Kansas offensive coordinator Brent Dearmon — for a moment — was worried about his first impression.
With a film crew following him this week for the ESPN documentary “Miles to Go,” Dearmon was concerned when cameras were set up in his 2009 Toyota Corolla ... and the vehicle started acting up after he hadn’t replaced the spark plugs in 134,000 miles.
“The check engine light came on,” Dearmon said with a smile. “I was like, ‘Oh my goodness, ESPN+ is going to turn this into, “This guy’s car is sputtering going into work.”’’”
Perhaps the automobile is the best place to start with the 34-year-old Dearmon, who didn’t get to this new position without his share of adversity ... and also self-belief.
His path to Power Five offensive coordinator, it turns out, was earned: step by step. He previously was an analyst at Auburn, an offensive coordinator at Division-II Arkansas Tech, then head coach at his alma mater Bethel in the NAIA before latching on with the Jayhawks as an analyst this season.
Even that didn’t exactly go as planned. Dearmon first was contacted by KU coach Les Miles because of Chip Lindsey, as both Dearmon and Lindsey previously worked together with Auburn’s staff.
Lindsey, though, left the KU offensive coordinator post in January for the head-coaching job at Troy.
Which later left Dearmon with a decision.
“When you’re at small college ball, you can get comfortable, and your family’s staying in one spot,” Dearmon said. “But I said, ‘You know what? I don’t want to be comfortable. I want to keep moving forward.’ And I took that leap of faith.”
His jump to KU officially paid off Sunday.
Miles announced then that he had fired offensive coordinator Les Koenning while promoting Dearmon from analyst to offensive coordinator.
“Brent is one of the brightest individuals I have encountered in all of my years coaching,” Miles said then.
More than anything, Dearmon has become known as a guru of run-pass option (RPO) offense while authoring multiple books on the topic.
KU fans received brief glimpses of what that might look like earlier this season. The most obvious examples came in the Jayhawks’ 48-24 road victory over Boston College, with quarterback Carter Stanley crediting Dearmon’s plays as one reason for KU’s success.
Dearmon warned that it’s unfair to expect a complete overhaul right away. KU does have a bye week before playing Texas on Oct. 19, but that amount of time still isn’t enough for a team to change both verbiage and identity.
“It’s not like we’re going to come in and reinvent the wheel and do something completely different,” Dearmon said. “It’s just trying to have a vision and a voice and getting those guys believing in that vision.”
Dearmon does appear to have some talented skill position pieces. That starts with running back Pooka Williams, who was an all-Big 12 first-team selection last season. Dearmon believes Williams compares favorably with some of the top backs he was with at Auburn like Cameron Artis-Payne and Kerryon Johnson.
“He’s right up there with that talent level,” Dearmon said. “He’s a different physical body than those guys, but he’s got the same amount of God-given talent that those guys had.”
Receiver Andrew Parchment also is in the midst of a breakout campaign, while Dearmon likes what he has with Stanley. The “Miles to Go” episode showed Dearmon calling Stanley right after receiving his job promotion.
“When I was a quarterback, I liked knowing when I was a coach’s guy,” Dearmon said, “and that’s why you saw on the show me calling him and saying, ‘Hey, you’re our guy right now.’”
Dearmon has an interesting past. He has a math degree — a rarity for football coaches — after initially believing he wanted to be a radiologist. He’s also a former college quarterback but puts immense value on the run game because his father, Roger, was an old offensive-line coach.
It’s that mindset that has helped shape him. After working under Auburn coach Gus Malzahn, Dearmon committed almost fully to the run at Arkansas Tech before realizing it was becoming more difficult when opponents stacked run defenders.
“We said, ‘How can we keep doing that but get guys out the box?’” Dearmon said. “And so the mentality is still run the ball. The mentality is, ‘When we’ve got the best looks, we’re going to run the football.’”
Many of Dearmon’s plays, then, have both pre-snap and post-snap reads. In essence, a play call can go three or four different paths, with the goal of getting the offense in an ideal numbers situation, no matter how the defense is aligned.
Big-picture goals for the offense are likely to come later. Dearmon has always believed avoiding turnovers, third-down success and red-zone execution are three qualities good teams have, but for now, he’s hoping to get incremental improvement from his players each day.
Whether this all works might be reliant on Miles as well. It’s no secret KU’s coach meddled with Koenning’s offensive plays and calls, and for now, Dearmon says KU’s game plan will be put together by a collection of offensive coaches.
The opportunity is there, at the very least, for Dearmon to get a six-game tryout as a Big 12 offensive coordinator.
A hand-me-down Corolla from his wife helped get him there ... along with some self-confidence that never wavered.
“I think the Lord,” Dearmon said, “has brought me down a path for a reason.”