As we reported Monday afternoon with the report about Rich Rodriguez getting the Arizona job, tis the season for coaching changes. Expect a lot more vacancies to spring up in the next few weeks. A few of them will get filled by first-time head coaches. This week's Top 10 list examines some of the best up-and-comers to keep an eye on:
1. Gus Malzahn, Auburn, OC: The former Arkansas high school coach's rep sky-rocketed last season as Auburn rode Cam Newton to the BCS title. Things have been much, much tougher this year without Newton or most of last year's offensive line. The offense that was fifth nationally in scoring and sixth in total offense has plummeted to 78th and 93rd, respectively. But things should get a lot better next year as almost all of their key guys figure to be back. But will Malzahn? He is paid very, very well at Auburn, getting a reported $1.3 mil per year, and won't leave for just any coaching job, but word is that UNC's vacancy could be tempting.
2. Kirby Smart, Alabama, DC: Nick Saban's program has spawned a handful of future head coaches (FSU's Jimbo Fisher, UF's Will Muschamp and Tennessee's Derek Dooley among them), and Smart figures to be the next one up. Then again, Bama OC Jim McElwain, who could've also been on this list, will likely get some looks this winter too. Bama's defensive prowess will be quite a selling point for Smart. The Tide leads the nation in: rushing defense, pass efficiency defense, total defense and scoring defense. That's quite a mouthful. The one downside for the former Georgia DB is that Saban is so hands-on with Alabama's defense it's perceived that the head coach is more responsible for the unit's success than most head coaches.
3. Paul Chryst, Wisconsin, OC: One of the more anonymous "top" assistants in college football, the 46-year-old Chryst, a former Mike Riley assistant, has done a terrific job for the Badgers for years. This season, he's put together an offense that has produced two Heisman candidates in QB Russell Wilson and RB Montee Ball. The Badgers are fifth in the country in scoring and 10th in rushing under the former Wisconsin QB.
4. Manny Diaz, Texas, DC: A first-year UT assistant, Diaz has proven to be the most effective of all of Mack Brown's new on-field coaches, turning a defense that had to replace most of the secondary into one that is 11th in pass efficiency D and 26th in scoring D. Last year, the Horns were 46th and 49th in both of those categories. Texas also has jumped from 31st against the run all the way up to No. 8. Diaz provided a similar boost at his previous stop, Mississippi State in 2010. The Miami native would be even higher on this list if his team was doing better than a 6-4 mark. But don't blame the defense. It's only a matter of time before Diaz is running his own program.
5. Chad Morris, Clemson, OC: Like Malzahn, Morris is a former high school coach who is cashing in on an up-tempo offense that has pumped life into a big, previously underachieving college program. As I detailed in a Stats That Matter a few weeks back, Morris learned a lot from Malzahn and has done wonders for young QB Tajh Boyd. Morris also has done wonders for Dabo Swinney's job security. The Tigers are 12th in the nation in passing, 18th in total offense and 21st in scoring. A year ago, before Morris arrived, they were 78th, 88th and 86th in those carries. With a handful of openings likely to come this winter in his native state of Texas, expect Morris' phone to be ringing.
6. Garrick McGee, Ark. OC: The Hogs are hot, having scored at least 44 points in their past three SEC games. McGee, a former OU QB, has learned well under Bobby Petrino, one of the game's sharpest offensive minds. Arkansas is No. 3 in the nation led by its potent offense, which had to deal with the loss of record-setting QB Ryan Mallett, a great tight end D.J. Williams and then, on the eve of the season, RB Knile Davis yet the Hogs still pile up the points. If McGee and the Hogs can light up the vaunted LSU defense on Friday, the young coach's stock will really rise.
7. Pat Narduzzi, Michigan State, DC: Yet another Youngstown guy making it big in college coaching. Narduzzi and his boss Mark Dantonio have done another great job producing a ferocious defense. MSU is No. 3 in the country in total defense; No. 5 in scoring; No. 5 in pass efficiency defense and No. 10 against the run. Impressive? No doubt. But what really is amazing is that coming into this season, the Spartans lost four of their top five tackles from last year, including star LB Greg Jones.
8. Bud Foster, Va. Tech, DC: The Hokies again have a top-10 defense. Yawn. Foster seems to do this on an annual basis. This season, Tech has had to overcome a bunch of injuries to key guys in its front seven, but regardless of that, the Hokies are 10-1 and leaning on Foster's stifling defense. Trouble is, for all of Foster's success and the respect he has, the 52-year-old has been passed over many times for head coaching jobs and you have to wonder if he'll ever get his shot to run his own program.
9. Tony Levine, Houston, Special Teams Coordinator: Even though most head coaches get hired after being offensive or defensive coordinators, keep an eye on the 39-year-old Levine, a former wideout at Minnesota, who has proven to be one of the country's best special teams coaches and has learned under Kevin Sumlin, John Fox, Bobby Petrino and Tommy Tuberville in his time in college and the NFL. Since he got to UH in 2008, his teams have returned eight kickoffs for TDs and blocked 18 kicks. That's fourth-most in the country in that time. He's also been Sumlin's assistant head coach for what has become a very hot program these days. Having also been UH's inside receivers coach for the Cougars' record-breaking offense the past four seasons or exhibiting the organizational experience of being a director of football operation (Louisville) also won't hurt his cause either.
10. (tie) Frank Wilson, LSU, RB coach/recruiting coordinator: A New Orleans native, Wilson has emerged as arguably the nation's top recruiter. He has found and reeled in studs at Ole Miss, Southern Miss, Tennessee and now at LSU, but the guy has proven to be a lot more than just a recruiter. No assistant may be more respected by his players. And he has proven he knows how to run a program and be a leader. Back when he was 27, he took over a downtrodden high school program in New Orleans and turned the place upside down. In one year, the team GPA jumped from 1.5 to 2.5 and his team knocked off Louisiana powerhouse John Curtis HS with its first district loss in 25 years. By Wilson's third season at the school, they were playing in the state title game.
10. (tie) Tom Herman, Iowa State, OC: The Mensa guy I wrote about last week had a big Friday night helping lead the Cyclones to the biggest win in school history, upsetting No. 2 Oklahoma State in double-overtime, 37-31 boosting ISU to 6-4. Iowa State's numbers on offense this season are far from head-turning: 44th in total offense and 75th in scoring, but remember this is a guy who produced top 10 offenses at Rice just a few years back and helped that program get to its first bowl game in over a half-century. Like Morris and Levine, if he gets a long look when a few of these jobs in the Southwest open up.