Top College Football Offensive Coordinators Who Could Soon Be Head Coaches

When it comes to hiring time, these offensive coordinators will make several teams' short list of candidates.

Like any job in life, there is a standard, step-by-step ladder in college coaching that must be climbed before reaching the top of the field. Typically, though there are exceptions, position coaches aspire to become coordinators, and a successful stint as a coordinator is necessary before fielding serious consideration for head jobs. 

The offensive coordinator is gig, which includes overseeing all aspects of the offense, is a high-profile, high-demand assignment. Essentially, you're the head coach for one side of the ball. The following OCs, while not necessarily the best in their field, are in the best position to climb up that next rung and land a coveted head coaching offer in the next year or two. 

16. Chip Lindsey, Arizona State

Lindsey darn near became the head coach of his former employer, Southern Miss, back in January before deciding to remain at Arizona State. With the Sun Devils, he'll get an opportunity to build on the work of Mike Norvell, who used ASU as a launching pad to his own head gig at Memphis. 

Lindsey, who was coaching at the high school level in Alabama just a few years ago, has developed a reputation for innovation and maximizing the ability of his young quarterbacks, most recently Nick Mullens. 

15. Eli Drinkwitz, NC State

Opportunity is knocking now that Drinkwitz is a coordinator at a Power Five school. He's one of the game's bright young minds, and built a resume as a forward-thinking, innovative assistant while at Arkansas State and Boise State. Today, there's a chance to go national if he can perk up a Pack attack that had become somewhat stale under predecessor Matt Canada. The 32-year-old Drinkwitz is a Gus Malzahn disciple, so his first offense in Raleigh hopes to keep opponents off balance with tempo and unpredictability. 

14. Major Applewhite, Houston

Applewhite sure has gotten around in a short period of time. He first became a coordinator with Rice at the age of 28, and has held a similar position at Alabama, Texas and now Houston over the last decade. Sure, his coaching career has sort of plateaued since beginning with such lofty expectations, but the Cougars are a big deal right now. And working on the same staff as head coach Tom Herman will afford Applewhite the opportunity to garner more attention and get his career trajectory pointed back in the right direction. 

13. Matt Lubick, Oregon

The Ducks' last three offensive coordinators, Chip Kelly, Mark Helfrich and Scott Frost, went on to become head coaches. Lubick, the son of legendary former Colorado State coach Sonny Lubick, is hoping to make it four in a row. He got his big break after Frost accepted the UCF job, stepping in to provide a degree of continuity for Helfrich and the Duck personnel. Lubick, who spent the past three seasons as the Oregon receivers coach and passing game coordinator, possesses the acumen and system knowledge to become one of the top college football offensive coordinators in 2016. 

12. Jake Spavital, Cal

True, Spavitalís three-year stop at Texas A&M didn't end nearly as well as it began. But at 31, he's still very much in the early stages of a budding coaching career. And as an Air Raid specialist who's set to work alongside Sonny Dykes in Berkeley, this new assignment is ripe with all kinds of possibilities. 

Spavital has had a hand in the development of three next-level quarterbacks, Brandon Weeden, Geno Smith and Johnny Manziel, which is of particular interest to a Cal squad looking to replace Jared Goff in 2016. 

11. Tee Martin, USC

Now that Martin is a college coordinator for the first time, he has a shot to parlay it into the next rung in his coaching career. He'd already done an outstanding job with the USC receivers the past three years, so head coach Clay Helton believed a promotion was in order. 

Martin has proven himself as not only a rising assistant, but also a top-tier recruiter. And those are the characteristics of a young coach who can quickly grab the attention of athletic directors. If the USC offense remains on track the year after Cody Kessler graduates, Martin is going to be one of the main beneficiaries. 

10. Mike Bloomgren, Stanford

Bloomgren is entering his sixth season on The Farm, an outstanding apprenticeship for any coach hoping to land a head job in the near future. He's climbed the ladder at Stanford, replacing Pep Hamilton as the offensive leader at the beginning of 2013. Bloomgren has overseen a physical, balanced attack that's helped spawn the careers of Kevin Hogan, Christian McCaffrey and numerous all-star blockers. The coach, who's not yet 40, has the right demeanor, leadership skills and big-game experienced to begin drawing looking in the next couple of years. 

9. Tony Elliott and Jeff Scott, Clemson

Because there are so many similarities, it's hard to differentiate between Elliott and Scott, the two-headed conductors of the vaunted Tiger offense. They're both in their mid-30s, played wide receiver together at Clemson and took command of the attack after Chad Morris accepted SMU's head job in 2015. Of course, Elliott and Scott are surrounded by gobs of talent, but their recruiting is a big reason the Tigers are so stocked in the first place. Everyone with Clemson ties these days has upward mobility because of the bona fides amassed by Dabo Swinney and the program. 

8. Sterlin Gilbert, Texas

Gilbert has a difficult assignment ahead, fixing a lagging Longhorn offense with the entire college football world watching. Ace it, though, and he can write his own ticket in a year or two. Charlie Strong has pinned his own future on Gilbert, the 37-year-old offensive repairman, who's taking on his fourth extreme makeover project in the last five years. He's consistently delivered in places like Eastern Illinois, Bowling Green and most recently Tulsa. If that success translates to Austin, some school looking for sideline energy and more points is going to scoop up Gilbert. 

7. Ed Warinner, Ohio State

Sure, the window of opportunity to become a head coach is closing for Warinner, who'll be 55 later this summer. But there's still time. And there still might be interest in a terrific teacher who's worked with two of the game's best coaches, Brian Kelly and Urban Meyer, this decade. Warinner has had a profound impact in Columbus, particularly with the Buckeye offensive linemen. He'd be a solid addition for any school looking to upgrade its overall talent level, while infusing a higher degree of professionalism and accountability into the program. 

6. Joe Moorhead, Penn State

Moorhead is extremely well-respected in coaching circles, both as a play caller and as a developer of young quarterbacks. And as the hired fixer of the Lions' necrotic attack, he now has a chance to showcase those skills to a much broader audience. Plus, the 42-year-old Moorhead is unlike most young coordinators in that he's already had a successful stint as a head coach. Athletic directors will love the added security of knowing he went 38-13 in four seasons at Fordham, leading the Rams to three straight playoff appearances behind one of the FCSí most explosive offenses. 

5. Sonny Cumbie, TCU

Cumbie, like so many of Mike Leach's former quarterbacks, is rising quickly through the coaching ranks. He's only 34, yet he's already in his fourth season as a Big 12 coordinator, the third in Fort Worth. 

Along with fellow co-coordinator Doug Meacham, Cumbie has been instrumental in revolutionizing the Horned Frog attack. After struggling in its first two seasons in the Big 12, TCU has averaged at least 42 points per game in each of Cumbie's two years on the staff.

4. Tim Drevno, Michigan

Jim Harbaugh is unavailable to the other 127 FBS programs. However, there is the next best thing, an assistant who's worked alongside the game's hottest head coach for all but one of the last 13 seasons. Drevno has been Harbaugh's right-hand-men at San Diego, Stanford, the 49ers and now in Ann Arbor. As such, he understands the formula for winning at a high level and has the temperament to thrive in a competitive and pressure-packed environment. At 47, Drevno is in his coaching prime, and is poised to be the next member of the Harbaugh coaching tree to earn a big promotion. 

3. Lincoln Riley, Oklahoma

Riley began making a name for himself as the East Carolina OC earlier in the decade. It's in Norman where his coaching career experienced liftoff. He's an Air Raid whiz kid who played for Mike Leach at Texas Tech before joining the program as an assistant. And while Riley's Pirate teams were perennially prolific, it was his impact with the Sooners in 2015 that really piqued the interest of ADs across the landscape. With Riley calling the shots, Oklahoma produced its most points in seven years and Baker Mayfield erupted into one of the game's premier playmakers. 

2. Mike Sanford, Notre Dame

One of the top college football offensive coordinators around, Sanford is going to be a head coach. It's merely a matter of when that happens. He's the epitome of a riser in the ranks, becoming Brian Kelly's coordinator a year ago at the age of 33. The son of a college coach, Sanford also spent three successful seasons at Stanford and coordinated the Boise State attack before getting to South Bend. He's bright, energetic and determined to keep growing, within and outside of Notre Dame. Sanford did a bang-up job with the ND quarterbacks a year ago, having DeShone Kizer ready to roll after starter Malik Zaire was lost to a season-ending ankle injury. 

1. Lane Kiffin, Alabama

After getting canned by USC in 2013, Kiffin badly needed to restore his reputation. Two seasons with Nick Saban in Tuscaloosa has been like redemption boot camp for Kiffin, who's played a key role in the Tide's recent success. 

Kiffin deservedly gets a lot of the credit for the overall success of the offense as well as the individual development of quarterbacks Blake Sims and Jake Coker as seniors. Plus, Kiffin's personal growth at Bama will help make an administration more comfortable extending that offer for him to once again be the face of a program. 


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