Dienhart: All-Big Ten Assistant Coaching Team

Head coaches get plenty of accolades and awards. The players? They have myriad trophies they can win and postseason all-league teams they can be named to. But what about the assistant coaches? It’s time to shine the spotlight on the guys at heart of every program’s engine.

Here is my annual All-Big Ten Assistant Coaching Team.

[ MORE: View the 2013-14 bowl schedule ]

OFFENSE

Coordinator: Tom Herman, Ohio State. The 38-year-old Wunderkind continues to impress. He cut his teeth as coordinator at Rice and Iowa State. His star is soaring in Columbus, pushing the buttons for the Big Ten’s most deadly attack. Herman has proven he can succeed in lesser situations and in loaded situations. And his development of Braxton Miller has earned plaudits nationally. Herman soon will be a head coach.

Honorable mention: Indiana’s Seth Littrell; Nebraska’s Tim Beck; Wisconsin’s Andy Ludwig; Iowa’s Greg Davis; Penn State’s Bill O’Brien; Michigan State’s Dave Warner and Jim Bollman; Minnesota’s Matt Limegrover; Illinois’ Bill Cubit

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Line: Matt Limegrover, Minnesota. The work Limegrover—who doubles as coordinator–has done up front in Dinkytown can’t be understated. Limegrover is probably too smart to be a football coach; and that acumen shows up in schemes. He has developed a tough, blue-collar line that helped the Gophers move from No. 7 in the Big Ten in rushing in 2012 (151.9 ypg) to No. 5 (200.9 ypg). Along the way, David Cobb (1,111) became the program’s first 1,000-yard rusher since 2006. And Limegrover got this type of production despite getting spotty production from the passing game.

Honorable mention: Ohio State’s Ed Warinner; Indiana’s Greg Frey; Michigan State’s Mark Staten; Iowa’s Brian Ferentz; Nebraska’s Barney Cotton and John Garrison; Wisconsin’s T.J. Woods; Penn State’s Mac McWhorter

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Running backs: Thomas Hammock, Wisconsin. He continues to impress, developing not one, but two, 1,000-yard rushers. Melvin Gordon ran for 1,466 yards; James White bolted for 1,337. And the Badger backs did all of this despite defenses often times knowing exactly what was coming. Hammock excels at coaching the nuances of the position, being a former stud running back himself.

Honorable mention: Minnesota’s Brian Anderson; Ohio State’s Stan Drayton; Michigan State’s Dave Warner; Indiana’s Deland McCullough: Iowa’s Chris White; Nebraska’s Ron Brown; Penn State’s Charles London

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Quarterbacks: Bill Cubit, Illinois: Remarkable. There’s really no other way to describe the work Cubit did with the Fighting Illini attack in 2013.  The wily vet and renown teacher inherited an offense that was drowning in dysfunction, ranking last in the Big Ten and 119th in the nation in 2012 (296.7 ypg). Cubit coached up Nathan Scheelhaase, the centerpiece of the revived attack and made him the top passer in the Big Ten (272.7 ypg) while improving Illinois to No. 5 in the Big Ten in offense (426.7 ypg). Whatever Cubit is being paid, it’s not enough.

Honorable mention: Michigan State’s Brad Salem; Iowa’s Greg Davis; Nebraska’s Tim Beck; Minnesota’s Jim Zebrowski; Purdue’s John Shoop; Northwestern’s Mick McCall

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Receivers: Terrence Samuel, Michigan State. You heard it, I heard it, we all heard it … the Spartans receivers needed to improve big-time in 2013. Drops and general inconsistency were the norms for most of a disappointing 2012 season. Some of the issues were attributed to a young wideout corps. Samuel brought this unit up to speed, making it a strength by the end of 2013 with targets like Tony Lippett and Bennie Fowler setting the tone. And the emergence of Macgarrett Kings, Jr., was a real revelation. Give credit to Samuel.

Honorable mention: Nebraska’s Rich Fisher; Illinois’ Mike Bellamy; Iowa’s Bobby Kennedy; Indiana’s Kevin Johns; Michigan’s Jeff Hecklinski; Penn State’s Stan Hixon; Purdue’s Kevin Sherman; Northwestern’s Dennis Springer

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Tight ends: Jim Bollman, Michigan State. He inherited a position that lacked proven commodities after Dion Sims left early for the NFL. But Bollman has done an impressive job developing the spot, bringing along guys like Josiah Price to become factors in the Spartan offense. The old fella still has it.

Honorable mention: Ohio State’s Tim Hinton; Wisconsin’s Jeff Genyk; Penn State’s John Strollo; Nebraska’s Barney Cotton; Illinois’ Alex Golesh; Minnesota’s Rob Reeves; Indiana’s Seth Littrell

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[ MORE: Dienhart: My 2013 All-Big Ten Freshman Team ]

DEFENSE

Coordinator: Pat Narduzzi, Michigan State. He has helped construct the No. 1 defense in the Football Bowl Subdivision this season. Narduzzi favors an attacking, aggressive style that can be high-risk/high-reward. In addition to knowing how to scheme, Narduzzi is a master motivator whose defenses have become the standard in the Big Ten.

Honorable mention: Wisconsin’s Dave Aranda; Minnesota’s Tracy Claeys; Iowa’s Phil Parker; Ohio State’s Luke Fickell and Everett Withers

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Line: Reese Morgan, Iowa. No one knew what to make of the Hawkeye defensive line in August. Questions persisted about generating a pass rush and making plays in the backfield. Morgan ended up developing one of the top fronts in the Big Ten. Iowa was No. 4 vs. the run (120.8 ypg) and allowed a league-low five rushing touchdowns for a Hawkeye defense that ranked No. 3 in the league (303.2 ypg).

Honorable mention: Michigan State’s Ron Burton; Ohio State’s Mike Vrabel; Penn State’s Larry Johnson; Minnesota’s Jeff Phelps; Wisconsin’s Chad Kauha’aha’a; Michigan’s Greg Mattison

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Linebackers: Dave Aranda, Wisconsin. He arrived from Utah State with Gary Andersen with a glowing reputation. And Aranda—the Badgers’ coordinator–lived up to his hype. He installed a 3-4 scheme seamlessly, guiding the No. 2 defense in the Big Ten (294.0 ypg). And the play of Aranda’s linebackers was a big reason for that performance. Star pupil Chris Borland was the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year.

Honorable mention: Minnesota’s Bill Miller; Michigan State’s Mike Tressel; Iowa’s LeVar Woods and Jim Reid; Ohio State’s Luke Fickell

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Secondary: Harlon Barnett, Michigan State. No doubt, this is a loaded secondary with stalwarts like cornerback Darqueze Dennard and safeties Isaiah Lewis and Kurtis Drummond. But Barnett deserves mention for teaching sound man-to-man techniques that make this unit go. If Pat Narduzzi leaves to be a head coach, I wouldn’t be shocked if Barnett was made coordinator in East Lansing. He’s smart and talented.

Honorable mention: Wisconsin’s Bill Busch (safeties) and Ben Strickland (cornerbacks); Iowa’s Phil Parker; Nebraska’s Terry Joseph; Minnesota’s Jay Sawvel

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Special teams: Jeff Genyk, Wisconsin. He fell into the lap of Gary Andersen, getting hired right before spring drills began. Lucky Wisconsin, as Genyk has improved what were inconsistent special teams prior to his arrival. The former Eastern Michigan head coach is one of the smartest men in the industry. Genyk won’t be out-schemed or out-worked.

Honorable mention: Ohio State’s Kerry Coombs; Michigan State’s Mike Tressel

About Tom Dienhart BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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2 Comments

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Mike on 12/10/2013 @ 11:22pm EST Said:

This is a good list. However, there is one notable omission.

Minnesota ranked 1st in the Big Ten and 10th nationally in overall special teams. Jay Sawvel deserves a lot of credit here.

http://www.footballoutsiders.com/stats/feist2013

JP on 12/11/2013 @ 1:29pm EST Said:

Is there anyone you didn’t name???