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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

Coaching Moves

Future Head Coaches of America

Star Search: College Football Edition. Do the following coaches have what it takes?

Before his rapid rise from Bowling Green to Florida, where he’s won a pair of national titles, Urban Meyer spent a decade as the receivers coach at Colorado State and Notre Dame. Prior to undertaking the massive rebuilding job at Rutgers, Greg Schiano served two years as the defensive coordinator at Miami (Fla.), as well as six years as an assistant at Penn State. Middle Tennessee State’s Rick Stockstill, who led the Blue Raiders to 10 wins last fall, passed more than a decade coaching the wide receivers and quarterbacks at Clemson.

Every successful college head coach comes from somewhere, obviously; even those who flame out as the head man typically bring sterling reputations to the table, resumes built as a key cog in the success of a stronger program. Take a look at some of the new hires in the F.B.S. following the conclusion of the 2009 season: Akron’s Rob Ianello comes from Notre Dame, where he coached receivers and served as the team’s recruiting coordinator; Charlie Strong takes over at Louisville after earning praise for his job leading the Florida defense; longtime West Virginia assistant Doc Holliday was hired at Marshall, thanks to his success in the region; and former Stanford running backs coach Willie Taggert is the new coach at Western Kentucky.

This coming off-season will be no different. Without predicting which current head coaches will lose their jobs after stumbling in 2010, who are some assistants in line for promotions on the F.B.S. level? Here are a few coordinators on the verge of taking the next step:

Currently at a B.C.S. conference program

Mark Whipple, offensive coordinator at Miami (Fla.). Whipple does not have extensive experience as an assistant in the F.B.S., though he has been a head coach at New Haven — Division II — Brown and Massachusetts. He’s also been an N.F.L. assistant with the Eagles and the Steelers, the latter coaching quarterbacks. His one year with the Hurricanes can only be deemed a success, however, as Whipple was able to mold a young offense into one of the strongest units in the A.C.C. If may take Whipple another year of success at Miami before earning the opportunity, but given his experience — especially his three successful head coaching stops, albeit on a lower level — he’s a contender for a lower-tier B.C.S. conference opportunity, likely in either his current conference or the Big East.

Bud Foster, defensive coordinator at Virginia Tech. Foster has made no secret his desire to eventually grow out of his assistant position; Foster has also resisted chances to take over a program at a weaker conference, instead waiting for an opening at a B.C.S. conference. There remains a good chance that Foster will eventually take over for Frank Beamer at Virginia Tech, though given Foster’s interest in open head coach positions, it seems odd that the Hokies have not placed the head coach-in-waiting tag on their longtime defensive coordinator. Still, there’s a reason Foster’s name is connected to every major job opening on the East Coast.

Kirby Smart, defensive coordinator at Alabama. Yes, Smart is young. And yes, Nick Saban runs the Alabama defense, not Smart — not to diminish Smart’s role with the Crimson Tide. Yet there is no discounting how rapidly Smart has moved up the coaching ranks. After turning down an opportunity to serve as the defensive coordinator at his alma mater, Georgia, Smart will likely remain at Alabama until given the chance to take over at a major B.C.S. conference program — perhaps, given Mark Richt’s much-discussed status, with the Bulldogs.

Mark Stoops, defensive coordinator at Florida State. Perhaps Stoops was overlooked at Arizona, where he served under his brother, and will receive greater recognition if he can turn around F.S.U.’s abysmal defense of a year ago. It’s worth a shot: Stoops will earn his first chance at solely running a defense with the Seminoles, which might be the last hurdle he needs to overcome before earning a shot at leading a B.C.S. conference program. The success of his two brothers will only make Stoops more appealing.

Gus Malzahn, offensive coordinator at Auburn. Malzahn brief trek through the F.B.S. has included stints at Arkansas, Tulsa and Auburn, though he was not given the opportunity first promised to him at Arkansas when hired by then-coach Houston Nutt. He was the architect of one of the most explosive offenses in college football history at Tulsa, and was able to remake an Auburn offense on the fly — one with the personnel for a more traditional, pro-style offense — in leading the Tigers back to bowl play after a one-year absence.

Other options include Tim DeRuyter, the newly-hired defensive coordinator at Texas A&M; Florida’s Steve Addazio; Nebraska coordinators Shawn Watson and Carl Pelini; Oklahoma’s Kevin Wilson; Dana Holgorsen, the new offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State; and Pittsburgh offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti. Among countless others.

Those with previous F.B.S. coaching experience include Kevin Steele, defensive coordinator at Clemson; Chuck Long, offensive coordinator at Kansas; Nick Holt, Washington defensive coordinator; Ted Roof, Auburn defensive coordinator.

Those outside the B.C.S.

Hugh Freeze, offensive coordinator at Arkansas State. He signed with A.S.U. in March after spending two months as Mike MacIntyre’s coordinator at San Jose State. Here’s what Freeze brings to the table: experience at a B.C.S. program (assistant at Mississippi), experience as an offensive coordinator and experience as a head coach, though the latter came at N.A.I.A. Lambuth University.

Kalani Sitake, defensive coordinator at Utah. Sitake, 34, is one of the youngest coordinators in the F.B.S. He was promoted to that position prior to last season, replacing the departed Gary Anderson, after coaching the Utah linebackers from 2005-8. He may be young, but he’ll get plenty of recognition coaching at one of the finer programs west of the Rockies.

Robert Anae, offensive coordinator at B.Y.U. Anae has more experience than Sitake — he’s entering his sixth season as coordinator in 2010 — yet his draw remains the same: he’s a key part of the success B.Y.U. has experienced over the last half-decade. Anae also brings a five-year stretch as the offensive line coach at Texas Tech to the table.

Brian Stewart, defensive coordinator at Houston. You may remember Stewart: he was the Dallas Cowboys’ defensive coordinator from 2007-8.While he has made his name on the N.F.L. ranks — stints with San Diego and Philadelphia join his Dallas experience — Stewart got his start on the college level. From 1996-2001, Stewart served as an assistant at Missouri, San Jose State and Syracuse. If he can bring the Houston defense to a level nearing the production of the U.H. offense, Stewart will become a name to watch.

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  1. [...] Future head coaches. [...]

  2. Hose says:

    Interesting read, but I’m not sure how accurate all of your information is. After all, you list Nick Holt as defensive coordinator at USC…just sayin’

    Paul: My bad. Stupid mistake. Fixed it above. Thanks for the heads-up.

  3. [...] are the future head coaches in college [...]

  4. Josh says:

    For the record, VT is giving Foster a huge bonus in the next couple of years (either 2012 or 2014, I can’t quite remember), assuming Foster is still on the payroll then. Sorta a “loyalty-bonus.” It’s essentially a head-coach-in-waiting that doesn’t tie us up like UMD is, and doesn’t come with recruiting restrictions

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