Michigan's addition of Don Brown leads our ranking of the 10 best coordinator hires of the 2015–16 college football off-season
Although not as high profile as its head-coaching counterpart, the assistant coaching carousel can often be just as important. Whether it’s a new head coach bringing in a new staff or a longtime coach looking to replace a departed assistant, new offensive and defensive coordinators play key roles in the immediate future of college programs.
Now that the coaching carousel has finally slowed down, which schools made the biggest splashes in hiring new coordinators this off-season? SI.com ranks the top 10 coordinator hires.
1. Don Brown, Michigan defensive coordinator
Michigan finished with the fifth-best total defense in the country in 2015 under now-Maryland head coach D.J Durkin. How do the Wolverines plan to get better? By hiring the coordinator who oversaw the nation’s No. 1 defense. Brown arrives in Ann Arbor fresh off a stint at Boston College, where the Eagles defense allowed an FBS-best 4.07 yards per play, a better mark than even Alabama’s championship unit (4.3). The Wolverines must replace several key linebackers, but Jabrill Peppers and Jourdan Lewis should make the secondary a major strength in Brown’s first season.
2. Dave Aranda, LSU defensive coordinator
LSU responded to the departure of first-year defensive coordinator Kevin Steele to Auburn by luring Aranda from Wisconsin, and the program likely upgraded in the process. In 2015 Aranda carried the Badgers to a No. 2 finish nationally in points allowed (13.7) whereas LSU ranked 10th in the SEC (24.3). The Badgers also boasted top-five units in rushing defense and total defense in Aranda’s third season in Madison. With a host of talent returning to Baton Rouge in ’16—including defensive linemen Lewis Neal and Christian LaCouture, linebacker Kendell Beckwith and cornerback Tre’Davious White—Aranda is expected to help rebuild LSU’s defense into an SEC contender. “He’s everything that we were looking for in a defensive coordinator,” Les Miles said when announcing the hire.
3. Bob Shoop, Tennessee defensive coordinator
In truth, Tennessee might not have needed a new defensive coordinator. After all, the Volunteers fielded the SEC’s top third-down defense under John Jancek in 2015. But after a “mutual” split between Jancek and Tennessee, snagging Shoop looked like a coup for head coach Butch Jones. Shoop oversaw top-25 defenses in each of the last five seasons during stops at Penn State and Vanderbilt. In his final season with the Commodores in 2013, Shoop held Tennessee to 10 points in a 14–10 win in Knoxville. Now he inherits a Vols defense that returns playmakers like defensive end Derek Barnett, linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin and defensive back Cam Sutton.
4. Chip Lindsey, Arizona State offensive coordinator
Lindsey arrives at Arizona State in place of the departed Mike Norvell, who left for the head job at Memphis. A Gus Malzahn disciple who spent the 2013 season as an offensive analyst on Malzahn’s staff at Auburn, Lindsey headed up Southern Miss’s offense in ’14 and ’15. Last year the Eagles ranked 13th in the FBS in scoring offense (39.9 points per game) and ninth in total offense (6.91 yards per play). Arizona State went 6–7 in ’15, but it still finished fourth in the Pac-12 at 34.6 points per game. Lindsey’s arrival could push that average even higher.
5. Jake Spavital, Cal offensive coordinator
Cal might’ve landed a steal in Spatival, who spent the past three seasons as Kevin Sumlin’s offensive coordinator at Texas A&M. The Aggies had enjoyed success under Spavital but fell from fifth to ninth in the SEC in scoring offense last season. That drop preceded a mutual parting of ways. Spavital brings a stellar pedigree to Berkeley, having honed his coaching under Dana Holgorsen, Gus Malzahn and Sumlin during his career. Spavital is also an elite recruiter who helped secure top-tier talent at Texas A&M like quarterbacks Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray, though both transferred in December. Now Spavital gets to mold Jared Goff’s successor at Cal under another offensive-minded head coach, Sonny Dykes.
6. Matt Lubick, Oregon offensive coordinator
Oregon went with a familiar face in selecting a replacement for former offensive coordinator Scott Frost. When Frost left for the UCF head-coaching job, Ducks coach Mark Helfrich promoted Lubick, who coached Oregon’s wide receivers for the past three seasons. Lubick also served as Oregon’s passing game coordinator during those three campaigns, so the program shouldn’t expect a drastic shift in philosophy. Lubick called plays in Oregon’s 47–41 loss to TCU in the Alamo Bowl, when the Ducks held a 31–0 lead at halftime before quarterback Vernon Adams left the game with an injury. It will now be up to Lubick to mold the Ducks’ next grad transfer quarterback as the highly touted Dakota Prukop enters the mix.
7. Jim Chaney, Georgia offensive coordinator
New Georgia coach Kirby Smart, the former Alabama defensive coordinator, needed a wise choice to head his first offensive staff. Enter Chaney, who comes to the Bulldogs after one season at Pittsburgh and the previous two at Arkansas. Chaney’s resume boasts a little bit of everything; he oversaw pass-happy offenses at Purdue with quarterback Drew Brees (1997–05) before orchestrating strong running attacks with the Razorbacks. Chaney should have his options open in Athens with an offense that returns tailbacks Nick Chubb and Sony Michel and adds five-star quarterback Jacob Eason.
8. Sterlin Gilbert, Texas offensive coordinator
Charlie Strong came up empty on his first choice for a new offensive coordinator in Sonny Cumbie, who opted to remain in the same role with TCU. But Gilbert isn’t a bad consolation prize. While sharing coordinator duties at Tulsa with Matt Mattox (who is joining Gilbert in Austin as offensive line coach and run game coordinator) last season, Gilbert helped the Golden Hurricane finish third in the AAC in scoring (37.2 points per game). A former Texas high school quarterback, Gilbert is tasked with immediately improving the Longhorns’ passing attack with signal-callers Jerrod Heard and Tyrone Swoopes.
9. Jeremy Pruitt, Alabama defensive coordinator
Pruitt has pretty big shoes to fill in his second stint at Alabama. He replaces Kirby Smart as the Crimson Tide’s defensive coordinator after Smart was part of four national championships on Nick Saban’s staff. But Pruitt knows the program well, having spent six seasons in Tuscaloosa as a position coach before defensive coordinator stints at Florida State—where he won a national title in ’13—and Georgia. Last season Pruitt oversaw a top-15 total defense with the Bulldogs. He now takes the reins of a title-winning Crimson Tide unit that returns key faces like defensive end Jonathan Allen and linebackers Reuben Foster, Ryan Anderson and Tim Williams.
10. Manny Diaz, Miami defensive coordinator
Mark Richt’s first season at Miami includes a reunion with Diaz, who spent last season as Mississippi State’s defensive coordinator. The two coaches have a history: Diaz, a Miami native, was a graduate assistant at Florida State from 1998–99 while Richt served as the Seminoles’ offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. Last season Diaz helped the Bulldogs improve by over 30 yards per game in total defense. Can he advance the Hurricanes from 11th in the ACC in the same category?