Assistants in line to become HCs

Manny Diaz could find himself in a head coaching position sooner rather than later. Matthew Emmons/US Presswire

Football players are always being asked to look forward and not backward, to forget what lies behind and press on toward the goal in front of them. The philosophy is one that college athletic directors have to adopt in many ways as well, especially when it comes to having a firm grasp of their football program and its most important employee: the head coach.

That's why it should come as no surprise that even ADs with the most stable coaching situations are always preparing themselves for what's next, keeping an updated list of viable coaching candidates and their contact information close by (even in their desk drawer, according to one AD I spoke with).

So who are the assistant coaches whose names populate those lists? If Chip Kelly is the next Jim Harbaugh, as I wrote last month regarding Kelly's potential as an NFL head coach, who is the next Chip Kelly, the star assistant turned successful college head coach?

I won't pretend to have a grasp of every program and every assistant, but with the aid of ESPN analysts Tom Luginbill, Matt Stinchcomb and Ed Cunningham, in addition to Sports Illustrated's Stewart Mandel, who joined us as a guest on College Football Live this week, I was able to come up with a list of five assistants who fit the bill. It was remarkable the amount of consensus that was reached (both in conversations with the aforementioned analysts and others around the game) about one assistant in particular and two others whose names repeatedly entered the conversation of up-and-comers. The list wouldn't be complete without a dark horse, as well as an assistant whose scheme and system is consistently held in high esteem by his peers.

1. Manny Diaz, defensive coordinator, Texas Longhorns

Aggressive, energetic, incredibly impressive -- those are some of the sentiments shared by my peers in calling Diaz one of the most desirable assistants waiting in the wings for a head coaching job. His defenses parallel his own career arc: risk-taking and adventuresome, while never willing to let circumstances dictate his next call, instead trusting his core philosophy of never backing down.