May 24, 2009

Which assistant will be a head coach next season?

At the College Football Roundtable each week, we ask each member of the coverage staff for his opinion about a topic in the sport.

Today's question: Which current assistant do you think we'll be talking about as a head coach at this time next year?

Olin Buchanan's answer: Any of the four "coaches-in-waiting" could be an easy choice. But I'm going to say it should be Florida defensive coordinator Charlie Strong. He's supervised exceptional defenses on two national championship teams, and this season may make it three in four years. He's a charismatic recruiter, he has developed players and he has been a part of multiple national championships. What more could a program looking for a head coach want? Each year race becomes a little bit less of an issue as more and more programs just want the best guy to help their program win, regardless of what he looks like. Last year four blacks were hired as head coaches. Strong's time is coming. It should come next year.

Tom Dienhart's answer: I think you'll see Oklahoma assistant offensive coordinator Jay Norvell running a program. He's ready. Norvell is a bright mind who also has been an NFL assistant with Oakland and Indianapolis and an offensive coordinator at Nebraska and UCLA. Norvell has come close to landing head-coaching jobs in the past, interviewing for posts at Boston College, Iowa State and Purdue, among others. But his time appears to be now. Sooners coach Bob Stoops has spawned head coaches such as Mike Leach, Mark Mangino and Kevin Sumlin.

David Fox's answer: I agree wholeheartedly with Urban Meyer that it's time for Florida defensive coordinator Charlie Strong to get a head-coaching job. For whatever reason, this guy hasn't been given an opportunity. He had a solid career at South Carolina and at Florida, pre-Meyer. Greg Mattison got a lot of credit for the Gators' 2006 national championship defense, but Strong was co-coordinator then. He led the '08 defense and will lead an even better "D" this season. He might not land a job in the SEC or ACC, but any Conference USA team with a vacancy would be lucky to get him.

Mike Huguenin's answer: If Florida's defense performs up to expectations, I think Gators defensive coordinator Charlie Strong, 48, will become a head coach. Florida's defense has been a huge reason the Gators have won two of the past three national titles, and Strong was the co-coordinator in 2006 and the full-fledged coordinator last season. His defenses are aggressive and usually in attack mode, which is a big-time selling point to prospective employers. Just as it can be tough to sell a staid, run-oriented offensive coach to a fan base these days, the same goes for trying to sell a defensive coach who employs a bend-but-don't-break strategy. Strong has coached under Urban Meyer, Steve Spurrier and Lou Holtz – three coaches who have won national titles – and is an excellent recruiter. While Strong has spent most of his career as a defensive coach, he also has been a wide receivers coach, so he has some experience on both sides of the ball. As impressive a résumé as Strong has, though, it all goes back to how well Florida's defense performs this fall. With all of the two-deep returning, that defense should be quite – ahem – strong again.

Steve Megargee's answer: The track record of Oklahoma offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson ought to make him an attractive head-coaching candidate. Wilson won the Broyles Award as the nation's top assistant last season, when Oklahoma scored 716 points to set an NCAA single-season record. That offense also became the first in NCAA history to score at least 60 points in five consecutive games. Wilson obviously benefited from working with a star-studded roster, but it wasn't the first time one of his offenses put up big numbers. Wilson also coordinated a Northwestern offense that ranked third in the nation in yards per game in 2001. His offenses also have plenty of balance. Last season's Oklahoma team was the first to have a 4,000-yard passer and two 1,000-yard rushers. If the Sooners remain prolific on offense this fall even though they're returning just one starting lineman from the 2008 squad, Wilson ought to earn a head-coaching opportunity at the end of the season.

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