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August 17, 2005
Top coordinators make big difference
Head coaches and players might grab the spotlight, but an argument can be made that coordinators make bigger impacts.
At USC, questions surround the loss of offensive coordinator Norm Chow to the NFL's Tennessee Titans. Many feel the Trojans won't be able to capture a third straight national title without the offensive guru calling the plays.
At Georgia, there are big concerns on defense due not only to the loss of a handful of star players but also to the loss of defensive coordinator Brian Van Gorder, who also left for the NFL.
Some of the best assistants decided to stay in the college ranks and others switched jobs, decisions that might make their respective programs contenders on the national scene this fall. Many are included in Rivals.com's list of the top offensive and defensive coordinators in the nation.
1. Bud Foster (Virginia Tech)
Nobody has been on Frank Beamer's veteran-laden staff longer and no Hokies assistant is more responsible for the program's rise into a national power.
Sure, the defending ACC champs are best known for special teams, but they also have developed a reputation for stingy defense under Foster, who is entering his 19th year in Blacksburg and 10th in charge of the defense. Twice a finalist for the Broyles Award, given annualy to the nation's top assistant, he uses an aggressive style that often doesn't allow offenses to stick with their game plans. That was certainly the case in 2004, when the Hokies finished in the top five in the nation in nearly every major defensive category.
2. Bo Pelini (LSU)
The arrival of this defensive guru in Baton Rouge is another big reason to believe that the Tigers are a legitimate national title contender.
A former NFL coach, Pelini has worked magic with less talent in his career. In his only season at Nebraska in 2003, he directed a defense that tied a school record by creating 47 turnovers and gave up the second-fewest points in the nation. Last season at Oklahoma, he worked as a co-defensive coordinator and the Sooners allowed just 94 rushing yards a game, the sixth-best total in the nation.
Expect similar results to follow with the Tigers. Pelini's attacking style should mesh well with his new personnel, and he has one of the most talented defenses in the country to work with.
3. Gene Chizik (Texas)
Mack Brown's biggest offseason acquisition was probably not a recruit or any transfer but a new addition to his staff.
With NFL veteran Greg Robinson leaving for the head coaching job at Syracuse, Brown was focused on finding someone with a major reputation and an impressive resume to run his defense. He may have landed the best candidate on the market in Chizik. A 20-year coaching veteran, who designs his defenses around speed, he produced great results as Auburn's defensive coordinator. The Tigers finished 13th or better nationally in total defense in each of his three seasons at the SEC program, including 2004 when he captured the Broyles Award.
Duplicating that type of production may be more difficult now. Unlike at Auburn, Chizik won't be working under a defensive-minded coach like Tommy Tubberville.
4. Mickey Andrews (Florida State)
It's no surprise that Bobby Bowden's right-hand man landed on this list. Andrews won the first Broyles Award in 1996 and has long been considered one of the nation's top assistants.
That might be most apparent right now. While in recent years the Seminoles offense has struggled to put up the big numbers of past teams, the defense has remained an intimidating force. It has finished among the nation's top five in rushing yards allowed in seven of the last 12 seasons, including 2004.
Andrews excels at utilizing his depth, normally rotating a handful of players along the defensive line and several of his back-ups have developed into stars.
5 (tie). Reggie Herring (Arkansas)
Few if any coordinators made the impact that Herring did in 2004. After watching his defense surrender 421 yards a game the season before, Chuck Amato hired the former Florida State linebacker and the Wolfpack made a remarkable turnaround, giving up just 221 yards a game in 2004, best in the nation.
If Herring can make half that difference in his new job, the Razorbacks could make a surprise run at the SEC West title.
5 (tie). Tom Bradley (Penn State)
The Nittany Lions run as an elite program might be over, but the blame does not fall on the defense.
Under Bradley, a 27-year assistant in Happy Valley, the Lions have slowed down some of the nation's top offenses and showed remarkable consistency. In 2004, Penn State's defense was the only unit in he country to not allow more than 21 points in a game.
With more weapons like highly touted cornerback Justin King, who was ranked the No. 19 prospect in the class of 2005 according to Rivals.com, to work with, Bradley may produce another dominating group.
1. Terry Malone (Michigan)
This longtime Wolverines assistant might not be thought of as an offensive genius but his remarkably consistent results make it appear that he should be.
Lloyd Carr chose Malone to take over his offense four years ago and has been extremely pleased with that decision. Using a balanced attack, Malone has kept the Wolverines offense among the most potent in the Big Ten and in 2003 they led the league in passing for the first time since 1948.
Last season Malone produced a new level of surprising success. Despite true freshmen taking over starting jobs at quarterback and running back the Wolverines averaged 30.8 points per game, the second-highest total in the Big Ten. Chad Henne tied a school record for most touchdown passes with 25 and Michael Hart ran for nearly 1,500 yards.
2. Chris Peterson (Boise State)
Meet the other mastermind behind the Broncos' feared aerial show. In four years at Boise State with head coach Dan Hawkins, Peterson has twice been a finalist for the Broyles Award and his pass-oriented offenses have averaged an amazing 43 points per game.
In 2004, the Broncos were nearly unstoppable, putting up 48.9 points game. They topped the 40-point barrier nine different times, including a 53-34 win over Oregon State. Contrary to popular belief, that damage isn't all done though the air. The Bronocs were 14th in the nation in nation in rushing offense with 229.8 yards per game last season.
3. Norries Wilson (Connecticut)
Few coaches do more with less than Wilson, who is sure to be one of the top minority head coaching candidates at the Division I-A level soon.
When he took over UConn's offense in 2002 he implemented a sophisticated system that immediately showed big improvement, averaging 113 yards more per game from the previous season. Then in 2003, the Huskies averaged 477.5 yards per game - the eighth-highest total in the nation. When UConn moved into the Big East last season, it continued to consistently engineer long drives, finishing first in the league in total offense and scoring offense.
Even with the loss of quarterback Dan Orlovsky, look for Wilson to find a way to make the Huskies a scoring machine this fall.
4. Jimbo Fisher (LSU)
The chances of Les Miles succeeding at LSU received a big boost when he convinced Fisher to remain on the Tigers staff. In his five seasons in Baton Rouge, Fisher's offenses have set a number of school records, and he called the plays for the 2003 national championship team.
Fisher excels at getting several athletic players on the field and giving them enough enough touches to stay happy. He also has a knack for putting them in a position to make big plays in both the running and passing game.
5. Paul Petrino (Louisville)
Head coach Bobby Petrino is considered the architect of the Cardinals' feared offense but brother Paul, who has served as the program's offensive coordinator for the last three years, also plays a key role in designing game plans.
During that time period, the Cardinals have finished with the nation's top-ranked offense twice and broken numerous scoring records, including last season when they scored 55 or more points in five consecutive games - a streak that had never been accomplished in NCAA history.
Stay tuned this fall as the best coordinators in the nation are honored each week by Rivals.com. Each Tuesday of football season starting Sept. 6, Rivals.com will name its national offensive and defensive coordinator of the week, recognizing the assistant coaches whose units played the biggest role in a key victory the previous weekend.