College Football 2011: Nation's 20 Best Assistant Coaches

Tom PerryCorrespondent IJune 14, 2011

College Football 2011: Nation's 20 Best Assistant Coaches

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    BLACKSBURG, VA - NOVEMBER 04: Defensive coordinator Bud Foster of the Virginia Tech Hokies watches from the sidelines against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at Lane Stadium on November 4, 2010 in Blacksburg, Virginia.  (Photo by Geoff Burke/Getty Images)
    Geoff Burke/Getty Images

    The best head coaches have one thing in common: they have at least one great assistant coach.

    The assistants are the ones who do the recruiting and actually more coaching than the head coach.

    The best of the best usually get a shot at a head coaching position at some point. There's also some great ones, like former Florida State defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews and current Penn State defensive coordinator Tom Bradley.

    Some recent assistant coaches who are now head coaches are Kent State's Darrell Hazell, West Virginia's Dana Holgorsen, Vanderbilt's James Franklin and Florida's Will Muschamp.

    Keep reading for a look at the 20 best assistants today. Which one will be a head coach next?

20. Calvin Magee, Pittsburgh

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    Pittsburgh's new offensive coordinator, made a name for himself operating explosive offenses at West Virginia and Michigan.

    Calvin Magee coached with Rich Rodriguez from 2001 until his staff was fired at Michigan following 2010. Now he has joined Todd Graham's staff at Pitt.

    The two worked together in Morgantown from 2001-02.

    Magee has been considered for a few head coaching jobs. If he works some magic at Pitt with quarterback Tino Sunseri he should get a shot at a MAC or WAC job.

19. Steve Kragthorpe, LSU

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    LOUISVILLE, KY - OCTOBER 02:  Steve Kragthorpe  the Head Coach of the Louisville Cardinals is pictured during the Big East Conference game against the Pittsburgh Panthers at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium on October 2, 2009 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo
    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Steve Kragthorpe was a flop as the head coach at Louisville. So most Louisville fans are going to laugh at this one.

    However, Kragthorpe was considered an up-and-comer as the head coach at Tulsa, and LSU's Les Miles thought enough of Kragthorpe that he's paying him $700,000 a year.

    The Louisville debacle may cost him a shot at a head coaching position again, but he sticking around as a high-priced coordinator is not a bad job.

18. Frank Cignetti, Rutgers

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    SAN FRANCISCO - 2007:  Frank Cignetti of the San Francisco 49ers poses for his 2007 NFL headshot at photo day in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Getty Images)
    Getty Images/Getty Images

    Frank Cignetti has football in his blood.

    His father, Frank Cignetti Sr., coached from 1960-2005, and the son may end up having a better career.

    The younger Cignetti has bounced around from the NFL to college football. Now he seems to be a fit for the college game.

    He gained some serious recognition as the offensive coordinator at Fresno State in the early 2000s. Since then he coached at North Carolina, California and Pittsburgh.

    He moved to Rutgers after Dave Wannstedt stepped down with the Panthers after 2010.

    Greg Schiano recognized his ability and brought him up to Rutgers.

17. Paul Petrino, Illinois

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    ATLANTA - 2007:  Paul Petrino of the Atlanta Falcons poses for his 2007 NFL headshot at photo day in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Getty Images)
    Getty Images/Getty Images

    The former Arkansas and Louisville offensive coordinator was up for a big challenge in 2010 as he took over the same position with Illinois.

    Bobby Petrino's brother delivered at Illinois.

    The Fighting Illini offense was more consistent in his first season and he helped Nathan Scheelhaase develop as a quarterback.

    Ron Zook's future at Illinois remains perilous, but Petrino has earned his stripes and stepped out of the shadow of his older brother.

16. Ellis Johnson, South Carolina

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    Ellis Johnson is one of the few coaches on this list who has gotten a shot at being a head coach.

    The South Carolina defensive coordinator managed just a 12-22 record during one season with Gardner-Webb (1983) and three with his alma mater The Citadel (2001-03).

    Johnson has a great reputation in the SEC as he's coached at three schools—Alabama (1990-93 and 1997-2001), Mississippi State (2004-07) and now South Carolina (2008-present).

    South Carolina's defense has been the bright spot during Steve Spurrier's run in Columbia.

15. Nick Holt, Washington

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    PASADENA, CA - DECEMBER 6:  Defensive coordinator Nick Holt of the USC Trojans shouts instructions to the defense against the UCLA Bruins on December 6, 2008 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California.  USC won 28-7.  (Photo by Jeff Golden/Getty Images)
    Jeff Golden/Getty Images

    Nick Holt was the head coach at Idaho for two seasons, but after going 5-18 he went to USC as the defensive coordinator from 2006-08.

    He followed Steve Sarkisian to Washington, where he is both the defensive coordinator and assistant head coach.

    Holt is an energetic coach who does a great job of putting his talented players in the right position.

    His history of bouncing around and being a bit indecisive may cost him a shot at another head coaching job.

14. Tony Franklin, Louisiana Tech

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    Tony Franklin is best remembered for his short run as Auburn's offensive coordinator.

    He was brought in to implement the spread offense, but when it did have immediate success Tommy Tuberville panicked and fired Franklin in midseason.

    Franklin has reinvented himself at Louisiana Tech and also continues to run the popular Tony Franklin System Seminar.

    He makes so much money from this venture that he's not really looking to return to a big-time coaching position.

13. Jim Heacock, Ohio State

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    Jim Heacock has been at Ohio State since 1996, and has served as defensive coordinator since 2005.

    With the recent resignation of Jim Tressel, Heacock's tenure in Columbus may come to an end after 2011.

    That doesn't take away from the outstanding contributions he has made to the Buckeyes and college football.

    He has played a critical role in developing some amazing talent that has gone on to be top NFL players.

12. Todd Grantham, Georgia

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    IRVING, TX - 2008:  Todd Grantham of the Dallas Cowboys poses for his 2008 NFL headshot at photo day in Irving, Texas.  (Photo by Getty Images)
    Getty Images/Getty Images

    Todd Grantham coached defenses in the NFL since 1999, most recently as the defensive line coach with the Dallas Cowboys from 2008-09.

    Grantham's last college job was with Michigan State from 1996-99, but he did a nice job of adjusting to working with 18-to-23 year olds again in 2010. The Bulldogs defense was better and should improve more in 2011.

    Grantham is another of the high-priced assistant coaches at $750,000. Mark Richt is on the hot seat at Georgia, so it will be interesting to see if Grantham is coaching somewhere else in 2012.

11. Charlie Weis, Florida

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    GAINESVILLE, FL - APRIL 9:  Offensive coordinator Charlie Weis of the Florida Gators directs play during the Orange and Blue spring football game April 9, 2011 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Florida.  (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
    Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

    The Charlie Weis haters will go crazy over this selection, but he has one of the best offensive minds in the game.

    His track record in the NFL is enough proof.

    Now that he's just worrying about the offense with Florida, he will shape the talent into another national championship caliber squad.

    Try to project into the future a bit and if Weis stays in Gainesville, the Gators may develop even more top notch NFL offensive talent. This will also mean even better players select Florida over other schools.

    Weis, even more than Will Muschamp, could be the reason the Gators become a serious contender again soon.

    Florida believes he'll pay off as the Gators ponied up $765,000 a season for his genius.

10. Jeff Casteel, West Virginia

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    Jeff Casteel was one of the few assistant coaches to remain at West Virginia when Rich Rodriguez left for Michigan at the end of the 2007 season.

    The Mountaineers are glad he stayed.

    Casteel has proven to be one of the nation's most underrated defensive coordinators.

    He coaches the unorthodox 3-3-5 as he prefers to get a lot of speed on the field and send defenders after the quarterback from all over the field.

    Casteel has never really angled to be a head coach, but the coaching change in Morgantown may be enough for him to consider looking elsewhere.

9. Kevin Steele, Clemson

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    Tennessee almost lured Clemson defensive coordinator Kevin Steele to join the Vols in 2010, but he chose to remain a Tiger.

    He has coached some special talent at Clemson, including Da'Quan Bowers.

    Leaving Alabama for Clemson and turning down Tennessee just proves how respected and valuable Steele is.

8. Tom Bradley, Penn State

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    PASADENA, CA - JANUARY 01:  Assistant coach Tom Bradley of the Penn State Nittany Lions calls a play during the 95th Rose Bowl Game presented by Citi against the USC Trojans on January 1, 2009 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California.  (Photo by Jeff Gros
    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    While Joe Paterno is the head coach at Penn State, Tom Bradley has really been the guy making the real day-to-day decisions.

    Bradley was considered for the Pitt, Temple and Connecticut openings this winter, but he couldn't get past being a finalist.

    Maybe he'll get to officially replace Paterno one day, but who knows when that will really happen.

    For now Bradley will remain on staff as one of the best defensive coordinators in the nation.

7. John Chavis, LSU

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    SEATTLE - SEPTEMBER 5:  Defensive coordinator John Chavis of the LSU Tigers looks on during pre-game warm-up against the Washington Huskies on September 5, 2009 at Husky Stadium in Seattle, Washington. The LSU Tigers defeated the Washington Huskies 31-23.
    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    John Chavis spent 14 seasons as Tennessee's defensive coordinator before transitioning to the same role at LSU in 2009.

    He was part of the 1998 national championship team with the Vols.

    Chavis does amazing work with the athletic players at LSU. His first season the defense was great. His second season the Tigers were outstanding.

    Georgia tried to pry him away after his first year at LSU, but the Tigers gave him more money and he stayed put.

6. Gus Malzahn, Auburn

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    Gus Malzahn is the highest paid assistant coach at $1.3 million a season.

    Auburn and Gene Chizik thought enough of him that they upped his salary so he'd pass on the top job at Vanderbilt.

    Malzahn is the architect of one of the most explosive offensives in the nation. Of course, it helped that he had Cam Newton to work with last season.

    But you could also argue that Malzahn helped mold Newton into a future No. 1 draft pick.

    Malzahn got his start in the college game after coaching Mitch Mustain and Damian Williams at Springdale High School in Arkansas. He was an assistant at Arkansas (2006) and Tulsa (2007-08) before joining the Tigers.

5. Monte Kiffin, USC

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 01:  Assistant head coach Monte Kiffin on the sidelines during the USC Trojans spring game on  May 1, 2010 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    Monte Kiffin was one of the best assistant coaches in the NFL before joining his son at Tennessee in 2009.

    He followed Lane Kiffin to USC in 2010.

    The USC defense was not as potent as it has been in recent years, but that has nothing to do with the elder Kiffin's ability.

    He a defensive genius, even as he continues to coach in his 70s.

    His Tampa Cover 2 defense is one of the most copied in the NFL and college football.

4. Kirby Smart, Alabama

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    Kirby Smart was awarded the Broyles Award as the nation's top assistant coach after Alabama won the 2009 championship.

    The Crimson Tide's defenses have been among the best since he arrived in Tuscaloosa in 2008.

    He hasn't received the right head coaching offer yet, but it can't be too far away.

    Smart has attracted a lot of attention from other SEC schools, though.

    He turned down Mark Richt at his alma mater Georgia to be the Bulldogs defensive coordinator in 2009. There were also reports he turned down the same position at Florida with his friend Will Muschamp.

    Showing this much loyalty to Nick Saban is going to pay off big time in the future for Smart.

3. Norm Chow, Utah

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    WESTWOOD, CA - JANUARY 16: UCLA football offensive coordinator Norm Chow attends the game between  the USC Trojans and the UCLA Bruins on January 16, 2010 at Pauley Pavillion in Westwood, California.  USC won 67-46.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    Norm Chow has been on top or near the top of the assistant coach rankings for at least a decade.

    While his reputation is still solid, it took a little hit during his last two jobs with the Tennessee Titans (2005-07) and UCLA (2008-10).

    He was awarded the 2002 Broyles Award as the nation's top collegiate assistant coach.

    Chow has interviewed for a few head coaching jobs in both college and the NFL, but for some reason he has never cracked the ceiling.

2. Bud Foster, Virginia Tech

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    MIAMI - NOVEMBER 4: Defensive Coordinator and Inside Linebackers Coach Bud Foster Virginia Tech Hokies looks on during the game against the Miami Hurricanes on November 4, 2006 at Orange Bowl Stadium in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images)
    Doug Benc/Getty Images

    Frank Beamer and all of the Virginia Tech fans understand how important Bud Foster is to the Hokies.

    He has been Virginia Tech defensive coordinator since 1995, and along the way he has developed one of the best reputations in the nation.

    He has thrown his hat into the ring a few times for head coaching positions, but for some reason he's never been a serious candidate.

    One of the reasons may be he wants a big-time BCS program, and he won't consider a Conference USA or Mid-American job.

    Maybe he's just bad at interviewing.

    If he sticks around Blacksburg long enough, he may inherit the Virginia Tech job if Beamer ever retires.

    Not matter what, he's an All-American assistant coach.

1. Brent Venables, Oklahoma

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    If you listen to enough people talk about Brent Venables it's not hard to see you have a coach who players love.

    He's one of the smartest defensive coordinators and he has been groomed to be a head coach.

    Venables is also one of the best recruiters in the country.

    No matter if he has veterans or a young defense, his units always seem to perform at a high level.

    Oklahoma fans love having Venables on the sidelines, but how much longer can it be until the right fit comes along and he's finally a head coach?