Unproven assistants are viable options for open positions


Kirby Smart, Georgia; Nick Rolovich, Hawaii; Bill Cubit, Illinois; Matt Campbell, Iowa State; D.J. Durkin, Maryland; Mark Richt, Miami; Tracy Claeys, Minnesota; Clay Helton, Southern California; Jason Candle, Toledo; Scott Frost, Central Florida; Justin Fuente, Virginia Tech

Remaining openings

Louisiana-Monroe, Memphis, Missouri, North Texas, Rutgers, South Carolina, Syracuse, Tulane, Virginia

Greg McElroy has known Lincoln Riley for about 10 years, dating to when he was a high school quarterback in Texas and Riley was a grad assistant at Texas Tech.

“He picked me up at the airport,” on a recruiting visit, McElroy said this week.

He ended up signing with Alabama and Riley later left Texas Tech for East Carolina. In January, he was hired as the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma, where his offense has helped put the Sooners in contention for a national championship.

Riley’s reputation for innovative and explosive offenses has sparked a surge of interest in him by South Carolina’s Ray Tanner and other athletic directors around the country who are in search of a new head coach.

He’s only 32, but the only number ADs might care about is 45.8.

That’s how many points Oklahoma scores per game, third in the FBS.

“If (Riley) were to get the job, that would be exactly what South Carolina would need,” McElroy, an analyst with the SEC Network, said on a conference call. “A guy who brings a different approach. A young energetic coach. And someone who might be able to offer a little different mentality when it comes to throwing the football in the SEC. I think it would be compelling if he were to get the opportunity.”

Riley is part of this year’s group of hot assistants, guys who don’t have previous head coaching experience, but draw interest for openings based their recent success.

Their names are tweeted and mentioned in rumors and bandied about as the media and fans attempt to guess who will be hired for which job.

Twenty jobs — or nearly 16 percent of the 128 FBS head coaching positions — have been open at some point this season.

Eleven of those had been filled as of Thursday afternoon — counting Georgia’s reported hire of Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart — seven by coaches who didn’t have previous full-time head coaching experience.

“I would say there might be more interest in the hot coordinator because they don’t have any failures as a head coach,” said Chris Vannini, the managing editor of CoachingSearch.com, which tracks movement in the profession. “(It’s) kind of like how the backup quarterback is the most popular guy on the team because he hasn’t been in that role yet.

“When you’re the hot coordinator, you don’t have to answer the “What went wrong here?’ questions.”

The recent hires include Smart, Nick Rolovich (Hawaii), D.J. Durkin (Maryland), Tracy Claeys (Minnesota), Jason Candle (Toledo), Scott Frost (Central Florida) and Clay Helton (USC).

Of those, Helton and Claeys served as interim coaches this season, and Durkin coached Florida in last season’s Birmingham Bowl win over East Carolina after Will Muschamp was fired. Durkin was Michigan’s defensive coordinator this season.

This year’s batch of assistants also include:

Chris Ash, Ohio State defensive coordinator. He reportedly is in the running for the head coaching position at Rutgers after leading the Buckeyes' defense the past two seasons. Ohio State allows 14 points per game, second in the FBS.

Kendal Briles, Baylor offensive coordinator. Briles, who submitted his resume for the North Texas position, The Dallas Morning News reported, directs an offense that leads the nation in scoring offense (50.8 points).

Geoff Collins, Florida defensive coordinator. The Gators, who rank fifth in scoring and total defense in his first season, would like to keep Collins, who interviewed for the Central Florida job that went to Frost, the Orlando Sentinel reported. He was hired last December from Mississippi State, where he was the defensive coordinator.

Seth Littrell, North Carolina offensive coordinator. He reportedly is one of two finalists for the North Texas job, in part thanks to an offense that averages 41.3 points per game. He played for Bob Stoops at Oklahoma.

Doug Meacham, TCU co-offensive coordinator. TCU's play-caller is the other finalist at North Texas. The Horned Frogs average 564.3 yards per game, fourth in the nation.

Barry Odom, Missouri defensive coordinator. Memphis was on the verge of hiring Odom, whose defenses kept the Tigers in games this season, but negotiations broke down, The Memphis Commercial-Appeal reported. He reportedly also interviewed with Missouri.

Mike Sanford, Notre Dame offensive coordinator. The 33-year-old could be a fit at Syracuse or Virginia after his work with an injury-riddled offense this season, but he reportedly has said he's staying at Notre Dame.

Brent Venables, Clemson defensive coordinator. Venables has said he's not leaving the Tigers, but is considered one of the top defensive minds and motivators in the country.

Riley is in direct contrast to another coordinator reportedly in the running to take Steve Spurrier’s place at South Carolina.

Muschamp, who is 44, spent four seasons as the head coach at Florida. He is Auburn’s defensive coordinator after he was fired in November 2014.

He was 28-21 at Florida, where his offenses struggled and the Gators won only 10 games his final two seasons.

“(Riley and Muschamp) have two different styles,” SEC Network analyst Tim Tebow said on a conference call. “I believe that Will has learned a lot from his stint at Florida. I think that he is one of the best defensive minds in football. I think that his time at Florida taught him a lot. It’s not just about X’s and O’s. It’s not just about defense. It’s about hiring the right people around you and being a leader of men, and it’s about relationships. I think in his next opportunity, that he’ll do a very good job.”