8 Assistant Coaches Quietly Dominating College Football Recruiting Trail
Head college football coaches command constant attention as the faces of high-profile programs, handling the pressures of public relations while game-planning and recruiting all year. They can't do it alone, making the role of assistant coaches paramount on and off the field.
Assistants who can effectively motivate players while securing commitments from high school prospects consistently climb the coaching ladder toward national notoriety and a bigger payday. Here's a look at eight coaches—esteemed veterans and relative newcomers alike—who've excelled on the recruiting trail during the 2015 cycle.
Barry Lunney Jr. (Arkansas)
Coaching Position: Tight ends coach
Barry Lunney Jr. ranks among the most accomplished quarterbacks in Arkansas history, starting 40 games through 1995. He returned to his alma mater in 2013, 15 years after serving as a Razorbacks graduate assistant.
Lunney Jr. went on to coach quarterbacks at Tulsa and San Jose State before spending eight seasons as offensive coordinator at Bentonville High School, which claimed two Arkansas 7A state titles during his tenure.
Lunney Jr. has taken care of business on his home turf, picking up six in-state pledges.
Quarterback Ty Storey highlights the group and committed to Arkansas last summer over offers from Alabama and Auburn. He also kept 4-star defensive end Jamario Bell and versatile receiver Deon Stewart in their home state.
In-state tight end Will Gragg is one of the top uncommitted players at his position and attended a Razorbacks camp in June. Lunney Jr. is also battling for 4-star Arkansas receiver K.J. Hill, who is considering Auburn, Alabama and Oklahoma State, among others.
Sean Spencer (Penn State)
Coaching Position: Defensive line coach
Sean Spencer followed James Franklin to Happy Valley after a three-year stint as defensive line coach at Vanderbilt. The veteran assistant worked his way up the ladder primarily coaching the position, with pit stops at Bowling Green, Massachusetts and Villanova.
Spencer is putting together a promising front line for the future, with Maryland linemen Kamonte Carter, Jonathan Holland and Adam McLean. Massive in-state defensive end Ryan Buchholz is also on board.
Top-ranked Virginia defensive end Josh Sweat could provide Penn State with an elite pass-rusher capable of making an immediate impact. Christian Wilkins, a 4-star Connecticut defensive tackle, visited campus in June, while dominant Minnesota defensive end Jashon Cornell remains a top target.
B.J. Anderson (Texas A&M)
Coaching Position: Offensive line coach
B.J. Anderson joined the Aggies coaching staff in 2012 as a 37-year-old. His rise in the collegiate ranks included three years at Houston with Kevin Sumlin. He previously served as offensive line coach at Sam Houston State and spent time at Texas A&M as a graduate assistant.
Though it doesn't apply to the 2015 cycle, Anderson picked up a pledge from offensive tackle Greg Little in June. He is the No. 1 overall 2016 prospect in 247Sports' composite rankings.
Anderson is battling with Texas and Florida State coaches for 4-star in-state cornerback Kris Boyd. Conner Dyer, another 4-star offensive tackle, may be tempted to commit but could look elsewhere due to the logjam of talent at his position.
Kerry Cooks (Notre Dame)
Coaching Position: Defensive backs coach
Kerry Cooks was an All-Big Ten Conference safety at Iowa before the Minnesota Vikings selected him with a fifth-round pick in the 1998 NFL draft. He returned to the Big Ten as defensive backs coach with Wisconsin and Minnesota after breaking into the collegiate ranks as a graduate assistant at Kansas State. Notre Dame hired him in 2010.
Cooks kicked off the cycle with an early commitment from 4-star Louisiana offensive tackle Jerry Tillery in June 2013. He picked up another impressive offensive piece with Texas wide receiver Jalen Guyton this spring.
His secondary should improve with a strong 2015 haul, including former Michigan cornerback commit Shaun Crawford, a 4-star talent from Ohio. The group is also set to add defensive backs Nicco Fertitta (Nevada), Nick Coleman (Ohio) and Prentice McKinney (Texas).
Cooks helped host 4-star Texas running back Soso Jamabo in early June. His attention is also on the Lone Star State for quarterback Jarrett Stidham, a Texas Tech commit who received an offer from the Fighting Irish after Blake Barnett decommitted.
Tim Horton (Auburn)
Coaching Position: Running backs coach
Tim Horton is no strangers to the rigors of recruiting in SEC territory. Prior to his arrival at Auburn, he was a member of the Arkansas coaching staff. An acclaimed recruiter, he previously served as offensive coordinator at Air Force. He was a starting wide receiver at Arkansas during his collegiate playing days.
Horton helped convince top-ranked junior college prospect Jovon Robinson to commit to Auburn again two years after he left the Tigers during freshman training camp because of high school transcript issues. Scintillating in-state athlete Kerryon Johnson is also likely to line up in the backfield.
Horton aims to reach back into his old stomping grounds for 4-star Arkansas receiver K.J. Hill. Tennessee offensive tackle Drew Richmond remains a possibility, while ferocious Florida pass-rusher Byron Cowart is still up for grabs.
JaJuan Seider (West Virginia)
Coaching Position: Running backs coach
JaJuan Seider was an All-American quarterback at Florida A&M, where he earned MEAC Offensive Player of the Year honors. The San Diego Chargers drafted him in the sixth round of the 2000 NFL draft. Seider spent nearly a decade coaching high school football in Florida before joining West Virginia as a graduate assistant in 2008.
He served as running backs coach at Marshall for three years and returned to the Mountaineers in 2013.
The Florida native continues to recruit well in the Sunshine State, landing 4-star prospects Jovon Durante (receiver) and Kendrell McFadden (cornerback). Fellow Floridians Kevin Williams (cornerback), Kahlil Lewis (receiver) and Alex Anderson (running back) are also committed.
Anderson joins North Carolina pledge William Cameron as key pickups for the offensive backfield.
Greg Knox (Mississippi State)
Coaching Position: Running backs and special teams coach
Greg Knox, who has served as an assistant at Mississippi State since 2009, is an SEC veteran. He previously coached at Auburn and Ole Miss. He reached the Division I ranks as a graduate assistant at TCU in 1990.
Chris Stamps (cornerback) and Tommy Champion (offensive tackle) are also staying within state borders as Bulldogs. Knox assisted in securing a commitment from Georgia running back Kentavious Thomas, a dual-threat weapon out of the backfield.
Knox has three commitments to his credit since mid-May, contributing to a class that has climbed to 12th nationally in 247Sports' composite team rankings.
He aims to add 4-star Mississippi defensive tackle Fletcher Adams, contending with the likes of Georgia, Florida and Ole Miss for his commitment. Alabama running back Nick Gibson has visited campus multiple times, and Knox is in good position to beat out the Crimson Tide for the 4-star recruit.
Mario Cristobal (Alabama)
Coaching Position: Offensive line and assistant head coach
Mario Cristobal was a member of two national championship teams at Miami, where he played as an offensive lineman through 1992. He began his college coaching career at his alma mater, serving as a graduate assistant with the Hurricanes in the late 1990s.
Cristobal joined former Miami defensive coordinator Greg Schiano at Rutgers, where he worked his way up to offensive line coach before returning to Miami as an assistant. He took over as head coach at FIU in 2006, where he remained until 2012. Nick Saban hired him in 2013.
He continues to solidify his reputation as a top recruiter for a program that has ruled national class rankings throughout the decade. Cristobal reinforced his offensive line with coveted 4-star prospects Richie Petitbon (Washington, D.C.) and Lester Cotton (Alabama).
He picked up a pair of 4-star pledges from Monarch High School (Pompano Beach, Florida) in receiver Calvin Ridley and athlete Shawn Burgess-Becker. Cristobal capitalized on his New Jersey ties and helped land 5-star cornerback Minkah Fitzpatrick. He was also instrumental in the recruitment of in-state linebacker Christian Bell.
Recruiting information and ratings courtesy of 247Sports unless otherwise noted.