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College Football's Top 20 Assistant Coaches

Danny FlynnSenior Analyst IJanuary 8, 2017

College Football's Top 20 Assistant Coaches

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    Assistant coaches at major college football programs don’t receive nearly the same amount of publicity and fame as their head-coaching counterparts do. However, the job still has plenty of perks.

    Most of the top coordinators in the country get paid a six-figure salary to live and breathe football all year long. Nonetheless, it’s no easy job. An assistant coach has to be able to recruit, game-plan, scout opponents and most importantly, he has to lead a unit that produces.

    If he does all of that well, he’ll quickly become a coveted head-coaching candidate. If he doesn’t, he’ll quickly become unemployed.

    We know who many of the top college coordinators were this past season. But what about the top coordinators to watch for next season?

    Here’s a look at college football’s top 20 assistant coaches for 2013.

1. Kirby Smart, DC, Alabama

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    Alabama’s defense is simply on a different level than any other defense in college football. The Tide have ranked first in the nation in both total defense and scoring defense for each of the past two seasons.

    The defense’s dominance is the main reason why Kirby Smart has been the most celebrated assistant coach in college football for the past few years.

    Smart’s name is always linked to plenty of job openings every year. But Nick Saban’s right-hand man has decided to stay in Tuscaloosa so he can continue to build championship-caliber defenses.

2. Bob Diaco, DC, Notre Dame

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    Notre Dame’s defense was bombarded by Alabama in the BCS championship game. But in the regular season, it was one of the strongest units in college football. The Irish ranked second in the country in scoring defense, seventh in total defense and eighth in rushing defense.

    Coordinator Bob Diaco won the prestigious Broyles Award, given to the best assistant coach in the country, for building such an impressive defense.

    With standouts such as DT Louis Nix, DE Stephon Tuitt, LB Prince Shembo and CB Bennett Jackson all returning, Diaco’s defense should once again be one of the top units in the country in 2013.

3. John Chavis, DC, LSU

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    John Chavis never seems to have a shortage of talent at LSU. If you want proof, look at how many Tigers defenders have been drafted by NFL teams in just the past few years.

    Still, even though Chavis has the benefit of having great talent at almost every position, that doesn’t make what he’s been able to accomplish in Baton Rouge any less impressive.

    Under Chavis’ watch, the Tigers have ranked in the top 15 nationally in both scoring defense and total defense in each of the past three seasons.

4. Derek Mason, DC, Stanford

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    Stanford was one of just nine teams to hold opponents to three yards per carry or less in 2012.

    The Cardinal run defense routinely shut down opposing rushers this past season. The unit also stiffened up when it counted most in the red zone, as it allowed just 17 points per game.

    The leader of the defense, coordinator Derek Mason, is one of the best up-and-coming head-coaching candidates in college football.

    Mason will once again have plenty of defensive talent to work with in 2013, including DE Ben Gardner, linebackers Shayne Skov and Trent Murphy and FS Ed Reynolds. He should be able to mold another terrific unit.

5. James Coley, OC, Miami

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    After playing an integral part in Florida State's 12-win season, which included an ACC championship and an Orange Bowl victory, it didn't take long for James Coley to say goodbye to the Seminoles. 

    Coley, a Miami native, made the decision to return to his hometown and become the offensive coordinator of the Miami Hurricanes. 

    The move sent some shock waves through the ACC.

    Not only will Coley help add some more stability and efficiency to the Miami offense, he should also be a great asset for the Hurricanes on the recruiting trail as well. 

6. Bud Foster, DC, Virginia Tech

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    Virginia Tech’s offense was a big disappointment in 2012. However, the team’s defense remained strong as always. The Hokies ranked second in the ACC in both scoring defense and total defense this past season, allowing an average of just 22 points and 333 yards per game.

    Bud Foster, the architect of the defense, proved once again why he has a reputation for being one of the smartest defensive minds in college football.

    Foster has been building great defenses since he took over as coordinator in 1995. He should have no trouble building another sturdy defense yet again in 2013.

7. Greg Mattison, DC, Michigan

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    The main reason the Rich Rodriguez era at Michigan was such a disaster was because the Wolverines' defense was just putrid during Rodriguez’s tenure.

    When Brady Hoke took over after the 2010 season and hired Greg Mattison to be his defensive coordinator, the two men inherited the tough task of trying to repair a defense that ranked 107th in the nation in scoring defense and 110th in total defense the year before.

    Mattison has worked his magic touch over the last two years. Michigan has allowed less than 20 points per game in each of the two seasons he’s been in charge.

8. Chad Morris, OC, Clemson

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    Just a few years ago, Chad Morris was coaching high school football in Texas and simply looking for his big break into the college football world.

    He got that break in 2010, when Tulsa hired him as offensive coordinator. Now, just a couple of years later, he’s the highest-paid assistant coach in college football, earning a reported $1.3 million salary.

    Morris certainly seemed worth the money this past season. Clemson’s offense ranked sixth in the nation in scoring offense, ninth in total offense and 13th in passing offense, averaging 41 points and 512 yards per game.

9. Nick Aliotti, DC, Oregon

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    Oregon’s high-powered spread offense was usually the main topic of conversation and focus during the Chip Kelly era. However, over the past few years, the Ducks' defense has also been worthy of plenty of praise as well.

    This past season, Nick Aliotti’s defense gave up just 4.9 yards per play, which ranked 26th in the country, and 21 points per game, which ranked 25th.

    Although Kelly won’t be back in Eugene, Aliotti will return to the program to handle the defensive coordinator duties for the 15th straight season in 2013.

10. Lorenzo Ward, DC, South Carolina

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    2012 marked the first time that Lorenzo Ward called the defenses for South Carolina. However, it turned out to be a highly successful year.

    The Gamecocks finished the season ranked 11th in the nation in scoring defense and 13th in total defense, allowing an average of just 18 points and 315 yards per game.

    Ward will have some rebuilding to do this offseason after losing key starters such as DE Devin Taylor, LB DeVonte Holloman and safety D.J. Swearinger. But fortunately, he’ll have the best defensive player in the country, Jadeveon Clowney, to build around.

    South Carolina should once again have one of the top-ranked defenses in the nation in 2013.

11. Noel Mazzone, OC, UCLA

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    UCLA went from averaging 23 points per game in 2011 to averaging 34 points per game this past season during Noel Mazzone’s first year as coordinator.

    Mazzone helped turn QB Brett Hundley into one of the biggest breakout stars in the country. He also helped RB Johnathan Franklin put together a sensational senior performance.

    Hundley appears to be a perfect fit for Mazzone’s offense. The young dual-threat signal-caller should continue to emerge into a national star with the help of his coach.

12. Mike Bobo, OC, Georgia

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    Mike Bobo knows what it takes to be a starting quarterback at Georgia. He held that job back in 1997. That’s why he’s worked so well with the team’s current starting quarterback, Aaron Murray.

    The offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach has already had three of his signal-callers—Matt Stafford, David Greene and D.J. Shockley—drafted by NFL teams. Murray will soon be the fourth.

    The Bulldogs have averaged at least 31 points per game in five out of the last six seasons under Bobo’s watch.

13. Brent Venables, DC, Clemson

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    Brent Venables enjoyed a very successful stint at Oklahoma as a position coach and a defensive coordinator. However, his first year at Clemson in 2012 definitely didn’t produce much of a memorable defensive performance.

    The Tigers gave up 24 points per game and 5.6 yards per play. It wasn’t bad, but it certainly wasn’t great.  Still, it was a step in the right direction, following an embarrassing showing in a 70-33 loss to West Virginia in the Orange Bowl to end the 2011 season.

    Venables has some potential standouts such as DE Corey Crawford, LB Stephone Anthony and safety Travis Blanks to build a great defense around. It will be interesting to see if he can turn the Tigers' defense into an elite unit in 2013.

14. Brent Pease, OC, Florida

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    In Brent Pease's first season as offensive coordinator at Florida, the Gators' offense wasn't exactly an electric and explosive attack. 

    Florida's offense averaged just 26 points per game. However, the unit was very effective at controlling the clock, ranking first in the SEC in time of possession. The Gators also did a great job of taking care of the ball, as they gave up just 15 turnovers the whole season. 

    Pease's methodical ball-control offense seems like it should be a perfect complement to Will Muschamp's stout defense in Gainesville. 

    It should be fun to see what the coach can do with Jeff Driskel, his young, talented quarterback, in 2013.

15. Dick Bumpas, DC, TCU

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    Gary Patterson gets most of the credit for the success of TCU’s 4-2-5 defense. However, defensive coordinator Dick Bumpas plays a critical role in that success as well.

    Bumpas has guided some outstanding defenses in recent years, including a unit that ranked first in the nation in scoring defense in 2010 and No. 2 in scoring defense in 2008.

    His 2013 unit, which will feature two All-American candidates, DE Devonte Fields and CB Jason Verrett, will be one of his best yet.

16. Todd Grantham, DC, Georgia

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    Georgia's defense lost a ton of NFL-caliber talent this offseason, most notably linebackers Jarvis Jones and Alec Ogletree, DT John Jenkins and safeties Shawn Williams and Bacarri Rambo. 

    Luckily, the Bulldogs still have one of the best defensive coordinators in the country, Todd Grantham, who should be able to assemble another strong defense in 2013, even after losing so much talent. 

    Since Grantham took over in 2010, the Georgia defense has given up an average of just 21 points per game.

17. Justin Wilcox, DC, Washington

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    Washington's defense hit a new low point in the final game of the 2011 season, when the Huskies got lit up for 67 points by Baylor in the Alamo Bowl

    That loss was the final straw that ultimately cost defensive coordinator Nick Holt his job. 

    In came Justin Wilcox from Tennessee to replace Holt this past season. Under his watch, the defense made a noticeable improvement right away. 

    The Huskies went from giving up 35 points and 453 yards per game in 2011 to giving up an average of just 24 points and 357 yards per game in Wilcox's first year as coordinator.

    That drastic improvement in such a short period of time speaks for itself. 

18. Calvin Magee, OC, Arizona

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    Calvin Magee helped mold RB Steve Slaton into a star at West Virginia a few years ago. Now, it looks like the running backs coach/co-offensive coordinator is going to do the same thing with Ka'Deem Carey at Arizona. 

    Magee helped Carey develop into the most productive rusher in the country. He finished the season with 1,929 rushing yards, the most in college football. 

    The coach also helped build a powerful and potent overall offensive attack.

    Arizona ranked seventh in the nation in scoring offense and 15th in total offense, averaging 38 points and 526 yards per game. 

    Rich Rodriguez may get all the accolades, but there's simply no way Rodriguez's offenses would be so productive if it weren't for the help of Magee. 

19. Dave Aranda, DC, Wisconsin

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    This past season, the most underrated defense in college football could be found in Logan, Utah.

    That's where Dave Aranda built a defensive unit that ranked seventh in the nation in scoring defense, allowing just 15 points per game.

    The defense's stellar performance was one of the main reasons why the Utah State Aggies had the best season in school history in 2012. 

    Wisconsin fans should be excited about the arrival of new head coach Gary Andersen, but they should also be very excited about the arrival of Aranda, the Badgers' new defensive coordinator. 

    With potential stars such as Chris Borland, Dezmen Southward and David Gilbert now at his disposal, he's got the talent he needs to assemble one of the Big Ten's most dominant defenses in 2013. 

20. Mike Stoops, DC, Oklahoma

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    If you’re not an Arizona fan, it’s hard not to like Mike Stoops.

    Not only does he provide fans with spectacular sideline dances such as this instant gif-worthy hop at the Fiesta Bowl, he's also one of the smartest defensive minds that you'll find in college football. 

    Stoops’ specialty is defensive backs, and he proved that this past season. Under his guidance, the Sooner secondary put together an outstanding performance, giving up just 209 passing yards per game in the high-flying Big 12.

Honorable Mention

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    Al Borges, OC, Michigan 

    Art Kaufman, DC, Cincinnati


    Blake Anderson, OC, North Carolina


    Clancy Pendergast, DC, USC

    Doug Nussmeier, OC, Alabama

    Ed Warriner, Co-OC, Ohio State


    Mark Banker, DC, Oregon State


    Pat Narduzzi, DC, Michigan State


    Pete Kwiatkowski, DC, Boise State


    Tony Franklin, OC, California

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