Babb Bits: Who's The Next D-Coordinator?

OSU coach Jim Tressel has said he expects to elevate one of his assistants to replace Mark Dantonio as the defensive coordinator. However, we look at some candidates Tressel may consider -- both inside and outside the program -- for this opening.

Though Mark Dantonio indicated to reporters just a couple of months ago that he was not the least bit interested in a head coaching position at this time, he might have been. With a fat wallet opened, Cincinnati lured him to their university.

Now, the pressing matter on the minds of Buckeye fans (and undoubtedly players) is who will be his replacement? Who will Jim Tressel tap to lead the Scarlet and Gray defense in 2004?

Upon arriving in Phoenix Friday for the Fiesta Bowl, Tressel told reporters he expects to elevate one of his assistants to replace Dantonio. However, I have compiled a short list of those names most often mentioned in connection to this job.

Bo Pelini

Recently named the interim head coach at Nebraska, Pelini is considered a hot name in coaching circles. Only 36, he has already compiled a brilliant resume.

Take a gander at the head coaches who have employed or coached him. He was recruited and coached in his first season at Ohio State by Earle Bruce. Bruce's influence was followed by that of John Cooper. The next stop was a stint on Hayden Fry's staff in Iowa in 1991. After a year as a high school coach at Cardinal Mooney, Pelini served as an assistant to the defensive staff on the San Francisco 49ers from 1994-96 under George Siefert. From 1997-99, Pete Carroll of the Patriots oversaw the work of Bo Pelini who coached linebackers. He took the same position at Green Bay from 2000-2002 under Mike Sherman.

Consider that every one of those head coaches has either played for or won a championship of some sort. That bodes well for Pellini's next employer; most of the time, you learn how to win from winners.

So he has the pedigree, but what about the performance aspect of this position? After all, it is wins that are ultimately the judge of success or failure in the college football world. As a senior, Pelini was awarded the Bo Rein Award at Ohio State. Hired originally as a mere scout, something about him impressed Siefert enough to make him an assistant coach, and that should speak volumes in of itself. While with both the Packers and the Patriots, his linebackers performed above and beyond expectations with young players showing considerable development. Perhaps his greatest performance has been in 2003 with the bloodied "blackshirt" defense of Nebraska. In just 12 months, he has taken them from laughingstock to a unit that is once again feared. In 2003, the ‘Huskers have forced 44 turnovers, allowed 15.4 points per game, and they placed 14th in the nation in total defense. Those statistics are even more impressive when one considers that before his arrival, the 2002 ‘blackshirts' gave up 23.8 points per game …

A Youngstown native, Pelini would be a great candidate for this position at Ohio State.

For more on Bo Pelini, check out:

Nebraska Official Site: Bo Pelini Bio.

Jon Tenuta

A name that should be familiar to Buckeye fans, Tenuta has not dropped off the face of the earth since leaving Ohio State following the dismissal of former head coach John Cooper. On the contrary, Tenuta has simply added to his resume and made it even more impressive.

Tenuta's background and experience would have to be considered strengths. He has served as an assistant at Virginia (1981-82) under George Welsh, at Maryland (1983) under Bobby Ross, Vanderbilt (1984-85), defensive coordinator at Marshall (1986-87) under George Chaump, defensive coordinator at Kansas State (1988), assistant and later defensive coordinator at SMU (1989-94), assistant at Oklahoma (1995), assistant at Ohio State (1996-2000) with his final season as defensive coordinator, defensive coordinator at North Carolina (2001), and defensive coordinator at Georgia Tech (2002-03).

Whew … that is quite a list.

At nearly every job where Tenuta was given talent and the opportunity to succeed, he has exceeded expectations. While at Ohio State, every defensive back that started in his secondary eventually played in the NFL. At North Carolina, his defense led the ACC. At Georgia Tech, he has teamed with Chan Gailey to take a team with lesser talent than several others in their league to two consecutive bowls.

A native of Columbus, Ohio, and a former Ohio State defensive coordinator, this move would be a homecoming for Jon Tenuta.

To find out more about Tenuta, check out:

Georgia Tech Official Site: Jon Tenuta Bio.

Mark Snyder

Probably the odds on favorite to get the position, Snyder is well qualified. Like Pelini, he might be relatively young (38), but he is also a coach on the rise.

Snyder played defensive back for Marshall, ending his career as an All-American in 1987 (under defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta). The following year (1988), he spent on the staff of the Thundering Herd as a student assistant. The next two years he spent at Central Florida (1989-90), helping lead the Golden Knights to a playoff victory over Youngstown State. Apparently, that victory/loss attracted the attention and favor of Jim Tressel who hired Snyder to coach his outside linebackers and later defensive coordinator (1991-96). Glen Mason tapped him for defensive line duties at Minnesota (1997-2000) where Snyder's crew performed well individually and as a unit. Tressel plucked Snyder back from Mason in 2001 once hired as the new Ohio State football coach. For the last three seasons, Snyder's responsibilities have been concentrated on coaching linebackers. Clearly, he has been successful with such standouts as Matt Wilhelm, Cie Grant, A.J. Hawk, Robert Reynolds, and a budding Bobby Carpenter.

An Ironton, Ohio, native, Snyder is rumored to have been offered the defensive coordinator position at South Carolina within the last couple of weeks. It very well might be that Snyder has delayed his acceptance/rejection to see how matters would play out with Mark Dantonio.

Learn more about Snyder at:

Ohio State Official Site: Mark Snyder Bio.

Jim Heacock

Perhaps the least hyped and most infrequently named candidate, the current defensive line coach at Ohio State has nothing to hang his head about. His resume stands with the best on this list.

An assistant since the early 1970's, Heacock's journey began as a player for Muskingum College. After a brief stint in the professional ranks, he coached the secondary and became the defensive coordinator for his alma mater (1972-77). In five seasons as the defensive coordinator at Bowling Green (1978-82), Heacock's defense performed well enough to merit further consideration for other positions. His prowess attracted the attention of fellow Ohio native Don James of the Washington Huskies, and Heacock coached the defensive line for the Pac Ten powerhouse for half a decade (1983-87). Taking over a program sliding the wrong direction, he was named the head coach of Illinois State in 1988 and for the next 8 seasons (1988-1995) kept his program hovering around the .500 mark. Hired by John Cooper in 1996, Heacock has been a fixture on the defensive staff and was held over by Jim Tressel in 2001.

Heacock's units have performed well for Ohio State. In addition to coaching such players as Mike Vrable, Luke Fickell, Matt Finkes, Mike Collins, Ryan Pickett, Will Smith, Kenny Peterson, Darrion Scott, and Tim Anderson, the defensive line has been slowly developed into a team strength during his tenure.

For more on coach Heacock, see:

Ohio State Official Site: Jim Heacock Bio.

Bob Davie

A former Youngstown State Penguin player, Davie has compiled an extremely attractive list of successful defenses across the span of his career. Following his graduation from YSU, he served as a graduate assistant at Pittsburgh (1977) under Jackie Sherrill. The next two seasons he coached linebackers out west at Arizona (1978-79), returning to coach linebackers at Pittsburgh for three more years (1980-82). In 1983, he joined the staff of Tulane under Wally English and served as assistant head coach and the defensive coordinator (1983-84). Davie's star really began to rise when he took the job of linebackers coach at Texas A&M (1985-88) under old boss Jackie Sherrill. Retained after the messy NCAA sanctions slapped on the university, Davie was actually promoted by R. C. Slocum to the position of defensive coordinator and later assistant head coach. Davie's defenses dominated the dying Southwest Conference, and led to a job offer at Notre Dame. Lou Holtz hired Davie to be his new defensive coordinator (1994-96), and when Holtz abruptly retired Bob Davie was named the new head coach of the Irish. For the next 5 tumultuous seasons (1997-2001, he led the Irish. A vastly diminished talent base, unrealistic expectations, and a brutal schedule submarined his efforts. He now works as a game analyst for ABC/ESPN.

Davie might look unattractive to some, but he has some highly attractive qualities. First, he is a former head coach at a high-profile university and would project to do well in understanding expectations at Ohio State. He also has put together stout defenses and done well in recruiting wherever he has traveled and might join Carl Torbush and Joe Lee Dunn as former head coaches whose best fit is directing stingy defensive units under the direction of another. Perhaps most importantly from an ethical perspective, he has done well in teaching his players how to balance academics and sports, graduating 100% of his players in 2001.

For more on Bob Davie, check out this link:

Notre State Official Site: Bob Davie Bio.

Who Will be the Next Defensive Coordinator?

First, I think it is likely that one can weed out Jim Heacock and Jon Tenuta. Although Tenuta is a fine coach, Tressel tends to go with people that he has some sort of association or connection with. This is not because of nepotism per se but simply because he knows what he can expect from them. Tenuta actually found another job at UNC in January 2001 before Tressel was hired at OSU.

Heacock clearly has done a fine job during the course of his career, but I tend to view the other candidates on this ‘short list' as coaches with more impressive resumes and accomplishments.

Next, one has to break down the three rumored candidates who appear to have a serious shot at the position. Bob Davie has to be considered a dark horse candidate with an excellent pedigree, but right now he is out of football. I think in his case, the old axiom holds true that it is always easier to get a job when you have a job. Bo Pelini is said to have been offered the vacant defensive coordinator position at Oklahoma and has a contract at Nebraska that is reported to last until 2006; he could take another job even if Ohio State offers him this position. That leaves Mark Snyder. Snyder is a current staff member, is liked by his players, has done well developing the linebackers at Ohio State and defensive linemen at Minnesota, and he has already served as the defensive coordinator for Jim Tressel at Youngstown State.

At the end of the day, I do not see any big surprises. I think Mark Snyder is offered the position of defensive coordinator and probably accepts.

Buckeye Sports Top Stories