With at least three SEC coaches entering 2016 squarely on the hot seat, it’s only a matter of time before boards are put together to highlight potential candidates for any job openings.
One of the quickest paths to getting on the shortlist for SEC openings is having success in the conference as an assistant. That was obvious this past offseason when Kirby Smart, Will Muschamp and Barry Odom all took the leap from SEC coordinator to head coach (Muschamp had also been as assistant for LSU and Auburn before taking the Florida job).
In fact, seven of the 14 current SEC coaches were previously assistants in the league: Smart, Muschamp, Odom, Hugh Freeze, Gus Malzahn, Jim McElwain and Dan Mullen. And Nick Saban, of course, was LSU’s head coach before arriving at Alabama.
But who will be the next assistant coach to take the leap to head man in the nation’s best conference? Let’s take a look at the five most likely assistants to do so:
Lane Kiffin, Alabama
This is the obvious choice. Kiffin has been a head coach at two major college programs in Tennessee and USC as well as the NFL’s Oakland Raiders.
He’s done a tremendous job as the Alabama offensive coordinator the past two season, and if he can put together another big season in Tuscaloosa working with another new quarterback, it might be time for Kiffin to again assume control at a Power Five school.
Dave Aranda, LSU
Arnanda might not be the most familiar name in the SEC, but he will be soon.
The first-year LSU defensive coordinator has thrived during his time in the same role at Wisconsin, where he oversaw the nation’s No. 1 scoring defense in 2015. If Aranda can bring that success to the Tigers, it won’t be long before someone comes calling with a great opportunity.
Jeremy Pruitt, Alabama
After Smart finally made the leap to being a head coach, it’s only right that Nick Saban’s next defensive coordinator should be expected to do the same.
Pruitt is among the most respected defensive coordinators and recruiters out there, and when you work under Saban, Jimbo Fisher and Mark Richt, the expectations for you to become a head coach are very high.
Geoff Collins, Florida
As he continues to produce impressive defenses, Collins continues to climb up the ladder of top SEC assistants.
The former Mississippi State and current Gators defensive coordinator has enjoyed a ton of success in his first five seasons coaching in the conference, and if he keeps it up, he’ll keep hearing his name pop up more and more when it comes to head coaching discussions.
Rhett Lashlee, Auburn
No one knows the ins and outs of Gus Malzahn’s offense quite like Lashlee. The Auburn offensive coordinator played for Malzahn in high school and has worked under him for 11 of his 12 years in the coaching world.
As spread offenses continue to evolve and become more prevalent, it only makes sense that Lashlee — just 33 years old — will be a highly-sought after name in the years to come.
Other names to consider
On-field success can change the list of top assistants in a single season. Here are some other names to watch that could eventually increase their standing on this list:
- Doug Nussmeier, Florida offensive coordinator
- Mario Cristobal, Alabama offensive line coach
- Dan Enos, Arkansas offensive coordinator
- Bob Shoop, Tennessee defensive coordinator
- Matt Luke, Ole Miss co-offensive coordinator/offensive line coach
- Travaris Robinson, South Carolina defensive coordinator