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Best assistant coaches in the Big 12

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

They are the coaches who are becoming more noticeable with increased awareness in college football.

A coordinator or highly paid assistant coach at a top school is a lightning rod for public criticism or praise depending on the success of the program. And the immediate success of assistant coaches like Bob Stoops, Mark Richt, Jim Leavitt, Mike Leach and Bret Bielema in their first head-coaching jobs has led to wide scrutiny from athletic directors looking for replacements for potential head-coaching opportunities.

The Big 12 is as stacked with good assistant coaches as any conference in the nation. Here's my list of the top 12 assistants in the conference heading into the 2008 season.

1. Will Muschamp, Texas defensive coordinator -- His reputation precedes him coming into the conference like a hired gunslinger with the largest paycheck among all Big 12 assistants to boot. But his work will be cut out transforming Texas' recent leaky secondary.

2. Brent Venables, Oklahoma co-defensive coordinator -- His unit's meltdowns have been embarrassing in recent bowl games, but OU's defenses have been rock solid in conference play.

3. Dave Christensen, Missouri offensive coordinator -- As the Tigers' productive offense gets more notoriety, he could be poised to become the first member of Gary Pinkel's staff to get a head-coaching shot.

4. Joe Kines, Texas A&M defensive coordinator -- Veteran coach comes to Aggieland with one of the most sterling reputations in college football, including 10-game stint as Arkansas' interim coach in 1992.

5. Greg Davis, Texas offensive coordinator -- Reviled on some message boards, but keeps developing a productive unit year after year.

6. Kevin Wilson, Oklahoma co-offensive coordinator -- Helps manage Oklahoma's bruising running game, which has been the key to the Sooners' balanced, explosive attacks in recent seasons.

7. Ruffin McNeill, Texas Tech defensive coordinator -- Productive first season as interim coordinator last season, but will be facing immense challenge with heightened expectations riding on his work.

8. Joe DeForest, Oklahoma State special teams/safeties coach -- His special teams have always been consistently solid and he has one of the conference's best reputations for recruiting excellence.

9. Ed Warinner, Kansas offensive coordinator -- Helped transform Todd Reesing from an undersized, lightly regarded recruit into a touchdown-pass-flinging machine.

10. Shawn Watson, Nebraska offensive coordinator -- One of only two holdovers on Bo Pelini's staff from last season kept around because of Joe Ganz's late-season development in 2007. He was known for his diverse offenses at Colorado, where Buffaloes were effective running the ball early in his career and throwing it with Joel Klatt in later years.

11. Matt Eberflus, Missouri defensive coordinator/safeties coach -- Credited for recent development of playmaking safeties like Pig Brown and Willie Moore and overall transformation of Missouri's rapidly improving defense.

12. Mark Helfrich, Colorado offensive coordinator -- Youthful play-calling savant who helped develop Andrew Walter while quarterbacks coach at Arizona State. It will be interesting how he assimilates heralded freshman RB Darrell Scott into his offense with the Buffaloes.