George McDonald's removal as offensive coordinator (and play-caller) for Syracuse promotes another coach to fill those roles. We know what we're losing (I'm trying here...) by tossing McDonald's play-calling out the window, but now the biggest questions is what we're gaining in Tim Lester.
For those who may not be as familiar with Coach Lester up until this point: He's been our recruiting coordinator (see, stop worrying!) and quarterbacks coach since the start of 2013. While the QB coach part may have you asking even more questions now, just think back to what Terrel Hunt looked like in most ACC games last year. Then think about what he looked like at the end of the season and the bowl game. That can't happen without a quality quarterbacks coach who's wiling to invest the time and help him grow and develop. Hunt's done that, even if he still has his flaws, and all with the guidance of Lester.
Lester is one of the many members of Scott Shafer's previous-coaching-job tree, having worked with him when both were at Western Michigan from 2005-06. While Lester was a QBs coach with WMU, he also has four years of offensive coordinator/play-calling experience (including two at Elmhurst College), and was a quarterback himself for WMU as well as the XFL's Chicago Enforcers. This may not sound like a TON of experience with play-calling, but considering that Syracuse was McDonald's first go-around in any capacity at all, it's certainly an improvement.
But how did some of his previous teams fare? Well:
- In 2005, Broncos freshman QB Tim Hiller (under Lester's tutelage) threw for 1,334 yards and 20 touchdowns (!!!) to just three picks. On the year, that team had 2,712 yards through the air and 30 scores.
- In 2006, QB Ryan Cubit led WMU's short passing game to 2,138 yards and 16 touchdowns (vs. 13 INTs), while the team also focused on the run more (over 1,700 yards on the ground).
- In 2002 -- his first college OC gig, he squeezed over 2,000 passing yards out of a QB-by-committee for the D-III Elmhurst College Blue Jays.
- But in 2003, that same group improved dramatically with Lester at the helm. The team scored 11.5 more points per game, tacked on over 2,400 passing yards, and added another 1,900 yards on the ground for a well-balanced, dynamic squad. QB Dom Demma had 22 touchdown passes on the year for the Blue Jays' exciting offense.
Players have obviously gotten better under Lester, and seem to quickly adopt to his system -- a west-coast style of offense that emphasizes the pass slightly, but doesn't force that if the personnel doesn't call for it either. That's a good sign for this team, which obviously has strengths at running back, and now has a boatload of questions at QB. It also may mean this team's definitely going with Austin Wilson whether we/I like it or not...
Lester, himself, was a traditional quarterback in college, and his schemes have largely mimicked that background since he became a coach. Under McDonald, this team wanted to run a fast, spread-option attack, but doesn't necessarily have all the pieces for that yet. Should they hand the reins to Wilson, cut out the bubble screens, commit to the run and run a traditional style of offense, we could see a stark improvement -- even if it means a bit blander attack on paper. In an ideal world, things more resemble the offense we ran in Ryan Nassib's last year, but given Wilson's overall inexperience, let's dismiss those thoughts for now. The offense will be different, and likely suited to Wilson. That's all we know until we see it out on the field.
So should we be excited about Lester's promotion, aside from the fact that it means McDonald will not be calling plays anymore? I'd say so. His experience alone should mean a better ability to adjust in-game and a better chance to install some fixes to a weak attack rather quickly. But again, we'll just have to wait and see what happens out there. I'm willing to give Lester the time to correct things -- especially with Hunt out now -- and see if he can earn himself the OC gig full-time next year, but we should probably still keep an eye out for who may be brought in to run this offense next year.
So prove me wrong, Coach Lester! We're counting on you to turn this season around.