Despite conflicting reports from some of those in the Peach State, there is no denying that Kirby Smart had legitimate interest in Kentucky’s assistant head coach.
Eddie Gran, a 30-year coaching veteran, has spent 18 seasons in the SEC and has gotten to his current position the hard way. Unless you are a quarterbacks coach or a cream of the crop recruiter, it can be very hard to get your big break. Gran, who has primarily been a running backs coach his entire career, had to wait a long time to become an offensive coordinator.
After working for Jimbo Fisher for three years at Florida State following a decade at Auburn under Tommy Tuberville, Gran finally got his break in 2013 when Tuberville accepted the head coaching position at Cincinnati. The following six seasons have seen Gran be a part of six bowl teams, 49 wins, and multiple all-conference performers. Just on paper he has been a very successful offensive coordinator.
Fresh off their best season in 40 years, it’s clear that Mark Stoops has something special brewing at the Joe Craft Football Training Facility. The Wildcats are reeling in top 30 recruiting classes and have proven to be solid developers of talent. Keeping the band together when this group has finally found a rhythm is very important. Kentucky has done just that with Gran announcing that he is returning to Lexington to run the offense for a fourth season.
I’m all in, #BBN! Let’s do this !
— Eddie Gran (@CoachGran) January 10, 2019
A Winning Formula
When Mark Stoops first arrived in Lexington, the sirens were back in the Commonwealth. Kentucky was returning to an Air Raid scheme and looking to return to their Hal Mumme roots. UK was hopeful to put up a bundle of yards and score a boatload of points. After two years of building by Neal Brown, it all fell apart in year three.
Per S&P+, Shannon Dawson led UK to their worst offensive finish of the Stoops era (103rd) with the Wildcats really struggling after a hot start. Dawson’s scheme called for many vertical passes that put the offense routinely behind the chains. This led to many quick turnarounds for UK’s defense. It was clear that it was not a match and some boneheaded red zone fade calls at Vanderbilt likely costed UK bowl eligibility. Heading into year four, a change was made in advance of a must win 2016 for Mark Stoops.
Eddie Gran and Darin Hinshaw made the move from Cincinnati to take over the offense in Lexington. In the American Athletic Conference, the two ran a very balanced offense that was able to consistently create explosive plays in the passing game. Early in their tenure in Lexington, we saw just that.
In the season opener in 2016, Drew Barker put together one of the most impressive halves a quarterback has ever played at UK. Then in the second half the former blue-chip quarterback aggravated a back injury and the Wildcats were stunned by Southern Miss. A few games later he was knocked out for the season. There is where it all changed.
With a guy by the name of Benny Snell emerging into a star after rushing for four touchdowns in his first real playing experience against New Mexico State, Kentucky’s offense underwent a vast identity change. At this point of the season, Kentucky’s defense was really struggling and they needed a lot of help from the offense. Gran made some adjustments that allowed just that.
Kentucky formed into a ground and pound offense that focused on ball control. The Wildcats produced two 1,000-yard rushers with an offensive line that was very young. It was clear that Mark Stoops had found a winning formula. Run the ball, eat clock, and keep your defense off the field.
Since the emergence of Snell and this new offensive philosophy, Kentucky is 24-11 with three bowl appearances and a top-15 finish. The foundation has been built. Kentucky appears to be a program that is setup to consistently play in bowls and occasionally be in the race for an SEC East title. A big credit for this goes to Gran.
The offensive coordinator, on the fly, totally changed his offense to benefit the team and, in the longer run, the program. That versatility has allowed UK to have one of the best three-year runs in program history.
In the first four years under Mark Stoops, it was clear that the new head coach was trying to figure out just exactly what he was comfortable with. In this time running the show, the Wildcats lost three coordinators and six additional assistant coaches for a variety of season. However, in the last two seasons, UK has only lost one assistant.
Mark Stoops has found something that is working very well and keeping Eddie Gran allows that to continue. Following an historical great year, Kentucky will have some rebuilding to do on both sides of ball but the players will be working with the same faces. To build a great culture you need to have a great staff and to be a great staff they need to work together for multiple seasons. There is now a comfortability level established between players and coaches in the Kentucky football program.
On a national scale, we’ve seen how important staff continuity can be. Clemson has been able to keep most of its staff and all of its coordinators for multiple seasons. Meanwhile, Alabama has been dealing with a revolving door at each assistant position and it appeared to catch up with them in the national championship.
This is something that not many people talk about, but it is essential in building a program.
This season we found Eddie Gran receive a lot of criticism. A lot of it was understandable.
The UK offense dropped total duds in road losses to Texas A&M and Tennessee. The passing game really struggled and there was rage in the fan base for not getting C.J. Conrad more involved. All of these were understandable complaints.
Per S&P+, UK’s offense has dropped in the overall rankings each season with Gran wearing the headset on the sideline. In 2016, UK had the 11th best rushing attack in the FBS and averaged 30 points per game on their way to a 52nd overall finish. Their 6.26 yards per play average was a high of the Stoops era. Since then, the wins have still come despite the offense’s production shrinking.
Without Boom Williams, UK’s rush offense reverted in 2017 and the explosiveness took a step back. UK finished 69th overall and put up 26.6 points per game. Thanks to a very hot start and tremendous finish in the Music City Bowl by Stephen Johnson, this year went down as the best passing offense since Mike Hartline, Randall Cobb, and Chris Matthews were on campus in 2010.
Now on to this past season. Kentucky had their second worst overall efficiency ranking of the Stoops era despite putting up 5.64 yards per play. That yardage total was the second highest since 2013. This was largely due to the fact that the passing game was not very good and that Kentucky finished 93rd in the FBS in plays that covered 30-plus yards. There is definite room for improvement.
At the end of the day, Gran is doing what he’s asked to do. After a rocky first three seasons, in 2016 Mark Stoops found a brand of ball he is comfortable with. He wants his offense to establish the run, eat clock, and carefully pick out situations when to go for the home run play.
A year after having one of the best defenses in the country, Kentucky has now completely built their identity. The Wildcats want to win games with a ball control offense, salty defense, and special teams. This is a style that has proven to be a winning formula at each level of football.
Kentucky got to this point by having Eddie Gran make certain tweaks to the offense. As they continue to grow and move on without Benny Snell, they will need Gran to make more tweaks and keep Kentucky within this formula.