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Which coordinators are ready to make the jump to head coach?

There's more than a few coordinators that might be ready to be head coaches soon.

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The life of a offensive or defensive coordinator in college football is not for the bashful. For many, the chance to run a unit and call plays is the last proving ground before being handed the keys to a program of their own as a head coach.

However, they're also often the fall guys when things don't go exactly as planned.

So it's a delicate line most coordinators must balance - raise your profile enough to get a head job, but make sure it's the right job.  Miss your opportunity and run the risk of tarnishing your star or having play calling duties removed.

With already 13 head coach openings already at the FBS level, and a few more likely to open soon, many high profile coordinators might find their way to the big office soon.


Scott Frost, Oregon

The former Nebraska quarterback has been at the helm of the Oregon offensive attack since 2013. Picking up where Mark Helfrich left off, Frost has kept the Ducks' offensive near the top of most stat sheets.  Oregon currently ranks 7th in the country in total offense despite injuries and lack of production from the quarterback spot early in the season.

Prior to being name offensive coordinator, Frost served as Oregon's WR coach from 2009-2013 with a stop at Northern Iowa in 2008 and stints as a GA at both Nebraska and Kansas State.

The 40-year-old Frost has both the name recognition and reputation to hit the ground running in whatever head coaching gig opens up, but he'll have to deal with criticism that he's the product of an Oregon system developed far before he got to Eugene.

Front remains a fringe candidate for major jobs, but he may be a solid option for a mid-tier program like Syracuse, or perhaps an Iowa State.

Noel Mazzone, UCLA

At 58 years old, the window for Mazzone to become a head coach is closing. A career assistant, Mazzone has been a bit of a coaching vagabond spending time at both college and NFL levels.

With UCLA since 2012, Mazzone has re-established himself as a bright offensive mind with just enough quirks to be an interesting head coach candidate in the right spot.  His Bruins' currently rank 22nd in total offense with a true freshman quarterback.

With his age and lack of experience, Mazzone is too much of a wild card for Power Five openings, but style may work well at a place like New Mexico State or Fresno State (should they open) - where budget issues are a roadblock and coaching quirks are more acceptable.

Billy Gonzales, Mississippi State

The current MSU passing game coordinator/assistant head coach has always had a lightning bolt personality. Gonzales got his start under Urban Meyer - following the current Buckeye head coach through stints at Bowling Green, Utah and Florida.

A contentious split from Meyer and Florida in 2009 found Gonzales at LSU for a couple of years before a stop at Illinois and his current role in Starkville.

Gonzales is likely more known for his recruiting prowess than as an X's and O's technician, but his pedigree puts him in position to run his own program soon.

He'll likely have to cut his teeth at the Group of Five level, think UCF, before the big boys come calling, but given his history -- he could be a dynamic candidate/head coach.

Lincoln Riley, Oklahoma

A bit of a boy wonder.  At 32, Riley has already earned the title of offensive wizard.

An Air Raid pupil, Riley learned under Mike Leach at Texas Tech before leaving with Ruffin McNeil to run the offense at East Carolina.  It was there that Riley really made a name for himself as the Pirates featured a prolific, record-shattering offense with quarterback Shane Cardeen.

Riley cashed in on his success both financially and professionally this past season, leaving East Carolina to run the offense for Bob Stoops' Oklahoma program.  And with the Sooners on the cusp of a college football playoff appearance, Riley has only heightened his profile.

Making just 500k a year with the Sooners, Riley is a bit of a bargain.  He'll almost certainly be due a raise if he remains in Norman, but expect programs like North Texas and even Missouri to thoroughly consider the former Texas Tech walk-on.


Kirby Smart, Alabama

It seems as though Smart has been a perennial candidate to become a head coach.  The Georgia alum has learned under Nick Saban's tutelage since 2009 as Alabama's defensive coordinator.

Realistically, if Smart already wanted to be a head coach by now, he would be.  The decision to delay taking a job may very well pay off as Smart now has the reputation deserving consideration at major openings like South Carolina or Virginia.

The only remaining question regarding Smart may be his ceiling. Yes, the Tide defense currently ranks 3rd in the country in total defense and yes, Smart has been at the helm during 3 national championships, but how much of that is him and how much of that is Saban? Will Muschamp was once a great coordinator under Saban only to be exposed as not-ready-for-primetime as a head coach.  Is Smart another Muschamp?  Probably not, but he'll have to prove his detractors wrong whenever he chooses to move on.

Bob Shoop, Penn State

The Penn State defensive coordinator doesn't exactly reflect a high profile personality, but his schemes have been successful enough to warrant consideration for head coaching vacancies.

Shoop, a Yale graduate, has previous head coaching experience - in the form of 3 forgettable seasons with Columbia. Still it's a much more forgivable sin to lose in the Ivy League than the SEC and Shoop has rehabilitated his profile during stints as defensive coordinator at Vandy and Penn State.

His defensive unit currently ranks 14th in the country in total defense despite limited scholarships and an offense than can't keep them off the field.

Shoop's current contract reportedly pays him close to $1 million a year, so it's doubtful he'll leave State College for any run of the mill opening. However, if he does have the itch to run his own program again, he could be an ideal candidate for a program in the northeast (think Syracuse).

D.J. Durkin, Michigan

There may be no assistant football coach in all of american with the resume of D.J. Durkin. The Youngstown native has the unique pleasure as having served as an assistant under both Jim Harbaugh and Urban Meyer.

Durkin's reputation, however, is less due to the coaches he associates with, but rather the exceptional units he's overseen at Florida and Michigan. His stingy Wolverine defense has been critical in the success during Year 1 of the Jim Harbaugh era.

Durkin is also an excellent recruiter -- being named Rivals 2012 recruiter of the year.

It seems Durkin has every tool necessary to become a great head coach, now he just needs the opportunity.  Would be willing to work his way up from a MAC school - his current gig in Ann Arbor is pretty sweet and at 37, he still has time to be picky with his next job.  Taking a job at say, Bowling Green - where Durkin is an alum - could set him down the path to super stardom, but will likely come with a salary decrease, at least initially.

Brent Venables, Clemson

Venables spent 12 years at Oklahoma as defensive coordinator before taking on the challenge of righting a Clemson unit that was completely lost in 2012. In just three years with the Tigers, he's completely changed the mentality of the program - leading the best defense in the country in 2014- and being on the cusp of a college football playoff appearance in 2015.

A product of Bill Snyder's coaching tree, Venables will be sure to have many suitors this off season, but faces a couple of distinct disadvantages in his effort to become a head coach: 1)  a deep playoff run by Clemson could delay the hiring process, and 2) his salary is already north of $1 million a year.

Venables will be a head coach at some point, but it may not be this year.  He should enjoy his time as maybe the best defensive coordinator in America and a potential national champion.

Chris Ash, Ohio State

Ohio State's offense may have struggled this season, but their defense has been mostly stout this year, and Ash gets a lot of the credit. His hire has marked a bit of a turning point for Ohio State's secondary, and he's grown as a recruiter to boot. Ash interviewed at Colorado State last season, and as an Iowa native and a former Iowa State assistant, he could be a great fit for the Cyclones, as he knows the area and has a reputation as a strong teacher. He might be the Ohio State assistant best suited to grab a head coaching job this cycle.