June 18, 2024

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Art Shines Through

Top college football coordinators who are ready to make the jump to becoming a Power Five head coach soon

The top headlines from the 2021 college football coaching carousel centered on big-name coaches bouncing between big-time jobs as Lincoln Riley, Brian Kelly and Mario Cristobal each left elite programs for other elite programs. But if not for those splashy moves, this rendition of the carousel could have been dubbed “the year of the coordinator” based on how many of them landed head jobs at Power Five schools

Six coordinators ranging in age from 32 to 53 earned Power Five head coaching jobs despite having no FBS head coaching experience, as even some brand-name schools opted for promise over experience. Virginia Tech hired Penn State defensive coordinator Brent Pry; Virginia hired Clemson offensive coordinator Tony Elliott; Oregon hired Georgia defensive coordinator Dan Lanning; Oklahoma hired Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables; Notre Dame promoted defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman and Duke hired Texas A&M defensive coordinator Mike Elko.

Time will tell how those hires play out, but if there is some early success from the group, don’t be surprised if the trend of hiring coordinators continues. Instead of settling on a retread head coach who flamed out elsewhere or a Group of Five head coach with limited Power Five recruiting experience, choosing a Power Five coordinator can have benefits. Though they may lack the CEO experience, they can bring an understanding of what’s required for success at the sport’s highest level from a schematic and recruiting standpoint.

As the 2022 season draws closer, who are the coordinators to keep an eye on as potential Power Five head coaching options come November and December? Here’s a list of six to watch.

Josh Gattis is on the move to Miami after a three-year stint at Michigan.
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Josh Gattis, Miami OC

Gattis won the 2021 Broyles Award as the top assistant in college football for his work as Michigan’s offensive coordinator. The 38-year-old former Wake Forest safety is now the OC at Miami under Cristobal and will have a chance to shine as a play caller once again as the Hurricanes return stud quarterback Tyler Van Dyke. With prior stops at Alabama and Penn State also on his resume, Gattis has all the credentials needed to make the leap from Power Five coordinator to Power Five head coach.

Prying Leonhard from Wisconsin won’t be easy, as the former Badgers’ safety has proven to be quite loyal to his alma mater in his relatively young coaching career. But his defensive credentials are wildly impressive, and his 10 years of NFL playing experience also separate him from the pack. The Badgers have ranked in the top-five nationally in total defense in four of Leonhard’s five seasons as defensive coordinator. If nothing else, he would be a logical successor to Paul Chryst at Wisconsin.

Jeff Lebby, Oklahoma OC

Still just 38, Lebby has plenty of time to cement his place as one of the sport’s top offensive minds and land a lucrative head coaching position. He’s coming off statistically phenomenal stints as offensive coordinator at UCF and Ole Miss, having worked wonders for quarterbacks such as Dillon Gabriel and Matt Corral. Now, he is reuniting with Gabriel at Oklahoma to help launch the Venables era. Red flags over Lebby’s time at Baylor working for Art Briles during a scandalous period aren’t going to totally disappear. But as Lebby’s time working for his father-in-law fades further into the distance, his candidacy for a head coaching gig improves.

Kenny Dillingham, Oregon OC

DIllingham’s rise through the coaching ranks has mirrored Lanning’s rise, just on opposite sides of the football. Both were on staff at Memphis under Mike Norvell and parlayed their success with the Tigers into lucrative SEC assistant coaching jobs. Dillingham spent a season at Auburn and two at Florida State before Lanning recruited him to Oregon. Dillingham is just 32 and never got the FSU offense rolling. It will be interesting to see if he can spread his wings with the Ducks and claim a place among the sport’s top offensive minds.

Jeff Grimes, Baylor OC

Grimes spent two decades as an offensive line coach before getting his shot as the offensive coordinator at BYU and working wonders. When he inherited the unit for the 2018 season, the Cougars had been 118th nationally in total offense the year prior. In his third and final season, BYU ranked No. 6 nationally in total offense. The Baylor offense was also No. 118 nationally the season before Grimes showed up, and he quickly got the Bears to No. 53 last season. Grimes is 53, so he’s not a young prodigy. But with stops at Auburn, Virginia Tech and LSU among others, he’s got the experience and results needed to get a Power Five look.

As defensive coordinator for a Tennessee team that prioritizes a high-flying, quick-scoring offensive system that often produces short possessions, Banks likely won’t field a statistically superior defensive unit. But he did an impressive job last season of making the Volunteers competent defensively amid a coaching transition that left the program lacking in defensive talent. With coordinator or co-coordinator stints at Penn State, Illinois, Cincinnati and Central Michigan under his belt, Banks is a well-traveled assistant who could get a head coaching look if he can build off the promise his unit showed in 2021.