In case you missed it, word broke on Thursday morning that UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone would be leaving the Bruins to accept the same position at Texas A&M, replacing Jake Spavital, who was dismissed by head coach Kevin Sumlin earlier in the week.
The hiring of Mazzone comes at a perfect time, as the Aggies’ football program has never seen this much turmoil under the Sumlin era. The Aggies started the 2015 season off to a 5-0 start and were beginning to look like one of the nation’s best teams while frequently switching between Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray at quarterback. But back-to-back losses to Alabama and Ole Miss started a tailspin that saw the Aggies finish 8-5 and lose to Louisville in the Music City Bowl.
But in the weeks leading up to their bowl game, Texas A&M endured the news that not only would Allen be transferring (ultimately picking Houston), effective immediately, but so too would Murray (ultimately choosing Oklahoma), leaving the Aggies with Jake Hubenak as their only QB with any experience. Hubenak started in the Music City Bowl and completed 58% of his passes for 307 yards and 2 touchdowns with 1 interception in the loss.
To add to the turmoil, reports came out during the weeks of bowl game preparation that Texas A&M Chancellor John Sharp was actively working to terminate Sumlin’s massive contract. Of course, Sumlin is still in College Station today.
Good news struck when former Oklahoma QB Trevor Knight announced he would transfer to Texas A&M. Then, it was announced that the Aggies would be looking for a new offensive coordinator after Spavital’s dismissal, and two days later, Eric Hyman, the Texas A&M athletic director since 2012, announced he was stepping down. A day later, Texas A&M filled the vacancy with University of Washington’s athletic director, Scott Woodward.
Talk about instability. There aren’t many programs who had a rougher 2015 season. Sure, the additions of Knight and Woodward serve as the few bright spots for Texas A&M, but the mass amount of change in just a few short weeks could potentially have a terrible impact on the players themselves.
Enter Noel Mazzone.
What do you need to know about Mazzone? Well, for starters, the 2016 season will be his 36th year coaching football, giving him a lengthy résumé that includes time spent at all three levels: high school, (mostly) college, and the NFL. That kind of experience can be invaluable to a team looking for some form of consistency, like the Aggies are now.
In the late 80’s-early 90’s, Mazzone was the QB coach under Jim Wacker, a NCAA Division II coaching legend. Mazzone established a good rapport with Wacker, serving on his staff at both TCU and later Minnesota.
Mazzone then got his first offensive coordinator job in 1995 at Ole Miss under new head coach Tommy Tuberville, where he also coached the quarterback position. He then followed Tuberville to Auburn in 1999 as the offensive coordinator, but was tossed aside in favor of Bobby Petrino in 2001.
Mazzone then became the offensive coordinator at Oregon State under new head coach Dennis Erickson for the 2002 season. But when Erickson jumped back to the NFL, this time to coach the San Francisco 49ers, Mazzone instead went to NC State, where he played an integral role in developing Phillip Rivers into an eventual fourth overall draft selection in the 2004 NFL Draft.
He then returned to Ole Miss to call the offense for the Rebels again, but clashed with head coach Ed Orgeron over personnel usage methods. After Orgeron won out with the athletic director at the time and got Mazzone fired, Mazzone jumped to the NFL to coach wide receivers for the New York Jets under head coach Eric Mangini.
Mangini was eventually fired, like all Jets head coaches are, and Mazzone in 2009 opted to become the offensive coordinator at Panther Creek High School in North Carolina, a school that was only three years old at the time but was already rapidly becoming one of the biggest high schools in the state.
In 2010, he reunited with Erickson, becoming the offensive coordinator at Arizona State University, where he consistently delivered top-flight offenses and also personally spent time developing his QB at the time, Brock Osweiler.
In 2012, after Erickson was fired and new head coach Todd Graham announced he’d be bringing in his own staff, Mazzone joined the UCLA Bruins, where he helped QB Brett Hundley break just about every passing record in school history and also oversaw the successful college careers of RB’s Jonathan Franklin (who ultimately retired from the NFL due to chronic concussions) and Paul Perkins, as well as being part of the mastermind behind playing star linebacker Myles Jack at running back. In this past 2015 season, Mazzone also helped true freshman QB Josh Rosen make a seamless transition to the college game and become one of the best young quarterbacks in the game right now.
Mazzone, over his very long career, has established himself as a bit of a quarterback whisperer, which is a talent that should come in very handy in College Station given the quarterback situation. Trevor Knight is no slouch, to be clear. Knight started every game for the Oklahoma Sooners in 2014, and threw for 2,300 yards and 14 touchdowns to 12 interceptions, as well as winning the 2014 Sugar Bowl MVP award after helping Oklahoma win the game. However, he was replaced by Baker Mayfield in 2015.
Knight possesses all of the physical tools to be successful, and with Mazzone speaking sweet-nothings into his ear, we could very well see a huge improvement from Knight in 2016. Of course, it also doesn’t hurt to have Ricky Seals-Jones, Speedy Noil, and Christian Kirk to throw to.
But Mazzone’s impact goes further than the 2016 season. His track record with quarterbacks (Rivers, Osweiler, Hundley, Rosen) suddenly makes Texas A&M a very appealing destination for any high school QB’s looking for an offensive coordinator than can guarantee them a chance at the NFL. Suddenly, Texas A&M may be in the mix for 2017 4-star QB Dylan McCaffrey (brother of Christian “Do Anything and Everything” McCaffrey), who had previously listed UCLA as a potential landing spot when Mazzone was there. Mazzone’s presence also opens up so many avenues in the recruiting department, and he has a great chance to expand even more upon that in 2016 if he can make significant strides with the Aggies offense.
After a year of instability, it looks as if Texas A&M is just about to truly start the Kevin Sumlin Regime, with top-tier defensive coordinator John Chavis and now adding the final piece of the puzzle, Noel Mazzone.