The best college football coordinators who are ready to take the leap to become a Power Five head coach soon

The great titles of 2021 College Football Practice Carousel centered on marquee coaches bouncing between big jobs as Lincoln Riley, Brian Kelly and Mario Cristobal each left elite programs for other elite programs. But were it not for those flashy moves, this rendition of the carousel might have been dubbed “the year of the coordinator” based on how many of them landed leadership positions at Power Five schools.

Six coordinators between the ages of 32 and 53 have secured Power Five head coaching positions despite having no FBS head coaching experience as even some marquee schools opted for promise over experience . Virginia Tech hired Penn State defensive coordinator Brent Pry; Virginia hired Clemson offensive coordinator Tony Elliott; Oregon hired Georgia defensive coordinator Dan Lanning; Oklahoma hired Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables; Notre Dame promoted defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman and Duke hired Texas A&M defensive coordinator Mike Elko.

Time will tell how these hires pan out, but while the group is quick to succeed, don’t be surprised if the trend of hiring coordinators continues. Instead of choosing a retread head coach who passed away elsewhere or an all-five head coach with limited Power Five recruiting experience, choosing a Power Five coordinator can have benefits. While they may not have CEO experience, they can bring an understanding of what it takes to succeed at the top level of the sport from a schematic and recruiting perspective.

Heading into the 2022 season, who are the coordinators to watch as potential Power Five head coaching options arrive in November and December? Here is a list of six to watch out for.

Josh Gattis is on his way to Miami after a three-year stint in Michigan.

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Josh Gattis, Miami OC

Gattis won the 2021 Broyles Award as College Football’s Top Assistant for his work as Michigan’s offensive coordinator. The 38-year-old former Wake Forest safety is now the OC in Miami under Cristobal and will have a chance to shine again as a play caller as the Hurricanes return stud quarterback Tyler Van Dike. With previous stops at Alabama and Penn State also on his resume, Gattis has all the credentials needed to make the leap from Power Five coordinator to Power Five head coach.

Indiscreet Wisconsin’s Leonhard won’t come easy, as the former Badgers safety has proven quite loyal to his alma mater during his relatively young coaching career. But his defensive credentials are hugely impressive, and his 10 years of NFL playing experience also separates him from the pack. The Badgers have ranked in the top five nationally in total defense in four of Leonhard’s five seasons as defensive coordinator. If nothing else, he would be a logical successor to Paul Chryst in Wisconsin.

Jeff Lebby, Oklahoma OC

Still at just 38 years old, Lebby has plenty of time to establish himself as one of the best offensive minds in the sport and land a lucrative head coaching job. He’s just had statistically phenomenal stints as an offensive coordinator at UCF and Ole Miss, having worked wonders for quarterbacks such as Dillon Gabriel and Matt Corral. Now he reunites with Gabriel in Oklahoma to help launch the Venables era. The red flags about Lebby’s time at Baylor working for Art Briles during a scandalous time aren’t going to totally go away. But as Lebby’s time working for his stepfather slips away, his candidacy for a head coaching position improves.

Kenny Dillingham, Oregon OC

DIllingham’s rise through the coaching ranks mirrored Lanning’s rise, just on opposite sides of football. Both were on the Memphis staff under Mike Norvell and turned their success with the Tigers into lucrative SEC assistant coaching jobs. Dillingham spent one season at Auburn and two at Florida State before Lanning signed him to Oregon. Dillingham is only 32 and has never started the FSU attack. It will be interesting to see if he can spread his wings with the Ducks and claim a place among the best offensive minds in the sport.

Jeff Grimes, Baylor OC

Grimes spent two decades as an offensive line coach before he got his chance as an offensive coordinator at BYU and worked wonders. When he inherited the unit for the 2018 season, the Cougars had been 118th nationally in total offense the previous year. In its third and final season, BYU ranked No. 6 nationally in total offense. Baylor’s offense was also No. 118 nationally the season before Grimes showed up, and he quickly took the Bears to No. 53 last season. Grimes is 53, so he’s not a whiz kid. But with stops at Auburn, Virginia Tech and LSU among others, he has the experience and the results to pull off a Power Five look.

As the defensive coordinator of a Tennessee team that prioritizes a high-flying, quick-scoring offensive system that often produces short possessions, Banks is unlikely to field a statistically superior defensive unit. But he did an impressive job last season making the volunteers defensively proficient amid a coaching transition that left the program lacking in defensive talent. With stints as coordinator or co-coordinator at Penn State, Illinois, Cincinnati and Central Michigan under his belt, Banks is a well-traveled assistant who could get a head coaching look if he can deliver on the promise that his unit showed in 2021.

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