12 of the Most Underrated Assistant Coaches in College Football
We know all about the big names in college football, the head coaches in waiting (Will Muschamp) and the big guns who are likely just biding their time until the right offer comes along (Bud Foster).
We even know about the guys who are simply too good to be overlooked (Dick Bumpas, Kirby Smart, and Tyrone Nix).
However, there are still quite a few coaches out there who’s names aren’t spoken about in quite as big a breath as the aforementioned, who could see their skills coming to a school near you in the near future—perhaps even in the next year or two.
Others are simply building their resumes with stellar work as position coaches, recruiting coordinators, offensive or defensive coordinators, etc.
After all, they all have to start somewhere, right? Urban Meyer didn’t become the SEC Championship coach of Florida overnight. He paid his dues as an assistant at both Ohio State and Notre Dame before his journey towards head coaching success began.
Who remembers that Nick Saban was the defensive back’s coach at Michigan State?
Mack Brown’s stint at Iowa State?
Jim Tressel’s stint at Miami (OH)?
The point is, we all start somewhere and the following guys are paying their dues. Some of their names will sound familiar already and, if they continue doing their due diligence, it’s only a matter of time.
However, the majority of them are just buzzing right now and still have some proving to do before the college football world is ready to stand up and take notice. This list is barely a snapshot, as talented coaches exist on every level, but it does highlight a few of the guys who are making it happen with subtle authority.
Todd Orlando, UConn Defensive Coordinator
Orlando took over the job of defensive coordinator for the UConn Huskies in 2005 and, since that time, his defensive units have been ranked in the Top 10 twice (2006 and 2008).
Orlando is still a young coach but he has a ton of experience already and his reputation as one of the better recruiters in the northeast makes him an attractive candidate to make the jump to head coach soon.
Last season, in one of the teams more impressive wins, Orlando’s defense stifled and stymied Steve Spurrier’s South Carolina Gamecocks when the two played in the PapaJohns.com Bowl. The Huskies held SC to just seven points on their way to a victory—capping off another eight win season.
Brent Venables, Oklahoma Defensive Coordinator
Despite the fact that the Sooners lost both Sam Bradford and Jermaine Gresham to injury at the start of the 2009 season—the Sooners were still able to remain competitive due to the ferocity of their defense. The credit for that is attributable to Venables, who, continues to do a phenomenal job of crafting and molding his defenses into some of the best in the nation.
He’s not the most outspoken guy, but, he’s smart and does an excellent job of bringing in some of the nation’s best defensive talent. Some of the more notable players he’s coached over the years include, Curtis Lofton, Torrance Marshall, and Rufus Alexander—all of whom were All Big 12 players in their time at Oklahoma.
He’s been roaming the sidelines in Norman for quite a while now, but, it’s only a matter of time before his name is at the top of the coaching list.
Buddy Green, Navy Defensive Coordinator
Green has been the defensive coordinator at the Naval Academy since 2002. Since that time, his defense's have consistently remained competitive—last season his unit ranked No. 18 in the nation.
He was nominated for the Frank Broyles Award in 2008 (Awarded to the nation’s top assistant) after fielding a stingy Midshipmen defense that allowed only 22.0 points per game (ppg). In 2009, on the way to helping Navy to a 10-4 record, Green’s defense helped contain the high-powered offenses of both Notre Dame and Missouri.
Successful stops at both N.C. State and UT-Chattanooga—where he helped to develop NFL wide receiver, Terrell Owens—also dot his impressive resume.
Jason Phillips, Houston Offensive Coordinator
Phillips was recently promoted to the position of offensive coordinator for the Houston Cougars. His talents as both a coach and a recruiter have him rising quickly through the coaching ranks and have set him apart as one of the better young coaches in the FBS.
Last season, serving in his capacity as the teams co-offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach, the Cougars saw their offense ranked No. 1 in the nation, averaging more than 560 yards per game.
As a recruiter, he has shown a consistent ability to nab top talent. In the 2010 recruiting class, alone he nabbed QB prospect, Terrence Broadway (4*)—the No. 5 rated dual-threat QB prospect in the nation (according to Rivals). His signing, along with Phillips ability to pick up several other solid commitments played a huge role in the Cougar’s signing one of their best classes ever.
Everett Withers, UNC Defensive Coordinator
Withers had a rather unimpressive debut as defensive coordinator in 2007. His Minnesota Gophers team gave up a mind-boggling 440 points to the opposition and finished dead last in the country. Even still, Butch Davis saw fit to give the Carolina native a shot on his team as the DC—the gamble has paid off.
In just two seasons at the helm, Withers has improved the Tarheel defense from No. 66 in 2008 to No. 6 in 2009. Playing in the ultra-competitive ACC, where the Tarheels name is more synonymous with basketball than football, Withers has managed to make the defense one that is well-respected throughout the conference.
Wins over both Miami and Virginia Tech in 2009 showcased his talents well. His name is definitely on the rise and, if his good works continue, it won’t be long before his name begins to draw attention as a head coach.
Luke Fickell, Ohio State Co-Defensive Coordinator
The success of DC, Jim Heacock, is well-documented. He has shaped and molded some of the most talented and aggressive defenses in the country on a yearly basis. However, if there is a guy who has the fire and the gift to become a legend in his own right, it’s co-defensive coordinator, Luke Fickell.
On the staff in Columbus since 2002, Fickell was promoted to the co-defensive coordinator position in 2005 and plays a key role in both the planning and the strategies utilized by the Buckeye’s defense. Not to mention, his ability to coach players into world-class NFL prospects.
In his capacity as a linebackers coach, he has seen both A.J. Hawk and James Laurinaitis go on to star in the NFL ranks. He’s a good recruiter and an exceptional head coaching prospect.
Rick Kaczenski, Iowa Defensive Line Coach
You may not recognize Kaczenski’s work too easily as he toils behind the scenes as a line coach—for now. His star is definitely on the rise as he has had successful stops at both South Carolina and East Tennessee State prior to be promoted to defensive line coach in 2007.
Thanks to his hard work, the Hawkeyes are consistently ranked tops in the conference for scoring defense. In 2008, the team was ranked No. 5—this season, No. 10. He’s a young talent, with a little ways to go but, he’s already establishing himself as a solid coach.
James Coley, Florida State Offensive Coordinator
Coley’s coaching resume is short, only in the ranks since 2005, but that does not lessen its impressiveness in the slightest. If you are looking for proof of his value to a team, you need only look at the 2010 signing class for the Florida State Seminoles.
Serving in his capacity as the team’s recruiting coordinator in 2009, Coley was instrumental in the signing of not one, not two, but five of the nation’s top prospects—including five-star product, LaMarcus Joyner and the highly-sought after, Jeff Luc.
He’s been promoted to the role of offensive coordinator in just his third season at Florida State and, if he continues on his current arc of success, it won’t be too long before his name starts to surface for a head coaching post of his own.
Bill McGovern, Boston College Defensive Coordinator
McGovern has been a staple on the Eagles staff since 2000, serving first as the team’s linebackers coach and, recently, getting promoted to the job of defensive coordinator. McGovern is well-respected in the northeast as a good recruiter and a fierce developer of talent—All-ACC linebacker, Mark Herzlich, is counted among his pupils.
His work as a position coach has contributed to the Eagles always fielding one of the most aggressive defense’s in the ACC and his ability to recognize talent is a commodity that is appreciated by those who admire his work.
Tracy Claeys, NIU Defensive Coordinator
Claey’s name is not one that is likely heard all that often. His teams aren’t exactly staples in the Top 25 but he has had successful stops at both I-AA Southern Illinois and, now, at Northern Illinois as it’s defensive coordinator.
After joining the Huskies in 2007, Claey’s masterminded the turnaround that took the team from dead last in the conference in 2007 to No. 1 in the league in 2008 and No. 20 nationally. He would later be voted MAC Defensive Coordinator of the year by Rivals.com.
Herb Hand, Tulsa Offensive Coordinator
Hand’s work first came to light while he was working as the recruiting coordinator and tight ends coach at West Virginia.
In his capacity as the recruiting coordinator, he brought Pat White to the fold and by 2006, the Mountaineers were finishing an 11-2 season and ranked tops in the league in scoring, rushing, and total offense.
During his career, he has coached 14 All-Conference players and four All-Americans .So far, during his tenure at Tulsa, his teams have regularly ranked near the top of the NCAA in scoring and total offense as his innovative spread offense gives the league fits.
He’s been respected around the league for years but just hasn’t seen his shot come yet. That’s something I suspect will end soon.
Trooper Taylor, Auburn Assistant Coach
If you are an Auburn fan, Trooper Taylor’s name is not one that you aren’t intimately familiar. Taylor serves as the Tigers’ Assistant Head Coach as well as their Wide Receivers Coach. He is also a phenomenal recruiter for Auburn and one of the nation’s best at luring in the top talent.
Just a couple of the names from this season’s stellar class: Shon Coleman (4*) and Antonio Goodwin (5*) have Taylor’s handi-work all over them. It’s a skill he has carried with him throughout his career. A skill that also includes coaching some of the best in the nation at both the running back and wide receiving positions.
At Oklahoma State, as a wide receivers coach, he was the man behind the emergence of Dez Bryant. While at Tennessee, he coached both Gerald Riggs, Jr. And Cedric Houston to 1,000 yard rushing seasons (2004).
He’s well-respected and has been successful at every stop. It’s only a matter of time before he’s given a bigger opportunity to showcase his talents.