The Big 12's next great coaches

July, 13, 2012
7/13/12
8:00
AM CT
The Big 12 isn't stocked with many fresh-faced coaches, but the league's biggest rising star just finished his first season on the sideline.

It ended with a league title and a BCS bowl win -- rather emphatically, I might add -- but he just didn't do it in the Big 12. What did he do in the Big 12? Groom one of the game's best offensive minds underneath Mike Leach before helping revitalize offenses at Houston and Oklahoma State.

That earned Dana Holgorsen a heck of a first job -- West Virginia -- and earns him my pick as the Big 12's biggest rising star in the coaching profession.

It's really not even close. Holgorsen earned a strong reputation at Texas Tech, but he wasn't the man calling the plays. That changed with record-breaking quarterback Case Keenum at Houston. His prolific offenses persuaded Mike Gundy to reluctantly cede the play-calling duties at Oklahoma State.

That may have been the best decision of Gundy's career. Oklahoma State blossomed into a force in 2010 and kept an almost exact replica of Holgorsen's offense to win the Big 12 in 2011. Anybody else know the last time one coach's offense won two league titles in a single season?

Now West Virginia is reaping the benefits of Holgorsen's offensive expertise. At 41, he is the Big 12's youngest head coach (31 years younger than its oldest, Bill Snyder) and three years younger than anyone else in the league (Mike Gundy is 44).

West Virginia has proved that it may not be one of college football's ultimate destination jobs (Hi, RichRod!), but it's a place you can stay for a long time and win. Every indication is that is exactly what Holgorsen will do, and now he'll get a chance to do it in familiar territory in the Big 12.

Want a few other rising stars in the coaching game? They're roaming the sidelines as Mack Brown's right-hand men.

Manny Diaz is my No. 1 on the list. He has had the athletes, sure, but in one season, he turned Texas from a very good defense into the meanest in the Big 12 by far -- and one of the nation's best.

Despite losing tons of NFL talent at linebacker, the Longhorns are back this year and fit to lead the Big 12 in total defense for a fifth consecutive season. Diaz has helped turn his secondary into the league's best, built on toughness. Last season, Texas was the nation's last team to give up a touchdown pass longer than 20 yards, holding out until the season finale against Heisman winner Robert Griffin III. In today's Big 12, that's unbelievable.

Diaz has risen faster than anybody in coaching recently. Ten years ago, he was preparing for his first position coach job after serving as a graduate assistant at NC State. Now, he has a case as one of the nation's best coordinators. Two years ago, he was the coordinator at Middle Tennessee State, and now he has replaced Will Muschamp, who left the Texas DC spot to take the head-coaching job at Florida. Don't be surprised if a big boy job comes calling for Diaz, even with his inexperience, very soon.

Keep an eye on Oklahoma OC Josh Heupel, but my other coach to watch is Texas offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin. He has more experience as a playcaller and groomed his skills under one of the game's best coaches, Chris Petersen at Boise State. He spent five seasons calling plays at Boise, which calculates to approximately 464,126 pre-snap shifts from the time he was promoted after three seasons as tight ends coach to offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.

That's the title he holds in Austin, but it might not be for long if he can help usher in the balanced, power-running attack Texas has wanted since Colt McCoy left after the 2009 season. There is no more visible place to do it, and if Harsin succeeds, he'll be adjusting to the title of head coach at some place nice very soon.

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