FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Arkansas offensive coordinator Joe Craddock never envisioned his coaching career moving this quickly. Officially hired by Arkansas last week, the 32-year-old is the youngest offensive coordinator in the SEC.
Craddock has made the move to Arkansas with Chad Morris after serving in the same role for the Hogs’ new coach at SMU the past three seasons. He also worked under Morris for three seasons at Clemson.
“It’s just attributed to being around great people,” Craddock said. “I haven’t done it on my own. I understand that. But I’ve also worked really, really hard and I think that I made that impression on Coach Morris early on and I’ve been able to keep that up by working hard and trying to outwork everybody else.”
It’s been quite the ascension through the coaching ranks for someone whose career didn’t begin until 2010. Craddock got his start at Briarwood Christian High School in Birmingham, Ala., and spent two seasons there as offensive coordinator.
Briarwood Christian’s Fred Yancey was the first coach to take a chance on Craddock. He brought Craddock on as ans assistant after Craddock’s two-year quarterback career with the Parma Panthers of the Italian Football League ended.
Yancey first came across Craddock in 1998 as a sixth-grade quarterback just a few years away from entering high school at Briarwood Christian. Yancey knew then Craddock could eventually be a special player for him. When that time came, Craddock earned immediate playing time. He rotated at quarterback with a senior his freshman season. He started the next three seasons, leading Briarwood Christian to a state championship in 2003 as a junior.
In the state championship game against Russellville that season, Craddock produced one of Yancey’s fondest memories as a coach. During a key play early in the game, Craddock rolled out to his left where he was met by several defenders. So, he reversed course and zigzagged his way to around a 15-yard gain and a first down.
“I told my assistant over the headset that Russellville was in trouble after that,” Yancey said. “Because they were playing with the pressure of a state championship and Joe is playing in the backyard.”
As a player at Briarwood Christian, Craddock accounted for more than 6,500 passing yards and 2,000 rushing yards. His success on the field continued at Middle Tennessee State, where he threw for 4,011 yards and 27 touchdowns.
“Joe is the gold standard at Briarwood as far as our former players,” Yancey said. “We still talk about Joe, even to my quarterback this year. I say, ‘This is how you want to do it, look at Joe.’ He was always relaxed and prepared as a player. He just has a great football mind and great demeanor.”
Those qualities that made Craddock an effective quarterback have translated well to coaching. Briarwood Christian went 25-4 during Craddock’s time as offensive coordinator, including a state runner-up finish his first season.
In the summer of 2012, Craddock helped coach at a summer camp hosted by Clemson. That’s when another coach — Clemson’s Dabo Swinney — decided it’d be a good idea to take a chance on him.
“Dabo called and told me he really liked Joe Craddock and asked if I’d be upset if he offered him a job,” Yancey said. “I said, ‘Absolutely not.’ I told him Joe would be great for you and you’d be great for him.
“He must’ve caught Dabo’s eye that week working that camp. I thought it was amazing that within a week he could catch Dabo’s eye and have a job offer, but I can’t say I was surprised. I already knew how great of a coach he was.”
Craddock was an offensive player development assistant in 2012 before being promoted to an on-field role in 2013 as a graduate assistant working with quarterbacks. He held that position for two seasons, running the scout-team offense and coaching many of the players who helped produce Clemson’s 2016 national championship.
All the while his relationship with Morris, who was the Tigers’ offensive coordinator at the time, began to blossom. When Morris was hired at SMU, he immediately became the next coach to take a chance on Craddock by offering him the offensive coordinator spot with the Mustangs. Craddock officially joined the staff in January 2015. He was 29, making him the youngest offensive coordinator in college football at the time.
“You know what, Joe and I worked really well together when I was at Clemson,” Morris said. “Joe was a great, sharp, young mind that knew the game and had answers. Brought Joe to SMU and we really worked hand-in-hand.”
Morris called the plays his first season at SMU. But he quickly realized as a coach he needed to be more aware of the entire game rather than being so tied up in the offense, so Craddock’s responsibilities began to increase. He began to call plays with Morris offering insight when he felt it necessary. Last season — Craddock’s second with more control of the play-calling duties — SMU ranked No. 12 in the FBS with an average of 37.8 points per game.
His next task is helping create a similarly explosive offense at Arkansas. In program history, the Razorbacks have never averaged better than the 37.8 points per game Craddock’s offense had last season.
If he can get Arkansas to that level, expect the next authority figure to take a chance on him to be an athletic director.