NCF Nation: 20120713 next coaches

Who's ready to be a head coach?

July, 13, 2012
7/13/12
9:00
AM ET
ESPN.com's week of looking at coaches continues with the question: Which assistant coaches are ready to move up to the big office?

There are several in the Pac-12. Here are a few:

Justin Wilcox, Washington, defensive coordinator: It seems like it's just a matter of time for Wilcox, who has been a hot assistant coach for years after building an elite defense at Boise State under Chris Petersen. He is young -- 35 -- and has been around. If he transforms the rotten Huskies defense into a top-ranked unit, he'll have his pick of jobs. By the way, Brock Huard beat me to the punch on this one.

Mark Helfrich, Oregon, offensive coordinator: Word on the street was that if Chip Kelly had left for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Helfrich would have been promoted to replace him, a decision made behind the scenes by the same folks who identified Kelly's talent. While folks see the Ducks' high-powered offense as Kelly's baby -- and it is -- Helfrich's role is underrated. He also understands how Kelly built a culture, which is more important for a head coach than X's and O's.

Pep Hamilton, Stanford, offensive coordinator: Hey, he is the Andrew Luck Director of Offense! Hamilton has been around -- both in college and the NFL -- and he has a way about him that suggests he would be a capable team CEO. He is a charismatic guy who is a good teacher and likes a smashmouth style of play. And the Cardinal offense has been a thing of beauty for three seasons.

Noel Mazzone, UCLA, offensive coordinator: Mazzone is old, 55, and follically challenged, but if he creates a strong offense at UCLA after doing the same at Arizona State, it's hard to imagine that some smart athletic director out there won't bite. Mazzone has coached just about everywhere, and a few years ago he reinvented himself as a spread offense/quarterback guru. He is an outgoing, likable guy who is great with the media, but that shouldn't be held against him. At least no more than his haircut.

Kalani Fifita Sitake, Utah, defensive coordinator: Sitake has a few things going for him. For one, it's become clear that he can coach the heck out of a defense. Second, he has risen through the ranks at Utah learning from Kyle Whittingham, one of the nation's best coaches. Third, some AD at some point is going to go: "If we hire a native Tongan, I wonder if that might help us recruit the thousands of Polynesian athletes who scatter across the college football nation annually?"
We're always looking for the next best thing. The coaching world isn't any different.

Who's the next Urban Meyer? The next Chris Petersen? What about another Brady Hoke?

Who's that next great assistant who rises up the ranks and takes over a major program ... and succeeds?

I'm not completely sure, but I have a few ideas. Here are some coaches lurking in the SEC who could be on their way to bigger and better things or are ready to take the next step with their current teams:

Head coaches
  • James Franklin, Vanderbilt: Franklin became the only first-year coach in Vandy history to guide the Commodores to a bowl game. He surpassed the program's win totals in each of its previous two seasons and signed arguably the school's best recruiting class in 2012. He brought attitude, confidence and a bit of swagger to the program. He could have left after one year but is really looking to turn things around at Vanderbilt.
  • Dan Mullen, Mississippi State: Bulldogs fans probably don't like hearing this, but Mullen is becoming a hot name among the coaching ranks. In his three seasons in Starkville, he has guided Mississippi State to two straight bowl wins. In 2010, he led the Bulldogs to nine wins for the first time since 1999. Mullen says he is happy in Starkville, but if he continues to win, bigger schools won't hesitate to go after him.
Assistants
  • Shawn Elliott, South Carolina offensive line coach/running game coordinator: Steve Spurrier has raved about Elliott's impact on offense and bringing in the zone read package. Elliott has done wonders for South Carolina's offensive line, which was a continual sore spot in Spurrier's early years at the school. Elliott is also a dogged recruiter. Having grown up in Camden, S.C., Elliott is somebody to watch when Spurrier hangs it up. If he doesn't get that job, somebody is going to snap him up.
  • Rodney Garner, Georgia defensive line coach/recruiting coordinator: He has been at Georgia for a while and has been wooed several times by other schools. LSU went after him several years ago, and Lane Kiffin was interested in bringing him to Tennessee. In the past 12 years, he has coached plenty of NFL talent, including four first-round draft picks. He has consistently been one of the league's best recruiters as well.
  • Todd Grantham, Georgia defensive coordinator/associate head coach: He could start getting more looks for head-coaching gigs. He has vast NFL experience, including being a defensive coordinator at that level, and more schools are looking for coaches with NFL experience. Grantham has proven himself as a recruiter and worked under two of the best in the college ranks -- Frank Beamer at Virginia Tech and Nick Saban at Michigan State. He has made a tremendous difference in turning around Georgia's defense and has an edge about him that successful head coaches possess.
  • Chris Kiffin, Ole Miss defensive line coach/recruiting coordinator for defense: He is one of the bright young names among the assistant ranks. As the defensive line coach at Arkansas State, he coached up Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Year Brandon Joiner, who tied for third in the nation in sacks and 10th in tackles for loss. Arkansas State also led the conference and ranked eighth nationally in tackles for loss (7.62 per game) and tied for 15th in sacks (2.69 per game). He is a tremendous recruiter and helped bring in a solid defensive class in a short amount of time this spring.
  • Kliff Kingsbury, Texas A&M offensive coordinator: After being a standout quarterback at Texas Tech, he is considered one of the top young assistants in college football. He came over with Kevin Sumlin from Houston, where he helped guide the Cougars' offense to its record-setting year in 2011. Houston led the nation in total offense, passing offense and scoring in 2011 behind quarterback Case Keenum. The Cougars averaged 599.1 total yards per game, including 450.1 through the air, while scoring more than 49 points per game.
  • Paul Petrino, Arkansas offensive coordinator: He came over to help run Arkansas' offense with his brother, but after Bobby Petrino was fired this spring, Paul Petrino assumed the role as primary playcaller. In 2010, he guided an Illinois offense that broke school records for total points (423) and points per game (32.54). The Illini averaged 42.1 points and 448.9 total yards over the final seven games of the season. If he can keep Arkansas' offense going this year, his phone might start ringing a little more.
  • Bob Shoop, Vanderbilt defensive coordinator/safeties coach: He has been a head coach at Columbia and is innovative on defense, playing the kind of attacking style that attracts great players. He helped orchestrate one of the most impressive defensive turnarounds in the country last year, as Vanderbilt ranked ninth nationally in pass defense efficiency and 18th in total defense. Vandy's defense also ranked among the nation's top units in interceptions, points allowed and rush defense.
  • Kirby Smart, Alabama defensive coordinator: He is one of the best defensive coordinators around, and it seems like only a matter of time before he is a head coach somewhere. Smart has already passed on a few head-coaching opportunities. He is making $950,000 a year and is in a position to be picky with coaching jobs.
  • Trooper Taylor, Auburn wide receivers coach/assistant head coach: He is one of the hottest and most successful recruiters in the SEC. He brought in and trained some elite receivers at Oklahoma State and Tennessee before making his way to Auburn. He is continuing that trend and has turned Emory Blake into one of the SEC's best pass-catchers. He was co-offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State, and if Auburn's receivers make another jump, Taylor could be waving his towel elsewhere soon.
  • Frank Wilson, LSU running backs coach/recruiting coordinator: He has emerged as one of the sport's top recruiters. As a running backs coach, he has done a tremendous job with the Tigers. Last season, LSU averaged 202.6 rushing yards per game and tied a school record with 35 rushing touchdowns. Three backs eclipsed the 500-yard rushing mark. Wilson commands tremendous respect from his players.
  • David Yost, Missouri offensive coordinator/recruiting coordinator: He has been at Missouri for 11 years, but he has to start getting more attention as an exceptional playcaller. He has a great eye for talent and pointing out mismatches in his spread scheme. In 2011, Mizzou ranked ninth nationally in rushing (244 yards per game) and had one of the most balanced offenses, as Mizzou was one of only two schools in the country to average at least 230 yards rushing and passing in each game.
We've been taking a look at coaches this week, seeing which programs are defined by one coach, which coaching jobs are the best, which coaches offer the most bang for the buck and which coaches have the most longevity.

We wrap up the series today by looking forward. Who are the next great coaches in the Big Ten? Here are some names to keep an eye on:

Brady Hoke, Michigan: Hoke is on the verge of being considered one of the elite coaches in the game. He has been a head coach for nine seasons, but only one of those -- 2011 -- was at a BCS AQ school. Hoke's 58-52 overall record might not seem that impressive, but he was the Mountain West Coach of the Year at San Diego State and the MAC Coach of the Year at Ball State, which he led to a 12-win season in 2008. Hoke led the Wolverines to an 11-2 season and Sugar Bowl win last season. His recruiting success indicates that more success is to come, and his loyalty to the school suggests he could become an all-time great in the mold of Bo Schembechler and Lloyd Carr.

Pat Narduzzi, Michigan State: Narduzzi was a hot coaching name in the offseason after overseeing one of the best defenses in the country. He chose to stay with the Spartans but will likely be in high demand again for head-coaching jobs. He is a fiery guy with a good personality who could follow in Mark Dantonio's footsteps as a successful leader of a program.

Tim Beckman, Illinois: Though he came up as a defensive assistant, Beckman's teams were known for their offenses at Toledo. He went 21-16 in three years but had back-to-back eight-win seasons and was 14-2 in the MAC in 2009 and 2010. He still has a lot to prove as a head coach and needs to be able to recruit well to win at Illinois, but there's no doubting his energy level.

John Papuchis, Nebraska: Papuchis is only 34, but he is quickly climbing the coaching ladder. He was named the Huskers' defensive coordinator this offseason after impressive stints tutoring the defensive line and special teams. Nebraska coach Bo Pelini is extremely high on Papuchis, who was a graduate assistant under Pelini at LSU. Papuchis' career arc suggests that a head-coaching job might not be far off.

Bill O'Brien, Penn State: There's much we don't know yet about O'Brien. He has never been a head coach, for one. We don't know how the Penn State scandal will affect his ability to do the job, and it's never easy following a legend. But O'Brien has earned praise so far for how he has handled a challenging situation and for his recruiting efforts. The Nittany Lions have all the resources that the right coach could use for tremendous success.

Luke Fickell and Tom Herman, Ohio State: Fickell went 6-7 in his first shot as head coach last season with the Buckeyes. His inexperience at game management showed at times, but he did an impressive job handling the many off-the-field distractions. Studying under Urban Meyer could give him more seasoning and a chance to become a better head coach down the line.

Meyer plucked Herman from relative obscurity at Iowa State to be his offensive coordinator, admiring Herman's creativity as a playcaller. Guys like Charlie Strong, Kyle Whittingham, Dan Mullen, Steve Addazio and Beckman have gone on to become winning head coaches after working with Meyer. Perhaps Fickell or Herman -- or both -- will be next in line.
When it comes to listing the top up-and-coming coaches in the Big East, it is hard to overlook two at the top -- Charlie Strong at Louisville and Butch Jones at Cincinnati.

Strong has the Cardinals on the rise, while Jones has delivered for Cincinnati with a relatively modest salary.

But there are some young assistants in the league with potential. Here is who I am keeping an eye on in 2012:

Brooks Bollinger, Pitt: Bollinger is going into his first season with the Panthers, coming to the team from the high school coaching ranks. While there is much that is yet to be known about him, this is a huge year for Bollinger. He gets to work with Tino Sunseri, the most maligned quarterback in the Big East. If Bollinger can get Sunseri to improve, he deserves major credit in Year 1.

Ryan Day, Temple: Day has his first opportunity as an offensive coordinator after spending the past five seasons coaching receivers at Boston College. At the age of 33, Day is the second-youngest offensive coordinator in the Big East, beat out by Syracuse coordinator Nathaniel Hackett by nine months. This season is a great chance for Day to show what he can do with the move into the Big East.

Nathaniel Hackett, Syracuse: Speaking of Hackett, this also is a huge year for the Syracuse offense and Hackett in particular. One of the biggest knocks against the Orange offense has been its inability to make big, explosive plays. Coach Doug Marrone has promised that is going to change this season. And that falls squarely on Hackett's shoulders.

Clint Hurtt, Louisville: I am curious about Hurtt, defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator for the Cardinals. He continues to be one of the top recruiters in the Big East, but there is a big asterisk next to his name because we have no idea about his role in the scandal at Miami during his tenure there. The NCAA has yet to finish its investigation, but Hurtt was implicated by rogue Miami booster Nevin Shapiro in a Yahoo! Sports report. If the allegations are proven to be false, Hurtt's star will continue to rise. If the report is corroborated, he is in big trouble.

Jerome Pathon, USF: He begins Year 1 with the Bulls after spending the past three seasons working with the receivers at the University of San Diego. Pathon played in the NFL and got coaching experience with internships in the NFL, so he should be ready to take the step up. USF has an immense wealth of talent and potential at the receiver position but has fallen short of capitalizing on what it has, so this is a critical season.

ACC's next great coaches

July, 13, 2012
7/13/12
9:00
AM ET
ESPN.com's series on coaches concludes this week with a look at the next great wave of coaches. They can be assistants, coordinators or head coaches who have only begun to scratch the surface of their coaching careers. Here are four rising stars to keep an eye on in the ACC:

Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris: It didn't take long after Clemson's ACC championship for Morris to sign a new contract, a six-year deal worth $1.3 million per season. One day after winning the title, Clemson bought itself some staff stability with Morris' upgraded contract. There was speculation he might leave after his first season in Death Valley, as the Tigers' offensive success made him one of the most sought-after assistants in the country. He led the 2011 offense to several school records, including total yards per game (440.8) and points (470). His new contract should keep him on the sideline for a while, but this should be just the beginning for Morris.

Florida State defensive coordinator Mark Stoops: If there is one assistant the Noles can't afford to lose, it's Stoops. FSU fans panicked last year after Stoops' name was linked to several job openings throughout the country. Coach Jimbo Fisher made it clear, though, that Stoops is here to stay -- at least for another season. Stoops has quickly transformed Florida State's defense into one of the best in the country. Don't forget that when he was hired from Arizona, the Noles' defense was ranked among the nation’s worst. If the D is as good as advertised this season, don't be surprised if Stoops' future at Florida State becomes a question again in December.

North Carolina coach Larry Fedora: Fedora has a chance to really make a name for himself in Chapel Hill, and he can do it quickly. There are plenty of pieces in place, especially offensively, for North Carolina to surprise some ACC teams this fall. The biggest hurdles are the loss of 15 scholarships over three years and this year’s postseason ban. The good news for UNC is that, just by hiring Fedora, it has taken the first step to putting the NCAA investigation behind the school, and the program has finally gotten some closure since the sanctions were announced in March. There are plenty of resources at UNC for Fedora to make Carolina a top-25 program and plenty of talent within the state to recruit.

Virginia Tech running backs coach Shane Beamer: Pedigree aside, Beamer has carved out his own reputation as a top recruiter and a good coach. As South Carolina's recruiting coordinator in 2009, Beamer helped the Gamecocks' special teams and defense rank among the nation's best. He was nominated for the Frank Broyles Assistant Coach of the Year award after that season. He is well-respected by his peers and has paid his dues. After three seasons at Mississippi State and four seasons at South Carolina, Beamer returned to Blacksburg to coach with his father. They have said repeatedly they don't talk about the future of the head-coaching position there, but it's hard to ignore the possibility of the younger Beamer following in his father's footsteps.

The Big 12's next great coaches

July, 13, 2012
7/13/12
9:00
AM ET
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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