Selecting the Big Ten's top assistant coach hires for 2017.
The Big Ten’s offseason coordinator carousel was in full effect for 2017, as nine of the 14 teams experienced some change in the offensive or defensive coordinator position. The offseason’s biggest and most impactful change took place at Ohio State, as Kevin Wilson and Ryan Day were hired as co-coordinators following the CFB Playoff loss to Clemson. Wilson and Day have plenty of talent to work with, but the Buckeyes need to regain their big-play ability on offense after generating only 10 plays of 40 or more yards in 2016. In addition to Wilson and Day, Rutgers (Jerry Kill), Iowa (Brian Ferentz) and Minnesota (Kirk Ciarrocca) deserve high marks for offseason moves in the coordinator ranks.
Which teams made the best coordinator hires in the Big Ten for 2017? Here are six names to know, followed by a handful of assistant coach hires to watch.
Big Ten's Top Coordinator Hires for 2017
Kirk Ciarrocca, Offensive Coordinator, Minnesota
New coach P.J. Fleck is handing the controls of Minnesota’s offense to Ciarrocca after the two worked together at Western Michigan from 2013-16. After the Broncos averaged 17.2 points a game in 2013, the offense showed marked improvement over the next three seasons. Western Michigan’s scoring average climbed to 33.8 in 2014, 36.0 in 2015 and 41.6 in 2016. Additionally, the Broncos finished first or second in the MAC in yards per play in three consecutive years (2014-16). Ciarrocca’s 2016 unit was one of the most-balanced attacks in the nation, as Western Michigan posted 3,204 yards on the ground and 3,533 through the air. Ciarrocca also worked as an assistant at Princeton, Penn, Delaware and Richmond, along with a three-year stint as Rutgers’ offensive coordinator from 2008-10.
Ryan Day/Kevin Wilson, Co-Offensive Coordinators, Ohio State
Even though Ohio State finished 2016 ranked second in the Big Ten in scoring offense and yards per play, it was clear change was needed following the CFB Playoff loss to Clemson. Since Tom Herman left Columbus, the Buckeyes haven’t the same level of explosiveness or rhythm on offense. However, that should change in 2017, as former Indiana coach Kevin Wilson is set to take over the play-calling duties, with Ryan Day working as the team’s quarterback coach. Under Wilson’s direction, the Hoosiers averaged over 30 points a game in three out of four years from 2012-15, including a 36.5 mark that led the Big Ten in 2015. Additionally, from 2012-16, Indiana never finished below sixth in the Big Ten in yards per play generated on offense. As evidenced by his tenure at Indiana and previous stints as an offensive coordinator at Northwestern, Oklahoma and Miami (Ohio), Wilson is one of the nation’s top play-callers. With one of college football’s best quarterbacks (J.T. Barrett) to build an offense around, look for Wilson to develop a dynamic attack at Ohio State in 2017 and beyond.
Bob Diaco, Defensive Coordinator, Nebraska
Nebraska’s defense hasn’t quite resembled some of the standout Blackshirt groups since Mike Riley took over this program prior to the 2015 season. The Cornhuskers ranked ninth in conference-only games by giving up 28.4 points per game in 2015. This unit was slightly better in 2016, finishing seventh in the Big Ten (conference-only matchups) by holding offenses to 23.8 points per game. Nebraska also ranked near the bottom of the Big Ten in yards per play allowed in both seasons (5.9 in 2015 and 5.5 in 2016) and have accumulated only 50 sacks over the last two years. Riley swapped long-time assistant Mark Banker in favor of Bob Diaco and plans on transitioning to a 3-4 scheme this fall. Diaco was previously the head coach at UConn and also made stops as a coordinator at Notre Dame and Cincinnati. His 2012 defense with the Fighting Irish limited opponents to 12.8 points per game and was a big reason why Notre Dame reached the national title game. Additionally, in five seasons as a coordinator, Diaco never had a defense allow more than 23.1 points per game on average at the end of a year. Transitioning to the 3-4 may take a season, but Diaco’s hire should pay dividends for the overall performance of Nebraska’s defense.
Brian Ferentz, Offensive Coordinator, Iowa
Brian Ferentz – the son of head coach Kirk Ferentz – was promoted to offensive coordinator after Greg Davis retired following the 2016 season. The 34-year-old assistant has never called plays as a coordinator but already boasts a strong resume. After a career as a player at Iowa and a short stint in the NFL, Ferentz was an assistant for three years under Bill Belichick with the New England Patriots from 2009-11. Ferentz returned to Iowa City in 2012 and worked as the program’s offensive line coach to the end of the 2016 campaign. Since 2012, Iowa has only one finish of higher than seventh in the Big Ten in yards per play (2015 – fourth). But Ferentz’s promotion should allow the Hawkeyes to tweak the offense just a bit, which is expected to include more attempts to attack downfield through the air. Regardless of the tweaks with the passing game, Ferentz is going to lean heavily on the strength of this team in 2017. The Hawkeyes boast one of the nation’s top offensive lines and feature one of the Big Ten’s best running backs in Akrum Wadley.
Jerry Kill, Offensive Coordinator, Rutgers
Kill is back on the sidelines since stepping down as Minnesota’s head coach during the 2015 season due to health reasons. Kill’s arrival is a boost for a Rutgers offense that managed only 9.6 points per game in Big Ten action and was held without a point in four contests. The Kansas native hasn’t worked in the offensive coordinator role since 1993 at Pittsburg State, but he was a successful head coach at five different stops – Saginaw Valley State, Emporia State, Southern Illinois, Northern Illinois and Minnesota – since that season. In addition to his play-calling duties and work with quarterbacks, Kill’s experience and veteran leadership should be a valuable asset to second-year coach Chris Ash.
Jim Leonhard, Defensive Coordinator, Wisconsin
After Justin Wilcox left Madison to be the head coach at California, coach Paul Chryst is handing the keys to the defense to one of the top players in Wisconsin program history. From 2001-04, Leonhard starred at safety for the Badgers and earned All-America honors three times during his career. While Leonhard was undrafted, he carved out a solid NFL career, which spanned from 2005-14 with six different teams. Leonhard was hired to coach defensive backs in Madison prior to the 2016 campaign and was promoted to coordinator for 2017. Leonhard has been on a fast rise through the coaching ranks, and while he’s unproven as a coordinator, his experience within the program and knowledge on defense should keep Wisconsin near the top of the Big Ten in 2017.
Other Coordinator Hires or Promotions in the Big Ten
Brian Brohm/Tony Levine, Co-OCs, Purdue
Jimmy Brumbaugh, Co-DC, Maryland
Bill Busch, Co-Defensive Coordinator, Rutgers
Kerry Coombs, Asst. Coordinator (Defense), Ohio State
Mike DeBord, Offensive Coordinator, Indiana
Nick Holt/Anthony Poindexter, Co-DCs, Purdue
Robb Smith, Defensive Coordinator, Minnesota
Other Key Assistant Coach Hires for 2017
Tyler Bowen, Offensive Line Coach, Maryland
Greg Frey, Tackles and Tight Ends Coach, Michigan
Mike Hart, Running Backs Coach, Indiana
Pep Hamilton, Passing Game Coordinator, Michigan
Grant Heard, Wide Receivers Coach, Indiana
Derrick Jackson, Cornerbacks Coach, Purdue
Tim Polasek, Offensive Line Coach, Iowa
JaMarcus Shephard, Wide Receivers Coach, Purdue
Greg Studrawa, Offensive Line Coach, Ohio State
Ed Warinner, Offensive Line Coach, Minnesota
Donte Williams, Cornerbacks Coach, Nebraska