SEC: Frank Wilson

BATON ROUGE, La. -- Frank Wilson's job could have been awfully difficult this season if the wrong personalities existed within his running backs room at LSU.

Wilson -- the Tigers' recruiting coordinator and running backs coach -- just bolstered his depth chart by adding the nation's top overall prospect, Leonard Fournette, plus Darrel Williams, who rushed for 2,200 yards as a high school senior. If the other scholarship tailbacks on the roster, seniors Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard, were jealous types, the dynamic in Wilson's meeting room could easily have turned poisonous.

Instead, it seems to be the exact opposite.

"They're so humble," Wilson said of Magee and Hilliard. "They've been so patient in their careers and they understand what it is to be a young pro and put themselves in position to embark on this senior year and have great success. So to have both of those guys here who are unselfish and lead our group is certainly positive for us."

[+] EnlargeLSU's Terrence Magee and Leonard Fournette
AP Photo/Gerald HerbertTerrence Magee is wearing the No. 18 jersey this season -- given to LSU's top leaders each fall -- in part because of his mentorship of young running backs like Leonard Fournette (7).
Even during spring practice, a few months before Fournette and Williams arrived on campus, Magee and Hilliard answered frequent questions about the new signees without balking. Despite the possibility that the Tigers' top back might become a freshman, the veterans immediately embraced the newcomers in an effort to get them ready for the Aug. 30 opener against Wisconsin.

"I've been happy with that," Fournette said. "They're still teaching us, all the young running backs. Without them, we'd kind of be lost. Every day they teach us and we get better."

And they're happy to teach, Hilliard said, just as Spencer Ware, Michael Ford, Alfred Blue, James Stampley and J.C. Copeland did for him as a freshman in 2011.

"They were all brothers to us," Hilliard said. "They all took us underneath their wing and carried us."

The freshmen seem to be taking the right approach, as well.

"One thing I love about Darrel -- just like I love about Leonard -- I love his attitude," Magee said. "He might call me 20 times a day to ask me, ‘What do I do on this?' or 'What do I do on that?' He was blowing me up [the night before preseason camp opened]. But you like guys like that because they want to learn. For me, I want to teach him because I want to look back and say I was able to help that guy get to where he is today."

That's exactly the kind of selflessness those at LSU expected from Magee. The coaches handed him the No. 18 jersey for the season -- an honor that goes to one of the Tigers' top leaders each fall. And leadership is what he has shown toward Fournette, who might be the most heavily-hyped recruit in LSU history.

"You know when you meet someone and you know you're kind of alike? That's how it is with me and Terrence," Fournette said. "I enjoy being around him. He's another jokester. He likes to have fun and I think the brotherhood that we're creating, it's fun.

Fournette continued, "Without him I'd be lost. Every day he's taking his time after practice, he's coming by my house teaching me and telling me this is what this call means, this is what that call means. So that means a lot. I'm catching on faster outside of football practice with him helping me."

Magee and Hilliard aren't na´ve about what the 2014 season holds. They know that despite rushing for a combined 936 yards and 15 touchdowns last season as Jeremy Hill's backups, they will probably touch the ball fewer times as the freshmen adapt to SEC football.

All of them envision some sort of backfield timeshare, as that has become a common feature of LSU's running game in recent seasons.

"I think all of us are going to get a lot of carries, a lot of play and contribute to the team," Williams predicted.

And that's just fine with Magee and Hilliard.

Some players view their senior seasons as a final chance to shine -- and show NFL scouts that they're worthy of becoming draft picks. LSU's senior backs certainly hold that mindset, but realize they can think that way without being selfish toward their young teammates.

"When things get hard and people question our team, when it's tough out there when we're practicing, [his predecessors wearing No. 18 were] the first guys to step up and just lead this team, show everybody how it's done. ‘Follow me. Watch me,' " Magee said. "I really admire that about those guys. Sometimes you have young guys and they're looking around and looking for somebody to follow. Each guy that I've seen wear that since I've been here, they got it."

He and Hilliard seem to have willing followers in the two freshman backs.

"I really don't think about [starting] because we're still learning and the veterans are teaching us," Fournette said. "I don't expect to come in and right away in the game and start. So I'm just following Kenny and Terrence."

Fortunately for LSU, and for the future of its running game, Magee and Hilliard seem to be two good players for a freshman to follow.

LSU embraces playing freshmen

May, 28, 2014
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- Les Miles has never been afraid to play a true freshman -- LSU’s sports information department reports that the Tigers have played 87 first-year freshmen in Miles’ nine seasons -- but it has become one of the program’s trademarks only in recent years.

The Tigers ranked among the nation’s top-five programs at playing freshmen in each of the last two seasons -- 14 freshmen in 2013 (third) and 15 in 2012 (fifth) -- and Miles has all but guaranteed at least 15 more will see the field this fall once a star-studded recruiting class arrives on campus.

It has quickly become a calling card for Miles’ staff on the recruiting trail.

[+] EnlargeTyrann Mathieu
AP Photo/Aaron M. SprecherTyrann Mathieu is one of many LSU players in recent years who've had a chance to contribute as true freshmen.
“I think kids like that about LSU,” offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said. “They like our style, they like Coach Miles’ philosophy that young guys are going to play early, which we do. I think we’ve averaged maybe ... at least 15 freshmen a year playing. And so all that plays into recruiting.

“You can’t guarantee a guy he’s going to play, but if he knows he’s given the opportunity and he’s got confidence in his ability, the track record speaks for itself. Come in and help us win and here’s the key thing, I think, that I’ve learned since being here is our veteran players -- our juniors and sophomores and redshirt sophomores and so forth -- they expect young guys to come help them play. They’re not afraid of young guys coming in and playing with them.”

Considering its recent history at the position group, it should come as no surprise that LSU recruiting coordinator Frank Wilson traces the development of this trend back to the arrival of key players in the secondary. The wheels were set in motion when cornerbacks Patrick Peterson and Morris Claiborne contributed as true freshmen in 2008 and 2009, respectively, but the freshman movement truly took off with the 2010 class that featured Tyrann Mathieu, Eric Reid and Tharold Simon.

Those players -- and several others who played bigger roles the next season when LSU won an SEC championship -- started to show what they could do in the second half of their freshman seasons, capped by an impressive win against Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl where Mathieu, Reid and Simon all intercepted passes.

“It really hit because we had three guys in the secondary because so many spread defenses came (along), so we played a lot of nickel and a lot of dime with five and six defensive backs there,” Wilson recalled. “So Tyrann Mathieu took to the field, Tharold Simon took to the field as well as Eric Reid, and then offensively Spencer Ware began to emerge, et cetera. So probably in that class, the class of [2010], it kind of hit a high point from that point on. These guys have relished and looked forward to the opportunity to contribute as freshmen, and we like it.”

Mathieu went on to become the 2011 SEC Defensive Player of the Year, a first-team All-American and a Heisman Trophy finalist thanks to his dynamic playmaking ability. Reid also became an All-American and first-round NFL draft pick. Simon didn’t earn the same level of acclaim in college, but he was still able to jump to the NFL after his junior season and become a draft pick himself.

All three players had eligibility remaining when they left LSU, which exemplifies the greatest contributing factor in the program’s recent trend of playing youngsters. No program has had more players enter the draft early in the last couple seasons than LSU, and those departures created holes that talented freshmen could fill.

LSU recruited toward that end for this year's class and cashed in on signing day when it landed the nation’s No. 2 recruiting class, one that featured the top overall prospect in tailback Leonard Fournette, the No. 1 receiver (Malachi Dupre), top guard (Garrett Brumfield) and 16 players who made the 2014 ESPN 300.

“We knew our needs, we knew what we wanted to get,” Wilson said of signing day. “We targeted certain guys, so there was never a panic on our part. We kind of knew early on by way of communication and feedback who we’re in good shape with and who we’re not and have a plan on people to place and sign in those positions.”

Tailback and receiver will certainly be manned at least in part by freshmen this season, and many other freshmen such as quarterback Brandon Harris, safety Jamal Adams and linebacker Clifton Garrett also might follow Mathieu, Reid and Simon’s lead by playing key roles this fall.

LSU isn’t the only school that relies heavily on young players, but it has quickly gained a reputation as a trendsetter in that regard.

“I think that’s a little unique,” Cameron said. “Sometimes guys are afraid of young players coming in and taking their position, but here I don’t sense that. I sense guys like the competition and they know we’re going to need everybody to win a championship.”

BATON ROUGE, La. -- Frank Wilson hasn’t been taking it easy on his players lately.

LSU’s running backs coach has been giving Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard a heavy workload in spring practice, which was partially out of necessity since the two seniors are the only scholarship tailbacks on the Tigers’ spring roster.

“It's getting pretty rough out there,” Magee said with a smile. “We're taking a lot of reps. We were rotating every play, but this week Coach Frank wants us to go a little bit longer so we've been going about every three now. So it's getting pretty taxing, but it's going to pay off in the long run.”

[+] EnlargeKenny Hilliard
Spruce Derden/USA TODAY SportsSenior Kenny Hilliard is one of two tailbacks that LSU returns from last season, joining Terrence Magee.
This is an unusual time for LSU’s tailbacks -- a position group known in the recent past for its impressive depth. In 2011, LSU had four players (Michael Ford, Spencer Ware, Alfred Blue and Hilliard) rush for 300 or more yards and score at least seven touchdowns. It was more of the same last season, with Jeremy Hill (1,401 yards, 16 TDs), Magee (626-8), Blue (343-1) and Hilliard (310-7) all going for 300-plus and Hill, Magee and Hilliard all scoring at least seven times.

But with Hill and Blue both entering the NFL draft, the Tigers are now forced to work converted linebacker (now fullback) Melvin Jones at tailback a bit just to break up the practice reps.

“This is his first time carrying the ball, but he's getting better,” Hilliard said of Jones. “His pad level is a little high, but that's part of it. He's never really carried the ball before, so it's just a lot of teaching that he's got to learn, watch film and make sure that he stays in the film room and just look at us and let us lead by example. He can just pay attention to us and he'll be all right.”

Any LSU fan who hasn’t been living under a rock knows that this situation is only temporary. Leonard Fournette -- one of the most heavily hyped prospects ever to emerge from Louisiana, whom two recruiting services, including ESPN, picked as the nation’s No. 1 overall recruit -- isn’t on campus yet. Neither is Darrel Williams, who rushed for 2,201 yards and 32 touchdowns as a senior at Marrero (La.) John Ehret.

Both players seem likely to contribute as true freshmen. And in Fournette’s case, anything short of stardom would probably disappoint most Tigers fans -- a reality that is not lost on LSU’s returning tailbacks.

“I don't feel like we get overlooked and it doesn't bother us,” Magee said of the buzz surrounding Fournette. “All the credit that he gets, he fully deserves. He was the No. 1 player in the country and he's a great running back. I've watched film of him. So everything that he's getting, I feel that he's well deserving of it.”

Fournette will still need help adjusting to life on a college campus and within a big-time SEC program, which is where the two seniors can help.

“Those guys have just got to be mentally prepared when they come in, because the transition from high school to college, it's tough,” Hilliard said. “As they get here, I'm going to mentor them -- me and Terrence -- like Spencer Ware and Alfred Blue and those guys mentored us.”

Even if Fournette immediately emerges as LSU’s next superstar back, the Tigers have traditionally spread around the carries under Les Miles. Magee, who averaged 7.3 yards per carry last season, and Hilliard, who has a touchdown for every 10 touches in his career, will almost certainly play key roles in the offense.

“One thing about [offensive coordinator Cam Cameron’s] offense: the best player's going to play and the hardest worker's going to play,” offensive lineman Vadal Alexander said. “I'll tell you one thing, Kenny Hilliard and Terrence Magee are two of the hardest-working players on our team. So they are going to get their carries. You can see that they're talented guys. Terrence has one of the best agility moves, side-to-side quickness, all that. Kenny is one of the most powerful backs in the nation in my opinion.”

Once Hill returned from an early suspension last season, Magee found a niche as a third-down back. The former receiver would like to expand upon that role by adding some pass-catching responsibilities out of the backfield -- plus Miles said last week that Magee will rank among the Tigers’ top candidates as a kick return man.

He has never carried the ball more than 82 times in a season, but Hilliard has proven to be an especially effective goal-line runner, and that role seems likely to remain in place in the fall.

Obviously no roles for 2014 are established yet, and they won’t be until the freshmen arrive and responsibilities begin falling into place during August practices. The only duties Magee and Hilliard are certain to claim are those of mentors -- and they seem happy to help Fournette and Williams, just as their predecessors did when they were underclassmen.

“We've just got to keep the standards and just be able to come out and execute and play hard,” Hilliard said. “That's our motto: just come out and play hard and take care of the ball and everything will be all right. We know we have two young guys coming in and we're going to mentor them and make sure they get right and keep the legacy in the room.”

Sigh of relief at LSU

February, 5, 2014
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- LSU recruiting coordinator Frank Wilson seemed to be experiencing more than one emotion Wednesday as he and his fellow coaches put the finishing touches on the nation’s No. 2 recruiting class.

“Huge sigh of relief. Hard work vindicated,” Wilson said on the program's signing day special that aired on the school's website. “For such a long time, you've put in hard work -- not only our staff, the 10 on-field coaches, but the entire support staff from the top to the bottom.”

[+] EnlargeMalachi Dupre
ESPNLanding Malachi Dupre, the nation's No. 1 WR, helped LSU climb to No. 2 in the class rankings.
Wilson was obviously excited, as well, and for good reason. The Tigers not only landed one of the top three remaining uncommitted players in the ESPN 300 -- New Orleans receiver Malachi Dupre, the nation's top receiver prospect -- but they added a pair of four-star defensive linemen in Travonte Valentine and Trey Lealaimatafao. They also flipped defensive end Sione Teuhema from Texas, which should help them sign Teuhema's brother, Maea, who will be one of next year's top offensive line prospects.

They also held onto at least one -- and probably both -- of the ESPN 300 defensive ends who wavered on their verbal commitments (Davon Godchaux and Deondre Clark) to the Tigers. LSU has yet to officially confirm Clark's signing, but received his national letter of intent paperwork.

Add the good fortune on signing day to a recruiting cycle that helped LSU land the nation's top overall prospect, tailback Leonard Fournette, and two more players ranked first at their position, plus three players who ranked second. Clark's signature would make 16 ESPN 300 selections in LSU's 22-man class.

“I like, more importantly than being a five star, that these guys are in our class, they were evaluated by our coaches and they fill our needs,” LSU coach Les Miles.

Wilson barely even had an opportunity to enjoy the fruits of his labor on Wednesday, however. Shortly after LSU received the final NLI on signing day, the recruiting staff had already erased its 2014 wish list off the board in its “war room.”

“The board is cleaned off, '15 is up, '16's behind them, and I'm like, 'Wait!' It's minutes guys, you haven't even given me a chance,” Wilson chuckled. “That's the reality of it. It's forever moving at a fast pace.”

SEC assistants poised to make the jump

September, 26, 2012
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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.
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.

Running backs a driving force for LSU

November, 3, 2011
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- People usually stress quality over quantity.

It’s tough to perfect that and it’s even harder to get both.

Well, that’s what LSU is working with in its backfield.

The top-ranked Tigers (8-0, 5-0) are putting a pounding on opposing front sevens with their stable of running backs.

[+] EnlargeSpencer Ware
AP Photo/Wade PayneSpencer Ware has been the most productive back among LSU's dangerous group of rushers.
First, there’s Spencer Ware, who is the leader of the pack and the battering ram. He runs with power and grace while continuing to get extra yardage with those fancy spin moves.

Next you have Michael Ford. He isn’t as big as Ware, but he still packs a punch. He has a little more speed and complements Ware well in the offense.

And don’t forget about Alfred Blue. Even at 6 feet 2 inches, he’s a versatile back who has as many yards for loss as touchdowns (4).

Together, these three have totaled 1,205 yards and 16 touchdowns on 264 carries this season. They are a major reason why LSU is fourth in the SEC in rushing (189 yards a game) and why the Tigers enter their showdown with No. 2 Alabama (8-0, 5-0) as the No. 1 team in the land.

“It’s nice to have a stable of running backs,” LSU offensive lineman Will Blackwell said.

“‘Fresh legs’ like I like to say. Guys don’t have to carry the ball 30 times a game. They can get 10 or 15 and run as hard as they can every time and you don’t have to worry about them wearing down or getting out of breathe or getting banged up.”

It’s LSU’s running backs who have done most of the roughing up this season.

Ford said he would love for he and his teammates to take the credit for a successful running game, but all of his praise was directed toward running backs coach Frank Wilson. Ford said he’s the one who comes up with the game plans and makes the decisions about who will play and when someone will play.

He keeps them fresh during games and hungry during practice.

“You might not know who it is, but Coach Frank gets us ready for anybody who goes in there during practice,” Ford said. “We just rotate, rotate, rotate.”

It’s that attitude that has this group excelling. Ware might be considered the No. 1, but all three think they’re starters.

“You never know who is going to start because practice won’t tell you,” he said. “We all have to go out there and play hard.

“It helps out a lot because when we get to the game, nobody misses a beat.”

It could get frustrating not knowing what your role will be in upcoming games, but this group doesn’t mind. Ford said any one of them could take the reins from beginning to end.

That was made pretty obvious when Ware was suspended for the Auburn game, leaving the other backs to shoulder the load. This time it was yet another running back who stepped up in during Ware’s absence. Ford gained 82 yards on 12 carries, but it was true freshman Kenny Hilliard who had a breakout game, gaining 85 yards and scoring two touchdowns.

Before the Auburn game, Hilliard had just five carries.

Having multiple backs carrying the rock during a game doesn’t mean changing offensive styles. Blackwell said that even though each back runs differently, the offense treats the running backs the same when they’re on the field and it’s all about creating holes.

“We block the same no matter who’s back there,” he said.

What can get lost in the rushing bundle is that these backs’ success helps open up the passing game. Quarterback Jarrett Lee said his job is much easier and the passing game is tougher to stop when he has the luxury of handing the ball off to a handful of running backs.

“It helps a lot. When you have a stable of backs like we do who can come in and make plays like that then it opens up the passing game,” Lee said. “It opens up the play-action passing game for us.”

Ware is back from suspension and LSU’s bye week has this group feeling better than ever. Ford said throwing multiple backs out and keeping these players vibrant can be hazardous for a defense.

“Definitely it wears them down because every time somebody goes in there, you know they’re fresh when the defense is tired,” he said.

SEC afternoon links

February, 11, 2011
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We saved our links until the afternoon today. Hey, it's Friday:

Eight SEC coaches among top recruiters

February, 10, 2011
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ESPN recruiting analysts Corey Long and Jamie Newberg have come up with their list of the 25 best recruiters in college football this year.

These are all assistant coaches, and eight SEC coaches made the cut -- Sal Sunseri of Alabama, Tim Horton of Arkansas, Trooper Taylor and Tommy Thigpen of Auburn, Mike Bobo of Georgia, Frank Wilson of LSU, G.A. Mangus of South Carolina and Charlie Baggett of Tennessee.

The ACC was second with five assistant coaches on the list.

I put together my own list earlier this month of the SEC's top 25 recruiters among assistant coaches, and six of the eight SEC guys on the national list were also on my list. The two I didn't have on my list (Mangus and Thigpen) should have been.

Bottom line: If you can't recruit in the SEC, you're probably not going to be around very long -- or you better be one of the best position coaches in the business.

The SEC's 25 best recruiters

February, 1, 2011
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Thanks to Ryan McGee, we took a look at the best recruiting head coaches in the SEC on Monday.

But what about the assistants?

They’re the ones who lay the groundwork, and in most cases, establish the relationships with prospects and their families so the head coach can get in the door and close the deal.

Having conferred with several in and around the league, not to mention talking with players who've gone through the the process, here are the 25 best recruiters in the SEC among assistant coaches. They’re listed alphabetically:
  • Charlie Baggett, Tennessee's assistant head coach/wide receivers coach
  • Shane Beamer, South Carolina’s special teams coordinator/recruiting coordinator
  • Mike Bobo, Georgia’s offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach
  • Burton Burns, Alabama’s associate head coach/running backs coach
  • Steve Caldwell, Arkansas’ defensive ends coach
  • Rodney Garner, Georgia’s assistant head coach/recruiting coordinator/defensive line coach
  • Billy Gonzales, LSU’s passing game coordinator/wide receivers coach
  • Aubrey Hill, Florida’s wide receivers coach
  • Tim Horton, Arkansas' recruiting coordinator/running backs coach
  • Tony Hughes, Mississippi State’s recruiting coordinator/safeties coach
  • Ellis Johnson, South Carolina’s assistant head coach for the defense
  • John Lilly, Georgia's tight ends coach
  • Gus Malzahn, Auburn's offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach
  • Tee Martin, Kentucky’s passing game coordinator/wide receivers coach
  • Garrick McGee, Arkansas’s offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach
  • Wesley McGriff, Vanderbilt’s defensive recruiting coordinator/defensive backs coach
  • Curtis Luper, Auburn’s recruiting coordinator/running backs coach
  • Chris Rumph, Alabama's defensive line coach
  • Kirby Smart, Alabama’s defensive coordinator
  • Trooper Taylor, Auburn’s assistant head coach/wide receivers coach
  • Lance Thompson, Tennessee’s linebackers coach
  • Sal Sunseri, Alabama’s assistant head coach/linebackers coach
  • Chris Vaughn, Ole Miss’ recruiting coordinator/cornerbacks coach
  • Brian White, Florida's tight ends coach
  • Frank Wilson, LSU’s recruiting coordinator/running backs coach

SEC West coaching carousel

February, 26, 2010
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Here’s a Western Division breakdown of who’s out and who’s in for the 2010 season. Auburn was the only team in the league without any turnover:

ALABAMA

Who’s out: Associate head coach/linebackers coach James Willis

Who’s in: Alabama coach Nick Saban promoted Jeremy Pruitt from director of player development to fill the vacancy left by Willis, who went to Texas Tech to be Tommy Tuberville’s defensive coordinator. Pruitt had been Alabama’s director of player development for the last three seasons and coached at Hoover High School just outside Birmingham prior to that.

ARKANSAS

Who’s out: Offensive coordinator/receivers coach Paul Petrino, assistant head coach/offensive line coach Mike Summers and defensive ends coach Kirk Botkin.

Who’s in: Garrick McGee was promoted to offensive coordinator after Paul Petrino left to take the Illinois offensive coordinator’s job. Kris Cinkovich will coach receivers after spending the last six seasons coaching receivers at UNLV. Steve Caldwell, who was out of coaching last season, will coach ends. Caldwell was on Phillip Fulmer’s staff at Tennessee for 14 seasons. Chris Klenakis will coach offensive line after coming over from Nevada.

LSU

Who’s out: Assistant head coach/running backs coach Larry Porter, receivers coach D.J. McCarthy and tight ends/recruiting coordinator Don Yanowsky.

Who’s in: Frank Wilson, who was at Tennessee last season, will coach the running backs and serve as recruiting coordinator. Billy Gonzales will coach receivers and serve as the passing game coordinator. Gonzales spent the last five seasons at Florida. Steve Ensminger, a former quarterback at LSU, will coach tight ends. He spent last season coaching high school football, but was at Auburn the six seasons prior to that and has also coached at Georgia, Clemson and Texas A&M.

MISSISSIPPI STATE

Who’s out: Defensive coordinator Carl Torbush and defensive line coach David Turner.

Who’s in: Manny Diaz will be the Bulldogs’ defensive coordinator and also coach linebackers. He was the defensive coordinator at Middle Tennessee State the previous four seasons. Chris Wilson will serve as co-defensive coordinator and coach the defensive line. He spent the last five seasons coaching the defensive line at Oklahoma.

OLE MISS

Who’s out: Offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Kent Austin.

Who’s in: Dave Rader will coach quarterbacks and take over as co-offensive coordinator for Austin, who left to take the head-coaching job at Cornell. Rader was out of coaching the last three seasons, but was the offensive coordinator at Alabama under Mike Shula from 2003 to 2006. He was also the head coach at Tulsa from 1988 to 1999. Rader will share the coordinator duties with Mike Markuson, who was promoted by Houston Nutt and will also continue to coach the offensive line.

SEC East coaching carousel

February, 26, 2010
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With LSU opening spring practice Monday, I thought it might be wise to go over all the coaching changes in the SEC this year.

As usual, it was a revolving door this past offseason. In fact, Auburn was the only school in the league that didn’t have any staff turnover. The final number of head coaches or assistants departing for various reasons was 31.

Some were fired. Others got better gigs, while there were a few that were swayed elsewhere (within the conference) for more money.

Here’s an Eastern Division breakdown of who’s out and who’s in for the 2010 season. We'll do the Western Division a little bit later:

FLORIDA

Who’s out: Associate head coach/defensive coordinator Charlie Strong, defensive coordinator George Edwards, recruiting coordinator/receivers coach Billy Gonzales, cornerbacks coach Vance Bedford and running backs coach Kenny Carter.

Who’s in: Teryl Austin, who spent the last seven seasons as the Arizona Cardinals’ defensive backs coach, is Florida’s new defensive coordinator. He replaces George Edwards, who held the job for less than a month before going back to the NFL with the Buffalo Bills. Edwards replaced Charlie Strong, who left following the season to take the Louisville head job. Stan Drayton returns to coach running backs. He was at Florida earlier this decade before moving on to Tennessee and most recently Syracuse. D.J. Durkin will coach defensive ends and special teams after spending the last three seasons at Stanford. Zach Azzanni will coach receivers. He was previously the assistant head coach/receivers coach at Central Michigan.

GEORGIA

Who’s out: Defensive coordinator/secondary coach Willie Martinez, co-defensive coordinator/linebackers coach John Jancek and defensive ends coach Jon Fabris.

Who’s in: Former Cleveland Browns defensive coordinator Todd Grantham takes over as Georgia’s defensive coordinator. He was the Dallas Cowboys’ defensive line coach the last two seasons. Scott Lakatos will coach the defensive backs after spending the last six seasons on the Connecticut staff, and Warren Belin will coach linebackers after spending the last eight seasons on the Vanderbilt staff.

KENTUCKY

Who’s out: Head coach Rich Brooks, offensive line coach Jimmy Heggins and defensive line coach Rick Petri.

Who’s in: Joker Phillips, who was already the Wildcats’ coach in waiting, takes over the head coaching reins. Mike Summers will coach the offensive line after serving as assistant head coach/offensive line coach at Arkansas the last two seasons. Former Tennessee quarterback Tee Martin will coach the receivers. Martin was the quarterbacks coach at New Mexico last season. David Turner, who has coached at four different SEC schools, will coach the defensive line. Turner was at Mississippi State the last three seasons.

SOUTH CAROLINA

Who’s out: Offensive line coach/running game coordinator Eric Wolford.

Who’s in: Shawn Elliott replaces Wolford, who left to take the head coaching job at Youngstown State. Elliott has spent his entire coaching career at Appalachian State, including the last nine seasons as offensive line coach.

TENNESSEE

Who’s out: Head coach Lane Kiffin, defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, recruiting coordinator/defensive line coach Ed Orgeron, quarterbacks coach David Reaves, receivers coach Frank Wilson, offensive line coach James Cregg, running backs coach/special teams coordinator Eddie Gran and defensive backs coach Willie Mack Garza.

Who’s in: Derek Dooley was hired as the Vols’ head coach after Lane Kiffin left to take the Southern California head job. Justin Wilcox comes over from Boise State to be the defensive coordinator. Charlie Baggett will serve as assistant head coach and coach the receivers. He has 11 years of NFL experience and was on the St. Louis Rams’ staff last season. Harry Hiestand will coach the offensive line. He was the offensive line coach for the Chicago Bears the past five seasons. Darin Hinshaw will coach quarterbacks. He was the receivers coach at Memphis the past three seasons. Terry Joseph will coach the secondary and special tams. He was with Dooley at Louisiana Tech. Eric Russell will coach tight ends and coordinate special teams. He was also at Louisiana Tech with Dooley. Former Tennessee All-SEC performer Chuck Smith will coach the defensive line. He worked as an assistant defensive line coach with the New York Jets last season and has also tutored several defensive linemen over the years. He played professionally for the Atlanta Falcons.

VANDERBILT

Who’s out: Linebackers coach/special teams coordinator Warren Belin.

Who’s in: Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson is still working to replace Belin, who left to join the Georgia staff. Johnson promoted Jimmy Kiser to offensive coordinator, and Kiser will call all of the Commodores’ plays this season. Ted Cain remains on staff as the tight ends coach and special teams coordinator.

Lunchtime links: Gators ticket sales slow

December, 18, 2009
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Some SEC links for your Friday reading pleasure:

  • Florida fans aren't exactly gobbling up Allstate Sugar Bowl tickets. The Gators still have about 5,000 of their allotment remaining, and the game's only two weeks away.
  • Defensive back Ryan White of Tallahassee, Fla., says he will sign with Auburn in February. He's the Tigers' 23rd commitment.

Wilson leaves Vols, Gran could be next

December, 5, 2009
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Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin put together what he called a dream coaching staff last year and boasted about being able to lure top coaches from other staffs.

It looks like the same thing could be happening to him this year.

Receivers coach Frank Wilson left the Vols on Saturday to take a job on the LSU staff as running backs coach and recruiting coordinator. Wilson, who's from New Orleans and has strong ties to that area, will replace Larry Porter, who was named the Memphis head coach earlier this week.

Wilson received a big pay raise to go to LSU and will make more than $300,000 per year with the Tigers. He was one of the Vols' lowest paid assistants at $150,000 per year.

Tennessee running backs coach and special-teams coach Eddie Gran could be next. He has a chance to join Jimbo Fisher at Florida State in a similar capacity and would also be in line for a big raise. The Seminoles are prepared to pay him $300,000-plus. Gran made $190,000 last year at Tennessee and has been one of the Vols' most valuable recruiters in the state of Florida.

Vols get one of the top players in 2011 class

May, 11, 2009
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Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

One of the top players in the 2011 signing class has committed to Tennessee. Now the real fun begins for the Vols -- holding onto him.

Defensive lineman Anthony Johnson of O. Perry Walker High School in New Orleans informed Tennessee assistant Frank Wilson last Friday that he had committed to the Vols. There's a pretty strong tie there, and there was also a caveat to the 6-foot-4, 295-pound Johnson's commitment.

Wilson, a New Orleans native, was the head coach at O. Perry Walker from 2000 through 2002, and Tennessee recruiting coordinator and defensive line coach Ed Orgeron has extensive ties throughout the state of Louisiana.

That said, Johnson doesn't plan to end the recruiting process. He will continue to take visits and see what other schools have to offer. He mentioned Alabama and UCLA as two schools that would remain on his list.

Johnson has started since he was a freshman and already has 34 sacks entering his junior season. 

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