Player development and the ability of the players to put up numbers – or not – falls largely on the responsibility of the position coaches and coordinators.
Let’s talk about the SEC’s top assistant coaches in 2013, shall we? Again, this reflects 2013’s production and results, not ranking the 10 best over their careers. Obviously, if it were career-based, coaches like LSU’s John Chavis wouldn’t get left off the list. Instead, let’s recognize the assistant coaches with great units or position groups this season.
1. Cam Cameron, LSU, Offensive Coordinator
Particulars: Age: 52. This was his 1st season at LSU.
The Buzz: There wasn’t a bigger turnaround by any unit than LSU’s offense. We knew Cam Cameron would make an impact, but how big would it be? LSU’s offense had all the pieces last year to win the national championship, but despite scoring 37 points per game, the offense was lethargic, led by a boring style of play. Enter Cam Cameron. He helped develop Zach Mettenberger into a borderline first-round pick before his injury, and the offense clicked with a 3,000-yard passer, two 1,000-yard receivers and a 1,000-yard tailback. The production and his impact were obvious.
2. Kirby Smart, Alabama, Defensive Coordinator
Particulars: Age: 37. This was his 7th season at Alabama.
The Buzz:Alabama consistently has one of the best defenses in college football. Does that reflect Nick Saban or Kirby Smart more? It’s certainly an intriguing debate. Regardless, Alabama’s defense finished as the country’s second best scoring defense, 11th best run defense, fifth best pass defense and fifth in total defense. The biggest question surrounding Smart is when he will take a head coaching job. He’s shown it will take the perfect situation, or he’s perfectly content with being the SEC’s highest paid assistant coach.
Related: Updated SEC head coaching salaries
3. Rhett Lashlee, Auburn, Offensive Coordinator
Particulars: Age: 30. This was his 1st season at Auburn.
The Buzz: The Gus Malzahn prodigy helped guide Auburn’s offense to score over 40 points per game this season and helped develop the most dominant running game in the country. Lashlee was a finalist for the Broyles Award, recognizing college football’s top assistant coach. Lashlee’s tutoring of QB Nick Marshall was exceptional this season. Yes, Gus Malzahn and Dameyune Craig had a hand in it, but it ultimately reflects what Lashlee did. Malzahn has had some high remarks for Lashlee’s offensive leadership.
4. Dave Steckel, Missouri, Defensive Coordinator
Particulars: Age: 56. This was his 12th season at Missouri.
The Buzz: Dave Steckel did a masterful job this season at Mizzou. Up until the SEC Championship, Missouri statistically had the second best defense in the SEC. Although the Tigers’ defense couldn’t stop the Auburn running game, it really overshadowed the production Steckel’s unit had this season. He coached Michael Sam to become the SEC’s Defensive Player of the Year, and the Tigers racked up an SEC-leading 38 sacks and an SEC-leading 18 INTs. Aside from the Auburn game, Steckel really had his unit firing on all cylinders.
5. Ellis Johnson, Auburn, Defensive Coordinator
Particulars: Age: 61. This was his 1st season at Auburn.
The Buzz: Auburn’s 2012 defense was atrocious. They couldn’t cover, and they couldn’t tackle. That’s a perfect combination for terrible. Enter Ellis Johnson. This unit transformed into the biggest bend-but-don’t-break unit in the country. In fact, they’ve allowed a lot of total yards, but they stepped up in the red zone throughout the entire season and are ranked the SEC’s second best red zone defense, allowing teams to score just 70.83 percent of the time. It’s nowhere near perfect, but it’s adequate enough to win an SEC Championship and garner a shot in the national championship. Johnson has done a fabulous job in 2013.
6. Lorenzo Ward, South Carolina, Defensive Coordinator
Particulars: Age: 46. This was his 5th season at South Carolina.
The Buzz: Too young or too much lost to put together a top five defense at Carolina? Think again. The job Ward and his staff did transforming an altogether young and inexperienced defense was outstanding. The Gamecocks finished second in scoring defense (20 ppg) and second in run defense (142.25 ypg). They finished the season with 24 sacks, and they have one of the most experienced units returning in 2014, even without Jadeveon Clowney and Kelcy Quarles.
7. Josh Henson, Missouri, Offensive Coordinator
Particulars: This was his 5th season at Missouri.
The Buzz: When OC David Yost left after last season, several thought the Tigers’ offense would take a major hit. However, Gary Pinkel promoted Josh Henson, and the rest is history. It benefited Henson for everyone to remain healthy this season, but he also brought a different physical mindset to the offense than Yost. Henson has coached under Les Miles, and he’s an offensive line coach by trade. Henson led Missouri to score 39 points per game and have the second best running game in the conference. Henson has a big future.
8. Doug Nussmeier, Alabama, Offensive Coordinator
Particulars: Age: 43. This was his 2nd season at Alabama.
The Buzz: I’ve contended that Doug Nussmeier is the most hirable assistant that Nick Saban has on staff. Had Chris Peterson not taken the Washington job, we may have seen Nussmeier get it. He’s guided Alabama’s offense to two outstanding years. The Tide finished the season scoring over 38 points per game, with the SEC’s third best running game. However, AJ McCarron’s development needs to be attributed some to Nussmeier, too, and under his watch, McCarron became an impact player and playmaker, as opposed to a ‘game manager’. I still think Nussmeier gets a head coaching job before Kirby Smart. Both are great assistants at Alabama.
9. Bob Shoop, Vanderbilt, Defensive Coordinator
Particulars: Age: 47. This was his 3rd season at Vanderbilt.
The Buzz: Bob Shoop’s impact at Vanderbilt has been fun to watch develop over the last three years. The most consistent thing about the program, other than James Franklin, is the defense. For three years in a row now, the Commodores have quietly had a good defense. The run defense finished as the fourth best, and the pass defense, which has been the backbone of the operation, finished fifth, including picking off 16 passes, second to Missouri’s 18. The Dores also finished fifth in total defense, and they’ve finished sixth or better the last three seasons. He’s one of the most underrated coordinators in college football.
10. Travaris Robinson, Defensive Backs Coach, Florida
Particulars: Age: 32. This was his 3rd season at Florida.
The Buzz: Florida’s offense never allowed the defense to truly play to their potential because they were on the field so much, but Florida’s secondary has been one of the most talented and productive secondaries over the last three seasons. Sure, Will Muschamp has his hand in the secondary, but it’s Travaris Robinson’s group. Florida finished second in the SEC in pass defense, allowing teams only 171 yards per game, and they finished with the top pass rating defense, too. And Robinson is a phenomenal recruiter. Freshman Vernon Hargreaves was a first-team All-SEC corner, and Loucheiz Purifoy and Marcus Roberson will play on Sundays. Let’s throw a bone to one of the better units of any defense in college football.
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