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Wednesday, September 26, 2012
SEC assistants poised to make the jump

By Chris Low

A year ago, five assistants in the SEC moved on to be head football coaches.

Alabama offensive coordinator Jim McElwain took over at Colorado State. Arkansas offensive coordinator Garrick McGee took the UAB head job. Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn was hired as the Arkansas State head coach. Florida offensive coordinator Charlie Weis landed at Kansas, and South Carolina defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson got the job at Southern Miss.

Who are the next five?

Here’s a look at five of the most promising head coaching candidates in the SEC?:

Todd Grantham, Georgia associate head coach and defensive coordinator: His fiery approach has made a huge difference with Georgia’s defense, and Grantham also brought a mental toughness with him from the NFL coaching ranks that has helped to re-energize the entire program. He has 11 years of NFL coaching experience and was the Cleveland Browns’ defensive coordinator for three years. Grantham also has extensive college experience has worked under a who’s who of coaches during his career, including Nick Saban, Frank Beamer, Wade Phillips, Dom Capers and Richt. The players love Grantham's passion and love playing for him. He's going to get a shot somewhere.

Shawn Elliott, South Carolina co-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach: When Steve Spurrier does decide to step down as the Gamecocks’ head coach, don’t be surprised if Elliott gets serious consideration. He’s been a big part of the Gamecocks’ success since coming over from Appalachian State and has helped Spurrier re-invent himself a little bit offensively with the zone read package. This is Elliott’s third season at South Carolina, which has finally found some continuity in the offensive line after struggling up front in the early years under Spurrier. It’s also no coincidence that the Gamecocks are 24-7 since Elliott joined the staff.

Brent Pease, Florida offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach: Granted, it’s only four games into the season, but that Florida offense looks night and day better than it did in either of the last two seasons. Pease obviously deserves most of the credit. The Gators are balanced, more physical and more disciplined, and it’s all resulted in a 4-0 start. This is just Pease’s first season at Florida after coming over from Boise State, and he was also a guy Alabama’s Nick Saban had his eye on while looking for McElwain’s replacement. A former NFL quarterback, Pease has worked with both quarterbacks and receivers during his career. If he gets this Gators’ offense turned around for good, he’s going to be a hot commodity.

Kirby Smart, Alabama defensive coordinator and linebackers coach: One of the hottest names among SEC assistants for the past couple of years has been Smart, who’s in a position to be picky. He’s already had a couple of opportunities come his way, but wants to be sure it’s the right fit. He’s certainly been a great fit at Alabama and knows that defense inside and out. It’s always going to be Nick Saban’s defense, but Smart is the one who puts the plan together each week and has Saban’s absolute trust. Smart is now making just under $1 million, and in addition to being a top-notch tactician, he’s also an excellent evaluator of talent and one of the best recruiters on Alabama’s staff. It’s just a matter of time. Smart’s going to get a head job, and it’s going to be a good one.

Frank Wilson, LSU running backs coach and recruiting coordinator: When you start talking about the premier recruiters in the country, Wilson’s name is right there at the top of the list. Obviously, being a successful head coach requires a lot more than just being able to recruit. But when you’re as good at it as Wilson is, it’s the great equalizer. Plus, look at the job he’s done with the LSU running backs. Wilson has also coached at Tennessee, Ole Miss and Southern Miss, and he was a successful high school coach in New Orleans. So he has strong ties in the south and has made quite a name for himself in a short period of time. Wilson turns 40 next year and is sure to start showing up on a lot athletic directors’ short lists over the next few years.