Monday, July 12, 2010

A look at league’s top assistants


July 11, 2010

This week’s Big 12 Summer Countdown moves away from the men in helmets to the ones wearing whistles around their necks: assistant coaches. More specifically, the following list is a compilation of the Big 12’s top position coaches, the assistants who do the best job at developing their specialized group into productive players on Saturdays. Coordinator duties and recruiting prowess were not taken into account.

Also, a premium was placed on recent results over dusty résumé headlines from a former era. An informal poll of Big 12 writers helped put together this list.

1. Greg Davis, Texas quarterbacks: Major Applewhite. Vince Young. Colt McCoy. Enough said?

Davis’ reputation as a play-caller goes hot and cold with Texas fans, but he has the golden touch with quarterbacks. Among the hardware his QBs have collected: Walter Camp Football Foundation Player of the Year (two); Maxwell Award (two); Davey O’Brien Award (two); Manning Award (two); Big 12 offensive player of the year (four); Big 12 freshman of the year (three); plus two Heisman Trophy second-place finishes.

2. Joe Wickline, Oklahoma State offensive line: With the luxury of just one elite NFL player the last five years, 2010 first-round pick Russell Okung, Wickline has constructed stout O-lines year after year since arriving in Stillwater from Florida. The Cowboys have led the Big 12 in rushing the last four seasons while giving up the fewest sacks, which helps explain Wickline’s six-year contract that pays him $325,000, a stunning figure and job security for a non-coordinator.

3. Cale Gundy, Oklahoma running backs: The former Sooners quarterback and younger brother of Oklahoma State Coach Mike Gundy helped develop two of the most prolific backs in OU history in Adrian Peterson and Quentin Griffin. More recently, this Gundy has successfully finessed a productive back-by-committee approach out of OU’s stable of playmakers. In 2008, Gundy’s tandem of Chris Brown and DeMarco Murray both rushed for 1,000 yards. Last season, the same pair became the first set of OU teammates to score 40 career touchdowns.

4. Andy Hill, Missouri receivers: About to enter his 15th season coaching pass-catchers at his alma mater, Hill has survived a head-coaching change and numerous offensive makeovers in Columbia. And through it all, he’s coached the most productive receivers to play for the Tigers: All-Americans Justin Gage, Jeremy Maclin and Danario Alexander. In 2009, he added MU’s tight ends to his coaching responsibilities.

5. Brent Venables, Oklahoma linebackers: Long considered one of the country’s best defensive coordinators, Venables earns his spot here by churning out scores of All-Big 12 linebackers, first at Kansas State with Jeff Kelly and Mark Simoneau. At OU, the list rewrites itself every year, with Travis Lewis the latest Venables standout.

6. Marvin Sanders, Nebraska secondary: The spotlight shines on Nebraska’s vaunted defensive line — a group coached by coordinator Carl Pelini — but when the Huskers play defense at their Blackshirt standard, Sanders’ defensive backs are a major factor. Last year, his corners and safeties intercepted 18 passes while allowing only seven touchdown passes. In two of the three seasons Sanders has tutored Husker D-backs, NU has led the country in pass efficiency defense, 2003 and 2009. Last year under Sanders’ watch, safety Larry Asante and cornerback Prince Amukamara emerged as first-team All-Big 12 picks. In his first go-around at NU, the Huskers set a school record with 47 takeaways in 2003.

7. Josh Heupel, Oklahoma quarterbacks: Just 10 years ago, Heupel was guiding the Sooners to the national championship. Now he’s one of the hottest young coaches in the country, perhaps the next branch to sprout from Bob Stoops’ coaching tree. In 2007, Heupel developed Sam Bradford into a record-smashing Heisman winner. Last year, when Bradford was lost for the year, Heupel helped salvage the Sooners’ season by preparing redshirt freshman Landry Jones for the job.

8. Duane Akina, Texas secondary: Akina is blessed with elite talent every year, but he continually makes the most of UT’s recruiting hauls. His list of pupils includes consecutive Thorpe Award winners, Michael Huff and Aaron Ross, as well as 2009 All-American Earl Thomas, plus another four Texas DBs currently playing in the NFL.

9. Brian Cabral, Colorado linebackers: The Buffs don’t stockpile athletes like they used to, but the longest tenured Buffs coach in school history — he’s entering his 20th season — is still revered nationally for coaching linebackers. Among his former players are 10 NFL draft picks, from Greg Biekert and Chad Brown to Jordan Dizon.

10. Chuck Long, Kansas quarterbacks: His once sterling reputation took a hit after a failed stint as San Diego State’s head coach, but Stoops’ former quarterbacks coach will try and duplicate his OU results as Turner Gill’s new QBs coach and coordinator in Lawrence.

11. Charlie Dickey, Kansas State offensive line: In his first season at K-State, Dickey built a line of blockers that helped produce Big 12 rushing leader Daniel Thomas. Before arriving in Manhattan, Dickey spent four years running the punishing O-line at Utah.

12. Wally Burnham, Iowa State linebackers: The Cyclones’ grizzled assistant gets the edge over Texas’ Will Muschamp for getting bang for the buck. Last season, Burnham’s unheralded linebacker crew helped hold three conference opponents to 10 points or less, a first at ISU since 1965. Led by former walk-on Jesse Smith, Burnham’s linebackers also contributed to the country’s No. 2 red zone defense.

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