Which coordinators are rising stars to watch?
College football coordinators have a huge impact on their team in any season. And it’s no secret that hiring good coordinators and retaining them is critical to the long-term success of any head coach. Changing coordinators or a promotion of an assistant into the play-calling role can also provide a boost for any team or provide a fix for a struggling unit.
Every year there’s a new crop of coordinators emerging into the national spotlight or primed for a promotion. Which coordinators are on the rise or which ones could be in the mix to be a head coach in the coming years?
Here’s a few names to watch from the Power 5 ranks and a couple of coordinators from the Group of 5 teams to monitor in 2015.
(Photo of Arkansas' Robb Smith courtesy of Razorbacks Communications)
Power 5 Coordinators on the Rise
Dave Aranda, Defensive Coordinator, Wisconsin
In just two years at Wisconsin, Aranda has established himself as one of the Big Ten’s top assistants. Under Aranda’s direction, the Badgers have finished No. 2 in the conference in scoring defense in back-to-back years. Additionally, Wisconsin ranked No. 8 nationally in fewest yards per play in 2013 and gave up only 4.9 yards per play in 2014. Prior to the last two years in Madison, Aranda was a defensive coordinator for one year at Utah State and two seasons at Hawaii.
Chris Ash, Co-Defensive Coordinator, Ohio State
Ash was hired by coach Urban Meyer to work as the co-defensive coordinator with Luke Fickell last season. And the hire paid dividends for the Buckeyes’ defense, as this unit allowed only 22 points per game en route to a national championship. Ash also coordinated defenses at Arkansas and Wisconsin and is known for his work with defensive backs. Ohio State’s secondary showed significant progress under Ash, giving up only 17 touchdown passes after allowing 31 in 2013. Additionally, the Buckeyes cut down on some of the big plays that plagued this unit in 2013.
Kendal Briles, Offensive Coordinator, Baylor
With Philip Montgomery departing to be the head coach at Tulsa, Briles will assume the controls of Baylor’s high-powered offense. The former Houston receiver has worked on his father's (Art) coaching staff in Waco since 2008 and called the plays in the Cotton Bowl against Michigan State. Although the Bears came up short on the scoreboard, the offense averaged 7.9 yards per play against a rugged Michigan State defense.
Related: Big 12 2015 Predictions
Geoff Collins, Defensive Coordinator, Florida
Collins is known as the “Minister of Mayhem,” and the Georgia native left Starkville to coordinate Florida’s defense under new coach Jim McElwain. Under Collins’ watch, Mississippi State held opponents to 23 points per game in 2013 and 21.7 in 2014. The Bulldogs also ranked second in the SEC with 37 sacks last year. Prior to his stint with Mississippi State (2011-14), Collins also worked at FIU (2010), UCF (2008-09) and Alabama (2006).
Josh Conklin, Defensive Coordinator, Pittsburgh
Conklin has been on a fast rise through the coaching ranks, and the Wyoming native was picked by defensive guru Pat Narduzzi to run Pittsburgh’s defense in 2015. Prior to his hire with the Panthers, Conklin spent two years at FIU and guided the 2014 defense to a No. 3 finish in points allowed in Conference USA and 33 forced turnovers.
D.J. Durkin, Defensive Coordinator, Michigan
Jim Harbaugh is one of the nation’s top coaches and offensive minds, but the former Michigan quarterback will have plenty of help from a standout defensive staff. Veteran assistant Greg Mattison remained in Ann Arbor, while Durkin was hired from Florida to coordinate the defense. Durkin worked closely with Will Muschamp from 2010-14 in developing a Gators’ defense that was consistently among the best in the SEC. Prior to the four-year stint at Florida, Durkin worked for three years at Stanford under Harbaugh.
Mike Elko, Defensive Coordinator, Wake Forest
The Demon Deacons are in rebuild mode under second-year coach Dave Clawson. The defense was a bright spot for Clawson last season, as despite a non-existent offense, Wake Forest gave up 26.4 points per game and held opponents to 5.2 yards per play. Elko followed Clawson from Bowling Green and coordinated the Falcons’ defense to a No. 1 rank among MAC defenses in fewest points allowed in 2013.
Related: ACC 2015 Predictions
Scott Frost, Offensive Coordinator, Oregon
Oregon’s offense hasn’t missed a beat since Chip Kelly left for the NFL. Having a quarterback like Marcus Mariota certainly helps, but Frost has emerged as one of the nation’s top play-callers. The Ducks averaged 45.4 points per game in 2014 and have recorded back-to-back seasons of at least seven yards per play.
David Gibbs, Defensive Coordinator, Texas Tech
Texas Tech is consistently among the Big 12’s best on offense, but the defense has experienced its share of struggles and gave up 41.3 points per game in 2014. However, coach Kliff Kingsbury took a big step in addressing the defensive needs by hiring David Gibbs from Houston. In Gibbs’ tenure with the Cougars, the defense ranked among the best in the American Athletic Conference in fewest points allowed and generated 73 turnovers from 2013-14. Gibbs should be the right hire to get Texas Tech’s defense on the right track.
Doug Meacham, Co-Offensive Coordinator, TCU
Meacham was one of the nation’s top coordinator hires in 2014 and made a huge impact on TCU’s push for a playoff spot. The Horned Frogs offense struggled in 2013 by averaging only 25.1 points per game. But Meacham’s hire immediately paid big dividends for coach Gary Patterson, as TCU ranked second in the Big 12 by averaging 46.5 points per game last year. Additionally, the Horned Frogs averaged 6.7 yards per play in 2014. Meacham also improved Houston’s offense in his one year with the Cougars, guiding the 2013 attack to an average of 33.2 points per game.
Related: Big 12 2015 Predictions
Scottie Montgomery, Offensive Coordinator, Duke
David Cutcliffe is the mastermind behind Duke’s offense, but Montgomery was promoted to the offensive coordinator role after a one-year stint as receivers coach in 2013. Prior to the 2013 season, Montgomery spent three years with the Steelers and worked from 2006-09 as an assistant at Duke.
Mike Norvell, Offensive Coordinator, Arizona State
It’s only a matter of time before Norvell gets a chance to run a Power 5 program. The 33-year-old offensive coordinator has been a key cog in Arizona State’s rise under coach Todd Graham. Norvell has worked for the last three years as the Sun Devils’ play-caller and previously spent time with Graham at Pittsburgh and Tulsa. Arizona State has averaged at least 38 points per game in each of Norvell’s three years in Tempe.
Barry Odom, Defensive Coordinator, Missouri
After three years at Memphis, Odom is returning 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. Odom has big shoes to fill after Dave Steckel left to be the head coach at Missouri State. However, Odom is a top-notch hire and should keep Missouri’s defense performing at a high level in 2015 and beyond.
Related: SEC 2015 Predictions
Jeremy Pruitt, Defensive Coordinator, Georgia
In just two years, Pruitt has already moved into the conversation as one of the top defensive coordinators in the nation. Pruitt coordinated Florida State’s defense in its 2013 national championship season and led the nation by holding opponents to just 12.1 points per game. In Pruitt’s first year at Georgia, the Bulldogs held opponents to 4.8 yards per play and 20.7 points per game. Pruitt is also regarded as an excellent recruiter.
Lincoln Riley, Offensive Coordinator, Oklahoma
Bob Stoops overhauled his staff after a disappointing 8-5 season last year, and Riley was handed the keys to the Sooners’ offense. Riley’s background is in the Air Raid offense, as he worked under Mike Leach at Texas Tech from 2003-09 and joined Ruffin McNeill’s staff at East Carolina as the play-caller from 2010-14. Under Riley’s direction, the Pirates averaged 40.2 points per game in 2013 and led the American Athletic Conference in passing yards per contest in 2014.
Mike Sanford, Offensive Coordinator, Notre Dame
Sanford has only been an offensive coordinator for just one season (2014), but the Virginia native is highly regarded assistant. Under Sanford’s watch last year, Boise State led the Mountain West by averaging 39.7 points per game. Additionally, the Broncos averaged 6.5 yards per play and ranked among the nation’s best in red zone offense. Prior to Boise State, Sanford spent three years at Stanford (2011-13) and also worked one year (2010) at WKU.
Kalani Sitake, Defensive Coordinator, Oregon State
When Gary Andersen was hired at Oregon State this offseason, he turned to a familiar name to coordinate the defense. Sitake worked with Andersen at Southern Utah in 2003 and at Utah from 2005-08. The Hawaii native comes to Corvallis after spending six years as the Utes’ defensive coordinator. Utah led the nation with 55 sacks in 2014 and led the Pac-12 in scoring defense (20.2 ppg) in 2011. The combination of Andersen and Sitake should be a huge addition for an Oregon State defense in rebuild mode in 2015.
Bob Shoop, Defensive Coordinator, Penn State
Shoop was regarded as one of the nation’s top assistant hires last season, and the Pennsylvania native helped Penn State lead the Big Ten in scoring defense and rank No. 3 nationally in yards per play allowed. Shoop also worked under Penn State coach James Franklin at Vanderbilt, and the Commodores held opponents under 25 points per game in all three seasons (2011-13). Shoop also has stops on his resume at William & Mary, UMass, Columbia, Boston College and Army. The Pennsylvania native is one of the top defensive coordinators in the nation.
Robb Smith, Defensive Coordinator, Arkansas
Bret Bielema has a good track record of hiring assistants. And it’s no surprise Bielema hit a home run when he hired Smith to coordinate Arkansas’ defense last season. After a one-year stint in the NFL with the Buccaneers, Smith returned to the collegiate level and transformed the defense into one of the best in the SEC. The Razorbacks allowed only 19.2 points per game and gave up only 28 points over the final four contests. Prior to his 2014 season at Arkansas, Smith also worked from 2009-12 at Rutgers and from 2002-08 at Maine.
Group of 5 Coordinators on the Rise
Kevin Clune, Defensive Coordinator, Utah State
Clune is back at Utah State after a one-year stint at Hawaii. He replaces Todd Orlando, who left Logan for a chance to coordinate Houston’s defense. Clune’s one year with the Rainbow Warriors brought marked improvement to their defense. Hawaii allowed 38.8 points per game in 2013 but gave up only 26.8 under Clune. Prior to the one-year stint at Hawaii and working from 2009-13 at Utah State, Clune also spent time as the defensive coordinator at Weber State and Southern Utah.
Tyson Helton, Offensive Coordinator, WKU
Helton assumed controls of WKU’s offense in 2014, and the Florida native’s first opportunity to call plays at a FBS program was a huge success. The Hilltoppers averaged 44.4 points per game in 2014 and ranked second nationally by averaging 374.3 passing yards per game.
Related: Conference USA 2015 Predictions
Brent Key, Offensive Coordinator, UCF
Key is regarded for his work on the recruiting trail, and the Birmingham native will take over play-calling duties for the Knights in 2015. Key has worked on UCF’s staff since 2005 and played at Georgia Tech under coach George O’Leary.
Todd Orlando, Co-Defensive Coordinator, Houston
Orlando was hired by Tom Herman to coordinate Houston’s defense after a successful two-year run at Utah State. Under Orlando’s watch, the Aggies led the Mountain West in scoring defense and fewest yards per play allowed in back-to-back years. The Pittsburgh native also has stops in his career as a defensive coordinator at FIU and UConn.
Nick Rolovich, Offensive Coordinator, Nevada
Rolovich – the former Hawaii quarterback – is in his four season coordinating the Wolf Pack offense. Nevada’s best season under Rolovich’s watch took place in 2012, as the Wolf Pack averaged 37.8 points per game and 6.2 yards per play. The California native will be tested in 2015 with the departure of quarterback Cody Fajardo.
Related: Mountain West 2015 Predictions
Tyson Summers, Defensive Coordinator, Colorado State
After spending one season as the defensive coordinator at UCF, Summers headed out west to work with Mike Bobo at Colorado State. The Knights’ defense held opponents to just 19.2 points per game last year and limited American Athletic Conference teams to just 3.9 yards per play.
Bryant Vincent, Offensive Coordinator, South Alabama
Vincent is back at South Alabama after a one-year stop at UAB. The Kentucky native guided the Blazers to a No. 4 finish in Conference USA scoring offense last season, and a 5.5 mark in yards per play. Vincent will be working with a few familiar faces from UAB, as quarterback Cody Clements and standout offensive lineman Cameron Blankenship transferred to Mobile for their senior year.