Welcome back to our series profiling potential replacements for Geoff Collins.
Yes, Geoff Collins is still employed as Georgia Tech’s football coach. However, indications from those involved are that he will not be within the next few weeks, even if the actual end date is not yet known. We are offering this series on candidates now because that’s the way the coaching cycle works. Calls are being made about jobs that are not yet vacant all the time. Waiting to begin a coaching search until after the season will not put a program in an advantageous situation. This is going to be a massively important hire for Georgia Tech, and we would like to help get good analysis about potential candidates out there sooner than later.
By producing this series, we aim to provide numerical context and analysis of Tech’s many options. We hope that this series provides reference for the numerous spirited discussions that are sure to occur over the coming weeks. In these profiles, we will focus on the candidate’s career in terms of Success Rate, the candidates’ history coaching the QB position, the schemes employed, and contract/money considerations. We’ll also include a Reasons to Hire/Risks section to add context that may not be reflected in the numbers. We hope you find these profiles useful and entertaining.
We continue our Georgia Tech Head Coaching Candidate Profiles series with Tyson Helton, the current HC at Western Kentucky. Helton’s long history of QB development and offensive success make him a strong candidate for consideration.
QB at Houston 1996-1999
2001–2003 Hawaii (ST/TE)
2004–2006 Memphis (ST/TE)
2004 Record: 8-4
2005 Record: 7-5
2006 Record: 2-10
2007–2011 UAB (QB)
2007 Record: 2-10
2008 Record: 4-8
2009 Record: 5-7
2010 Record: 4-8
2011 Record: 3-9
2012 UAB (RB)
2012 Record: 3-9
2013 Cincinnati (ST/TE)
2013 Record: 9-4
2014 Record: 8-5
2015 Record: 12-2 (CUSA Champs/#24 Final AP Rank)
Helton served his first WKU stint as OC under Jeff Brohm, and that is the first stop for which we are plotting data. This stop was short, but it was quite successful.
Offensive Success Rate +
Helton took an offense that was already good and made it great. Helton’s WKU offense is tied with Chadwell’s Coastal Carolina offense for the best Success Rate+ compiled as part of this series. These offenses were incredible. WKU QB Brandon Doughty threw for over 5000 yards and 48(!) TDs in 2015. He completed over 70% of his passes. The success of these offenses eventually vaulted Brohm to his position as HC of Purdue and undoubtedly played a role in Helton returning to WKU as HC years later.
2016–2017 USC (PGC/QB)
2016 Record: 10-3 (Rose Bowl Champs/#3 Final AP Rank)
2017 Record: 11-3 (Pac-12 Champs/#12 Final AP Rank)
In 2016 Helton joined his older brother Clay (yes they are brothers, as is often asked) at USC. We won’t delve into the data as much here as he was not the OC at USC, just the Passing Game Coordinator and QBs coach. These were Clay Helton’s first 2 years at USC, and they were by far his most successful. The younger Helton coached Sam Darnold to impressive results, racking up over 4000 passing yards in 2017 despite a run heavy offense that was headlined by Ronald Jones. Darnold would be picked #3 overall in the NFL Draft, and while his NFL career has not gone to plan, he was picked that high for a reason. In college, he was good. After Tyson left for the Tennessee OC job in 2018, the wheels started to come off for Clay in LA. It would be ridiculous to suggest that Tyson was the sole person responsible for USC’s early success under Clay, but it is an interesting data point.
2018 Tennessee (OC/QB)
2018 Record: 5-7
In 2018, Helton was hired by Jeremy Pruitt to be OC at Tennessee for his new staff. This tenure for Helton only lasted a year and was by far his least successful. We would expect that any Power 5 school that eventually hires Helton will hear it from Tennessee Twitter how much he “sucks.”
Helton took an offense at Tennessee that was very average and created one that was actively bad. Now, there are many caveats here. It was a new HC with lots of roster turnover, and this was a one year tenure, as WKU came calling after this season to bring Helton back as Head Coach. It’s not wise to place too much weight onto this tenure, but it is his only experience as a Power-5 OC, so it’s worth noting.
2019–present Western Kentucky HC
2019 Record: 9-4
2020 Record: 5-7
2021 Record: 9-5 (CUSA CG Berth)
Helton returned to WKU, where his career took off as OC under Jeff Brohm. Helton’s head coaching career got off to the worst start possible with a loss to FCS Central Arkansas, but he recovered, eventually getting his first Power-5 (and SEC!) win by boat racing Arkansas 45-19. (Man, those Chad Morris Arkansas teams were bad.) After a lackluster 2020, Helton rebounded with another 9 win season in 2021. Things actually looked pretty bleak for Helton in 2021, as WKU started 1-4 (2 of the losses were to P5 schools, and one of those was a 2 point loss to Indiana). WKU cruised through conference play, winning most of their games by multiple scores. WKU lost to UTSA in the CUSA Championship game by a score, which was its second one score loss to UTSA that season. Helton hasn’t brought home a conference championship yet like Brohm did, but he did come within 8 points of one. Let’s take a look at the stats
Offensive Success Rate +
Defensive Success Rate +
Net Success Rate +
Helton improved both sides of the ball over what he inherited, and while the Net Success Rate+ improvement isn’t as dramatic as Chadwell’s, it is still impressive. WKU is also a more established FBS program, so wild swings like Coastal Carolina’s are not expected. Helton’s tenure has also had its ups and downs. The 2021 offense saw success not seen at WKU since Helton was OC, with Bailey Zappe falling just short of 6000 yards. That said, the 2020 offense was just plain bad. If Helton can sustain success this season, these numbers will look even better. Through three games, despite the loss of his OC and QB, Helton’s offense stills sits in the mid 40s nationally in EPA/play on offense, which includes a Power 5 game against Indiana. Our beloved Yellow Jackets are of course 120th in this same metric.
In terms of net impact, Helton’s most significant impact is clearly in the passing game. In our dataset of 370 coaches over the past two decades, he ranks 106th in net impact on success rate. That’s not nearly as high as Chadwell but as mentioned earlier, Western Kentucky was a more established program when Helton arrived, and improving from that baseline is a good coaching accomplishment.
|PFF Team Pass Grade
|PFF Individual Off Grade
*NFL Draft Pick
**1st Round NFL Draft Pick
Here’s where things get more attractive. Helton can absolutely coach the QB position. With 4 draftees, including one first rounder, this list is one of the more impressive ones we saw while completing this series. While Joe Webb was drafted as a WR, he ended up being a backup QB for portions of his NFL career. Brandon Doughty put up absolutely eye-popping numbers during his two years under Helton. A PPA/Att number of .517 is absolutely absurd and is one of the highest numbers we pulled as part of this exercise. It’s no wonder he had a PFF grade of 90+ in 2015.
Sam Darnold is the most recognizable name on this list, and while his NFL career hasn’t gone to plan, his college results were quite good. The hype surrounding Darnold after that 2016 season was real. Darnold’s numbers may not be as ridiculous as Doughty’s, but he performed at the highest level of competition. In his final position as an OC, Helton coached Jarrett Guarantano as a freshman and his numbers were....pretty good? This is interesting, as the offense overall was not good. A quick glance at some basic stats seems to point to a bad running game dragging an ok passing game down. JG’s career went downhill once Helton left.
Once Helton returned to WKU as HC, he initially struggled to field the level of QB of play that he had as an OC. Ty Storey was good, but was not on the level of Doughty or Darnold. 2020 as a whole was a disastrous sophomore slump for Helton and the Hilltoppers, but then he brought in OC Zach Kittley along with his QB Bailey Zappe from Dallas Baptist. Kittley and Zappe produced a prolific offense, leading Zappe to be drafted and Kittley to take the OC position at his Alma Mater, Texas Tech. So far in 2022, the Hilltoppers have an excellent offensive PPA/play to go with the best defense Helton has fielded yet.
Something remarkable about Helton’s QB record is the consistency in recent years. Outside of 2020, Helton has produced QBs that perform at a well above-average clip. QB development would be in good hands with Tyson Helton. That’s a massively important piece of the puzzle at a place like Georgia Tech, where the overall talent level is never going to match some of our direct competitors. Advantage at the QB position can help overcome some of that gap.
This section is a bit less important than it was for Chadwell because Helton has shown flexibility as a head coach with the offense. Helton ran a spread offense that incorporated RPO elements as seen below from his OC tenure in 2015:
Helton, in general, likes to pass a bit more than he runs and throws the ball all over the yard, stretching the defense both vertically and horizontally. Whether that’s more of a traditional spread or an air raid attack depends on the OC that Helton hires and the QB being deployed.
This year in particular, the WKU offense utilizes screens to stress the defense horizontally, then take advantage of teams over-pursuing on screen fakes as seen from this year’s Indiana game:
As far as Coaching attributes, Helton is absolutely a developer first and foremost. This is especially true at the QB position. He has done well recruiting the transfer portal at WKU as well, again especially at the QB position. As a deployer he’s had more good than bad, and he’s shown the ability to identify good coordinators such as Kittley.
Raise to $900,000, extended until end of 2025
- $1,400,000 prior to Dec. 31, 2022
- $1,100,000 between Jan. 1, 2023 and Dec. 31, 2023
- $800,000 between Jan. 1, 2024 and Dec. 31, 2024
- $500,000 between Jan. 1, 2025 and Dec. 31, 2025
Reasons to Hire
Helton has produced consistently good play from the QB position across his entire career at many different stops and different levels of competition. Rapid QB development can make or break a coaching tenure , so having a coach that can extract the best out of his QBs is paramount.
Despite being an offensive coach his entire career, Helton’s tenure as HC at WKU has seen improvement on both sides of the ball. He inherited a below average team and elevated it to a good team in short order, with solidly above average play from a PPA perspective on offense and defense.
Helton has shown flexibility in his offensive scheme, highlighted by bringing in Zach Kittley in 2021 to run a a true air raid offense. This shows a scheme adaptability that some offensive coaches lack when they become head coaches.
Helton only has 3 complete seasons as HC under his belt, and one of them was very lackluster, leaving him on shaky ground before he turned it around the 2nd half of 2021. If Helton can continue to have success in 2022, we will see his net impact numbers jump from “decent” to “great” very quickly. Helton could also help his national stock by getting past Jeff Traylor and UTSA, who beat WKU twice last season to take the CUSA crown. A conference championship still eludes Helton as HC.
In his only season as a Power-5 OC, his offense was subpar. The Tennessee tenure was only one season, so it’s hard to draw many conclusions from it. It probably says far more about the Pruitt era at UT, but it’s worth noting.
Other than the long tenure at UAB, most of Helton’s career stops have been short. He spent 2 years as OC at WKU, 2 seasons at USC, 1 season at Tennessee, and 3+ seasons so far as HC at WKU. It’s hard to build much with so many short stops, and it also makes the numbers and subsequent conclusions surrounding those stops less meaningful. A strong 2022 season would help mitigate this risk as well.
Last weekend, WKU looked like the better team for most of the game against Indiana in 2022, which is a good sign. However, the conservative and sometimes questionable coaching down the stretch in that game cost WKU what should have been a career-boosting win for Helton. Playing for field goals, penalties, and poor timeout usage led to a bad meltdown at the end. If this is a trend, it’s a major concern.
Helton is an intriguing candidate, but doesn’t have the strong track of program turnarounds of say... Jamey Chadwell. For this reason, he’s not quite at the top of the authors’ list of potential head coaching candidates. However, we believe his impressive QB and OC track record should lead to him being considered. We also believe a strong 2022 season could create a more compelling candidacy and will continue to monitor the ‘Toppers.