Big Ten Football Assistant Coaches Who Will Become Head Coach Someday
Big Ten football media days have come and gone, and that means fall practice and the season will be here soon. One of the highlights of media days is watching how new head coaches make their first big public appearance before the Big Ten media firing lines.
This season, the only two new head coaches were Darrell Hazell at Purdue and Gary Andersen at Wisconsin. Both coaches passed the test with flying colors, although the focus was more on other coaches like Urban Meyer and his off-the-field concerns from July.
Hazell comes back to the Big Ten only two years after his long stint as assistant head coach under Jim Tressel at Ohio State. Although Hazell only had a few real bright spots in the receivers he mentored, he has proven right away that Tressel prepared him well to lead an entire team after turning Kent State into an 11-game winner in just 2 years.
Indeed, the Tressel coaching tree has generated three other head coaches for Big Ten schools: Hazell, Mark Dantonio at Michigan State and Luke Fickell (in 2011) for Ohio State. That is just the latest in a number of coaching trees that has spread throughout the conference, others including Hayden Fry and Bo Schembechler.
So who are the rising stars who will be the next to make the leap to head coach? Who knows, some of these gentlemen may be taking the podium for another Big Ten team in just a few years (as most assistants take jobs with lesser conference schools before getting the call to the big show).
Let's take a look at the five Big Ten assistant coaches most likely to be the next head coaches in college football.
Luke Fickell, Ohio State
Urban Meyer assembled what looked to be an all-star coaching staff to join him in Columbus, and that paid off quickly with a 12-0 debut season. Not only have fans and reporters taken notice that the Ohio State Buckeyes may be back in the national championship picture, college athletic directors and presidents are also keeping a close eye on the successful coaches leading these Buckeyes.
That means the top levels of Meyer's coaching staff may quickly become a revolving door over the next few seasons. It may be surprising that he managed to keep the entire coaching staff together after his first season, given the high levels of success.
The first assistant coach to make this list has to be considered a top choice because he has been a head coach in the top levels of college football before. Even though Luke Fickell took over on an interim basis in the worst of circumstances, he held that Buckeye team together and kept the foundation in place that Urban Meyer took to great heights in 2012.
Although Fickell returned to the defensive coordinator role he has held since 2005, that and a 6-7 record in 2011 should not reflect too poorly on him. Instead, the ridiculously efficient numbers that the Buckeyes have put up on defense during his tenure will have athletic directors giving him job offers, if they have not already been doing so.
Look for Fickell to be a head coach again very soon, perhaps even before his co-defensive coordinator, Everett Withers. Speaking of Mr. Withers...
Everett Withers, Ohio State
The other defensive coordinator in Columbus also served as an interim head coach in tough circumstances during the 2011 season. Everett Withers led the North Carolina Tar Heels to a 7-6 finish after Butch Davis was forced out of Chapel Hill.
When UNC decided to go a different direction for a new head coach, Meyer was only too happy to bring on Withers and his expertise for the Buckeyes. Although some believed he may clash with Fickell after both had been head coaches the season before, the Buckeye defense overachieved in 2012, despite dealing with several injuries and lack of depth at linebacker.
The numbers speak for themselves, as Ohio State returned to stopping the run with authority, ranking 14th in the country in that statistic. This is no surprise after Withers led one of the best defenses in the ACC and also in the country from 2008 through 2010.
College football is going through the same transition as the NFL did with the Rooney Rule, as the number of minority head coaches is finally increasing again. While that will not be a primary reason for a school to hire Withers (his statistics stand on their own merits), it will be good to have more young talents like Withers and Darrell Hazell leading these major programs in the future.
Thus, Withers and Fickell will both be head coaches again soon, this time without the interim tags.
Tim Beck, Nebraska
Tim Beck has led the Nebraska offense for the past three seasons, and he has helped the Nebraska Cornhuskers survive the tough transition to a new conference with many new defensive styles to worry about. Nebraska has thrived, especially in the running game, with averages per game of 248 in 2010, 217 in 2011 and 253 last year.
The 461 offensive yards per game in 2012 made Beck's offense the best in the conference and one of the best in the country. This output was also noticed by national media, as Beck was named a nominee for the Broyles Award, which is given to the best assistant coach in college football. With continued greatness, Beck could be a finalist or even win the award this year.
Beck has also been in coaching for quite some time, having head coaching stops in Arizona and twice in Texas in his earlier career. Although high school, even in Texas, is different than college football, Beck does understand more than some assistant coaches regarding what it takes to be the top man.
When Taylor Martinez leaves Lincoln after the 2013 season, the Nebraska offense may be due for a drop-off. That could also make it the right time for Beck to elevate his rising star to a head coaching position. Look for the Nebraska offensive coordinator to make the leap to his first college head coaching job in 2014, or possibly shortly thereafter.
Greg Mattison, Michigan
Sometimes, future head coaches are not young rising stars, but instead, they are longtime veterans who have perfected their art and are ready to take on the additional responsibilities of being a head coach. One example of this is Greg Mattison, who returned to Michigan after spending two seasons leading a strong Baltimore Ravens defense.
Mattison has worked in college football for nearly two decades, and his defenses have been highly successful. Although comparing the Michigan Wolverines statistically to the scourge "no-defense" years of Rich Rodriguez would be misleading, Michigan has compared well to the rest of the country the past two seasons.
This immediate turnaround for the unit is largely due to Mattison learning how to work with what he had. Michigan ranked in the top 20 nationally defensively in yards over the past two seasons, and the immediate turnaround led Mattison to be one of five finalists for the Broyles Award back in 2011. Perhaps even more than Brady Hoke, Mattison was the most important hire for turning Michigan around.
Another important duty of assistant coaches that becomes critical when athletic directors hire head coaches is the ability of these men to recruit new athletes to the school. Mattison was named the ESPN Recruiting Nation recruiter of the year.
With a resume like that, it cannot be too much longer before Mattison gets an offer he cannot refuse to be a head coach somewhere else in the college football universe.
Pat Narduzzi, Michigan State
One sign that an assistant coach is ready to take the next step is when a current head coach promotes the assistant to the role of "assistant head coach." Just like Everett Withers at Ohio State, Pat Narduzzi has earned the same title in East Lansing after his first six seasons.
Michigan State has moved from a mediocre defense to a good defense to the best defense in the conference during Narduzzi's leadership and the Dantonio era. Just like Dantonio's mentors, Jim Tressel and Nick Saban, Narduzzi has built a defense to stuff the run first and then worry about the pass after an elite defense is built.
That plan has worked to perfection, as the Michigan State Spartans have improved steadily against both the run and the pass over the past few seasons. Michigan State finished in the top 10 nationally in eight different statistical categories in 2012: touchdowns allowed, pass efficiency defense, total defense, pass break-ups, rushing defense, third-down defense, pass defense and scoring defense.
Perhaps most impressive was holding running games below 100 yards per game. Remember that Michigan State played against all of Wisconsin, Ohio State, Nebraska and Michigan last season, all of which have great rushing attacks.
With this steady progress and the national honors being earned by some of his players, it is only a matter of time until Narduzzi takes a head coaching job somewhere. That will be a sad day for Mark Dantonio, but a great day for whomever hires him away.
That caps the list of most likely assistant coaches who will be head coaches soon from the Big Ten. One of the real joys of watching college football over time is seeing young men develop as players and slightly older men develop and progress as coaches.
Who did I miss (other than Tom Herman and Ed Warinner, who are also on the rise, but we had to limit how many slides were dedicated to OSU!)? Let me know in the comments below.
Thanks for reading!
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