There was a massive coaching carousel this offseason and it created a frenetic nationwide game of musical chairs in the assistant coaching community. Add in the addition of a 10th assistant coach to FBS college staffs and this was a banner year for coaching movement. We’ve already graded the head coach hires, but here is a list of the nine most important assistant coach moves of this offseason.
1. Texas A&M — Defensive coordinator Mike Elko
When Brian Kelly hired Mike Elko away from Wake Forest last offseason to revamp his defense after a 4-8 season, it was hailed as a forward-thinking move. But after helping drive Notre Dame to a 10-3 turnaround, Elko is no longer a hipster pick as a defensive guru, he’s gone mainstream. Some of college football‘s biggest names came knocking this offseason and it took nearly $2 million for Jimbo Fisher to lure Elko to College Station. But for an offensive coach in need of a strong defensive counterpart in the rugged SEC West, it was the most critical hire of the offseason. Elko proved to be a dynamic recruiter in his year at Notre Dame and his defenses are disciplined and disruptive. He gives Jimbo Fisher his best defensive coordinator since Jeremy Pruitt in Florida State’s 2013 national title season.
2. Ohio State — Alex Grinch (title to be announced)
At only 37 years old, Grinch has emerged quickly as one of the rising stars in the coaching profession. He took a notoriously bad defense under Mike Leach and turned it into a strength, making Washington State into a Pac-12 North contender in the process. Prior to his arrival in Pullman, Washington State had the No. 97 defense nationally. He left Pullman with the unit ranked 16th. At Ohio State, Grinch will back fill in a secondary that loses cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs to the Tennessee Titans. He brings all kinds of pressure packages to a defense that has been relatively vanilla up front and he keeps Urban Meyer at the top of the food chain, hip checking some other big-name programs out of the way to land Grinch.
3. Washington — Offensive coordinator Bush Hamdan
This one may not move the needle nationally, but Hamdan was an easy decision for Chris Petersen when he lost offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith to Oregon State. The 32-year old was only away from the Huskies for one season and in that season we saw some regression offensively despite an experienced group of returnees. Hamdan is an outstanding recruiter and he returns in time to coach up a lot of the offensive talent that he helped accumulate in Seattle. He was also a key component in developing John Ross into a first-round NFL Draft pick. So in Hamdan, Petersen landed a talented coach — one of the best young recruiters in the Pac-12 and a proven developer of talent.
4. Arkansas — Defensive coordinator John Chavis
There’s reason to be excited in Fayetteville. Chad Morris brings a fast paced, high-octane, explosive offense to town that should create some challenges for the rest of the SEC West. But all of Morris’ rhetoric of jumping into the left lane, popping the clutch and putting the hammer down won’t be quite as satisfying if the defense isn’t holding up its end of the bargain. To that end, Chavis was a critical hire. Morris needed a coordinator with a strong reputation who he could sell to recruits as the missing piece in a puzzle that never came all the way together at SMU. With successful stops at Tennessee, LSU and Texas A&M, Chavis gives Morris legitimacy.
5. Florida State — Defensive coordinator Harlon Barrett, OL coach Greg Frey
Two coaches that received a lot of criticism towards the end of the Jimbo Fisher tenure in Tallahassee were offensive line coach Rick Trickett and defensive coordinator Charles Kelly. With his arrival, Willie Taggart brings with him a new coaching staff that just happens to feature two of the best in college football at those spots. Frey produced second-round pick Jason Spriggs and All-American Dan Feeney while at Indiana. He left another future NFL talent behind in Bloomington in left tackle Coy Cronk. If he can produce like that at Indiana, imagine what he can do at Florida State. Harlan Bennett has had similar success overachieving at Michigan State. 2017 is a great example of that. He took a young defensive unit that was largely under-recruited and turned it into the No. 18 defense in college football in yards per play allowed. He’ll get the thoroughbreds in Tallahassee to play with edge and toughness that they have been missing at times.
6. Alabama — WR coach Josh Gattis, DL coach Craig Kuligowski
The title for Gattis isn’t official and in the case of Kuligowski, the hire isn’t even official. But if we’re to believe reports, Kuligowski will join Gattis to complete one of the nation’s best position coach pairings among new hires. Gattis developed two-star Jordan Matthews into a second-round pick at Vanderbilt. Jonathan Krause won a Super Bowl after coming to Gattis as a unheralded recruit at Vandy. At Penn State, Juwan Johnson has made huge strides in one year and DaeSean Hamilton is getting rave reviews from NFL scouts as a technician. With the young wide receiver group that he’s inheriting at Alabama, Gattis is well-equipped to maximize their potential. Kuligowski has similar credentials. He regularly produced first-round candidates out of nowhere at Missouri and he quickly turned a Miami defensive front into a dominating unit. It’s hard to imagine what Kuligowski is capable of with the five-stars that regularly sign with the Tide.
7. Houston — Offensive coordinator Kendal Briles
Between 2006 and 2011, Houston was ranked inside the top 25 in yards per play on offense every year. It was ranked inside the top 5 three times. Since 2011, the Cougars haven’t had a top 25 offense in that category and have only cracked the top 40 once. Briles has the ability to bring that explosiveness back to Houston. Lane Kiffin got a lot of credit for turning things around at FAU last fall, and rightfully so, but in coaching circles, there is a lot of respect for Briles’ contributions to that success and an expectation that he can springboard the Houston offense with Major Applewhite.
8. Arizona State — LB coach Antonio Pierce, CB coach/defensive passing game coordinator Tony White
It sure seems like Herm Edwards is in over his head. In particular, he’s given us no reason to believe he’s got any real concept of what it takes to recruit at a Pac-12 championship level. At least that was the case until he went out and hired White and Pierce. As a former NFL linebacker and ESPN analyst, Pierce fits the Edwards motif, but as a guy who has been dialed into the high school football scene for a while who comes to Tempe after coaching Los Angeles power Long Beach Poly, he brings some substance to the recruiting trail. White brings all kinds of credibility as someone that has been a workhorse as a recruiter at San Diego State and helped coach up some dominant defenses.
9. Maryland — Offensive coordinator Matt Canada
Canada is about to be at his seventh school in nine years. It’s not a good look. Some of those departures have been more cordial than others, but the guy can still coach and his offense is still a nightmare for defenders. He inherits several options at quarterback due to an injury-riddled 2017 and Maryland has been recruiting well. After losing a talented young coordinator in Walt Bell, DJ Durkin made a strong hire to allow for immediate success. There’s no telling how long Canada will be in College Park, but I’m betting the offense will be in good hands while he’s there.