Intriguing new assistant coaches 

March, 3, 2009
I'm in Houston for a coaching clinic for an ESPN Magazine story and was unable to file Monday's weekly top 10 list. This week's topic is the most intriguing of the newly hired assistant coaches. (One caveat: these are all guys who have signed on with staffs that are not new.)

1. Scot Loeffler, Florida, QB coach: The former Michigan assistant walks into a situation where he inherits perhaps the greatest college football player in history, Tim Tebow. For starters, don't screw him up, although it's doubtful Loeffler would. Loeffler has helped groom some big-time QBs (Tom Brady, Brian Griese and Chad Henne) in his still relatively young coaching career. Loeffler also is no stranger to Tebow having known the UF star since he was a high school sophomore from his time trying to recruit him out of Jacksonville. Tebow, who is looking to continue to develop and become more NFL-ready, lobbied for Loeffler throughout Urban Meyer's search to replace Dan Mullen. The knock on Tebow in NFL circles are his slow release and accuracy. However, it's hard to find fault with a guy who had a 30-4 TD-INT ratio. I'm curious to see how much better Tebow can possibly get on this level.

2. Greg Robinson, Michigan, defensive coordinator: After a dismal first season of the Rich Rodriguez era in Ann Arbor, there is not only big concern about who the Wolverines QB will be, but also whether the former Syracuse head coach can improve a disappointing defense. While many had expected the Wolverines to struggle on offense in 2008, the defense entered last season with experience. But things didn't mesh well for former DC Scott Shafer, who coordinated a defense that gave up 347 points, the most in school history. Robinson has more than enough DC experience with several NFL stops as well as at Texas in 2004. Michigan does have to replace three D-linemen, but they figure to be a lot better in the back seven -- a Robinson strength -- with more seasoning.

3. Frank Verducci, Notre Dame, offensive line: Former Irish line coach John Latina had done an outstanding job at his previous stops, but his tenure in South Bend under Charlie Weis did not go well. For all of Weis' tough talk, the Irish have been a very soft team. Notre Dame has had its three worst rushing seasons in school history under Weis, rushing for 126 yards a game in 2006, a record-low 75 yards a game in 2007 and 110 yards a game this past season. They also have surrendered a shocking number of sacks despite having an O-line with a lot of high-profile recruits with a ton of experience. Enter Verducci, a one-time Iowa line coach who has spent the last decade in the NFL. If Verducci can't help turn the Irish into a good running team, Weis probably gets the boot next winter.

4. Mark Whipple, Miami, offensive coordinator: What used to be one of the most explosive offenses in college football has fizzled in recent years. The Canes have rotated schemes and coaches far too often, going from Rob Chudzinski at the start of the decade to Dan Werner to Rich Olson to Patrick Nix as UM drifted into a downward spiral. The shuffling only hindered the development of the Canes QBs. Former all-everything recruit Kyle Wright went from leading the ACC in TD passes as a sophomore to regressing with each subsequent season. Whipple comes from the NFL with the blessing of many, including protégé Ben Roethlisberger. His new project is sophomore Jacory Harris, who is a bright kid and should do well under Whipple. Miami's stable of speedy young receivers will help. Whipple is preaching for Harris to make his reads quicker and to exploit mismatches. Still, Miami opens with the most brutal four-game swing of any program in the last generation. It'll be a big test to develop some confidence against the likes of Oklahoma, Virginia Tech, Florida State and Georgia Tech. There is no tune-up game in the bunch.

5. Bill Young, Oklahoma State, defensive coordinator: The Cowboys are loaded on offense and are a legit top 10 threat. The issue is on defense, where the 62-year-old former Miami DC is now challenged with fixing the country's No. 93 ranked D. Young, who is one of the most highly regarded defensive minds within the coaching ranks, had moderate success with the young UM defense last year, but he worked wonders at Kansas before that, helping the Jayhawks to a BCS bowl behind their No. 12 defense. If he can get this OSU team to be as formidable as that KU defense, the Cowboys might be a national title contender.

6. John Chavis, LSU, defensive coordinator: The longtime Phil Fulmer assistant comes south to Baton Rouge to try and remedy an underachieving defense that struggled with the co-coordinator system last year, giving up way too many big plays through coverage busts. In 2008, LSU was ranked 11th in the SEC in scoring defense (26 ppg) and five of the Tigers' 12 opponents scored at least 31 points, with two (Florida and Georgia) eclipsing the 50-point mark. It marked the first time an LSU D had ever allowed at least 50 points twice in a season. Chavis did well in Knoxville and now he probably has even more talent to work with, even with no Eric Berry on the back line.

7. Jeremy Bates, USC, QB coach/playcaller: Steve Sarkisian is now coaching in Seattle and QB Mark Sanchez is headed to the NFL, so Pete Carroll wanted a sharp young mind to run the show on Saturdays and tabbed the former Broncos assistant. Bates will have a very good young O-line to work with and the Pac-10's best WR in Damian Williams, but breaking in a new QB won't be easy. And there are many in the Trojan community who feel like the program hasn't quite been the same since Norm Chow left USC four years ago. Aaron Corp, the favorite to win the QB job, says he's already tried to incorporate some of the new plays Bates is bringing from Denver into the USC offense in their seven-on-seven workouts.

8. Walt Harris, Akron, QB coach/passing game coordinator: J.D. Brookhart hires his old boss, the former Pitt coach who he calls the most detail-oriented coach he's ever worked with. Harris may have flopped coaching Stanford, but the guy has quite the résumé having coached three Biletnikoff Award winners.

9. Jerry Azzinaro, Oregon, D-line coach: The Ducks have a lot of holes on their D-line but have brought in some hyped JC transfers and the former Marshall line coach to help get the defense heated up again. Azzinaro has a good résumé, especially having developed Dwight Freeney at Syracuse.

10. Bobby Diaco, Cincinnati, defensive coordinator: The former Virginia coach comes to a program that just went to a BCS bowl and was decent on defense (31st in the country and led the Big East in sacks.) However, coach Brian Kelly wanted to go to a 3-4 scheme so he got rid of Joe Tresey over philosophical differences and then hired Diaco, a young former Iowa star. Diaco had spent the 2005 season on Kelly's staff at Central Michigan where he served as co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach.

Random Stuff

• The new staff at Tennessee has created quite a stir in the South and the stories just keep coming. The latest was when word spread of last weekend's Junior Day when a bunch of T-shirts got ripped off and the recruits were worked into a frenzy. The scene as reported by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, included UT star Eric Berry as players and recruits and some UT staffers were jumping around, yelling, "UT Wild Boys," while some of the coaches banged on the doors.

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