Morris, Arkansas
37. Blake Anderson, Arkansas State
38. Dabo Swinney, Clemson
39. Scott Satterfield, Appalachian State
40. Paul Chryst, Wisconsin

Buy your stock in Brohm (briefly a Bucs backup quarterback) now, before he gets a bigger job. His passer rating (152.46) ranked fifth, thanks in part to how he developed ex-USF quarterback Mike White at Western Kentucky.

Riley's Sooners had the No. 1 offense each of the past two years (and ranked fourth in 2015), and he ranks in the top 10 in passer rating and scoring. So why is he this low? Because his rushing average is mediocre (4.47), and the offenses he coordinated at East Carolina never cracked the top 25.

Harbaugh had a pair of top-10 offenses at Stanford but hasn't done better than No. 41 since taking over the Wolverines.

If Swinney seems too low, it's because he's weighed down by a rushing average (4.32) that ranks 70th.

Florida Gators head coach Dan Mullen thanks the band after the Orange and Blue Spring Game Saturday, April 14, 2018 in Gainesville. (MATT STAMEY | Special to the Times)
Florida Gators head coach Dan Mullen thanks the band after the Orange and Blue Spring Game Saturday, April 14, 2018 in Gainesville. (MATT STAMEY | Special to the Times)

Moorhead over Mullen

41. Joe Moorhead, Mississippi State
42. Troy Calhoun, Air Force
43. Seth Littrell, North Texas
44. Dave Doeren, North Carolina State
45. Pat Narduzzi, Pitt
46. Dan Mullen, Florida
47. Rocky Long, San Diego State
48. Rod Carey, Northern Illinois
49. Major Applewhite, Houston
50. Sonny Dykes, SMU
51. Justin Fuente, Virginia Tech
T-52. Bill Snyder, Kansas State
T-52. Dana Dimel, UTEP
54. Willie Fritz, Tulane
55. Matt Luke, Ole Miss
56. Neal Brown, Troy
57. Bob Davie, New Mexico
58. Tom Herman, Texas
59. Nick Rolovich, Hawaii
60. Shawn Elliott, Georgia State

We'll see whether hiring Moorhead to replace Mullen works out for Mississippi State, but these numbers suggest the Bulldogs' offense should at least remain comparable.

Mullen would have been higher if we had gone back to his time as a Gators assistant, but we had to stop somewhere. His passer rating ranks 69th and doesn't back up his reputation as a quarterback builder until you consider his No. 26 rushing average that was boosted by dual threats like Dak Prescott and Nick Fitzgerald.

Dan Mullen

Overall offense ranking (as Mississippi State head coach)
2017: 62
2016: 44
2015: 28
2014: 10
2013: 49
2012: 52
2011: 72
2010: 34
2009: 66
Points per game: 30.09 (63rd)
Passer rating: 131.96 (69th)
Yards per rush: 4.82 (26th)

Herman's offenses have declined each of the past four years. Under Meyer, he coordinated three top-26 offenses at Ohio State. Herman had only one offense rank in the top 60 in the other six years we analyzed.

Fritz and Davie are at two extremes: Both have top-three rushing attacks to go with bottom-five passer ratings. Would Fritz change that if he continued his rise to a Power Five job?

Florida State coach Willie Taggart during first half spring game action Saturday at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee. (COLIN HACKLEY | Special to the Times)
Florida State coach Willie Taggart during first half spring game action Saturday at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee. (COLIN HACKLEY | Special to the Times)

Tenacious Taggart

61. P.J. Fleck, Minnesota
62. Sean Lewis, Kent State
63. Charlie Strong, USF
64. Tony Sanchez, UNLV
65. Matt Wells, Utah State
66. Mark Dantonio, Michigan State
67. Dino Babers, Syracuse
68. Billy Napier, Louisiana-Lafayette
69. Skip Holtz, Louisiana Tech
70. Rick Stockstill, Middle Tennessee
71. Mike Leach, Washington State
72. Bobby Wilder, Old Dominion
73. Doc Holliday, Marshall
74. Jeff Tedford, Fresno State
75. Jeff Monken, Army
76. Kyle Whittingham, Utah
77. Willie Taggart, Florida State
78. James Franklin, Penn State
79. Frank Solich, Ohio
80. Bronco Mendenhall, Virginia

Here's another reminder of the turnaround that Taggart began against Syracuse in 2015: Four of his first five offenses as head coach ranked 98th or worse; all three of his teams since then have been 26th or better, including a USF team that was No. 2 in 2016.

Willie Taggart

Overall offense ranking
2017 (Oregon head coach): 23
2016 (USF head coach): 2
2015 (USF head coach): 26
2014 (USF head coach): 116
2013 (USF head coach): 123
2012 (Western Kentucky head coach): 47
2011 (Western Kentucky head coach): 104
2010 (Western Kentucky head coach): 98
Points per game: 27.3 (82nd)
Passer rating: 127.11 (84th)
Yards per rush: 4.56 (49th)

It's also fair to wonder how much credit Taggart should get for Strong outranking him. Using Taggart's former recruits, Strong's Bulls were No. 22 last season, the best ranking of his career.

Charlie Strong

Points per game: 30.26 (60th)
Passer rating: 138.25 (45th)
Yards per rush: 4.32 (69th)

Franklin and Leach have much better reputations than their rankings suggest. Franklin is so low because of how bad his first season went at Penn State. His Nittany Lions (still recovering from the Jerry Sandusky scandal) had the eighth-worst offense; last year, they ranked 13th. Leach's scoring (51st) and passer rating (50th) were surprisingly mediocre, and his rushing average (2.9) was last of the 107 coaches.

Tedford wasn't great but still finished well above his old Bucs boss, Lovie Smith; Smith would have been third-to-last, but he was exempted because he has only been at Illinois for two seasons.

South Carolina coach Will Muschamp reacts to made field goal by Gamecocks kicker Michael Almond (85) during the second half in the Outback Bowl at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida on Monday, January 1, 2018. (OCTAVIO JONES | Times)
South Carolina coach Will Muschamp reacts to made field goal by Gamecocks kicker Michael Almond (85) during the second half in the Outback Bowl at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida on Monday, January 1, 2018. (OCTAVIO JONES | Times)

Rounding out the rest

81. Steve Addazio, Boston College
82. Mark Whipple, UMass
83. Scottie Montgomery, East Carolina
84. Mark Stoops, Kentucky
85. Mario Cristobal, Oregon
86. Kirk Ferentz, Iowa
87. Matt Rhule, Baylor
88. Butch Davis, Florida International
89. John Bonamego, Central Michigan
90. David Cutcliffe, Duke
91. Craig Bohl, Wyoming
92. Mike MacIntyre, Colorado
93. Chuck Martin, Miami (Ohio)
94. Tim Lester, Western Michigan
95. Randy Edsall, UConn
96. Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern
97. Lance Leipold, Buffalo
98. Will Muschamp, South Carolina
99. Dave Clawson, Wake Forest
100. Chris Creighton, Eastern Michigan
101. Doug Martin, New Mexico State
102. Turner Gill, Liberty
103. Everett Withers, Texas State
104. Brad Lambert, Charlotte
105. Terry Bowden, Akron
106. Derek Mason, Vanderbilt
107. David Beaty, Kansas

Even though Cutcliffe helped groom both Manning quarterbacks years ago, his passer rating (124.61) only ranks 92nd. … Muschamp's offenses were ugly at UF, and they remain ugly at South Carolina; his passer rating is up slightly, but his scoring is down. … Beaty wasn't there for all of it, but poor Kansas only cracked the top 100 twice in nine seasons.

New UCLA head football coach Chip Kelly meets with reporters during a press conference on Monday, Nov. 27, 2017, at Pauley Pavilion in Westwood, Calif. Kelly has signed a five-year, $23.9 million contract and replaces fired coach Jim Mora. (Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times/TNS)
New UCLA head football coach Chip Kelly meets with reporters during a press conference on Monday, Nov. 27, 2017, at Pauley Pavilion in Westwood, Calif. Kelly has signed a five-year, $23.9 million contract and replaces fired coach Jim Mora. (Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

Points per game

Chip Kelly, UCLA 44.7
Scott Frost, Nebraska 42.2
Kliff Kingsbury, Texas 40.1
Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State 39.6
Urban Meyer, Ohio State 39.6
Philip Montgomery, Tulsa 39.1
Kevin Sumlin, Arizona 38.7
Chris Petersen, Washington 37.6
Mike Norvell, Memphis 36.9
Lincoln Riley, Oklahoma 36.7

Passer rating

Scott Frost, Nebraska 159.57
Chris Petersen, Washington 155.52
Nick Saban, Alabama 154.00
Lincoln Riley, Oklahoma 153.15
Jeff Brohm, Purdue 152.46
Clay Helton, USC 152.03
Mike Bobo, Colorado State 150.72
Bryan Harsin, Boise State 150.60
Philip Montgomery, Tulsa 150.51
Kliff Kingsbury, Texas Tech 149.65

Rushing average

Chip Kelly, UCLA 6.03
Bob Davie, New Mexico 5.86
Willie Fritz, Tulane 5.76
Urban Meyer, Ohio State 5.57
Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech 5.51
Ken Niumatalolo, Navy 5.48
Jeff Monken, Army 5.43
Nick Saban, Alabama 5.36
Jason Candle, Toledo 5.29
Scott Frost, Nebraska 5.25

Contact Matt Baker at mbaker@tampabay.com. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.