College Football’s Most Dynamic Coordinator Duos
Which programs in college football will enter the 2017 season with the best combination of offensive and defensive coordinators?
Everyone needs a quality support staff to maximize their potential, regardless of profession. And college football head coaches are certainly no exception.
Behind every successful head football coach is a dynamic coordinator—or two—who manages his side of the ball with all of the leadership and mentorship of a top-flight CEO. When the coordinators are clicking, from player development to game-planning for next Saturday’s opponent, it can help make a quality head coach appear downright otherworldly. Entering the 2017 season, the following programs are in the best shape at offensive and defensive coordinator, sporting proven talent and experience on both sides of the ball.
U-Dub’s coaching staff largely remained intact this offseason, surprising for a school that won the Pac-12 title and participated in the College Football Playoff.
Jonathan Smith and Pete Kwiatkowski have been relatively anonymous cogs in the Chris Petersen machine, initially at Boise State and now in Seattle. Smith, who’s helped tutor QB Jake Browning, is coming off a rebound year in which the Huskies ranked eighth nationally in scoring. Kwiatkowski is hands-down one of the most underrated defensive coordinators in America. In his last seven years, three at Boise and four at Washington, five of his units allowed fewer than 20 points per game. For good measure, Matt Lubick, an outstanding recruiter and developer of receivers, has also been added as a co-offensive coordinator.
9. Texas A&M
If Kevin Sumlin fails to survive beyond his sixth season with the Aggies, it won’t be because of a lack of staff experience.
Sumlin is surrounded by one of college football’s most seasoned pairs of coordinators, Noel Mazzone on offense and John Chavis on D. There’s nothing flashy about Mazzone or Chavis, but they’ve seen and done it all, and no one is luring either 60-year-old away to become a head coach. The Aggies scored a touchdown more per game in Mazzone’s 2016 debut at the school, though life after QB Trevor Knight brings new challenges. The no-nonsense Chavis is the granddaddy of SEC football coaches, grinding in the league every year since 1989. In two seasons in College Station, he’s instilled much-needed toughness into the A&M defense.
Once again, Nick Saban’s staff will have a new look, one of the prices of unmatched success.
Not surprisingly, programs across the country have attempted to poach the Tide. One-time assistants Jim McElwain, Kirby Smart and Lane Kiffin are now head coaches. Jeremy Pruitt, Smart’s successor, is a constant on D and a strong candidate to be promoted as well down the road. It’s on offense that this season will be particularly intriguing and potentially unsettling. Saban is on his third offensive coordinator since December, first booting Kiffin and then losing Steve Sarkisian to the NFL. Hello, Brian Daboll, the one-time grad assistant under Saban at Michigan State who made his mark in the NFL. This is a huge transition for Daboll, who’ll need to prove he can recruit and develop significantly younger athletes.
Sure, newcomer Chip Lindsey has a lot to prove running Gus Malzahn’s offense. But he’s a rising star, and he’s going to benefit right out of the chute by inheriting a backfield of QB Jarrett Stidham and runners Kamryn Pettway and Kerryon Johnson.
Lindsey is the right guy at the right time to ignite a sagging Auburn offense that’s been the program’s Achilles’ heel since QB Nick Marshall exhausted his eligibility in 2014. Lindsey’s penchant for developing versatile playmakers behind center meshes really well with the arrival of Stidham. Defensive coordinator Kevin Steele, a veteran of almost four decades, engineered an about-face in his first season on the Plains. Auburn yielded just 17 points per game in 2016, its lowest total in 10 years.
David Shaw has been a pillar of stability on the Farm since replacing Jim Harbaugh in 2011. But he’s gotten plenty of help from Mike Bloomgren on offense and Lance Anderson on D, two of college football’s more underrated coordinators.
Anderson, who’s been on staff for a decade, is a terrific technician, as evidenced by the Cardinal’s consistency at producing results and next-level defenders. However, it’s his ability to recruit and communicate with kids that have been the cornerstones of his success. Bloomgren was promoted to coordinator in 2013, setting the stage for an up-and-down tenure as the offensive leader. He’s ideally tech-savvy for Silicon Valley, but he’ll need to dig deeper into the Targus bag to resuscitate an attack that stumbled in 2016 and faces quarterback questions this fall.
Troy will begin 2017 with a nine-game winning streak and visions of a national title. Coordinators Tee Martin and Clancy Pendergast have had key roles in the Trojans’ recent uptick.
Bringing back Pendergast, who was Lane Kiffin’s defensive coordinator in 2013, was one of Clay Helton’s best decisions when he was hired as the full-time head coach. USC always gets top athletes, and Pendergast understands how to best utilize that athleticism. It won’t be long before Martin is a head coach. This is his sixth year with the Trojans, second as the offensive coordinator. He’s one of college football’s premier recruiters, and he’s played an important role in the maturations of quarterbacks Cody Kessler and Sam Darnold.
Jim Harbaugh has been returning the Wolverines to national prominence from the moment he arrived back in Ann Arbor. His ability to attract talent, both on the field and on the sidelines, has been a recurring theme these past two years.
Offensive coordinator Tim Drevno is one of Harbaugh’s most trusted partners. The two have been together for all but one of the past 15 seasons, at San Diego, Stanford, the San Francisco 49ers and now at Michigan. And he has access to the secret sauce that has helped make Harbaugh so wildly successful at every stop along his coaching journey. Prying Don Brown away from Boston College to pilot his defense was a coup for Harbaugh. The 61-year-old Brown is a defensive seer, leading his first Wolverine defense to No. 2 nationally in scoring defense a season ago.
Dabo Swinney has done countless good things as the leader of the Clemson program, including surrounding himself with capable assistants.
Swinney isn’t afraid to delegate, because he trusts his staff. And why not? Brent Venables ranks among the game’s best defensive coordinators. Since arriving from Oklahoma in 2012, Venables has been a game-changer for the Tigers. His units are perennially among the deepest and stingiest, allowing just 18 points per game during last year’s national championship run. On offense, co-coordinators Tony Elliott and Jeff Scott have risen to the occasion since Chad Morris took the SMU job in 2015. Yeah, Clemson is flush in talent, but Elliott and Scott are central figures in getting those playmakers to Death Valley.
Baton Rouge is now home to two of the fastest rising stars among college coordinators, Matt Canada on offense and Dave Aranda on D.
Ed Orgeron as the permanent LSU head coach is admittedly a bit of an unknown entity. But he’ll be well supported from one of the better staffs in the country. Adding Canada to fix a perennially necrotic attack was a terrific offseason move for the Tigers. He became a hot commodity after shockingly leading Pitt to 41 points per game, with QB Nathan Peterman emerging as one of the nation’s most efficient passers. Aranda is basically a head coach-in-waiting, his reputation steadily building at Utah State, Wisconsin and now LSU. Athletic directors in the market for new leadership will have a close eye on LSU throughout this fall.
1. Ohio State
Urban Meyer plus the chance to compete for championships each year are compelling hooks for talented coaches seeking new opportunities.
In 2016, Meyer plucked Greg Schiano out of retirement to lead his defense. Earlier this year, Meyer hired Kevin Wilson to tinker with an offense that too often misfired versus better competition last fall. The Buckeyes are now home to two gifted veterans with proven track records as head coaches. Wilson, who’ll be teaming up with Chip Kelly protégé Ryan Day, is an extremely important piece of the puzzle in Columbus moving forward. Sure, Wilson had detractors at Indiana, but his ability to consistently manufacture offensive firepower helped turn the once-floundering Hoosiers into a competitive Big Ten program. And now he gets to coach far more depth and a higher caliber of playmaker.