Two levels of heat surround college football assistant coaches: Thexsmb. vn bad kind, for those facing pressure to keep their jobs; and the good kind, for those improving their chances of becoming head coaches.
Every college football season produces a new group of hot assistants, who find themselves on the radar of athletic directors and search firms looking for new head coaches.
And things move quickly in college football. In 2021, Garrett Riley was SMU's offensive coordinator. He spent the 2022 season as TCU's offensive coordinator, helping the Horned Frogs to an improbable run to the national title game, while winning the Broyles Award as the nation's top assistant. Riley rose so quickly that Clemson swooped in to hire him as OC three days after the title game.
So Riley makes our list of 2023 assistant coaches to watch, but he's not alone. I've surveyed several industry sources to come up with a list of who could be next to lead programs in the FBS. A factor several sources mentioned is the appeal of assistants at schools that have ramped up name, image and likeness programs, and who are comfortable navigating the NIL space.
The assistant coaches below are divided into two categories: Those whose names are hottest following the 2022 season and those who had already put themselves on the head-coaching radar and should remain there entering the 2023 carousel.
Clemson offensive coordinator Garrett Riley:Arguably no assistant coach has improved his profile more than Riley in the past 15 months. Riley followed Sonny Dykes from SMU to TCU, where his work with Heisman runner-up Max Duggan, wide receiver Quentin Johnston, running back Kendre Miller and others put him on the national radar. Texas A&M showed interest, but he seemed likely to return to TCU before Clemson emerged with an appealing offer. If Riley, 33, can get Clemson's offense back on track, he should be in the mix for any number of Power 5 head-coaching jobs. Like older brother Lincoln at USC, Garrett is on the fast track to big things.
Washington offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb:After just one season at the Power 5 level, Grubb became one of the nation's most coveted offensive playcallers. He generated interest from Texas A&M and Alabama this winter but will remain at Washington, which returns Heisman Trophy contender Michael Penix Jr. this fall. Washington led the nation in passing and finished No. 7 in scoring in Grubb's first season as coordinator. The Iowa native also has coordinator experience at Fresno State and came up coaching the offensive line.
Michigan offensive coordinator Sherrone Moore:Since Michigan shifted Moore to oversee the offensive line and added a coordinator title, the program has surged. Michigan has won back-to-back Big Ten titles, made its first two College Football Playoff appearances and won consecutive Joe Moore awards as the nation's top offensive line. Moore, 36, will serve as Michigan's sole coordinator in 2023 following Matt Weiss' firing, and has a chance to further elevate his profile for head-coaching jobs, especially in the Big Ten, Big 12 or ACC. He's a Kansas native who played guard at Oklahoma and Louisville.
Ohio State offensive coordinator Brian Hartline:The former Buckeye standout receiver has been a fast riser for a few years, building Ohio State's wide receiver room into the nation's best. Last season, Marvin Harrison Jr. emerged as Ohio State's top wide receiver -- and one of the nation's best -- after national awards candidate Jaxon Smith-Njigba was injured in the season opener. Hartline now gets his chance as a coordinator, and could have some playcalling responsibilities as Ryan Day evaluates his own role. Hartline, 36, will generate head-coach interest in the next few cycles but likely will be very selective about leaving Ohio State. He also ultimately might have interest in the NFL, where he played from 2009 to 2015.
Florida State offensive coordinator Alex Atkins:Mike Norvell's coaching tree is starting to grow. In December, Kenny Dillingham (Arizona State) became the second ex-Norvell assistant to land a Pac-12 head job (Oregon's Dan Lanning is the other). Atkins, who replaced Dillingham at Florida State in 2022, is set to become the next Norvell aide to get a chance. He has helped rebuild FSU's offensive line, one of the nation's shakiest groups, and helped the Seminoles to 10 wins last fall in his first season as coordinator. He's one of the few Black offensive coordinators in the Power 5. Atkins is from Chicago but has worked mostly in the South and Southeast.
Kansas State offensive coordinator Collin Klein: The former Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year and Heisman Trophy finalist is off to a strong start in coaching. Since 2017, Klein has mentored Kansas State's quarterbacks, the position he played for the Wildcats. He earned the coordinator title last season, as Kansas State won its first Big 12 championship since Klein helped the Wildcats to a share of the title in 2012. Klein received significant interest for Notre Dame's offensive coordinator vacancy but chose to remain at his alma mater. "He's got a lot of potential," an industry source said. Just 33, Klein oversaw a unit that ranked second in the Big 12 in rushing. He has spent all but one season of his coaching career at his alma mater, where he's very happy and comfortable. Still, he soon could get opportunities to lead his own program.
Michigan defensive coordinator Jesse Minter:After losing three of the top 45 picks in the NFL draft and coordinator Mike Macdonald to the Baltimore Ravens, Michigan seemed to be at a crossroads on defense. But Minter kept the unit on a dominant path for much of the season, as the Wolverines repeated as Big Ten champions. Michigan finished No. 6 nationally in yards allowed and No. 7 in points allowed. Minter, 39, was a finalist for the Broyles Award. The son of longtime college coach Rick Minter has a nice blend of NFL and college experience and will be under consideration to lead his own program soon.
Notre Dame defensive coordinator Al Golden:His return to college football after six seasons in the NFL went smoothly, as Notre Dame's defense held steady in most areas despite losing some key players from 2021. Golden, 53, received some FBS head-coaching interest this offseason but will remain with the Fighting Irish alongside coach Marcus Freeman for a second season. His college experience on the East Coast and in the Midwest, plus stints with the Detroit Lions and Cincinnati Bengals, increase his appeal. Golden wasn't a good fit at Miami, but the problems at the U clearly go beyond him. He should get another shot to lead a program.
Kansas offensive coordinator Andy Kotelnicki:He has played a significant role in Kansas' renaissance under coach Lance Leipold, especially last season, when the Jayhawks surged to No. 21 nationally in scoring while averaging 7 yards per play in a balanced attack. Kotelnicki, who has served on Leipold's staff since 2013 at Wisconsin-Whitewater, received coordinator interest from other Power 5 programs but remained at KU with an enhanced contract that doubled his salary to $1 million. He has worked extensively in the Midwest but also could be an interesting head-coaching fit for jobs in the Northeast, like Syracuse.
Georgia defensive coordinator Glenn Schumann:As Georgia continues to assert itself as the nation's preeminent program, other schools are going to pick off Kirby Smart's assistants, just like they have for years with Saban's aides (Smart included). Lanning bounced right from Georgia to Oregon and Schumann could soon follow a similar path. Despite losing a historically elite group to the 2022 NFL draft, Georgia's defense still led the nation against the run, finished No. 5 in points allowed and No. 10 in yards allowed. Schumann, 32, is an Alabama alum who has spent his entire career with Smart at Alabama and Georgia. "I'm a little surprised Glenn hasn't gone out and done his own thing," an industry source said. He'll be on the radar for head-coaching jobs, especially in the Southeast.
South Carolina special teams coordinator Pete Lembo:Several current FBS coaches served as special teams coordinators, including South Carolina's Shane Beamer, and the role requires them to connect with the entire team. Lembo also has FBS head-coaching experience from Ball State as well as stops at Elon and Lehigh. He was named a semifinalist for the Broyles Award after South Carolina led the nation in both special teams efficiency and special teams expected points added. "He's so crucial to Shane, a first-time head coach, to have a guy like Pete," an industry source said. "He knows how to run a program." Lembo, 52, went 112-65 overall as a head coach with a nine- and a 10-win season at Ball State. He could be a good fit for the right FBS vacancy.
Illinois defensive coordinator Aaron Henry:He oversaw one of the nation's best secondaries last season, as Illinois rose to become the No. 1 defense for much of the fall. Cornerback Devon Witherspoon was a consensus All-America selection and the Big Ten defensive back of the year. When coordinator Ryan Walters landed Purdue's head-coaching job, coach Bret Bielema promoted Henry rather than risking losing him to the Boilermakers. Henry, who played safety for Bielema at Wisconsin, is a dynamic personality who has spent his entire career at Power 5 schools, working in the ACC, SEC and now Big Ten. The 34-year-old has been mentored by several head coaches -- Bielema, Derek Mason and Dave Doeren -- who have roots on defense and soon should be on the radar to run his own program.
Oregon State defensive coordinator Trent Bray:Although the Beavers started to win again in 2021, their significant surge took place this past season, largely because of Bray's defense. Named interim coordinator in November 2021 and getting the post permanently soon after, Bray help Oregon State improve from 73rd nationally in yards allowed in 2021 to 26th in 2022, and from 60th in points allowed to 16th. The Beavers had All-Pac-12 honorees in all three levels of their defense. Bray, 40, has extensive Pac-12 experience and also spent three years at Nebraska, serving as interim head coach in 2017. He would be a natural fit for any job in the Northwest.
Missouri defensive coordinator Blake Baker:He made an immediate impact on a Missouri defense that had slipped to 124th nationally against the run and 113th in points allowed in 2021. The Tigers became a defense-driven team under Baker last season, allowing more than 27 points just once in SEC play and flustering Georgia's talented offense for three quarters. Baker, 40, had been a successful coordinator at Louisiana Tech and early on at Miami. The Texas native had worked mostly in the South and Southeast before coming to Mizzou. He will earn seven figures following a contract extension, but can help his head-coaching chances with a strong 2023.
Michigan special teams coordinator Jay Harbaugh:All three Michigan coordinators appear here, a tribute to the staff composition and the team's success the past two seasons. Harbaugh has had special teams responsibilities since he joined the staff in 2015, in addition to coaching position groups such as tight ends, running backs and safeties. The son of Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh and nephew of Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh grew up in a coaching family. He was a student assistant with Mike Riley at Oregon State and has both NFL and college experience. Michigan's kicking game has been solid under Harbaugh, who could soon enter the conversation for Group of 5 jobs, especially in the Midwest or West Coast.
Penn State defensive coordinator Manny Diaz:I nearly included Diaz on the first list, after a solid first season overseeing Penn State's defense. But he was a Power 5 coach as recently as 2021 and, given the way his Miami dismissal went down, always seemed to be in line for another opportunity. He could have pursued head-coaching jobs in the last cycle but wanted to spend a second season at Penn State, which could push for its first CFP appearance this fall. "Manny got a raw deal at Miami," an industry source said. "He may only have one more shot as a head coach. He's being very selective." Diaz went 21-15 at Miami, a program with problems that go deeper than the coach. He also has now been a coordinator in four of the five power conferences (SEC, Big 12, ACC, Big Ten) and could be a good fit in multiple regions.
Baylor offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes:Baylor's Big 12 championship encore didn't go as planned in 2022, but Grimes remains well-regarded in the industry and will be on the radar for head-coaching positions. A Broyles Award finalist in 2021, he has extensive experience in the SEC (Auburn, LSU) and productive stops at Baylor, BYU and elsewhere. Grimes is among a growing group of offensive coordinators who cut their teeth while coaching the offensive line. The Texas native would be a good fit for several jobs in his home state as well as in the Southeast.
Colorado offensive coordinator Sean Lewis:He's not exactly an established assistant after spending the past five seasons as Kent State's head coach. But Lewis likely won't need much time at Colorado -- as long as he's successful -- to generate interest for higher-profile FBS head jobs. He was among the top candidates for Cincinnati's head-coaching vacancy before Scott Satterfield emerged late. Lewis is only 36 but brings coveted experience leading a program -- at one of the nation's toughest jobs -- and expertise running an exciting offensive scheme. The Chicago area native has worked mostly in the Midwest and Northeast but now expands his footprint to Colorado, which will have extra eyeballs on it as the Deion Sanders era begins.
Oklahoma offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby:His return to his alma mater under new coach Brent Venables didn't go as planned in Year 1, as Oklahoma lost seven games for the first time since 1997. But Lebby's offense averaged 32.9 points per game and 6.2 yards per play. The unit showed balance with quarterback Dillon Gabriel, running back Eric Gray and others, and eclipsed 30 points four times in losses. Lebby's track record at multiple spots -- he served as offensive coordinator at UCF and Ole Miss before OU -- enhances his candidacy for future openings. His connection to Baylor and former Bears coach Art Briles, Lebby's father-in-law, may give some schools some pause, but there's an expectation among industry sources that he will soon get his chance to lead.
South Alabama offensive coordinator Major Applewhite: The jump from Group of 5 coordinator to FBS head coach is rare but possible, especially for those with previous experience leading programs. Applewhite went 15-11 in only two seasons at Houston but has a notable résumé with coordinator stops at Texas, Houston and Alabama, where he returned as an analyst in 2019 and 2020. Applewhite, 44, would be the natural successor to Kane Wommack at South Alabama if and when Wommack moves on. But he also could generate interest for other FBS jobs if the Jaguars keep building on a 10-win season last fall. He has had multiple opportunities to be a Power 5 O-coordinator but so far has elected to remain at South Alabama.
NC State defensive coordinator Tony Gibson: He has been a Power 5 defensive coordinator since 2014, making stops at West Virginia and then NC State, where the Wolfpack rank 24th nationally in fewest points allowed since 2020. Gibson also has made stops at Pitt, Michigan and Arizona, spending much of his early career under Rich Rodriguez. He has started to gain traction for Group of 5 head-coaching jobs such as Charlotte, and would fit several schools in the Mid-Atlantic and South. Gibson, 50, is a West Virginia native with two lengthy stints at WVU, a potential hot spot in the upcoming cycle.
Wisconsin offensive coordinator Phil Longo:He's making his third Power 5 coordinator stop and undoubtedly the most interesting, as Wisconsin is set for some major changes. If Longo gets the Badgers' offense rolling and scoring, his chances for head-coaching opportunities likely will increase. The 54-year-old from New Jersey began his career in the Northeast but now has spent time in the Midwest and South, serving as offensive coordinator at Sam Houston, Ole Miss and North Carolina, where he worked with quarterback Drake Maye last fall.
Houston defensive coordinator Doug Belk:A year ago, Belk was one of the hottest assistants in the country. Although Houston didn't have the season it hoped for in 2022, especially on defense, he remains well-known and respected in the industry. If the Third Ward Defense shines as Houston transitions to the Big 12, Belk will generate more interest for head-coaching roles. The 35-year-old from Georgia spent three seasons as a graduate assistant for Nick Saban at Alabama before joining Dana Holgorsen at West Virginia and now Houston, which finished No. 6 nationally in defense in 2019. Belk has held a coordinator title since 2019 and will enter his third season as Houston's playcaller.
Penn State offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich:The Division II coach Mike Gundy once found on the internet is now a Power 5 veteran, after six years under Gundy at Oklahoma State and then one-year stops at Ohio State and Texas before he joined Penn State. The 47-year-old from the Cleveland area has had some Group of 5 opportunities but could elevate his candidate profile with another strong season at Penn State, where decorated quarterback recruit Drew Allar is expected to start this fall. Yurcich has 17 years of coordinator experience at the college level. "He's been at some different places, interesting brands," an industry source said. "There's some upside to him."
Texas co-defensive coordinator/inside linebackers coach Jeff Choate:He's part of the Longhorns' brain trust on defense, alongside coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski and special assistant Gary Patterson, the longtime TCU coach and defensive guru. Choate, 52, could soon return to a head-coaching role, which he held at Montana State from 2016 to 2019, reaching the FCS playoffs in his final two seasons. Most of Choate's experience is in the Northwest, which would make him a fit for jobs in the Mountain West, but he also spent a season at Florida in 2013. If Texas finally puts it together this fall, Choate could position himself for certain FBS job openings.
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