Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer, May 28, 2012

In recent years, several assistants have gone directly from Big Ten schools to launch head coaching careers. Wisconsin and Michigan State have been the most fertile proving grounds of late as Pitt?s Paul Chryst (Wisconsin offensive coordinator) and Northern Illinois? Dave Doeren (Wisconsin defensive coordinator) came directly from Bret Bielema?s Badger staff the last two seasons.

Miami of Ohio?s Don Treadwell (Michigan State offensive coordinator) and Central Michigan?s Dan Enos (Michigan State quarterbacks coach) came from Mark Dantonio?s Spartan staff in recent years.

Others who recently have made the jump directly from Big Ten staffs to head coaching positions: Florida Atlantic?s Carl Pelini (Nebraska defensive coordinator); Kent State?s Darrell Hazell (Ohio State receivers coach); Illinois State?s Brock Spack (Purdue defensive coordinator); New Mexico?s Mike Locksley, fired in 2011 (Illinois offensive coordinator). Who will be next?

A few weeks ago I offered my "dream team" staff of Big Ten assistant football coaches, and I heard back from a number of readers. Following below is my ranking of the top 10 Big Ten assistants who are 50 years old or younger and primed to be head coaches.

1. Pat Narduzzi, Michigan State defensive coordinator. The fiery Youngstown, Ohio, native may be the hottest assistant in the Big Ten as he begins his sixth season in East Lansing. The 46-year-old Narduzzi?s defense ranked first in the Big Ten and sixth in the nation last season in backstopping MSU to the Legends Division crown. And his 2012 unit may be better even without stalwarts like tackle Jerel Worthy and safety Trenton Robinson. Don?t be shocked if Narduzzi is a head coach somewhere in 2013.

2. Luke Fickell, Ohio State defensive coordinator/linebackers coach. He?s the personification of Mr. Buckeye, starring as a nose guard from 1993-96 and serving as an Ohio State assistant since 2002. The 38-year-old Fickell served as interim head coach last season and learned in a trial by fire during a 6-7 season. Now, Fickell is ready.

3. Everett Withers, Ohio State assistant head coach/co-defensive coordinator. Few on this list have a more impressive resume than the 48-year-old Withers, who led North Carolina to a bowl last season as interim head coach. A sage defensive mind, Withers has coordinated defenses at Louisville, Minnesota and North Carolina. He also has coached in the NFL with the Saints and Titans, in addition to being an assistant to Mack Brown at Texas.

4. Tom Herman, Ohio State offensive coordinator. In 2003, Herman was receivers coach at Sam Houston State. Now, the 36-year-old is pushing the buttons for an offense at one of the nation?s most powerful programs. Not bad for a guy from Cal Lutheran. Herman first made a name for himself as offensive coordinator at Rice (2007-08) before moving on to work for Paul Rhoads at Iowa State.

5. John Papuchis, Nebraska defensive coordinator. He has enjoyed a meteoric rise, serving as a G.A. at LSU as recently as 2007. Now, Papuchis is set to begin his first season coordinating the Nebraska defense. Not bad for a guy who didn?t even play college football. The 34-year-old Papuchis came to Lincoln, Neb., with Bo Pelini in 2008, serving as defensive end and special teams coach. He added recruiting coordinator duties in 2011. Papuchis began his career as a G.A. at Kansas in 2001 under Terry Allen before being hired as a G.A. at LSU by Nick Saban in 2004. Papuchis is on the proverbial fast track to be a head coach, and I spoke with him earlier this spring.

6. Ted Roof, Penn State defensive coordinator. His defenses weren?t steel curtains at Auburn, but Roof always showed a knack for making adjustments in helping the Tigers win the 2010 national championship. Roof, 48, brings a wealth of experience to State College, Pa., serving as a coordinator at Western Carolina, Georgia Tech, Duke and Minnesota, in addition to Auburn. Roof also was head coach at Duke (2003-07), where Nittany Lions head coach Bill O?Brien was his offensive coordinator. Roof deserves one more crack to be a head coach. And I hope he gets it.

7. Phil Parker, Iowa defensive coordinator. He joined Kirk Ferentz in 1999 and hasn?t left. Now, the 49-year-old Parker is taking over the defense after the retirement of Norm Parker. His first 12 years in Iowa City, Parker worked with the defensive backs. The former Michigan State defensive back began coaching the secondary at Toledo from 1988-98, working primarily for current Missouri coach Gary Pinkel.

8. Charlie Partridge, Wisconsin associate head coach/co-defensive coordinator/defensive line. The rising star is entering his third season in Madison, getting promoted to his current posts in 2011. The 38-year-old Partridge?s defense has been at the fore of the standout Badger squads in recent seasons. Prior to coming to Wisconsin, Partridge coached the defensive line, linebackers and special teams at Pitt (2003-07) under Dave Wannstedt. His resume, passion, knowledge and dedication are impressive.

9. Seth Littrell, Indiana offensive coordinator. He?s entering his first season in Bloomington after pushing the buttons on a potent offense at Arizona that ranked third in the nation in passing in 2011 and 15th in total offense. Prior to this three-year stint in Tucson (2009-11), the 34-year-old Littrell learned at the knee of Mike Leach at Texas Tech from 2005-08 as running backs coach. If the former Oklahoma running back can get the Hoosier offense amped up, his stock will rise quickly.

10. Jeff Hecklinski, Michigan receivers coach. The former stud prep recruit has a seasoned offensive mind and a bright future. The 38-year-old Hecklinski was offensive coordinator at Central Missouri State 10 seasons ago. He moved on to be passing game coordinator/quarterbacks coach at Arizona in 2003. Hecklinski joined forces with Brady Hoke at Ball State in 2004 and has stayed by his side since from San Diego State and then on to Ann Arbor.

Chris Ash, Wisconsin defensive coordinator/secondary, 39 years old
Chris Beatty, Illinois co-offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach, 38
Tim Beck, Nebraska offensive coordinator/quarterbacks, 46
John Butler, Penn State secondary, 39
Bill Gonzales, Illinois co-offensive coordinator/receivers, 41
Dan Roushar, Michigan State offensive coordinator, 49
Ed Warinner, Ohio State co-offensive coordinator/line coach, 50 senior writer Tom Dienhart is on Twitter and Facebook, all of his work is at, and you can subscribe to it all via his RSS feed. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below.

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