Here are 10 rising stars in the assistant ranks.
College football’s coaching carousel is already in motion. Five FBS head coaching positions are open prior to Week 6 and several more are expected to change coaches by the end of the season. With the carousel moving fast, it won’t be long before athletic directors gauge the interest level of coaches or coordinators and setup interviews for the open position.
As with any coaching search, all programs are looking for the next big hire. Whether it’s a big-name coach or a rising star, programs with a coaching vacancy want to hit a home run in the hiring process. Who are some of the rising stars in the coordinator ranks expected to be in the mix for head coaching jobs later this year? Here are some names to watch.
College Football's Top 10 Coordinators on the Rise
1. Brent Venables, Defensive Coordinator, Clemson
Despite losing several key contributors and returning only two starters, Clemson’s defense hasn’t missed a beat in 2015. That’s largely due to the coaching ability of Venables, who was a key hire for coach Dabo Swinney in 2012. The Tigers ranked third in the ACC in scoring defense from 2012-13 under Venables’ direction but led the conference in fewest points allowed in 2014. Additionally, Clemson finished first nationally in total defense, limiting opponents to just 260.8 yards per game and 4.03 yards per play. Through five games this season, the Tigers are holding opponents to 4.48 yards per play. It’s only a matter of time before Venables is hired as a head coach at a Power 5 program.
2. Doug Meacham, Co-Offensive Coordinator, TCU
Meacham’s arrival in 2014 was a big reason why TCU emerged as a playoff contender last season and is in the mix once again in 2015. The Horned Frogs averaged only 25.1 points a game in 2013 but jumped to 46.5 last season and 51 per contest in 2015. Prior to joining Gary Patterson’s staff at TCU, Meacham called the plays at Houston in 2013 and worked as an assistant for Mike Gundy at Oklahoma State from 2005-12.
3. Mike Norvell, Offensive Coordinator, Arizona State
Norvell has experienced a fast rise through the assistant ranks. After working for one season as a graduate assistant at Central Arkansas in 2006, Norvell was hired by Todd Graham at Tulsa in 2007 and worked with the Golden Hurricane until 2010. The Texas native followed Graham to Pittsburgh in 2011 and to Arizona State in 2012. Norvell has called the plays since coming to Tempe, and the Sun Devils never finished lower than third in scoring offense within the Pac-12 from 2012-14.
4. Lincoln Riley, Offensive Coordinator, Oklahoma
Riley is a Mike Leach and Air Raid disciple, and despite the sluggish showing against Texas in Week 6, the first-year coordinator is off to a fast start at Oklahoma. The Sooners are averaging 37 points per game and 6.4 yards per play in 2015. The Texas native worked at Texas Tech under Leach from 2007-09 and was hired by Ruffin McNeill at East Carolina prior to the 2010 season. The Pirates had a prolific offense under Riley, including a No. 2 rank in the American Athletic Conference in 2014 by averaging 35.8 points per game. Riley is just 32 years old and is stock will only increase over the next few seasons.
5. Kendal Briles, Offensive Coordinator, Baylor
After Philip Montgomery left Baylor to be the head coach at Tulsa, Briles was handed the keys to a high-powered Ferrari. While his father – Art Briles – is instrumental in the Bears’ offense, this unit is thriving under Kendal’s direction. Through five games, Baylor is averaging 64.2 points a game and ranks first nationally by averaging 9.1 yards per play. The Texas native has worked as an assistant with the Bears since 2008 and is regarded as one of the Big 12’s top recruiters.
6. Dave Aranda, Defensive Coordinator, Wisconsin
Aranda isn’t getting a ton of national attention, but he’s clearly one of the top defensive coaches in the Big Ten. Under his direction, Wisconsin’s defense ranked as one of the Big Ten’s best in 2013-14. The Badgers finished second in scoring defense in back-to-back years and are second in the conference in 2015 by limiting opponents to just 11.5 points per game. Aranda was hired by Gary Andersen at Wisconsin and was retained by new coach Paul Chryst this offseason. Prior to the last three years with the Badgers, Aranda worked as the defensive signal-caller at Hawaii and Utah State and also spent three years as a graduate assistant at Texas Tech from 1999-01.
7. D.J. Durkin, Defensive Coordinator, Michigan
Michigan’s defense has led the way in coach Jim Harbaugh’s first season. Durkin is the mastermind behind the Wolverines’ aggressive group and the Ohio native has guided this unit to three consecutive shutouts. Through six games, Michigan is giving up just 6.3 points per game and 3.1 yards per play. Prior to taking over in Ann Arbor, Durkin called the plays for a standout defense at Florida (2013-14) and worked under Harbaugh at Stanford from 2007-09.
8. Barry Odom, Defensive Coordinator, Missouri
After three years calling the defensive signals at Memphis, Odom returned to a familiar place: Missouri. The Oklahoma native played with the Tigers from 1996-99 and later coached under Gary Pinkel in Columbia from 2003-11. Memphis showed dramatic improvement under Odom and limited opponents to 19.5 points per game in 2014. So far, Odom has picked up where former coordinator Dave Steckel left off, as the Tigers lead the SEC in scoring defense (13.5), rank third in sacks (17) and are giving up just 4.1 yards per play.
9. Bob Shoop, Defensive Coordinator, Penn State
It’s not unreasonable to think Shoop is the nation’s most underrated defensive coordinator. The Pennsylvania native was on James Franklin’s staff at Vanderbilt from 2011-13 and guided a defense that ranked No. 2 in the SEC with 5.1 yards per play allowed in 2013. Shoop followed Franklin to Penn State and coordinated a defense that allowed just 18.6 points per game in 2014. Shoop has head coaching experience on his resume, spending three seasons at Columbia from 2003-05.
10. Jason Candle, Offensive Coordinator, Toledo
Candle isn’t as big of a name as some of the other coaches on this list, but the former Mount Union player is one of the top coordinators in the Group of 5 ranks. Candle joined Matt Campbell’s staff as a receivers coach in 2009 and worked in that role until 2012 when he was promoted to offensive coordinator. The Rockets averaged at least 30 points a game from 2012-14 and led the MAC in 2014 by recording 6.6 yards per play. Prior to joining Campbell’s staff at Toledo, Candle worked at Mount Union as an assistant from 2003-08. He’s also regarded as an excellent recruiter.
Other Power 5 Names to Watch
Chris Ash, Co-Defensive Coordinator, Ohio State
Geoff Collins, Defensive Coordinator, Florida
Josh Conklin, Defensive Coordinator, Pittsburgh
Scott Frost, Offensive Coordinator, Oregon
David Gibbs, Defensive Coordinator, Texas Tech
Jeremy Pruitt, Defensive Coordinator, Georgia
Mike Sanford, Offensive Coordinator, Notre Dame
Kalani Sitake, Defensive Coordinator, Oregon State
Jake Spavital, Offensive Coordinator, Texas A&M
Other Group of 5 Names to Watch
Kevin Clune, Defensive Coordinator, Utah State
Eddie Gran, Offensive Coordinator, Cincinnati
Tyson Helton, Offensive Coordinator, WKU
Todd Orlando, Defensive Coordinator, Houston
Nick Rolovich, Offensive Coordinator, Nevada
Bryant Vincent, Offensive Coordinator, South Alabama
Marcel Yates, Defensive Coordinator, Boise State