10 Best Defensive Coordinators in College Football
Games are won on the field, but part of that equation is the impact of defensive coordinators. They're calling the shots, picking the right coverages and blitzes to stall an opponent's drive.
Hanging on to these coaches is not easy. Many eventually move to leading roles. Others, however, seem content to remain coordinators for most of, if not all of, their careers.
Factors used to determine the 10 best in college football include a coach's overall success, aided by total and scoring defense, Football Outsiders' S&P+ defensive ratings and red-zone numbers. Recent and projected performance in 2016 were given extra weight.
Only current coordinators were eligible for a spot, so Kirby Smart, D.J. Durkin and Will Muschamp simply receive a mention here.
10. Dave Wommack, Ole Miss
Dave Wommack is an experienced, respected and productive coach.
Since 2012, he's guided Ole Miss. Wommack's defenses have never finished below a No. 21 ranking in S&P+, highlighted by a No. 1 spot in 2014. The "Landsharks" surrendered a Football Bowl Subdivision-best 16.0 points per game that year.
Before landing in Oxford, he was the coordinator for Arkansas State (2011), Georgia Tech (2008-09) and Arkansas (2002-2004), among a few others. Wommack also served as a position coach at South Carolina.
The 2016 campaign will be Wommack's 38th season on a sideline.
9. Todd Grantham, Louisville
Todd Grantham's unceremonious exit from Georgia dented what was a sturdy reputation. He's steadily reclaiming it at Louisville.
In 2014, the Cardinals boasted the sixth-best defense in yards allowed. Last season, they recorded a No. 18 finish while amassing the ninth-most sacks and nearly 100 tackles for loss. Both years featured a top-25 standing in S&P+ rankings.
Grantham will be an integral part of Louisville's attempt to wreak havoc on the ACC Atlantic Division in 2016.
8. Geoff Collins, Florida
A rising star in the coaching world, Geoff Collins already has the best nickname: the Minister of Mayhem.
Collins established himself at Mississippi State (2011-2014), which registered top-30 S&P+ finishes when he was the sole coordinator and was the toughest red-zone defense in 2014.
Last year, Florida ended with the No. 6 S&P+ and No. 8 total defense. Collins' attacking mentality led to 101 tackles for loss and 40 sacks while opponents managed touchdowns on just 48.7 percent of their opportunities inside the 20-yard line.
The Gators will continue relying on Collins' defense as head coach Jim McElwain attempts to rebuild the offense.
7. Don Brown, Michigan
Against FBS competition in 2015, Boston College mustered a putrid 10.6 points per game. The biggest shame was how the inept offense wasted a sterling season from Don Brown's unit.
The Golden Eagles boasted the No. 1 total, top-rated red-zone, third-ranked S&P+ and fourth-best scoring defense. Additionally, they collected 114 tackles for loss with a nation-leading average of 9.5 per game.
"I think Donnie Brown is one of the best defensive coordinators in the country," Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson said, according to Michael Vega of the Boston Globe.
Brown accepted an offer to join Jim Harbaugh's staff at Michigan, and the veteran coach inherits a strong roster. The Wolverines exemplified a bend-don't-break defense under Durkin, but Brown is an unrelentingly aggressive coordinator.
Big Ten programs are on watch.
6. Bob Shoop, Tennessee
Bob Shoop spent 20-plus years as a position coach at small yet well-known schools in the Northeast, along with a three-year stint as Columbia's head coach, before heading to Vanderbilt in 2011. He made the most of that opportunity.
The Commodores surged from consecutive sub-75 S&P+ rankings to three straight top-50 marks. Shoop then followed James Franklin to Penn State, where the coordinator posted back-to-back top-15 total defensive finishes.
Shoop is now at Tennessee with a primary goal: Make the Vols a feared rushing defense. Last season, they were a respectable but unspectacular 45th nationally.
"We're very committed. We're going to stop the run," Shoop said, per Jimmy Hyams of WNML. "Nobody will run the football on the Orange Swarm. Nobody will run the football on Tennessee."
If history is any indication, Shoop and Co. will find success.
5. Jeremy Pruitt, Alabama
Jeremy Pruitt was a graduate assistant for Alabama in 1997 and served as an assistant from 2007 to 2012. Now, the coordinator is taking over a talented Crimson Tide defense.
His road included two other high-profile and successful stops before returning to Tuscaloosa.
The 2013 campaign marked Pruitt's first season as a coordinator at an FBS program. All he did was guide Florida State to No. 1 rankings in S&P+ and scoring defense and a third-best clip for yards. Then in 2014 and 2015, Pruitt helped Georgia record top-20 S&P+ marks.
If anyone thought Smart's departure would hurt Alabama, the hiring of Pruitt destroyed that idea.
4. Dave Aranda, LSU
Perhaps the biggest win of the offseason was when LSU swiped Dave Aranda from Madison. The combination of smarts and talent could cause some serious problems in the SEC.
"Aranda fielded the No. 1 scoring defense in the nation at Wisconsin with a bunch of 3-stars and walk-ons," Matt Hinton, formerly of Grantland, said. "Now he's going to freaking LSU."
In 2010, Hawaii fielded the No. 32 S&P+ defense under Aranda. Two years later, Utah State boasted the No. 10 unit. Aranda then headed to Wisconsin, which gathered Nos. 10, 29 and 7 finishes under him.
Tigers fans, enjoy Aranda while you can. He'll probably accept an opportunity to lead a power-conference program soon.
3. John Chavis, Texas A&M
John Chavis became a top coordinator at Tennessee. Including his stint as a position coach, he was in Knoxville for 20 seasons. Then Chavis moved on to LSU.
From 2009 to 2014, the Tigers recorded five top-25 S&P+ rankings with three top-10 marks. After ending at No. 26 during Chavis' first year, LSU was never outside of the top 15 in total defense.
But what he accomplished at Texas A&M—a defensively challenged program—in 2015 was arguably even more impressive.
Two years ago, the Aggies surrendered 450.8 yards (104th in FBS) and 28.1 points (77th) per game with a No. 58 S&P+ ranking. Last year, Texas A&M allowed 380.0 (51st) and 22.0 (28th) with a No. 29 S&P+.
Chavis worked a miracle in College Station. With Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall leading the way, what does Chavis have for an encore?
2. Brent Venables, Clemson
Brent Venables enjoyed a successful run at Oklahoma from 2004 to 2011, and he's continued that success for Clemson.
With the Tigers, his defenses have finished 34th, 12th, second and fourth in S&P+ rankings. Before then, the Sooners posted six consecutive top-10 ratings under Venables.
Last season, he was a finalist for the Broyles Award—given to the nation's top assistant—after Clemson ended the year as the No. 10 defense. Venables was also a finalist in 2006.
The defense lost seven NFL draft picks. But with Venables calling the shots, the Tigers will remain a major threat on both sides of the ball.
1. Bud Foster, Virginia Tech
Bud Foster is the definition of a career assistant. In 1987, he accepted a position to coach at Virginia Tech. Foster has served as the defensive coordinator since 1995. No wonder he didn't want to leave despite the retirement of longtime coach Frank Beamer.
"I'm rooted in here. We put a lot of blood, sweat and tears in this place," Foster said after the hiring of Justin Fuente, per the school.
Foster added, "I wouldn't have stayed here for as long as I've had if I didn't feel like we had the opportunity to win at the highest level. I feel that more than ever right now."
Throughout the last decade, the only time the Hokies didn't finish with a top-25 S&P+ defense was in 2015. They've collected five top-10 marks during that span.
All recruiting information via 247Sports. Stats from cfbstats.com or B/R research. Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bleacher Report CFB Writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.