Big Ten Football: Power Ranking Top Assistant Coaches

Andrew Coppens@@andycoppensContributor IFebruary 14, 2014

Big Ten Football: Power Ranking Top Assistant Coaches

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    Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

    While the guys wearing the head sets and doing the pre and post game interviews get all of the attention, it's the assistant coaches who can really make or break a team's success on Saturday's in the fall. 

    A lot of attention has been paid to the Big Ten's loss of some of its top assistants in the past, however, this past offseason B1G teams have begun opening up the pocketbooks like never before. It means a lot more coaching talent is coming into the conference, and a lot more of the talent already in the league is staying put. 

    Having so many new faces, a lot of what we'll see in the offseason will be based off of reputation elsewhere, but there is no denying the Big Ten is upping the ante in the coaching ranks. 

    With banner years for some of the offenses and defenses in the Big Ten, it's time to give some love to the guys who get it done on a daily basis. 

    Which ones made the cut? Find out in our journey through the best of the Big Ten assistant coaches. 

    (all stats used are courtesy

8. Greg Davis

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    Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    Greg Davis has built his reputation on coaching quarterbacks, but after a dismal 2012 campaign, many weren't sure if he was the right man to be offensive coordinator in Iowa City. 

    In 2013, a rebirth at quarterback changed a lot of things around, and the Hawkeyes became a winning program again because of it. 

    Davis deserves a ton of credit for working with Jake Rudock and getting him to go from zero to capable starting quarterback in one offseason. 

    After dealing with a disappointing 2012 campaign from veteran James Vandenberg, new blood was going to happen. Rudock, a sophomore, wasn't perfect in 2013, but there was enough energy from him behind center to make the offense actually work. 

    Rudock finished the season completing 59 percent of his passes for 2,383 yards and 18 touchdowns to 13 interceptions. 

    It's that number that will need to come down in 2014 if the Hawkeyes are to be true contenders. However, don't expect a 40-year veteran of the coaching ranks to not have a few tricks up his sleeve to get Rudock to improve. 

    Davis is a polarizing figure amongst the Hawkeyes fanbase, but his work with Rudock and the turnaround of the offense in general in 2013 was impressive enough to put him on this list. 

7. Dave Aranda

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    Morry Gash/Associated Press

    Wisconsin has always been about physical play, whether it was from the power run game or its physical front seven on defense. So, when new head coach Gary Andersen brought defensive coordinator Dave Aranda along, it meant significant changes were coming to the Badgers defense. 

    You wouldn't have known anything changed much in Madison, Wis. by the Badger defensive results in 2013, and that's a credit to the work Aranda and Andersen did in transforming this team in to the only 3-4 defense in the Big Ten last season. 

    The Badgers finished third in total defense (305.1) and passing defense (202.5), second in rushing defense (102.5) and in scoring defense (16.3) in the Big Ten. All of that with players specifically recruited to play the 4-3 and having played it for their entire collegiate careers to date.  

    Heck, Aranda even made a safety out of a 6'6" quarterback named Tanner McEvoy. However, the most impressive job may have been what Aranda did with freshman cornerback Sojourn Shelton.

    He went from a potential playmaker to instant starter by the end of fall camp and by the end of the season had become the Badgers lockdown corner. 

    Aranda isn't a very vocal guy in the media, so attention-grabbing headlines don't come his way very often, but you have to be impressed with the transition the Badgers defense went under in 2013. Now can Aranda get his own players in the lineup and make this defense even more in his image?

6. Bill Cubit

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    Bradley Leeb-USA TODAY Sports

    If anyone doubts how good of a coach Bill Cubit is, do yourself a favor and find some film of the 2012 Illinois Fighting Illini offense. 

    Now that you've wanted to gouge your eyes out from the pain, put in the 2013 Illini offense and see the night-and-day difference between the two. 

    Bill Cubit's turnaround job was nothing short of spectacular. In one season, he took a team who could barely score over two touchdowns a game (16.7 in 2012) to a team that averaged nearly 30 points a game (29.7 to be exact). 

    Having a healthy Nathan Scheelhaase helped, but it was no secret that Cubit was the engine that drove Scheelhaase and his teammates to offensive success. The Illini finished second in the Big Ten in passing offense, averaging 287.7 yards per game this past year. 

    While the turnaround in year one was impressive, Cubit has a staple of intriguing spread-orientated quarterbacks to work with this upcoming season. Oklahoma State transfer and Illinois native, Wes Lunt will be in the mix alongside sophomore Aaron Bailey. 

    Cubit's best work in the Big Ten may be ahead of him, provided Tim Beckman figures out the defense enough to be around for another few years in Champaign, Ill. 

5. Doug Nussmeier

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    Yes, Nussmeier has yet to coach a game as Michigan's offensive coordinator, but it doesn't mean he isn't one of the best assistant coaches in the Big Ten. Heck, the guy knows what being a coach in the Big Ten is all about. 

    Let's not forget, Nussmeier's collegiate coaching career was launched as the quarterback's coach at Michigan State. 

    Nussmeier has a reputation of working with some of the best quarterbacks we've seen in recent college football history—including guys like Keith Price, Jake Locker and A.J. McCarron as an offensive coordinator and Jeff Smoker, Drew Stanton and Marc Bulger as a QB's coach. 

    Clearly he's got the chops to be an excellent coach of quarterbacks, but what remains to be seen in Ann Arbor, Mich. is if he can turn around an entire offense that was a complete mess in 2013. 

    At Alabma, Nussmeier guided a historically great offense in 2012, his first year at the helm of the Crimson Tide's offense.

    Think about these numbers, from Bruce Feldman of

    Under Nussmeier's guidance, Bama set records for offensive touchdowns scored (68), total points (542), total offense (6,237) and passing touchdowns (31) in the 2012 season--his first with the Crimson Tide. Despite a rebuilt offensive line, Bama ranked No. 6 in the nation this season in yards per play (7.15) and were ranked third in the nation in that stat in games against ranked opponents (7.59). 

    While his coordinator numbers at Alabama were nice, the tools he has to work with at Michigan are not the annual 5-star parade that the Tide see year in and year out. 

    Nussmeier's pedigree puts him among the top assistants in the Big Ten, and his salary (reportedly in the Top 5 of all collegiate assistants) says he better be or the Wolverines are in some serious trouble. 

4. Tracy Claeys

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    Mark A. Cunningham/Getty Images

    After Jerry Kill suffered his second seizure just before leaving for the Michigan game, Claeys took the reigns of the program as acting head coach. During that time the Gophers went on a tear, winning four-straight, including historic wins over Nebraska and Penn State. 

    Without Claeys' ability to lead this team in a tumultuous time, there's no way Minnesota makes it to 8-4, let alone a bowl game. 

    However, his primary duty was that of defensive coordinator and his team was none to shabby on that side of the field in 2013. Minnesota allowed just 22.2 points per game (No. 4 in B1G), tied with Wisconsin for the second-fewest passing touchdowns given up (16) in the Big Ten and were sixth in the conference in total defense. 

    While the numbers may not jump off the page as amazing, Minnesota has come from the bottom of the barrel to the middle of the pack in short order under Claeys' leadership. 

    Claeys was also instrumental in the development of star defensive tackle Ra'Shede Hageman. He went from nobody to first-team All-Big Ten in a matter of a year, finishing with another first-team All-Big Ten honor this past season. 

    He may not get the name recognition of some other coaches on this list, but he may be the most valuable assistant in the league. Claeys has also been one of the most loyal coaches to Kill, serving as an assistant with him since 1999 at Emporia State. 

3. Phil Parker

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    Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    Loyalty is rewarded on Kirk Ferentz's staff, and after coaching up the defensive backs for 13 years, Phil Parker took over for Norm Parker (no relation) as defensive coordinator two years ago. 

    Phil's abilities as a secondary coach got him some major recognition before that transition even happened. He was named by in March 2011 as a first team member of its College Football Assistant Coach Dream Team, according to his Iowa bio

    Since then, the Hawkeyes defense has been one of the top groups in the Big Ten. This past season Parker's group was third in the Big Ten and ninth nationally in scoring defense (18.9 points per game). It helped having a trio of linebackers as good as Christian Kirksey, Anthony Hitchens and James Morris were. 

    This past season that trio all surpassed the 100-tackle mark, with Hitchens leading the way at 112 tackles. 

    Iowa managed to not only finish ninth in one national category, it would finish inside the top 20 in scoring defense (No. 9), passing defense (No. 9), rushing defense (No. 19) and total defense (No. 6). 

    Parker will have to deal with the loss of all three of his linebackers this season, but thanks to a secondary that is young and very productive already, the blow could be softened some. 

    While Parker may not have the national recognition of some other defensive coaches, he has shown he's more than capable of stepping in to the legendary shoes is father left behind when he retired following the 2011 season. 

2. Tom Herman

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    J Pat Carter/Associated Press

    Ohio State's offenses have been good in the past, and yes Urban Meyer has had a major influence on what OSU's current offense looks like. Don't get it twisted, though; Tom Herman, the offensive coordinator, has had plenty to do with it as well. 

    Herman is a young but brilliant offensive mind, who is going into his third year at the helm of the Ohio State offense. 

    Last season, the Buckeyes were not only legendary by Ohio State standards but were also legendary in the annuls of the Big Ten conference as well

    OSU finished this season averaging 45.5 points per game, which was best in school history and sixth in Big Ten history. The 637 points scored were the third most in the history of the conference and the most since the 644 points of the 1902 Michigan Wolverines. 

    Yes, I just said 1902 (and the all-time record came from the 1904 Minnesota Golden Gophers if you must know).

    The team's 4,321 yards rushing were a Big Ten record, and the 308.6 average per game was fourth all-time in conference history. 

    None of that happened by accident. Herman is one of the best minds in college football at implementing the spread-rushing attack. It's no coincidence that under Herman, a running back went over the 1,000-yard mark with Urban Meyer as the head coach. 

    While all the attention is on Meyer and what he is and isn't doing, it's Herman that is driving the engine to the rush-orientated spread offense that is run in Columbus, Ohio. 

1. Pat Narduzzi

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    Al Goldis/Associated Press

    How Pat Narduzzi isn't a head coach somewhere is beyond me. He did turn down the UConn job this offseason because of concern over staff salaries, so it may be just a matter of the right place at the right time for Michigan State's defensive coordinator. 

    The units Narduzzi has put out on the field over the last three years have been hands down the best the Big Ten has had to offer. In 2013, they may have put on the best performance of them all. 

    His 2013 defense finished tops in the Big Ten in scoring (13.2), rushing (86.6), passing (165.6) and total defense (252.2), just to name a few. MSU finished third in scoring D, second in rushing D, third in passing D and second in total defense nationally this past season as well. 

    If that doesn't qualify you as the best assistant coach in the Big Ten, let alone the country, I'd love to see what does. It wasn't a fluke situation in 2013 either, as the 2012 unit was nearly as good. In 2012, the Spartans D finished in the Top 10 nationally in each of the major defensive categories as well. 

    No fewer than five of his starting 11 players were named first or second team All-Big Ten players by the coaches, media or both this past season too. 

    Narduzzi has built up such a solid group of players that it has become plug-and-play on the defensive side of the ball in East Lansing. 

    *Andy Coppens is Bleacher Report's lead writer for Big Ten football. You can follow him on Twitter: @ andycoppens