June 1, 2023
Utah Defensive Coordinator Morgan Scalley watches team warm up before Pac-12 Championship Game against USC Friday December 2, 2022 at Allegiant Stadium. (Lynn Harrington/stayaliveinpower5)

Utah Defensive Coordinator Morgan Scalley watches team warm up before Pac-12 Championship Game against USC Friday December 2, 2022 at Allegiant Stadium. (Lynn Harrington/stayaliveinpower5)

They are the masterminds behind the schemes.

Rather a Coordinator is calling plays from the sidelines or up in the booth, they play a huge role in the outcome of the final score. In today’s game it’s rare, but there are a few assistants who remain loyal to their respective programs, regardless of money and turnover ratio.

Some assistants are destined to be head coaches soon, while others are comfortable in their position. Regardless, these 15 Coordinators have showed they are worthy, and bring instant credibility on the gridiron.

15. Collin Klein, OC, Kansas State: Last year he made an immediate impact in his first full season of calling plays for his alma mater. Under Courtney Messingham’s direction in 2021, Kansas State’s offense ranked 76th nationally in scoring, 64th in rushing  and 95th in total yards per game. Klein drastically improved those numbers in 2022. The Wildcats finished 37th in the FBS in scoring, 15th in rushing and 41st in total yards per game. Klein’s tempo and ground attack helped the Wildcats win the Big 12 Title. Will Howard has molded into one of the league’s s best gunslingers under Klein’s watch. Despite the loss of Deuce Vaughn and Malik Knowles, the Wildcats return a talented group for Klein to operate with in 2023.

14. Jesse Minter, DC, Michigan: There’s no denying that his numbers at Vanderbilt in 2021 were mediocre. Minter was working with no talent in the almighty SEC though. However, last season was his first year of leading the Wolverines’ defense, and he exceeded expectations. It’s no mystery Minter had a big upgrade in talent in Ann Arbor. Michigan ranked first in the Big Ten, and seventh in the FBS against the run. Not to mention the Wolverines only allowed 10 rushing touchdowns through 14 games. Michigan finished third in the conference in total defense, and sacks per game. Most importantly, Minter was able to keep the wheels rolling for the Wolverines, and they won their second-straight Big Ten Title and Playoff berth.

13. Will Muschamp, DC, Georgia: The Georgia native is a defensive guru, who has had head coaching stints at Florida and South Carolina. Muschamp was Nick Saban’s right hand man when he won his first National Title at LSU. So he has witnessed three decades of SEC football. Muschamp helped Glenn Schumann orchestrate the Bulldogs defense last season, and he was responsible for the safeties. The duo made magic on the gridiron after Georgia led the SEC, and finished 10th in the FBS in total defense. The Bulldogs only allowed 15 touchdown tosses through 15 games. Muschamp knows how to get his defenders to play up to their potential. And that’s a scary thought, considering Georgia’s defense will be loaded again this fall.

12. Jim Knowles, DC, Ohio State: The 57-year old was a Defensive Coordinator in the ACC and the Big 12, before he landed in the Big Ten. Knowles’ last season with the Pokes was in 2021, and they led the Big 12 in scoring, rushing and total defense. A lot of that success carried over to the Buckeyes last year. Ohio State finished 14th in the FBS in total defense under Knowles’ direction. That was a big improvement for the Buckeyes, after ranking 59th in the country  in total yards allowed under Kerry Coombs’ watch. Not to mention Ohio State was No. 25 in the nation in rushing and scoring defense. Knowles installed some crafty blitz packages, and the Buckeyes finished fourth in the league in sacks per game. Expectations will be higher in year two.

11. Joe Rossi, DC, Minnesota: The Pittsburgh native is approaching his fifth season as the Golden Gophers’ Defensive Coordinator. Everything is trending up because the last two seasons have been stellar campaigns for Rossi. During that span Minnesota has registered three shutout victories, including two last year. The Golden Gophers ranked second in the Big Ten in scoring, rushing, passing and total defense in 2021. Minnesota was fourth in the league and ninth nationally in total yards allowed last season. Not to mention Minnesota was No. 4 in the FBS in scoring defense. Rossi also does extensive work with the linebackers, and molded Mariano Sori-Marin into an All-Big Ten performer. With Rossi leading the pack again, expect more success.

10. Warren Ruggiero, OC, Wake Forest: The New Jersey native has been the Demon Deacons Offensive Coordinator since 2014. Ruggiero is all about airing it out on the gridiron. Which is the reason why Wake Forest has been one of the top passing teams in the ACC over the past four seasons, and ranked first last year. Quarterback Sam Hartman became the school’s all-time leader in passing yards and touchdown tosses under Ruggiero’s watch. The Demon Deacons averaged 32.8 points per game in 2020, 41 in 2021, and 36.1 in 2022. Former wideout A.T. Perry had two-straight 1,000-yard seasons in Ruggiero’s scheme. Although Hartman is gone, Wake Forest will still put together offensive fireworks with Ruggiero’s play-calling.

9. Brad White, DC, Kentucky: The former Wake Forest linebacker was a Graduate Assistant under Mark Stoops in 2018. Now White is approaching his fifth season leading the Wildcats’ defense. White has had a ton of success over the past two years too. Kentucky ranked fourth in the SEC, and 26th in the FBS in scoring and total defense in 2021. Last season the Wildcats finished second in the league, and 12th in the country in yards allowed. White had Kentucky third in the conference, and 13th in the nation in scoring defense. White’s scheme compliments Stoops’ ground and pound approach on offense. It has been a recipe of success in the almighty SEC. With all of the returning defensive talent, this unit has the potential to be White’s best yet.

8. Jeff Lebby, OC, Oklahoma: The Texas native helped UCF lead the AAC in scoring, passing and total offense in 2019. Lebby has learned from offensive gurus like Josh Heupel and Lane Kiffin. He spent 2020 and 2021 in the SEC West, which is the toughest division in all of College football. Not to mention Ole Miss led the league in total offense in each of those seasons. Last year was Lebby’s first as an Offensive Coordinator in the Big 12, and the Sooners led the conference in rushing and total offense. Oklahoma ranked 13th in the FBS in total yards per game, and quarterback Dillon Gabriel was named the Big 12’s Newcomer of the Year. Fans are expecting more fireworks in year two, especially with Lebby having a handle on the conference.

7. Kurt Mattix, DC, San Diego State: He has been a staple in the Mountain West ever since he arrived from the FCS ranks. Mattix has put together three stellar campaigns with the Aztecs. San Diego State ranked first in the conference in total defense in 2020, second in 2021 and third in 2022. Mattix operates a scheme that’s designed to keep the opposition out of the endzone. Which is why the Aztecs have finished in the top 20 of the FBS in scoring defense in each of the past three seasons. Mattix does extensive work with the linebackers too, and they’re always in attack mode on ball carriers. San Diego State has been dominant against the run, and ranked in the top-three nationally in two of the past three years.

6. Morgan Scalley, DC, Utah: The Salt Lake City native has been on Kyle Whittingham’s staff since 2007. Scalley has been orchestrating the Utes’ defense since 2016. In four of the past five seasons Utah has ranked in the top-two in the Pac-12 in total defense. The Utes were second in the league in points and yards allowed in 2022. Scalley had Utah 19th in the FBS in scoring and total defense. He’s been consistent with fielding elite talent, and a big reason why the Utes have won back-to-back Pac-12 Championships. Utah has had a jaw-dropping, 13 defenders drafted under Scalley’s leadership, including a first-rounder. With the physicality of Scalley’s scheme, and the returning talent on defense, the Utes are poised for another title run.

5. Phil Longo, OC, Wisconsin: The New Jersey native put together some explosive offenses over the past four seasons at North Carolina. Every year of that span the Tar Heels have ranked in the top-20 nationally in total offense. Longo also showed he was a quarterback guru, after he molded Sam Howell and Drake Maye into record-breaking gunslingers. Maye even tied for first in the ACC with 38 touchdown tosses last year. North Carolina ranked second in the league in scoring, passing and total offense in 2022. Running backs and wideouts have also excelled in Longo’s scheme. Longo even spent two seasons as an Offensive Coordinator in the SEC West. Now he’s in the Big Ten and has gunslinger Tanner Mordecai in his arsenal.

4. Garrett Riley, OC, Clemson: His offenses put up video game numbers at SMU, and the success continued at TCU last season. Riley was a big reason why the Mustangs finished in the top-15 nationally in total offense in 2020 and 2021. Quarterback Tanner Mordecai broke SMU’s single-season record for touchdown tosses under Riley’s direction. Riley left a lasting impression in his lone season with the Horned Frogs. Not only did Riley help Max Duggan win the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, but he was a big reason why the team clinched a Playoff berth. TCU led the Big 12, and finished ninth in the FBS in points per game. Not to mention the Horned Frogs ranked third in the league in total offense. Now he’ll take on defenses of the ACC.

3. Ryan Grubb, OC, Washington: He made a name for himself as Fresno State’s Offensive Coordinator for three seasons. The Bulldogs finished first in the Mountain West in scoring offense in 2020 and 2021 under Grubb’s watch. Not to mention he took the Pac-12 by storm last year. The Huskies led the entire FBS in passing offense. Washington ranked first in the conference and second in the country in total offense. Under Grubb’s direction, quarterback Michael Penix Jr. threw for a jaw-dropping, 4,651 yards, which was a single-season, school record. Washington also had two 1,000-yard receivers. With all of that offensive talent and production returning for Grubb, the Huskies could very well be the favorites to win the Pac-12 this fall.

2. Jon Heacock, DC, Iowa State: He’s Matt Campbell’s right hand man, and been working alongside him since their days at Toledo. That makes Heacock the longest-tenured assistant in the Big 12. Heacock has fielded some of the league’s best defenses over the past five seasons. Iowa State has finished in the top-20 nationally in total defense every year during that span. The Cyclones led the Big 12, and ranked second in the nation in total yards allowed in 2022. Iowa State was also first in the conference, and sixth in the FBS against the pass. That’s mind-boggling, considering Iowa State doesn’t lure in star-studded recruiting classes like other powerhouse programs. So there’s no denying Heacock knows how to mold underrated talent.

1. Phil Parker, DC, Iowa: The 60-year old has been orchestrating the Hawkeyes’ defense since 2012. Parker has one of the best defensive minds in today’s game, and consistently fields elite defenses. Iowa is always fundamentally sound and disciplined under Parker’s watch. Not to mention he does extensive work with the defensive backs. Last season Jack Campbell won the Butkus Award, edge rusher Lukas Van Ness and cornerback Riley Moss were All-Big Ten performers and safety Kaevon Merriweather earned second-team, AP All-American honors. The Hawkeyes led the Big Ten, and ranked second in the FBS in total defense. Iowa has even had a jaw-dropping, 17 defenders drafted since Parker been at the helms of the defense.