Commentary

OU's Venables tops list of intriguing assistant coaches

Updated: December 3, 2007, 10:17 PM ET
By Bruce Feldman | ESPN The Magazine

With the coaching carousel spinning like mad these days, this week's list is the 10 most intriguing college assistant coaches.

Brent Venables
J.P. Wilson/Icon SMIOklahoma's Brent Venables has all the ingredients to be a successful head coach.

1. Brent Venables, Oklahoma defensive coordinator: If Venables were more of a self-promoter, he'd probably be running his own BCS conference school by now. He's sharp, energetic and charismatic. Players love him, and he's also a great recruiter with a keen eye for talent. He has learned a lot about game-planning from spending so much time around Bob Stoops. Despite coaching an extremely young defense, Venables' D still ranked in the top 10 in scoring and the group really improved late in the season, as evidenced by OU shutting down a high-powered Mizzou offense in the Big 12 title game.

2. Bud Foster, Virginia Tech defensive coordinator: The hunch here is that the Hokies' long-time coordinator is patiently waiting to take over the program whenever Frank Beamer is ready to retire. No doubt Foster will have earned the job. His defense is consistently among the best in the country, and that's without always having a team stocked with the biggest-name recruits.

3. David Cutcliffe, Tennessee offensive coordinator: The long-time Vols assistant was a winner at Ole Miss after taking over for Tommy Tuberville. However, after the Rebels dipped to 4-7 in 2004, the Ole Miss brass dumped Cutcliffe. Their reasoning was that he wasn't a very good recruiter. Still, Cutcliffe's record as a head coach at a place where winning isn't very easy is eye-catching, as is his work as an offensive mind.

4. Will Muschamp, Auburn defensive coordinator: The former Georgia Bulldog made his bones working for Nick Saban, which means he can handle the heat pretty well. In 2006, his first season with the Tigers, his team finished seventh in the nation in scoring defense. This year the Tigers are eighth in the country in total D and sixth in scoring defense.

5. Mike Locksley, Illinois offensive coordinator: Ron Zook's top assistant is really on the rise. He developed the Illini's pipeline into the D.C. area, and he is credited with cranking up a very potent ground game that was fifth in the nation. The way the Illini knocked off then-No. 1 Ohio State in Columbus also helped raise Locksley's stock. His rep as a recruiter would be a huge plus to any program he took over.

6. DeWayne Walker, UCLA defensive coordinator: One of the most respected scheme guys in the country, Walker did wonders for a UCLA defense that had been awful till he got there. One coach I spoke with said it's amazing what he does, given how "very average" the talent that he has to work with. The downside is it may be hard for some administrators to hire a guy who just came off a floundering program (see Jon Tenuta).

Jimbo Fisher
Jason Parkhurst/US PresswireWill FSU offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher take the reigns from Bobby Bowden?

7. Jimbo Fisher, FSU offensive coordinator: His stock was soaring -- till he got to FSU, where the Noles' offensive ineptitude bled all over him. The Noles were 90th in the country in scoring this season and only broke the 30-point barrier once (34-24 against UAB), which is unbelievable when you think of what used to be there. Fisher's still the guy who I think will replace Bobby Bowden, and I'm sure that will probably scare off some other programs chasing him.

8. Jon Tenuta, Georgia Tech defensive coordinator: Nobody is better at attacking an offense. This guy is the master. The downside is that many aren't sure he's head man material because so much of a head coach's job is often being presidential. "He hates talking to the media," said one coach who knows him well. "I doubt he'd really want to be in a position where he has to do that so much."

9. Al Borges, Auburn, offensive coordinator: Whether it's the Pac-10 or the SEC, Borges' system has worked very well, although this year the Tigers did struggle on offense. He is an outside-the-box thinker and few are as good at developing QBs. The fact that he got as much out of an offense with so many issues at tailback, while also having to rely on an O-line that started two true freshmen, is just more evidence on why the guy is as good as he is.

10. Steve Sarkisian, USC offensive coordinator: Trojan fans can lament that he's not Norm Chow, but despite all of the injuries this offense has sustained over the year, Sarkisian still kept them on track. Pete Carroll thinks the world of the 33-year-old former QB's ability to prepare the team. Sarkisian's even-handed personality also would seem to make him an ideal fit to run a program.

Just Missed the Cut: Steve Logan, Boston College OC; Charlie Strong, Florida DC; Chip Kelly, Oregon OC: Rob Spence, Clemson OC: Ty Nix, South Carolina DC; Luke Fickell, OSU DC; Steed Lobotzke, Wake Forest OC; Dave Christensen, Mizzou OC; Ron English, Michigan DC; Kevin Wilson Oklahoma OC and Sonny Dykes Arizona OC.

Bruce Feldman is a senior writer with ESPN The Magazine. His new book, "Meat Market: Inside the Smash-Mouth World of College Football Recruiting," is on sale now.