The offensive staff change has been announced and Mark Stoops is dipping back into the Youngstown pipeline for just his second offensive line coach in his short tenure. Eric Wolford is just a few years younger than Stoops, but went to Ursuline High School which happens to be the archrivals of Cardinal Mooney where Stoops, Vince Marrow and safeties coach Frank Buffano all went to school. However, he is bringing a very unique resume to the Joe Craft Football Training Facility.
This was the second offensive hire and it’s time to see just what Wolford is bringing to the table. This is not your typical offensive line coach just for the fact he has served as an FCS head coach for multiple seasons and has recent NFL experience to go with five years of SEC experience.
Let’s do some digging and find out more about Wolford.
After graduating from Kansas State where he played for Bill Snyder from 1990-93, Wolford spent one season with the Arizona Cardinals before starting his coaching career. After serving as a graduate assistant at his alma mater, Wolford landed his first big job just four years out of playing when Jim Leavitt hired him to coach the offensive line at South Florida. The Bulls were in the middle of a transition from FCS to FBS and the offensive line coach was there to assist for the first three years. After that, he landed his first FBS coaching job.
Wolford moved to Houston and would work three seasons for Dana Dimel before he was fired following the 2002 season by the UH administration. In 2000, both Wolford and Stoops served on Dimel’s first staff as Stoops coached safeties and was the co-defensive coordinator while Wolford ran the offensive line. From there, he would work at North Texas where the Mean Green would win the Conference USA title in 2003 under Darrell Dickey before reuniting with Stoops again. Wolford got his first Power Five gig in 2004 joining Arizona to work for Mike Stoops as his tenure began in Tucson. Wolford would stay with the Wildcats for three seasons and would bounce after play-caller Mike Canales resigned in 2006 while Texas Tech assistant Sonny Dykes would be brought in to install the Air Raid offense.
From there, Wolford move to Illinois to serve Ron Zook and offensive coordinator Mike Locksley for two seasons. While in Champaign, Wolford was a member of the 2007 Illini squad that went 9-3 with a road win over No. 1 Ohio State on their way to a Rose Bowl appearance. Following those two years, Wolford would again move after a play-caller change and would land in South Carolina to work for Steve Spurrier in 2009. After that, the 38-year-old would make the jump for his first head coaching job.
Wolford returned to the FCS level and became the head coach in his hometown at Youngstown State. The Penguins who had won four national championships under Jim Tressel and were looking to return to their winning ways by rolling the dice on Wolford. He would stay for five seasons at YSU where he produced four consecutive winning records, but could never get to a finish better than second in the Missouri Valley Conference. He would be let go following 2014 and entered the next phase of his career.
Wolford served as an assistant offensive line coach for the San Francisco 49ers for two years and worked the last season in 2016 for Chip Kelly. Will Muschamp brought him back to South Carolina in 2017 to replace Shawn Elliott, who departed to run the program at Georgia State and that gets us to where we are now.
This is an offensive line coach that has worked for a ton of defensive head coaches with experience with multiple coordinators and many different schemes. He has a major resume and should be viewed as a quality hire.
While at South Carolina, Wolford worked for three different play-callers as the Gamecocks tried to figure out just what they wanted to do on offense, Kurt Roper ran a more traditional attack with spread concepts mixed in, but was let go at the end of the 2017 season. Will Muschamp promoted wide receivers coach Bryan McClendon to the coordinator seat and the Gamecocks focused on tempo the next two years. After a 4-8 year, McClendon was let go and Mike Bobo was brought in with the Gamecocks going with a more pro-style, under center approach.
In all, the results were mixed and Wolford only produced one draft pick in five years with Dennis Daley coming off the board in the sixth round following the 2018 season. However, guard Sadarius Hutcherson should become his second this upcoming draft. With some help from Football Outsiders, let’s take a look at some of the offensive line metrics.
First things first, let’s get everyone caught up to speed on these metrics. Line yards measures how offensive line grades out on each run. The trenches get 100% of the credit yards 1-3 and 50% yards 4-8. Essentially, did the offensive line create a running lane? Opportunity rate measures how many rushes gained four yards essentially judging if the entire offensive line did its job. Power success rate is exactly what it sounds like and that’s the percent of conversions in short yardage on third and fourth down. Stuff rate calculates the amount of runs stopped at or behind the line of scrimmage. Sack rate is the amount of sacks per pass attempts. Got it? Okay here we go…
While never being all that great at one specific thing, South Carolina’s offensive lines were more than often above average. They consistently created room for running backs to operate, but it wasn’t until their worst year when the Gamecocks finally produced a 1,000-yard rusher. They protected the quarterback very well in pass protection, but struggled in short-yardage offense.
All things considered, it was a roller coaster ride for Wolford in Columbia but that shouldn’t be a surprise when you consider his head coach’s tendency to constantly change things up on the offensive side of the football. He was able to keep things steady during all of the change and was one of the more reliable members of the South Carolina staff.
Eric Wolford arrives in Lexington checking off a lot of boxes. He has worked for defensive head coaches for pretty much his entire career and is yet another Youngstown native a member of the UK staff. He has a working relationship with Mark Stoops dating back to their time at Houston and Arizona in addition to five years of SEC experience on top of a cup of coffee recently in the NFL. Oh, he was also a head coach.
Wolford has worked with a ton of different play-callers with plenty of different styles. South Carolina’s offensive line experimented with multiple running styles, from heavy inside zone, to pin-and-pull and a bunch of duo leaning on interior double teams for movement under Bobo. He has plenty of experience and that will be needed for the situation he is walking into.
Wolford is all set to replace a legend and one of the better offensive line coaches in college football over the past few years. The Big Blue Wall has built an identity and is a huge part of the winning culture in Lexington. That should not go away despite a talent exodus heading into 2021. UK has plenty of experience returning and continues to recruit the position very well. Pressure will be on the veteran journeyman to keep up the high-level offensive line play. UK will need him to be adaptable as they make systemic changes to the offense under new coordinator Liam Coen.