On Friday, Ole Miss officially announced that head football coach Hugh Freeze has hired Phil Longo as offensive coordinator and Wesley McGriff as defensive coordinator.
Longo will arrive in Oxford after directing the nation’s best FCS offense at Sam Houston State.
“We explored every name for this position, but Phil has been on my radar for a long time and it was clear that he is the man that can take our offense from good to great,” Freeze said in a press statement. “Over the past three years, he has authored one of the most prolific and innovative offenses in all divisions of college football. Specifically, his units have excelled in three key areas that we need to address — rushing offense, third down efficiency and red zone success. From Chip Kelly to Joe Moorhead, we have seen offensive coordinators make successful transitions from FCS to FBS, and I expect Phil to continue that trend.”
“My family and I are excited to be joining the Ole Miss community,” Longo said in a press statement. “I am looking forward to working together with the offensive staff and taking advantage of the opportunity that Coach Freeze has provided me.”
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McGriff, who was an assistant at Ole Miss in Freeze’s first season at the helm in 2012, will return to the staff after successful stints with the New Orleans Saints and Auburn Tigers.
“Wesley is the total package — an outstanding leader, creative coach and dynamic recruiter,” Freeze said. “The defenses have been outstanding at every place he has been, and his most recent experience at Auburn has him well prepared for this opportunity. He helped lead a unit that was tremendous at stopping the run, limiting explosive plays and being stingy in the red zone, and we look forward to Wesley applying those same principles to our young men on that side of the ball.”
“I am excited and grateful for the opportunity to return to Ole Miss and work with Coach Freeze again,” McGriff said. “Obviously, I am familiar with the history and tradition of success here. This is an elite program, and I look forward to helping this team win championships.”
Below are complete bios on each new coordinator.
PHIL LONGO, OLE MISS OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR
Longo has helped Sam Houston to the FCS Playoffs in each of his three seasons, while shattering the record books. This year’s team went 12-1 and boasted the nation’s No. 1 total offense (547.3 ypg), No. 2 scoring offense (49.5 ppg), No. 2 passing offense (368.3 ypg) and No. 37 rushing offense (179.0 ypg) out of 122 FCS teams. The Bearkats scored touchdowns on 80.3 percent of their red zone chances, also best in the nation.
Sam Houston had more than 4,500 passing yards and 2,000 rushing yards in 2016. No FBS team accomplished that.
In Longo’s three years on head coach K.C. Keeler’s staff, SHSU won the Southland Conference twice (2014, 2016) and compiled a 34-10 overall record. The Bearkats advanced to the semifinals of the FCS Playoffs in 2014 and 2015 and quarterfinals this year, while rising as high as No. 1 in the FCS national polls in both 2015 and 2016.
The red zone has been a key area of success for Longo’s offense. Over the last three years, no FBS team has had more red zone touchdowns than the 145 scored by the Bearkats.
Despite featuring a pass-heavy attack, Longo’s units also ranked top 10 among FCS teams in rushing in both 2014 and 2015. Sam Houston produced 1,000-yard rushers in 2014 (Keshawn Hill) and 2015 (Corey Avery) and a 900-yard rusher this past season (Remus Bulmer).
In 2015, Sam Houston’s 7,975 total yards set a Southland Conference season record and ranked third all-time in NCAA Division I FCS history. The Bearkats led the nation in total offense (531.7 ypg) and first downs per game (27.6). They ranked No. 5 in scoring (41.1 ppg) and No. 9 in rushing (254.5 ypg), while also ranking 14th in third-down conversions (45.7 percent).
The 1,275 plays run by Longo’s offense in 2015 was also a league record. Three times in the past three seasons SHSU ran more than 100 plays in a game, including a school-record 118 plays in the 2015 NCAA opening-round victory over Southern Utah.
In 2014, Longo’s attack led the Southland in rushing (241.6 ypg, 9th nationally) and red zone offense (90 percent, 8th nationally).
Regarded as an outstanding recruiter and quarterbacks coach, Longo helped Bearkats QB and first team All-American Jeremiah Briscoe set a school record with 4,602 passing yards in 2016, while Sam Houston had the first two 1,000-yard receivers in school history in the form of junior Yedidiah Louis (1,152) and freshman Nathan Stewart (1,004). Briscoe led all FCS players with 57 touchdown passes (to 10 interceptions), while ranking second nationally in passing (354.0 ypg) and third in total offense (349.9 ypg).
Like Freeze, Longo began his coaching career in the high school ranks. He was the winningest coach in school history at Parsippany Hills High School in Troy, New Jersey, serving as head coach from 1996-99. In 1999, his team competed in and won the 11th-highest scoring game in the history of high school football in the U.S. Longo earned NJ Star Ledger and Daily Record Coach of the Year honors in 1998-99 and was awarded the Sportsmanship, Ethics & Integrity Award by the National Federation of State High School Associations.
He entered the college ranks as assistant head coach and offensive coordinator at D-III William Paterson University (2000-01) and was head coach at FCS La Salle in 2004 and 2005.
Other schools at which Longo has served as offensive coordinator include Slippery Rock (2012-13), Southern Illinois (2008-09) and Minnesota-Duluth (2006-07). He was a wide receivers coach at Youngstown State in 2010.
A running back at Rowan University from 1988-91, Longo was a member of the school’s first New Jersey Athletic Conference championship and NCAA Division III playoff team. The New Jersey native earned a bachelor’s degree in physical education from Rowan in 1992.
Longo, 48, and his wife Tanya are the parents of daughters Gianna and Macaria.
WESLEY McGRIFF, OLE MISS DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR
McGriff returns to Ole Miss after gaining valuable experience at the NFL level with the New Orleans Saints and as Auburn’s co-defensive coordinator and secondary coach.
In his one season at Auburn, McGriff helped guide the Tigers to a Sugar Bowl berth and helped turn around a defense that struggled during a 7-6 season (2-6 SEC) the year before he arrived.
With McGriff’s influence, Auburn went from the bottom third of the SEC in 2015 to top three in the league in 2016 in scoring defense (11th/26.0 to 2nd/15.6), rushing defense (11th/182.7 to 3rd/124.8) and third-down conversion defense (13th/44.9 to 2nd/34.0). The Tigers have given up far less explosive plays of 10+ yards (190 in 2015, 144 in 2016) and have been locked down when it comes to allowing touchdowns in the red zone (51.0 percent to 34.2 percent). Auburn ranks fourth nationally in total red zone defense (71.1 percent) and fifth in scoring defense in 2016.
McGriff came to Auburn after three seasons with the NFL's New Orleans Saints, working with the defensive backs. In his first two years, McGriff oversaw the development of young players such as safeties Rafael Bush, Kenny Vaccaro and Pierre Warren and cornerback Terrence Frederick, as well as veterans like safety Jairus Byrd and cornerback Keenan Lewis. In 2015, Lewis led the Saints with 13 passes defensed, while adding two interceptions. Vaccaro led the New Orleans secondary with 113 tackles and added one sack and two interceptions. McGriff also worked the undrafted rookie Warren into the starting lineup for the final six games due to injuries in the secondary and he responded, tying for the team lead with three takeaways.
In his first season in New Orleans, the Saints ranked fourth in the NFL in total defense (305.7 ypg), second in opponent passing yards per game (194.1 ypg) and fourth in scoring defense (19.0 ppg), posting an 11-5 record and advancing to the divisional round of the playoffs.
McGriff spent 2012 as co-defensive coordinator/cornerbacks coach at Ole Miss, helping the young Rebel defense finish second in the SEC and top 15 in the NCAA in tackles for loss (7.7) and sacks per game (2.8). Linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche was named to the FWAA All-America and SEC All-Freshman teams, defensive tackle Issac Gross earned conference all-freshman honors and was named to the CollegeFootballNews.com Freshman All-America team, and safety Trae Elston was named to the ESPN SEC All-Freshman team.
As a member of Hugh Freeze’s first Ole Miss staff, McGriff helped Ole Miss go from 2-10 the year before to 7-6 and a win over Pitt in the 2013 BBVA Compass Bowl.
McGriff spent the 2011 season as defensive backs coach/recruiting coordinator at Vanderbilt, where he helped the Commodores to only their fifth all-time appearance in a bowl. His secondary produced 12 interceptions, returning three for touchdowns. McGriff helped current San Diego Chargers CB Casey Hayward become the first Vanderbilt All-American in four years, posting seven interceptions, the third-highest season total ever by a Commodore.
Prior to Vanderbilt, McGriff spent four seasons as the secondary coach at Miami (Fla.). In 2010, the Hurricanes ranked second in the nation in pass defense, allowing just 164.3 yards per game. The Miami defense ranked 16th nationally and 21st in scoring defense. In 2009, he tutored All-America defensive back Brandon Harris, seven-year NFL veteran safety Kenny Phillips (2007 All-American and first-round NFL draft pick) and Green Bay defensive back Sam Shields, as the Hurricanes ranked 29th in total defense.
McGriff served as the defensive backs coach/recruiting coordinator at Baylor from 2003-06 and enjoyed his first SEC stint at Kentucky from 2001-02. He spent 2000 as the secondary coach at Eastern Kentucky where he mentored DB Yeremiah Bell, who earned first team All-Ohio Valley Conference honors and was drafted by the Miami Dolphins in the sixth round in 2003.
From 1995-99, McGriff served in multiple roles including assistant head coach, defensive coordinator and secondary coach at Kentucky State. The Thorobreds had the No. 1 defense in the nation in 1995, and McGriff was named the AFCA’s NCAA Division II National Assistant Coach of the Year in 1998.
He began his coaching career at his alma mater, Savannah State, from 1990-94. Starting as a graduate assistant, McGriff tutored running backs before coaching the secondary in 1991 and later serving as defensive coordinator and interim head coach.
McGriff, a Tifton, Georgia, native, started at linebacker for Savannah State from 1987-89 and was named the conference's 1989 Male Academic Athlete of the Year. He received his bachelor's degree while graduating cum laude in 1990 and earned a master's in public administration from Georgia Southern in 1993. McGriff was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army in 1990 and was a member of the Army Reserves until 2001. He is a member of Omega Psi Phi fraternity.
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