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August 25, 2007

The top coaches primed for a promotion


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If recent history offers any indication, the guys on this list might want to update their résumés.

We don't mean that as a warning.

The coaches on this list aren't in any danger of losing their jobs. They instead should emerge as prime candidates for any head coaching opportunities that open up at the end of the season.

When we put together our list of 10 coaches on the move, we considered any assistant coaches or non-BCS head coaches who hadn't yet celebrated their 45th birthdays.

Last year's version of this list was headed by former Texas defensive coordinator Gene Chizik. The list also included former Southern California offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, former Tulsa coach Steve Kragthorpe and former Miami defensive coordinator Randy Shannon.

All three of those guys are now head coaches at BCS schools or in the NFL.

By this time next year, we're guessing a few of the guys on this list also will have earned promotions.

Coaches on the rise
1. Boise State head coach Chris Petersen:
Petersen appeared on last year's version of this list, but his extraordinary debut season as a head coach moved him to the top of the chart. Petersen led the Broncos to a 13-0 record last year and became the first coach since 1900 to lead a team to 13 wins in his first season as a Division I coach. Petersen, 42, showed his gambling nature by calling a hook-and-lateral for the game-tying touchdown and a Statue of Liberty play for the decisive two-point conversion in a 43-42 Fiesta Bowl overtime victory over Oklahoma. Petersen probably could have his pick of schools if he ever decides to leave Boise State. Then again, he might not be interested in going elsewhere. Petersen signed a five-year, $4.25 million contract in February.
2. Southern California offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian:
Although this marks Sarkisian's first year as a coordinator, the former USC quarterbacks coach already has interviewed for an NFL head coaching job. He was considered a favorite for the Oakland Raiders' vacant position last winter before withdrawing his name from consideration. When that job eventually went to former USC offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, Sarkisian inherited Kiffin's old position. Sarkisian, 33, certainly has an attractive background. The ex-Brigham Young quarterback served as USC's quarterbacks coach during Carson Palmer's Heisman Trophy-winning season of 2002 and also guided Matt Leinart through his first year as a starter. After spending the 2004 season as the Raiders' quarterbacks coach, Sarkisian returned to USC and is entering his third year as the Trojans' assistant head coach. The biggest question facing Sarkisian now is whether his first head coaching opportunity will come in college or the NFL.
3. Michigan defensive coordinator Ron English:
Michigan fans couldn't have asked for much more from English's first season as the Wolverines' defensive coordinator. English's "play fast, play physical" approach helped Michigan lead the nation in run defense and rank fourth in sacks last year. Rivals.com named English the national defensive coordinator of the year. But this guy is no one-year wonder. English, 39, spent five years as a defensive assistant at Arizona State and is entering his fourth year on Michigan's staff. If Michigan approaches its 2006 success on defense with only four returning starters this year, English should become one of the nation's most intriguing head coaching candidates.
4. Auburn defensive coordinator Will Muschamp:
He already has championship experience in college after working as the defensive coordinator for the 2003 Louisiana State team that won a share of the national title. Muschamp, 36, also has been successful in the pro ranks. The Miami Dolphins ranked second in the NFL in sacks and seventh in yards allowed per play when Muschamp spent the 2005 season as that team's assistant head coach in charge of defense. Muschamp returned to the Southeastern Conference last year and helped Auburn rank seventh in the nation in scoring defense. This former Georgia safety would be an interesting hire for any program looking to shore up its defense.
5. Brigham Young head coach Bronco Mendenhall:
As he enters his third year as Brigham Young's head coach, Mendenhall soon could face a career crossroads. Does he make the move to a BCS school or follow the path of LaVell Edwards, a Brigham Young legend who spent almost three decades coaching the Cougars? Mendenhall, 40, made himself a hot commodity by leading Brigham Young to an 11-2 record and Las Vegas Bowl title last season. The former defensive coordinator will become even more attractive if Brigham Young wins a second consecutive Mountain West crown this fall without star quarterback John Beck or tight end Jonny Harline. Brigham Young's high-powered offense gets the majority of the attention, but Mendenhall's biggest achievement has been giving this offensive-minded program a quality defense. Brigham Young ranked fourth in the nation in turnover margin and 19th in pass-efficiency defense.
6. Florida State offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher:
This quarterback guru served as offensive coordinator for the LSU team that won a share of the 2003 national title, but his finest moment may have come last year. Fisher helped former LSU quarterback JaMarcus Russell shed his reputation for inconsistency. Russell developed into the first player taken in the 2007 NFL Draft. Fisher, 41, now faces arguably the biggest challenge of his career as he attempts to rejuvenate a Florida State offense that has struggled the last few years. If he can help rebuild the career of Drew Weatherford or Xavier Lee, Fisher should emerge as Bobby Bowden's most likely successor.
7. Tulsa head coach Todd Graham:
This guy defines the term "coach on the move." Graham, 42, left his job as a Tulsa assistant to take over Rice's program, but he spent only one season as Rice's coach before returning to Tulsa. You sure can't argue with Graham's accomplishments in that one season. After losing its first four games last year, Rice won seven of its last nine contests and earned its first bowl bid since 1961. If he can build on the success Steve Kragthorpe established at Tulsa before getting the Louisville job, Graham can follow his predecessor to a BCS program.
8. Alabama offensive coordinator Major Applewhite:
This former Texas quarterback has made a remarkably successful transition to coaching. Applewhite, 29, spent two seasons as a graduate assistant at Texas and one year as Syracuse's quarterbacks coach. His stock really began to rise last season during his one-year stint as Rice's offensive coordinator. The Owls produced a 1,000-yard rusher, a 1,000-yard receiver and a 1,000-yard passer for the first time in school history. Rice also scored a school-record 350 points and earned its first bowl bid since 1961. Applewhite now will try to work his magic in the SEC as a member of new Alabama coach Nick Saban's staff. Applewhite's youth will require him to spend several more years as an assistant, but his background suggests he will earn a head coaching job sometime in the next decade.
9. South Carolina defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix:
After helping Southern Mississippi establish a reputation for its defensive prowess, Nix has spent the last two years rebuilding South Carolina's defense. The Gamecocks ranked 29th in the nation in scoring defense last year in Nix's first season as their sole defensive coordinator. The unit finished 75th in that category a year earlier. Before coming to South Carolina in 2005, Nix spent a decade at Southern Mississippi coaching every position on the Golden Eagles' defense. Nix was the youngest coordinator in the nation when he inherited that position at Southern Mississippi as a 29-year-old. Nix, who turns 35 on Sept. 30, soon could become one of the nation's youngest head coaches.
10. Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo:
Although this marks Bobo's first year as Georgia's offensive coordinator, Bobo actually took over the play-calling responsibilities late last season. Bobo called plays during Georgia's 14-12 victory over Georgia Tech in the regular-season finale. Bobo proved he could handle just about any challenge when he also called plays in a 31-24 Chick-fil-A Bowl victory over Virginia Tech, which led the nation in total defense and scoring defense last year. Bobo, 33, is a former Georgia quarterback who spent six years as the Bulldogs' quarterbacks coach before getting promoted. Bobo's former pupils include SEC career passing leader David Greene and former first-team all-SEC quarterback D.J. Shockley.
The Rivals Five:
Here are five head coaches at non-BCS schools or assistants at BCS programs who also are on the rise, even though they've already celebrated their 45th birthdays:
1. Texas Christian head coach Gary Patterson:
Patterson doesn't seem particularly interested in leaving Texas Christian, or else somebody would have already snapped him up by now. Patterson, 47, instead has built Texas Christian into one of the top non-BCS programs in the nation. Texas Christian, Boise State, Oklahoma and Southern California are the only teams in the nation that have won at least 11 games three of the last four years. Patterson owns a 54-20 record in six seasons at TCU.
2. Navy head coach Paul Johnson:
Johnson has pulled off one of the toughest tasks in all of college football by turning a military academy into a consistent winner. Navy went 1-20 in the two years before Johnson took over the program in 2002. The Midshipmen were 2-10 in Johnson's first season, but they have posted a 35-15 mark in the four years since. Johnson, 50, also knows how to beat his rivals. He owns a 9-1 combined record against Army and Air Force. Before he arrived at Navy, Johnson went 62-10 and won a pair of Division I-AA national titles at Georgia Southern.
3. UCLA defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker:
He's just about the only guy who has figured out a way to slow down Southern California's potent offense. UCLA stunned USC 13-9 last year to knock the Trojans out of national title contention. UCLA ranked ninth in the nation in run defense and sixth in sacks last year during Walker's first season as the Bruins' defensive coordinator. Walker's impressive coaching background includes stints with the NFL's New England Patriots, New York Giants and Washington Redskins. The 2005 Redskins allowed the fewest touchdown passes in the league during Walker's last year as their cornerbacks coach. Walker, 46, is a former USC assistant who has worked on staffs headed by Pete Carroll and Bill Belichick.
4. Florida co-defensive coordinator Charlie Strong:
Although he annually appears on lists of the nation's most promising head coaching candidates, Strong's stock now should be higher than ever. Florida played dominating defense all year last season and allowed only 82 total yards in a BCS championship game victory over Ohio State. Strong, 47, already owns almost a quarter-century of college coaching experience as an assistant. It seems only a matter of time before he finally becomes a head coach somewhere.
5. Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster:
Foster appears entrenched at Virginia Tech, where he has worked as an assistant on Frank Beamer's staff since 1987. But anyone looking for a defensive-minded head coach ought to call Foster and see if he has any interest. Foster, 48, won the 2006 Frank Broyles Award that goes to the nation's top assistant coach. Virginia Tech has led the nation in total defense each of the last two years. The Hokies also led the nation in pass defense and scoring defense last year.

Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com.



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