August 19, 2022

College Football’s 10 best Coordinators of 2020

Phil Parker

Iowa Defensive Coordinator Phil Parker addresses reporters at the Hawkeyes' Media Day Friday August 2, 2019. (Lynn Harrington/stayaliveinpower5)

Head Coaches always get the bulk of the credit for a program’s success, but their assistant are usually the backbone of the team.

Often times it’s one side of the ball that carries the team to the finish line. Rather a Coordinator is calling plays from the sidelines or up in the booth, they play a huge role in the outcome of the game. These assistant coaches have all displayed what it takes to succeed at high level in the Power Five.

They all bring their respective teams instant credibility and look to continue their brilliant work this fall.

10. Mike Sanford Jr., OC, Minnesota: He was Notre Dame’s Offensive Coordinator during the 2015 and 2016 season. The the unit averaged 34.2 and 30.9 points per game over those years and Sanford’s success landed him his first head coaching gig. He took over at Western Kentucky in 2017, a program coming off two double-digit win campaigns led by Jeff Brohm. However, Sanford finished 9-16 during his two-year tenure with the program and was let go. However, he landed the Offensive Coordinator position at Utah State in 2019 and worked closely with Jordan Love. The Aggie quarterback increased his interceptions from the year prior, but went on to be a first round pick in this year’s NFL Draft. Now Sanford is at Minnesota with P.J. Fleck, hoping to keep the wheels turning with what should be one of the Big Ten’s best offenses.

9. Tom Manning, OC, Iowa State: Matt Campbell called the plays for the Cyclones in 2018 and they finished 96th in total offense. However, Manning returned to the staff last season, took over those duties and Iowa State finished 27th in total offense. Not to mention the Cyclones’ 444.3 yards per game were the most in school history. Brock Purdy led the league in pass attempts, yards, completions and earned second-team All-Big 12. It was the first time a Cyclone quarterback received honors and recognition from the conference since Seneca Wallace accomplished that feat in 2002. Manning has his work cut out for him this fall with replacing four starters along the offensive line, but the Cyclone’s offense is talented enough to duplicate those numbers again.

8. Todd Grantham, DC, Florida: The former Virginia Tech offensive lineman has coaching experience all across the SEC, including Georgia, Mississippi State and Florida. Not to mention Grantham has just as much coaching experience in the NFL with the Colts, Texans, Cowboys and Browns. He knows the hard work it takes to be successful at both levels. The Gators finished fourth in the FBS and first in the SEC with 49 sacks last season. Not to mention Florida finished ninth in the FBS in total defense and seventh in scoring defense. Grantham has put together an impressive resume and has the Gators primed for a monster season this fall. It’s only a matter of time before he lands a head coaching gig, which will probably be somewhere in the SEC if a job comes open after this upcoming season.

7. Steve Sarkisian, OC, Alabama: When you talk about an individual who has been around the world and back, Sarkisian is your guy. He has a boat load of experience at the Collegiate level, especially in the Pac-12. Sarkisian was USC’s Quarterback Coach when Carson Palmer won the Heisman. Not to mention he made Washington a respectable program again after the dreadful Tyrone Willingham era. He was even the head coach at USC for 18 games. Sarkisian also had NFL assistant stints with the Raiders and Falcons, making his resume pretty impressive. Sarkisian been operating with some of the best talent in all of College Football and coaching alongside the best in the game in Nick Saban. Last season the Crimson Tide averaged a jaw-dropping, 47.2 points per game, which ranked second in the FBS.

6. Andy Avalos, DC, Oregon: Boise State had one of the best defenses in the Mountain West during his last three years with the program. However, Avalos did a tremendous job replacing Jim Leavitt for the Ducks last season. He kept the same base 3-4 scheme, but installed a 3-3 look. It worked out tremendously for the Ducks, and they went from finishing 55th in total defense in 2018 to 22nd last season. Mario Cristobal been recruiting like a monster, luring in the best talent on the west coast. Which means the Pac-12 should expect more of the same from Avalos’ unit. Oregon will once again be fielding one of the best defenses in the league this fall and has enough strength on its’ schedule to make a serious run at the Playoffs. If Avalos can keep up the success he’ll eventually land a head coaching gig.

5. Phil Parker, DC, Iowa: He flies under the radar when it comes to assistant coaches at Power Five programs. However, Parker has been loyal, consistent and successful as a Defensive Coordinators with the Hawkeyes. For the last three years Iowa has finished 17th, 11th and fifth nationally in scoring defense. Not to mention the Hawkeyes’ defense recorded four shutouts and had seven defenders drafted during that span. Sound defense is apart of Iowa’s identity as a program and very few schools do more with less when it comes to talent. It’s no mystery Parker has been approached regarding head coaching vacancies. Still, he’s perfectly fine remaining solely responsible for the defense and not having to deal with all the hoopla that comes with being a head coach. Which means Parker is probably a Hawkeye for life.

4. Kirk Ciarrocca, OC, Penn State: Minnesota finished fourth in the Big Ten in scoring and total offense last season. The unit’s success led to the Golden Gophers winning the most games since 1904. Quarterback Tanner Morgan became the first-ever Golden Gopher quarterback to throw for over 3,000 yards and 30 touchdown passes in a single season. Not to mention Minnesota had two 1,000-yard receivers and a 1,000-yard rusher in 2019. Which is probably why James Franklin came calling for Ciarrocca’s services at Penn State. He took the same position with the Nittany Lions and plans on coaching from the booth. Ciarrocca is all about coaching his players up to their strengths and limiting their weaknesses. He was set to make $1 million each over the next two seasons with the Golden Gophers. So that means Ciarrocca will be making even more with the Nittany Lions.

3. Graham Harrell, OC, USC: The 34-year old is a Mike Leach protege’ with a lethal passing attack scheme. Under Tee Martin USC finished 84th in total offense in 2018. Under Harrell the Trojans finished 20th in total offense and second in the Pac-12 in scoring last season. That success landed Harrell an interview with the Philadelphia Eagles for the same position this past January. Harrell is one of the reasons Clay Helton is still roaming the sidelines in Los Angeles because in hindsight he was a terrific hire. He molded a true freshman quarterback in Kedon Slovis and made him the Pac-12’s Freshman Offensive Player of the Year. Not to mention the Trojans also had two 1,000-yard receivers. The pieces are all there in year two of Harrell’s system for the Trojans to potentially have the best offense in the league this fall.

2. Jim Leonard, DC, Wisconsin: At 37-years old, he’s one of the hottest assistants in the Power Five. Leonard puts his all into his alma mater since he joined the staff in 2016 and been serving as the Badgers’ Defensive Coordinator since 2017. Wisconsin has finished in the top-10 in total defense three out of the four years Leonard has been on the staff. Not to mention the Badgers have had nine defenders drafted the last three years under Leonard’s watch. He’s a former safety himself and his niche is working with the secondary. Wisconsin’s defense also recorded four shutouts and finished sixth nationally after generating a jaw-dropping, 51 sacks last season. Another year of putting of impressive numbers like last season’s will have big name programs requesting Leonard’s services for head coaching vacancies and maybe even the NFL.

1. Brent Venables, DC, Clemson: He’s arguably the most successful assistant coach in College Football over the last five seasons. Year after year Venables continues to field one of the nation’s best defenses. Over the last five seasons Clemson has had 22 defenders drafted, including seven in the first round. Not only do the Tigers have the perfect system set in place to where they can recruit elite talent, but they also coach their players to their potential. Venables is also one of the highest paid assistant coaches in College Football. Which is probably one of the biggest reasons why he hasn’t accepted a head coaching gig elsewhere and completely comfortable. Dabo Swinney and Venables are the dynamic coaching duo in today’s game, one Batman and one Robin. Until that changes, expect Clemson to continue to dominate on the defensive side of the ball and run the ACC.