Remember this guy? Is it time to consider bringing Jonathan Smith, currently the offensive coordinator at Montana, back to Corvallis? (Gazette-Times image.)
There's been much discussion and consternation here and elsewhere for some time now about a variety of the challenges facing Oregon St.'s football program, and many of them surround and swirl around the position of Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks coach, which is currently occupied by Danny Langsdorf. Traveling back from Salt Lake City affords a considerable amount of time to think, and after watching yet another disastrous lack of performance against the Utes, I devoted some of that time to the offensive state of affairs with the offense.
Calling for the reassignment or dismissal of Langsdorf has become fashionable, and maybe even necessary. But then what? And it occurs to me that perhaps the solution is Jonathan Smith.
Smith, Beaver fans will recall, was a walk-on quarterback at Oregon St. that became a four year starter, and led the Beavers to a share of the 2000 Pac-10 Conference Championship, an 11-1 record, and the 41-9 win over Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl.
Smith, who was never confused with being the prototype physical quarterback specimen, nevertheless learned how to become not only one of the best ever to play for Oregon St., he was a leader, elected a team captain in both his junior and senior seasons, and also was ranked third all-time (at the time) in the Pac-8/10 in career passing yards and total yards.
Immediately upon completing playing his career, Smith spent 2 years as a graduate assistant at Oregon St., first for Dennis Erickson, and then for Mike Riley, who had originally recruited him.
Smith then served as quarterbacks coach for 6 years at Idaho. After starting out working for Rob Akey, Smith was not only retained when Erickson replaced Akey (which was predictable, having previously played and coached for Erickson), but he was also kept on after Erickson moved on, by Nick Holt.
By his last year in Moscow, Smith had developed Vandal quarterback Nathan Enderle into the fifth best qb in the nation in passing efficiency. Enderle, under Smith's guidance, led Idaho to an 8-5 record, and their first bowl appearance in a bowl game in 12 years, which they won.
An 8-5 record and the Humanitarian Bowl might not sound like that much, but remember, this was AT IDAHO (!), and despite having to deal with the likes of Boise St., Fresno St., etc. And its better than anything Oregon St. has managed the last couple of seasons.
Smith needed to add "Offensive Coordinator" to his resume, so he moved up to Montana. The Grizzlies went 7-4 in their first year under new head coach Robin Pflugrad, and tied for second in the Big Sky Conference, a circuit tough enough to produce the FCS National Champion.
At this point in his second year, the Grizzlies are 7-2 (with one of those losses at FBS SEC Tennessee), and will play Montana St. for the Big Sky championship.
So, is it now time to consider bringing Smith back to Corvallis?
He meets the requirement of a young coach who would relate well to recruits, and be more creative than Langsdorf, whose' repeatedly been described as "stale" for continuing to run an unimaginative scheme widely considered outdated in today's college football world.
Smith would fit in with Riley, who for a variety of reasons, financial and emotional, may not be going anywhere despite the recent losses. And probably doesn't [yet] merit being bought out, as long as he takes steps to address the problems the program is mired in.
Riley, a huge believer in both continuity and loyalty, has predictably been hesitant to reassign or release Langsdorf, but perhaps Smith would be an easier transition to accept than others.
Smith also understands the challenges of small towns, and the culture in Corvallis. Many Beaver supporters and members of the media have called for an end to using the "small market" angle as a crutch or an excuse, and that's a valid position to take. But its also a fact that it is a factor. If Smith can succeed in Moscow and Missoula, then he understands how to both overcome and even leverage the situation on the Oregon St. campus and community.
Smith also has experience coaching with, and insight into, Erickson, now at Arizona St., and Holt, now Washington's Defensive Coordinator, two guys who the Beavers are going to have to deal with for a while to come.
Further, those who knew and watched Smith back in his Corvallis days all thought of him as a future head coach in the making even then.
But does he have enough experience yet to make the leap to being the OC at a program expected to compete in a BCS automatic qualifier conference? Are Riley, Athletic Director Bob De Carolis, and Beaver Nation comfortable with taking the chance?
At least some are ready to consider it. And if you accept the notion that something must change, you have to be prepared to consider options that carry some risk.
Smith has been on most folks around Corvallis' radar as rising star in the coaching business for some time, and is also someone that many have hoped would one day return to Reser
And coming from a non-BCS program doesn't mean someone can't succeed at the Pac-12 level.
Smith's system and his personality are very different, but could Smith be the next Chip Kelly?
An FCS guy who could come in as the "OC" for a program as it takes a step up? And eventually maybe take the next step personally as he takes the team on their next step up?
Perhaps all things, like the ride across Utah and Idaho, come to not just an end, but a good end. Perhaps it is time for Jonathan Smith.