Dream Team: Building My Best Big Ten Staff
You just got hired to be a head coach at a Big Ten school. Your head is spinning as you give you’re opening remarks at a press conference, but there is no time to be giddy. You must build a coaching staff—and you only can do so by taking assistants from other Big Ten schools.
That’s where I come in. Here’s your guide to a dream team of Big Ten assistant coaches that surely will lead you to the Big Ten title, the Rose Bowl—and beyond. Thank me later.
Offensive coordinator: Al Borges, Michigan. What more can be said about Borges? The guy has an unmatched resume that includes stops as coordinator at Indiana, Auburn, UCLA, Oregon, Cal and Boise State, among others. Borges has shown an ability to adapt his West Coast attack at Michigan to conform to the skills of quarterback Denard Robinson. Smart man. The result, an 11-2 season in 2011, as the Wolverines also produced two 1,000-yard rushers for the first time since 1975. Why isn’t this guy a head coach?
Others: Matt Canada, Wisconsin; Greg Davis, Iowa; Tom Herman, Ohio State; Matt Limegrover, Minnesota; Bill O’Brien, Penn State
Quarterbacks coach: Greg Davis, Iowa. He pushed the buttons on a Texas attack that won the national title in 2005. And the Longhorns may have won another in 2008 if Colt McCoy had not gotten hurt early in the title game. Regardless, Davis has developed a reputation for developing quarterbacks, from the read-option variety (Vince Young) to the drop-back pro style (Chris Simms). Davis knows signal-callers.
Others: Tom Herman, Ohio State; Mick McCall, Northwestern; Gary Nord, Purdue
Offensive line: Mike Markuson, Wisconsin. The ultra-intense Markuson brings a wealth of experience to Madison, having built some strong lines while working for Houston Nutt at Ole Miss and Arkansas, among other stops. Markuson’s fronts always are known for being physical and tough, paving the way for some strong rushing attacks over the years . In his decade at Arkansas, no other Southeastern Conference team was more effective at running the ball than the Hogs. And at Ole Miss, he groomed Michael “Blind Side” Oher. Enough said.
Others: Barney Cotton, Nebraska; Mac McWhorter, Penn State; Mark Staten, Michigan State; Ed Warinner, Ohio State
Running backs: Fred Jackson, Michigan. He is one of the nation’s longest tenured coaches at one school, as he has been at Michigan since 1992 when he joined Gary Moeller’s staff. Among his star pupils in Ann Arbor have been Tyrone Wheatley, Chris Perry, Anthony Thomas, Mike Hart and Tim Biakabutuka. And Jackson’s current star, Fitz Toussaint is coming off a 1,000-yard season and is primed for more big things in the fall.
Others: Thomas Hammock, Wisconsin; Brad Salem, Michigan State
Receivers: Erik Campbell, Iowa. He has groomed receivers at Iowa since 2010, developing some of the most prolific wideouts in school annals in Marvin McNutt and Derrell Johnson-Koulianos. Campbell began coaching receivers at Michigan in 1995 before coming to the Hawkeyes in 2008. With the Wolverines, Campbell coached the likes of Mercury Hayes, Ronald Bellamy, Adrian Arrington, Steve Breaston, Mario Manningham as well as three All-Americans: David Terrell, Marquise Walker and Braylon Edwards.
Others: Billy Gonzales, Illinois; Stan Hixon, Penn State; Kevin Johns, Indiana
Tight ends: Eric Johnson, Iowa. He coached tight ends from 2003-07; worked with linebackers for two years before returning to tight ends in 2010. Some of the tight ends Johnson has worked with include Scott Chandler and Tony Jackson, while C.J. Fiedorowicz looks primed to be one of the Big Ten’s top tight ends in 2012.
Others: Seth Littrell, Indiana.
Defensive coordinator: Greg Mattison, Michigan. The numbers speak for themselves. After spending three years in the NFL with the Baltimore Ravens, Mattison returned to Michigan. And his impact was deep and immediate. His unit ranked second in the Big Ten and sixth in nation in scoring defense (17.4 ppg). Remarkable numbers when you consider where the defense was before he arrived. Mattison has coached 18 NFL players and had seven of his protégés taken in the first three rounds of the draft and two first-round selections.
Others: Pat Narduzzi, Michigan State; Ted Roof, Penn State; Everett Withers, Ohio State.
Defensive line: Larry Johnson, Penn State. There is a reason why Bill O’Brien retained him from Joe Paterno’s staff. Johnson is one of the best in the business who at one time rejected a chance to be assistant head coach/defensive coordinator at Illinois Over the past 15 years, he has built some of the top lines in the nation. And he also has recruited and developed some great players, including the likes of Courtney Brown, Jared Odrick, Jimmy Kennedy, Tamba Hali, Anthony Adams and most recently Devon Still. Johnson’s next great one is Jordan Hill.
Others: Ted Gill, Michigan State; Keith Gilmore, Illinois; Rick Kaczenski, Nebraska; Reese Morgan, Iowa; Charlie Partridge, Wisconsin.
Linebackers: Luke Fickell. He doubles as the defensive coordinator after serving as interim head coach last season under trying circumstances. But Fickell grew and matured as a coach because of the experience in 2011 and is primed to one day lead a program. In many ways, Fickell is “Mr. Buckeye,” having spent 12 of his 14 years as a coach at Ohio State after starring at the school from 1993-96.
Others: Andy Buh, Wisconsin; Bill Miller, Minnesota; Mike Tressel, Michigan State; Ron Vanderlinden, Penn State.
Secondary: Jerry Brown, Northwestern. If Fickell is “Mr. Buckeye,” then Brown is “Mr. Wildcat,” as Brown is in his 20th season in Evanston. He is an expert tactician who always maximizes the talent he has, building some of the most underrated secondaries in the Big Ten. Brown has coached in high school and the NFL, and also was Northwestern’s defensive coordinator from 1999-2001.
Others: Chris Ash, Wisconsin; Harlon Barnett, Michigan State; John Butler, Penn State; Terry Joseph, Nebraska; Curt Mallory, Michigan.
Special teams: Mark Hagen, Indiana. He doesn’t always have the top talent to work with, but Hagen maximizes what he has. And he’s a passionate teacher with an uncanny attention to detail. Mitch Ewald developed into a top kicker last year, while Shane Wynn was one of the Big Ten’s top return men.
Others: Ross Els, Nebraska; Dan Ferrigno, Michigan;; Tim Salem, Illinois; Mike Tressel, Michigan State.
BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is on Twitter and Facebook, and all of his work is at btn.com/tomdienhart. Send questions to his weekly mailbag, subscribe to his RSS feed, and check out his video Q&A.