Big money, big moves and Charlie Weis Jr.: Recapping the coordinator carousel

LSU has invested heavily to keep Dave Aranda. Matt Bush/USA TODAY Sports

Despite the relatively low number of top assistants landing head coaching positions in this year's college cycle, the coordinator carousel didn't lack drama.

LSU broke the bank to keep Dave Aranda, while jettisoning Matt Canada. Southern schools raided the Midwest for top assistants. Alabama completed its seemingly annual coordinator changes with less drama or fanfare, promoting from within. And Lane Kiffin, the sport's most famous coordinator in 2016, still found a way to make news at Florida Atlantic by hiring 24-year-old Charlie Weis Jr. as his new offensive coordinator.

Although a few vacancies remain and more moves could be made, let's break down the key coordinator news around college football in recent weeks.

Job that set the market: Texas A&M defensive coordinator
Much like it did for head coach Jimbo Fisher, Texas A&M and its deep pockets pursued a defensive coordinator the same way. The Aggies twice targeted LSU's Aranda. The school also courted Washington's Jimmy Lake. Texas A&M ended up hiring Notre Dame's Mike Elko, who turned around the Irish defense in his first season. Elko agreed to a three-year deal that starts at $1.8 million. Irish head coach Brian Kelly had said in December that Elko would remain for 2018, but, in the same interview with 247 Sports, prophetically added, "If you're looking at the defensive coordinators that are out there today and you look at what they're being paid, it's ridiculous. The money is crazy and the length of contracts that are being thrown at you."

The move that rocked the market: LSU paying Dave Aranda beaux-coup bucks
Aranda is regarded as one of the best defensive minds in football. Yet the contract he received for remaining with LSU -- four years, $10 million, all guaranteed -- had everyone buzzing. LSU was in a tough spot. The school knew Canada would be out, and it would be a bad look for Ed Orgeron to lose both coordinators after his first season. Aranda had all the leverage, but the commitment LSU made to an assistant coach, now earning more than most FBS head coaches, is staggering. Oregon keeping Jim Leavitt at $1.7 million per year looked like a bargain.

Best coordinator steal: Ohio State swiping Washington State's Alex Grinch
It became known in November that Grinch, who did a superb job with Washington State's defense, would be on the move. Washington State would struggle to match what he would be offered elsewhere, and Grinch and his wife wanted to move closer to home in Ohio. Enter Ohio State, which added Grinch to an already loaded defensive staff. Although Ohio State hasn't specified Grinch's role, he's the likely successor whenever Greg Schiano moves to his next stop. It's another coup for Urban Meyer, who might be the best in hiring assistant coaches.

Most interesting hire: Florida Atlantic's Charlie Weis Jr.
Leave it to Kiffin to keep the spotlight on Florida Atlantic after its breakthrough season. He replaced Kendal Briles with another familiar name in Weis, but the real story here is the age (24) of FAU's new OC. Weis grew up around the New England Patriots and Notre Dame, and already has experience at both college and NFL stops like Alabama, where he worked with Kiffin. "He's been around the game with his dad being a coach, a lot like I was when I was growing up," Kiffin told ESPN.com. The difference: Kiffin didn't land his first coordinator gig at USC until 30. Weis isn't the only 20-something to land a coordinator job, as Memphis promoted Kenny Dillingham, 27.

Best under-the-radar hire (Power 5): Florida State's Harlon Barnett
It's never easy to get top assistants to leave Mark Dantonio, but Florida State added Barnett, a Michigan State alum and a Dantonio assistant since 2004, Barnett oversaw the "No Fly Zone" secondary and helped Michigan State become a top defense. Although he received a substantial salary increase at Florida State, it wasn't Aranda-Elko-Leavitt money, even though Barnett should upgrade the Noles' defense.

Best under-the-radar hire (Group of 5): SMU's Kevin Kane
The MAC isn't known as a defense-heavy league, but Kane did an excellent job in his first coordinator stint at Northern Illinois. The Huskies intercepted 15 passes, returning three for touchdowns, and had 43 sacks. Kane coached star playmakers Sutton Smith and Jawuan Johnson, who combined for 18 sacks, eight forced fumbles, five interceptions and four fumble recoveries. NIU's defense ranked fourth in ESPN's expected points added metric, behind Wisconsin, Clemson and Alabama.

Most head-scratching hire: Missouri's Derek Dooley
Josh Heupel landing UCF's head coaching job was a surprise to many in the coaching industry, as was Heupel's replacement as Missouri's offensive coordinator. Dooley had a listless tenure as Tennessee's head coach, which followed an unremarkable run at Louisiana Tech. He has never been a coordinator. Barry Odom is taking a big leap of faith to try and continue Mizzou's mojo on offense.

Best promotion/retention: Washington's Jimmy Lake
There are several good choices here -- Oregon retaining DC Jim Leavitt, Ohio State holding onto co-OC Ryan Day, Clemson amazingly not losing any of its coordinators -- but Washington keeping Lake is the pick. The Huskies' co-defensive coordinator had several suitors but will remain in Seattle and become the primary playcaller. Lake also gets an enhanced deal (three years starting at about $1 million annually, according to sources). Washington's other defensive coordinator, Pete Kwiatkowski, deserves credit for recognizing Lake's value and allowing him to take on a larger role.

Best coordinator swap from 2017: Todd Grantham to Mississippi State
The last cycle saw the rare Power 5 coordinator swap as Louisville sent Grantham to Mississippi State in exchange for Peter Sirmon. Things worked out much better for #HailState, as the Bulldogs led the nation in first downs allowed per game (13.5) and excelled in generating pressure and preventing third- and fourth-down conversations. Louisville, meanwhile, struggled to contain offenses and parted ways with Sirmon last week. Grantham, meanwhile, is joining coach Dan Mullen with Florida.

Ten new hires to watch

Jerry Azzinaro, defense, UCLA: The focus in Westwood will be on Chip Kelly and the offense, but UCLA must repair a defense that became flimsy. Azzinaro coached defensive line for Kelly at Oregon, which had sneaky good defenses during Kelly's run. The veteran assistant must bolster a unit that ranked last nationally against the run (287.4 YPG).

Kendal Briles, offense, Houston: Major Applewhite hired Briles and another former Baylor offensive assistant, Randy Clements, to upgrade an offense that backslid in 2017. Houston said it thoroughly vetted both coaches and included morality clauses in their contracts, but Briles especially will get more attention than he did after overseeing a record-setting offense at Florida Atlantic.

Matt Canada, offense, Maryland: Canada has turned into a journeyman -- he will coordinate his fourth offense in as many seasons -- but his schemes are respected throughout the sport. He inherits a better quarterback situation at Maryland than he did at LSU, and knows the Big Ten as a former coordinator for Wisconsin and Indiana.

John Chavis, defense, Arkansas: It's harsh to say that the game has bypassed a veteran coordinator, especially one with Chavis' track record. But that's what some suggested after his unsuccessful run at Texas A&M. Chavis should benefit from a fresh start with Chad Morris at Arkansas, as he tries to reboot his career, much like his close friend Kevin Steele has done at Auburn.

Tracy Claeys, defense, Washington State: Claeys did a solid job upgrading Minnesota's defense before becoming head coach. He's a veteran coordinator who knows how to develop players and gives Washington State's defense a chance to continue the momentum built under Grinch.

Steve Ensminger, offense, LSU: This promotion probably will make or break Orgeron's tenure at LSU. Matt Canada did pretty well with what he inherited, but Orgeron always seemed to want Ensminger, who improved the offense after Orgeron became Tigers interim coach in 2016. Ensminger's top priority is no secret: quarterback. LSU must see progress this fall.

Danny Gonzales, defense, Arizona State: The master plan to keep Todd Graham's coordinators for new coach Herm Edwards didn't exactly pan out, but Gonzales is a solid choice to replace Phil Bennett. Gonzales helped San Diego State become arguably the premier defense in the Group of 5. He now takes over a Sun Devils unit that struggled to limit pass yards and points in 2017.

Tyson Helton, offense, Tennessee: The Vols need help at quarterback, and while Helton's impact might not be felt until Year 2, he begins a critical role this fall. Helton worked with Sam Darnold the past two seasons and previously served as offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach for Jeff Brohm at Western Kentucky.

Mike Locksley, offense, Alabama: Locksley isn't new per se, as he held the co-coordinator role in 2017 and has been on Alabama's staff for two seasons. Although Locksley's most recent run as a playcaller didn't go well at Maryland, he knows Alabama's personnel and, most important, what coach Nick Saban wants from the offense.

Ricky Rahne, offense, Penn State: PSU has won 22 games and returns a top quarterback in Trace McSorley but there's still concern about 2018 after coordinator Joe Moorhead left along with respected offensive assistants Josh Gattis and Charles Huff. This is a huge opportunity for Rahne, who helped develop McSorley and needs to keep the points coming in Happy Valley.