Sixteen assistant coaches in 2015 will be starting their first full seasons as FBS head coaches, with seven of them landing jobs in Power Five conferences.
The highest-profile moves had former Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart going to Georgia, former Michigan DC D.J. Durkin taking over at Maryland and former Ohio State DC Chris Ash getting hired at Rutgers.
Who’ll become head coaches after this season?
Here’s a look, in alphabetical order, at some assistants who appear to have what it takes to run their own programs:
Dave Aranda, defensive coordinator, LSU
Les Miles hired Aranda away from Wisconsin, where the 39-year-old oversaw a Badgers defense that ranked among the top five nationally in four major categories over the last three years. Before moving to Wisconsin, he coordinated one of the country’s top defenses at Utah State.
Aranda’s greatest strength is his ability to relate to his players. He has a knack for making hard-to-digest concepts easy to understand, and then he turns his charges loose to make plays.
Geoff Collins, defensive coordinator, Florida
His name was connected to the UCF opening, and he’ll be in the mix other places if the Gators’ defense is as good as it was last year.
Florida was so impressed with Collins in his first year under Jim McElwain that he received a $300,000 raise, to more than $1 million. He’ll get a $150K retention bonus if he’s still in Gainesville come February.
Collins is a top-notch recruiter, and he has had an impressive career track that has taken him to Georgia Tech, Alabama, UCF, Florida International and Mississippi State.
Tee Martin, offensive coordinator, Southern California
The 38-year-old Martin is a phenomenal recruiter whose career has been on a steady ascent. He joined the Trojans’ staff in 2012 as receivers coach, became pass game coordinator in 2014 and was named offensive coordinator at the end of last season.
As receivers coach, a position he still holds, Martin has tutored Biletnikoff Award winner Marqise Lee, Robert Woods, Nelson Agholor and JuJu Smith-Schuster.
Martin knows how to win, too. He was Peyton Manning’s backup for two years at Tennessee and led the Volunteers to a 13-0 record and national championship as a junior in 1998.
Lincoln Riley, offensive coordinator, Oklahoma
Riley is as accomplished as any 32-year-old could hope to be in this profession. He won the 2015 Broyles Award as the nation’s top assistant coach, and his Baker Mayfield-led Air Raid offense was nearly unstoppable as the Sooners made the College Football Playoff.
Riley was linked to head coaching jobs, including South Carolina, and OU extended his contract through 2018 and gave him a raise from $500,000 to $900,000 a year. No matter. It won’t be long before the native of Muleshoe, Texas, moves on and up.
Mike Sanford, offensive coordinator, Notre Dame
Sanford was linked to the Syracuse opening last November, and Irish coach Brian Kelly knows his 33-year-old offensive coordinator will be lured away sooner than later.
Sanford proved his mettle after he lost RB Tarean Folston and QB Malik Zaire to injuries early last season. Sanford molded DeShone Kizer into an effective replacement for Zaire.
Sanford’s star began rising during two stints at Stanford, under Jim Harbaugh and David Shaw, and he’s got good blood lines. His father, Mike Sr., is a longtime assistant and head coach in the college ranks.
Brent Venables, defensive coordinator, Clemson
The 45-year-old Venables’ name has been floated for openings over the years, and it’s a surprise he’s still waiting for his opportunity. He may or may not be the guy Kansas State turns to when his mentor, Bill Snyder, decides to retire for good.
Venables turns out some of the nation’s best defenses year-in and year-out, and he’s an excellent recruiter. In his 20 years as a full-time assistant, his teams have gone to 20 bowl games and have won 10 or more games in 15 seasons. He’s got a good thing going at Clemson, and with a $1.4 million salary, he can afford to be choosy.
Six other assistants to keep an eye on: Josh Conklin, defensive coordinator, Pittsburgh; Jimmy Lake, co-defensive coordinator and secondary coach, Washington; Danny Langsdorf, offensive coordinator, Nebraska; Todd Orlando, defensive coordinator, Houston; Jeremy Pruitt, defensive coordinator, Alabama; Marcel Yates, defensive coordinator, Arizona.
Online: AP college football site: http://collegefootball.ap.org