Record numbers of head coaching hires and changes dominated headlines this offseason. However, there were several key assistant hires– from coordinators to positional coaches– that are going to make massive differences to the teams that made the hires. Which assistants should we be keeping the closest eye on?
Jim Knowles, Defensive Coordinator, Ohio State
This is the most notable coordinator move by far this offseason, and perhaps the best hire of them all. Ohio State's defense has been abysmal for the past few seasons. They made a midseason change in play caller after Oregon coached circles around Ohio State in Week 2.
Enter Jim Knowles– conductor of Oklahoma State's dominant 2021 unit. He's a blitz-happy and aggressive play caller known for his exotic fronts and stunts. The Buckeyes used to hang their hats on their defense, specifically their secondary, dubbed the "Silver Bullets." It's clear Ryan Day is looking to return that unit to their former glory.
What did it take to bring one of the nation's top defensive coordinators to Columbus? Nearly $1.9 million, making him the current-highest paid assistant in college (the previous three– Brent Venables, Tony Elliott, and Mike Elko– all took head jobs this offseason).
Jeff Lebby, Offensive Coordinator, Oklahoma
Not only did Jeff Lebby take the Ole Miss offense to new heights and produce a Heisman-contending quarterback in Matt Corral, but he's worked with Oklahoma transfer quarterback Dillon Gabriel in the past. It's a match made in heaven and a well-executed get by defensive-minded head coach Brent Venables.
The Rebels were a top-30 offense in points per drive a season ago. They did that with the ninth-most talented roster (per 247Sports player ratings) against the SEC West. Like Knowles, it took a pretty penny to pull Lebby from Oxford in what's really a lateral move: $1.8 million annually for three years.
It's worth noting Lebby is an alum of Oklahoma and has a real opportunity with Gabriel in town. If you're a betting person, it's worth looking at Gabriel's Heisman market.
Zach Kittley, Offensive Coordinator, Texas Tech
Zach Kittley has been the King Midas of offensive coordinators throughout the college ranks. It began at Houston Baptist, where he led the Huskies to a 49.3 point-per-game average in his second year (33.3 in his final year). He was hired by Western Kentucky, where he helped now-household name Bailey Zappe to break passing records.
Kittley got his start in Lubbock as a student and grad assistant before moving onto Houston Baptist. He's a true air raid coordinator, a system Texas Tech will move back into this coming year. He was an assistant under Sonny Cumbie– Tech's offensive coordinator and interim coach to end 2021.
Couple him with talented Oregon transfer QB Tyler Shough and there should be fireworks in Lubbock this season.
Manny Diaz, Defensive Coordinator, Penn State
The former Miami head coach managed to land himself in a terrific position in Happy Valley. Despite Miami not quite meeting expectations in the past few seasons, Diaz wasn't ousted for underperforming, instead because they got the commitment from Mario Cristobal.
The Nittany Lions landed an absolute home run in Diaz, who runs a tight ship. Penn State has been a producer of head coaches lately, with both 2021 coordinators taking head jobs elsewhere. It puts James Franklin's coaching tree up to four current head coaches in the college ranks.
Diaz is likely a short-term hire while he falls back into the coaching rotation and gets a head coaching job in the future. Having a known head-coach caliber assistant on your staff certainly doesn't hurt. The cherry on top: Diaz runs the same system that was already in place under departed-coordinator Brent Pry.
Brennan Marion, Passing Game Coordinator, Texas
Turns out, when you coach a true freshman receiver (Jordan Addison) into winning the Fred Biletnikoff Award for the nation's top receiver, you garner interest. Texas came knocking on his door, likely handing him the bag to relocate from Pitt to Texas (his salary isn't made available as of writing).
Who does Marion have to work with this season? Rising sophomore Xavier Worthy, who– if it were not for Addison and record-shattering Jaxon Smith-Njigba– would have been the nation's top freshman receiver. Worthy hauled in 12 touchdowns despite a maligned passing game from the Longhorns a season ago, one of the top marks in the country. Texas also rosters Wyoming transfer Isaiah Neyor, who I've talked about multiple times about being a stud (19.9 yards per reception last year, for those who need a refresher).
This year, there's real bones for Texas to be one of the nation's most lethal offenses. Marion was the perfect hire for the Longhorns.
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