Column: Football coaching changes provide chance to save present and future

Aztecs hope Lindley and Horton bring a spark to a sputtering offense

Junior+Jalen+Mayden+drops+back+for+a+pass+on+Oct.+8.+Mayden+transferred+to+play+safety%2C+but+turned+in+the+best+Aztec+quarterback+performance+of+the+season+against+Hawaii.+

Olivia Vargo

Junior Jalen Mayden drops back for a pass on Oct. 8. Mayden transferred to play safety, but turned in the best Aztec quarterback performance of the season against Hawaii.

by Justin Cox, Sports Editor

There was nowhere to go but up for the Aztec passing attack. 

After a week five 35-13 blowout loss to the Boise State Broncos, San Diego State’s passing offense ranked 131st in FBS college football. The ranking placed them dead last in the nation and after a game in which the Aztecs had only two pass completions, head coach Brady Hoke announced offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Jeff Hecklinski was relieved of his duties. Assistant coach Jeff Horton was promoted to offensive coordinator and former Aztec quarterback Ryan Lindley was hired as the quarterback’s coach. 

The promotion marks the second time Horton has served as the offensive coordinator as he had control of the offense from 2015-19. Horton is a coach the players trust, he has worked with the team as the running backs coach since 2019. 

“He’s basically like my dad,” senior running back Jordan Byrd said. “Been here five years with him and I feel really comfortable with him.”

The early returns on Horton’s offense look promising as junior safety-turned-quarterback Jalen Mayden finished with 332 yards passing and a touchdown in SDSU’s 16-14 win over the University of Hawaii in Horton’s first game as OC. 

As the Aztecs attempt to salvage their season, the importance of the coaching changes stretches beyond just this season. With the new NCAA transfer portal rules, it is important for every team to not only perform on the field but demonstrate the football program is a desirable one for players who are looking to transfer. 

The Aztecs hoped to take advantage of the portal this season, bringing in senior transfer Braxton Burmeister, but injuries have plagued Burmeister’s SDSU tenure. He has only finished two of his five starts and missed the Hawaii game after suffering a concussion against Boise. 

As of Oct. 9, Burmeister has only thrown for 263 passing yards across five games and has two touchdowns and three interceptions. Comparatively Mayden threw for 332 yards in just one game as starter. 

Burmeister’s struggles, while not all his fault, are not a glowing review of SDSU’s ability to put quarterbacks and offensive players in the best position to showcase their talent. If the Aztecs hope to secure talented transfers and recruits, it is critical that the offense shows signs of life and improves upon this week’s performance. (Considering they only scored 16 points against a Hawaii team that is 105 on the season, there is still room for improvement. 

Not only do the Aztecs need to improve to entice transfers, but they also have to prove to their own players that they can have successful careers in the Scarlet and Black. 

In the last year the Aztecs have lost multiple quarterbacks to the transfer portal. Senior Lucas Johnson, the quarterback of last year’s 13-2 team, transferred to Montana University after leading the Aztecs in passing last season while redshirt freshman Will Haskell entered the portal last month. 

Lindley is an interesting addition who can make a difference in this area. Unlike Horton, Lindley has spent the last few years away from the Mesa after serving as a graduate assistant with the Aztecs from 2017-18. After coaching stints with the Cleveland Browns, University of Utah and Mississippi State, he brings youth and a fresh perspective to the SDSU coaching staff which players seem to already be gravitating towards.

“Coach Lindley did a great job making sure that I was comfortable with the operations,” Mayden said.

Even players on the defensive side of the ball like senior linebacker Caden McDonald can see what Lindley brings to the team. 

“It’s a great thing to have Aztecs back in the Aztec building,” McDonald said. “We know that we have a culture around here that we stand for, and he knows that culture. It’s nice to have coaches that understand that as well.” 

The win over Hawaii was an important step for the 2022 Aztecs. It will be critical that the team continues to improve if it hopes to become bowl eligible for a 12th straight year. But the improvement also may have lasting effects for a program trying to prove it deserves to play at the top of college football.