November 17, 2010

Dozens of assistants primed to move up

RELATED: Coaching carousel

At one time, Bo Pelini was the hot name. He was the assistant coach everyone wanted to hire a few years ago.

That was back in 2007, when Pelini was defensive coordinator of LSU. That season, he helped lead the Tigers to the national championship. That's when Nebraska came calling; the Huskers needed help after pulling the plug on the disastrous Bill Callahan era.

Pelini wasn't a household name when he was named to rebuild the crumbling Nebraska empire, but he has turned into a rising coaching star in just his third season in Lincoln.

With the coaching carousel about to begin spinning fast, here's my ranking of the nation's top three dozen assistants. Is there another Pelini in the group?

CURRENT JOB: Auburn offensive coordinator
THE BUZZ: In 2005, Malzahn was coaching Springdale (Ark.) High. Five years later, he's the hottest assistant coach in America. Every offense he touches, Malzahn revs up. And he has helped develop a scheme that has made Cameron Newton the best player in the nation.
CURRENT JOB: Alabama defensive coordinator
THE BUZZ: The son of a coach, the former Georgia safety is one of the nation's hottest stars. And working for defensive mastermind Nick Saban has only accentuated Smart's status.
CURRENT JOB: Oklahoma State offensive coordinator
THE BUZZ: Holgorsen was hired away from Houston and has amped up the Cowboys attack. The Cowboys are ultra-productive despite having a rebuilt offense this season.
CURRENT JOB: Texas defensive coordinator
THE BUZZ: The Longhorns thought so much of him that they made him the coach-in-waiting and pay him $900,000 per season. That makes Muschamp the nation's highest-paid assistant not named Monte Kiffin. Nick Saban has groomed Muschamp, and it shows. Muschamp's defenses play smart, and his players feed off his chest-bumping energy.
CURRENT JOB: Alabama offensive coordinator
THE BUZZ: The personable McElwain has done a good job updating the Tide offense with some sophisticated formations and passing schemes since he was hired from Fresno State. He's a bright mind and hard worker who is ready for the next step.
CURRENT JOB: Oklahoma offensive coordinator
THE BUZZ: He has pushed the buttons on some of the nation's best attacks. Remember the 2008 Sooners offense? The 2000 Northwestern attack? Few scheme as well as Wilson, who has come close to landing a few head-coaching jobs.
CURRENT JOB: Florida State defensive coordinator
THE BUZZ: In one season in Tallahassee, the youngest Stoops has further enhanced his reputation as a rising star by turning a soft unit into an aggressive and smart defense that thrives on making big plays.
CURRENT JOB: Virginia Tech defensive coordinator.
THE BUZZ: He already should be a head coach, as Foster arguably is the nation's top defensive coordinator. He has had sniffs in the past, most notably at Kentucky and Clemson But for now, Foster remains by the side of Frank Beamer, where he has been dating to their days at Murray State.
CURRENT JOB: Michigan State offensive coordinator
THE BUZZ: He has an innate ability to get the most out of his players. And Treadwell excelled while leading the Spartans when Mark Dantonio was recovering from a heart attack.
CURRENT JOB: Nebraska offensive coordinator
THE BUZZ: He had a failed run as coach of Southern Illinois in the mid-1990s, but Watson has rehabbed his image and emerged as an innovative play-caller. Bo Pelini thought so much of Watson that he kept him when he replaced Bill Callahan.
CURRENT JOB: Oklahoma defensive coordinator
THE BUZZ: A product of the Bill Snyder coaching tree, Venables has shown an knack of developing schemes around the strengths of his personnel. He's smart and intense.
CURRENT JOB: Wisconsin offensive coordinator
THE BUZZ: The Badgers aren't just a plodding offense. And they have the calm and cool Chryst to thank. Bret Bielema almost lost Chryst to the Dallas Cowboys a few years ago. He also has interviewed for several head-coaching jobs in recent years.
CURRENT JOB: Pitt offensive coordinator
THE BUZZ: The son of a coach, Cignetti has built a diverse resume that has seen him work in the NFL, in the WAC, Pac-10, ACC and now Big East. He has breathed life into the Panthers' offense and made a solid quarterback out of Bill Stull last season. Now, he's on the verge of doing the same with Tino Sunseri.
CURRENT JOB: Maryland offensive coordinator
THE BUZZ: The smart and dynamic Franklin already is the coach-in-waiting in College Park. He has accentuated his resume by helping revive an ailing Terrapins program this season.
CURRENT JOB: Penn State defensive coordinator
THE BUZZ: An assistant to Joe Paterno since 1979, Bradley is a sage defensive mind who often is mentioned as JoePa's successor.
CURRENT JOB: Wisconsin defensive coordinator
THE BUZZ: The guy oozes intensity. And he also can coach, annually making the Badgers one of the Big Ten's best defenses despite not having the same talent as schools such as Ohio State and Penn State.
CURRENT JOB: Illinois offensive coordinator
THE BUZZ: Now that he's out of brother Bobby's formidable shadow, Paul Petrino has blossomed in making the Fighting Illini offense as productive as it has been under Ron Zook. Petrino is ultra-intense and a whirling dervish on the practice field.
CURRENT JOB: Nebraska defensive coordinator
THE BUZZ: As with brother Bo, Carl Pelini knows defense. He's excellent at finding mismatches and exploiting them. And Pelini also is a top-notch motivator who knows how to connect with players.
CURRENT JOB: Oklahoma assistant offensive coordinator/wide receivers coach
THE BUZZ: He has interviewed for several jobs and figures to eventually get one. Norvell has run offenses at UCLA and Nebraska and coached with the Raiders and Colts. He's a hard worker who is ready for the next step.
CURRENT JOB: Georgia defensive coordinator
THE BUZZ: In one season, Grantham - who came from the NFL - has started Georgia back on the road to having one of the SEC's top defenses. He installed a new 3-4 scheme, and the players feed off Grantham's energy and passion.
CURRENT JOB: Ole Miss defensive coordinator
THE BUZZ: Nix generally does more with less than most coordinators in the nation. He's an underrated tactician who knows how to maximize his players' strengths.
CURRENT JOB: Houston defensive coordinator
THE BUZZ: He realized the potential at Houston, which is why he's there. Stewart, who has NFL experience - including a stop as defensive coordinator of the Cowboys - has improved what was a horrid unit in 2009.
CURRENT JOB: Stanford associate head coach/tight ends coach
THE BUZZ: He spent 13 years in the NFL with the Panthers, Texas and Ravens before Jim Harbaugh brought him to the Farm. Harbaugh says Roman is the brains behind a Cardinal offense that ranks among the best in the nation.
CURRENT JOB: , Iowa State offensive coordinator
THE BUZZ: He's one of the most underrated assistants in the nation. But that's starting to change as the Cyclones continue to earn respect. Herman is smart tactician who has done great work developing Austen Arnaud after developing a prolific offense at Rice.
CURRENT JOB: Texas Tech offensive coordinator
THE BUZZ: Brown is one of the fastest-rising talents in the nation. He's a child of the spread offense, learning from the likes of Hal Mumme and Tony Franklin.
CURRENT JOB: Wake Forest offensive coordinator
THE BUZZ: An Air Force grad, Lobotzke has many of the traits that made his boss, Jim Grobe, a success. "Lobo" runs a diversified offense and knows how to succeed without great talent.
CURRENT JOB: North Carolina offensive coordinator
THE BUZZ: His 12 years of NFL experience, including stints as offensive coordinator for the Bears and Raiders, bolsters his resume. And Shoop has done an excellent job of making T.J. Yates one of the best quarterbacks in the ACC this season.
CURRENT JOB: Washington offensive coordinator
THE BUZZ: A former NFL quarterback, Nussmeier is future star whose resume already includes stints in the NFL and as offensive coordinator at Fresno State. And working with Steve Sarkisian will take him to another level.
CURRENT JOB: North Carolina defensive coordinator
THE BUZZ: He first earned plaudits as an assistant at Texas under Mack Brown. Withers moved on to the NFL before landing back in college as coordinator at Minnesota and now North Carolina, where he has done a tremendous job with a roster ripped apart by suspensions this season.
CURRENT JOB: Michigan offensive coordinator
THE BUZZ: He is Rich Rodriguez's right hand man, dating back to the coach's days at West Virginia. Magee, a former NFL tight end, understands the dynamics and intricacies of developing a spread-option offense.
CURRENT JOB: Notre Dame offensive line coach
THE BUZZ: The veteran assistant pushed the buttons on a terrific Kansas offense from 2007-09 and also earned praise as run game coordinator at Illinois from 2005-06.
CURRENT JOB: Boise State assistant head coach/receivers coach
THE BUZZ: He's a big reason the Broncos have had one of the nation's top offenses under Chris Petersen. Pease first drew notice working as offensive coordinator for some prolific attacks at Kentucky from 2000-01.
CURRENT JOB: Tennessee offensive coordinator
THE BUZZ: His diverse background should intrigue schools. Chaney helped develop Drew Brees at Purdue, worked in the NFL and now is showing his resourcefulness as offensive coordinator with the Vols.
CURRENT JOB: Kentucky defensive coordinator.
THE BUZZ: The former star NFL defensive back rarely has blue-chip talent to work with. But Brown does a good job with schemes.
CURRENT JOB: California offensive coordinator
THE BUZZ: He never was embraced or fully appreciated at Utah, but the cerebral Ludwig is a master at developing game plans and leaves no detail unturned.
CURRENT JOB: Utah defensive coordinator
THE BUZZ: He is a rising talent who is learning from one of the best defensive minds in the nation in Kyle Whittingham. Sitake is a quick learner and one of the nation's most underrated recruiters.

Tom Dienhart is a national senior writer for He can be reached at, and you can click here to follow him on Twitter.

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