There are some quality head coaches in the SEC, but who are some of the assistants lying in the weeds, hoping for that big break?
As you know, landing that top-tier head-coaching gig usually requires some work at the assistant level, and the SEC has plenty of guys who take over their own programs in the very near future.
Today, we asked our five SEC reporters which SEC assistant they think is most ready to land a good head-coaching job.
Edward Aschoff: There were a handful of guys that I went back and forth on, but one name that just continued to ring loud and clear in my head was Dave Aranda at LSU. The Tigers' defensive coordinator has worked all over and has been successful everywhere he's been. He returned some much-needed bite to LSU's defense in 2016, after doing wonders for a Wisconsin defense that didn't have near the talent the Tigers' possessed. In three years as Wisconsin's DC, the Badgers combined to rank among the top 5 in the nation in the four major defensive categories -- scoring, total yards, passing yards and rushing yards. He also excelled at Utah State and Hawaii before that. I had one SEC coach recently tell me unprovoked that he believes Aranda will be a head coach very soon, and it wouldn't surprise him if it was after the 2017 season.
David Ching: I almost went out on a limb and took Ole Miss OC Phil Longo here, but let’s see what he does this season first. Instead, the most likely choice might be a guy who has served as a head coach before. Think Randy Shannon at Florida or Paul Rhoads and Dan Enos at Arkansas. For our purposes, I’ll go with Enos. He spent five seasons at Central Michigan as head coach before resigning to become Arkansas’ offensive coordinator and has done excellent work in two seasons with the Razorbacks. I know he didn’t set the world on fire at CMU (26-36 overall, 18-22 in MAC play), but it surprised me that Enos didn’t get more attention last offseason as a head coaching candidate.
Sam Khan Jr: I think Aranda will be a head coach before too long. He's getting paid well enough that he can patiently wait for the right opportunity but Aranda has proven time and again that he's an excellent defensive coordinator whether working with elite talent like he did at LSU or at a place that doesn't necessarily have future NFL stars up and down the depth chart (like Hawaii or Utah State). He's a talented, bright, young, well-respected coach and when programs look to hire a first-time head coach, coordinators from big-time programs are often a starting point. His diverse coaching background is a plus. Aranda checks a lot of the boxes athletic directors seek.
Greg Ostendorf: I get it. If your team wins, you’re going to have a better chance of landing a head-coaching job. That’s why Aranda and Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt will both come up in job searches next offseason. But if I’m an AD looking for a new coach, I’m giving Enos a call. He was previously was head coach at Central Michigan where he helped turn around a struggling program. He has a great reputation with quarterbacks, and he’s proven that once again at Arkansas with the two Allen brothers. What he did with Brandon Allen in 2015 was nothing short of remarkable. I’m also surprised his name didn’t gain more traction this offseason. Will he land an elite job? Probably not. But a smaller Power 5 school or even a Group of 5 (American, Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West and Sun Belt) school would benefit from bringing him on board.
Alex Scarborough: Something tells me that Pruitt is not going to stay in Nick Saban's shadow for long. His opportunity to become a head coach is coming soon. Because while he might not get the credit nationally for running the Tide's defense, coaches and athletic directors understand the value he brings as a play-caller and developer of talent. Pruitt not only lived up to the standard Kirby Smart set, he nearly exceeded it last season. What's more, he already left Alabama once and proved himself at Florida State and Georgia. With a resume including having worked for Saban, Jimbo Fisher and Mark Richt, he'll get the call to run his own program in due time.