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Tuesday, June 21, 2011
O'Brien establishing coach cred with Pats

By Tim Graham

This week's Power Rankings took a gander at the NFL's best up-and-coming assistant coaches.

To define the list, ESPN.com's panel of division bloggers decided we would concentrate on assistants who have never been head coaches (we didn't count interim tags) and are approaching their shot to run a staff.

Here's my ballot:
  1. Rob Ryan, Cowboys defensive coordinator
  2. Russ Grimm, Cardinals offensive line coach
  3. Dirk Koetter, Jaguars offensive coordinator
  4. Bill O'Brien, Patriots offensive coordinator
  5. Rob Chudzinski, Panthers offensive coordinator
  6. Perry Fewell, Giants defensive coordinator
  7. Brian Schottenheimer, Jets offensive coordinator
  8. Winston Moss, Packers inside linebackers coach
  9. Mike Waufle, Raiders defensive line coach
  10. Pete Carmichael, Saints offensive coordinator

Ryan topped my ballot for two reasons. First, he's a great defensive coach. Second, his twin brother's success with the New York Jets is pushing Rob Ryan even closer and closer to consideration.

In sorting out my list, my dominant criterion was becoming a head coach soon. Grimm has interviewed for jobs, reportedly been close to landing a couple and is highly thought of around the league. If Las Vegas posted odds on the next assistant to become a first-time head coach, Ryan and Grimm would be at the top of the list.

I was one of only three panelists to vote for O'Brien at all. AFC South blogger Paul Kuharsky listed him fifth. NFC North blogger Kevin Seifert ranked him eighth.

A high ranking for O'Brien simply is playing the percentages. Bill Belichick coordinators always seem to get an opportunity to be a head coach, and O'Brien certainly is making his mark. A coordinator appointment from Belichick is the ultimate sideline blessing these days. Tom Brady's not a bad reference either.

O'Brien did more than just pick up where Josh McDaniels left off. O'Brien oversaw a restructuring of the Patriots' offense from a shotgun-spread style to a two tight-end approach. He also prevailed in a battle of wills with Randy Moss and then directed the Patriots' offense to great things without him.