The Big Ten’s coaching carousel was an active one in the assistant ranks this offseason, as 12 out of the league’s 14 teams experienced some staff changes for 2016. While head coach hires often have a bigger impact, key assistant hires are just as critical. Michigan and Ohio State were once again the big winners this offseason. The addition of Don Brown (Michigan) and Greg Schiano (Ohio State) should ensure both teams remain at the top of the league in defense. However, Indiana’s hire of Tom Allen from South Florida should be a huge boost for coach Kevin Wilson’s defense. Maryland’s Walt Bell and Penn State’s Joe Moorhead are just two of the offseason’s top hires on the offensive side of the ball.
The Big Ten's Top 10 Assistant Coach Hires for 2016
Tom Allen, Defensive Coordinator, Indiana
Indiana coach Kevin Wilson took a big step in addressing a struggling defense this offseason. Allen was hired after a successful one-year stint at South Florida and is an instant upgrade for a unit that has ranked 10th or worse in the Big Ten in yards per play allowed since 2008. Under Allen’s watch last year, the Bulls allowed only 22.9 points a game and limited opponents to 5.2 yards per play. Expect Indiana’s defense to take a step forward under Allen’s watch in 2016.
Walt Bell, Offensive Coordinator, Maryland
New coach D.J. Durkin wasn’t afraid to aim high for his coaching staff, and the first-year coach landed an impressive collection of assistants on both sides of the ball. Bell is one of the rising stars at offensive coordinator, as he lands in College Park after coordinating an Arkansas State offense that averaged 40 points a game in 2015. Maryland averaged only 24.7 points a contest last year, but Bell’s arrival is the first step in fixing the struggling attack.
Don Brown, Defensive Coordinator, Michigan
Michigan’s defense was already one of the Big Ten’s standout units under former coordinator D.J. Durkin. And after Durkin left for Maryland, coach Jim Harbaugh made arguably the top coordinator hire of the offseason by bringing Don Brown to Ann Arbor from Boston College. Under Brown’s watch last season, the Eagles allowed only 15.3 points a game and led the nation by holding opponents to 4.1 yards per play. The veteran assistant has a long track record of success from other stops at UConn, Maryland and UMass and should engineer one of the nation’s best defenses this fall.
Mike London, Defensive Line/Pete Lembo, Special Teams, Maryland
Having two proven assistants like Mike London and Pete Lembo should be a huge asset for new Maryland coach D.J. Durkin. London comes to College Park after a six-year run as Virginia’s head coach, while Lembo left his position as Ball State’s head coach to coordinate Maryland’s special teams and coach tight ends. Expect both coaches to make an impact and provide a veteran sounding board for Durkin over the next few seasons with the Terrapins.
Garrick McGee, Offensive Coordinator, Illinois
Considering Lovie Smith hasn’t coached in college since 1995, hiring a staff with strong collegiate ties was essential. McGee was arguably the top hire for Smith, as the Oklahoma native has a wealth of experience at the FBS level, including stops as an assistant at Louisville, Arkansas and Northwestern. Additionally, McGee worked for two seasons as UAB’s head coach from 2012-13. McGee is regarded as a good recruiter and his versatile background on offense should be a huge plus for the Fighting Illini.
Drew Mehringer, Offensive Coordinator, Rutgers
Mehringer has been on a fast track through the coaching ranks and is a critical hire for new coach Chris Ash at Rutgers. The Texas native started his coaching career at Rice as a student assistant in 2007 and eventually made his way to Ohio State in 2012 as a graduate assistant. After two years with the Buckeyes, Mehringer went to James Madison as the co-offensive coordinator before reuniting with Tom Herman at Houston in 2015. Mehringer helped James Madison’s offense average 35.7 points a game in 2014 and should be one of the nation’s youngest coordinators (28) with the Scarlet Knights.
Joe Moorhead, Offensive Coordinator, Penn State
James Franklin is hitting the reset button on Penn State’s offense. The Nittany Lions have struggled to find consistent production from this group over the last two seasons and enter 2016 with question marks at quarterback and on the offensive line. Moorhead comes to Happy Valley after four seasons at Fordham and plans to overhaul the offense from more of a pro-style attack to an up-tempo spread. Prior to a 38-13 stint at Fordham, Moorhead worked at the FBS level as an offensive coordinator at Connecticut and Akron.
John Parrella, Defensive Line, Nebraska
Parrella was a standout player for the Cornhuskers from 1990-92 and returns to Lincoln tasked with rebuilding a defensive line that loses standout tackles Maliek Collins and Vincent Valentine and defensive ends Greg McMullen and Jack Gangwish. Parrella’s experience on the collegiate level is limited, but as a former Cornhusker and NFL player, his addition should pay dividends for the defense in 2016. Parrella spent the last two years working at Northern Michigan and also made one stop at Chabot College in 2013.
Greg Schiano, Co-Defensive Coordinator, Ohio State
Replacing assistant coaches is nothing new to Urban Meyer. After Chris Ash left the Buckeye defensive staff to be the head coach at Rutgers, Meyer brought aboard Schiano to work with Luke Fickell as the team’s co-defensive coordinators. Schiano was let go by Tampa Bay after two seasons as the head coach in 2013. Since then, Schiano has been out of football for two years, but there’s a strong track record of success on the defensive side for the New Jersey native. Even with significant personnel losses for Ohio State in 2016, Schiano should ensure the defense doesn’t slip too much in overall performance.
Justin Wilcox, Defensive Coordinator, Wisconsin
Wilcox has big shoes to fill in replacing Dave Aranda as the defensive coordinator in Madison. Aranda was one of the nation’s top assistant coaches and left for LSU after Wisconsin’s bowl win over USC. This will be Wilcox’s fifth coordinator job at the FBS level, with prior stops at Boise State, Tennessee, Washington and USC. While Wilcox was let go after his two-year run with the Trojans, Washington’s defense showed marked improvement under his watch, and his 2011 group at Tennessee only gave up 22.6 points a game.
Other Key Assistant Hires in the Big Ten
Mark Hagen, Defensive Line Coach, Indiana
Jay Johnson, Offensive Coordinator, Minnesota
Jim Leonhard, Defensive Backs Coach, Wisconsin
Bart Miller, Offensive Line, Minnesota
Hardy Nickerson, Defensive Coordinator, Illinois
Brent Pry, Co-Defensive Coordinator, Penn State