Clemson’s Garrett Riley leads 2023 college football coordinators poised to emerge as head coaching candidates
College football’s 2022 coaching carousel looked tame in comparison to the 2021 rendition, which featured seismic moves such as Brian Kelly to LSU, Lincoln Riley to USC and Mario Cristobal to Oregon. But there was still plenty of movement in the Power Five ranks, and some coordinators were among those tabbed to begin their head coaching careers at big-name schools.
Purdue plucked Ryan Walters from his defensive coordinator position at Illinois after a banner year for the Fighting Illini’s defense, while Arizona State hired Oregon offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham after he helped the Ducks win 10 games in Year 1 of the Dan Lanning regime. At Mississippi State, the Bulldogs tabbed defensive coordinator Zach Arnett — long regarded as a rising star — to lead the program in the wake of Mike Leach’s death.
That coordinators received such lofty jobs was merely the continuation of a trend. In the 2021 cycle, Brent Pry (Virginia Tech), Tony Elliott (Virginia), Dan Lanning (Oregon), Brent Venables (Oklahoma), Marcus Freeman (Notre Dame) and Mike Elko (Duke) were hired from the coordinator ranks to Power Five head coaching jobs. The group posted some mixed results, but Lanning and Elko exceeded expectations, and Freeman enjoyed a solid first season in South Bend, Indiana, as well.
So as the 2023 season approaches, who are the coordinators you should have an eye on as potential Power Five head coaching options come November and December? Let’s have a look at six possible candidates.
College football coordinators to watch in 2023
Garrett Riley, Clemson offensive coordinator: At 33 years old, Riley is a rising star tasked with revitalizing Clemson’s offense in his first season with the Tigers. If he can pull it off, he’ll find himself in the mix for Power Five head coaching jobs. Riley spent the last three seasons as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for Sonny Dykes at SMU and TCU, and he also spent time as a quarterback at Texas Tech under Mike Leach. In case those connections aren’t enough, Riley is also the younger brother of USC coach Lincoln Riley. With such strong ties to other successful coaches and a blossoming track record of his own, Riley is poised to become one of the sport’s biggest names in the years ahead.
Jesse Minter, Michigan defensive coordinator: Michigan ranked no. 5 nationally in total defense last season, allowing just 292.1 yards per game. The Wolverines also finished in the top 10 for both yards allowed per rush and yards allowed per pass attempt. Not bad for Minter’s first season on the job. He arrived after a one-year stint at Vanderbilt and time with the Baltimore Ravens, where he worked for Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh’s brother, John. Minter, 40, began his career with entry-level jobs at Notre Dame and Cincinnati, has NFL and SEC experience and is now proving to be an elite defensive coordinator for one of the sport’s top brands. All signs point toward Minter becoming a coach of interest to Power Five schools with openings so long as the Wolverines sustain their defensive standard in 2023.
Shannon Dawson, Miami offensive coordinator: A product of the Air Raid tree, Dawson has a chance to make a name for himself at Miami this season after four years on Dana Holgorsen’s Houston staff. The Hurricanes regressed significantly on offense in coach Mario Cristobal’s first season, which led to Josh Gattis’ sudden departure and Dawson being tabbed as his replacement. For this change to yield results, Cristobal will need to relinquish control and allow Dawson to implement a system that calls for more passing than Cristobal historically prefers. With an elite quarterback like Tyler Van Dyke, it could be a smashing success. This is as much about Cristobal enabling his new hire to flourish as anything. If he’s willing to let Dawson shine and the Hurricanes make significant progress, Dawson could immediately become a head coaching candidate.
Ryan Grubb, Washington offensive coordinator: Grubb goes way back with Washington coach Kalen DeBoer, which might explain why he stayed put when Nick Saban courted him as a potential replacement for Bill O’Brien as Alabama’s offensive coordinator. Saying no to Saban requires some gumption, but Grubb and the Huskies have a good thing going with Michael Penix Jr. back at quarterback following an 11-2 debut campaign for DeBoer. Washington ranked No. 2 nationally in total offense, and should that success be replicated in 2023, Grubb will be a viable Power Five head coaching candidate.
Josh Gattis, Maryland offensive coordinator: Things went awry quickly at Miami for Gattis in his lone season as Hurricanes offensive coordinator. But how much of that was his fault, and how much of it was Cristobal seeking to put his own stamp on things? We’re still talking about a former Broyles Award winner with experience under James Franklin (Vanderbilt and Penn State), Nick Saban (Alabama), Jim Harbaugh (Michigan), Cristobal (Miami) and now Mike Locksley (Maryland). There may be no coordinator in college football with a more impressive list of former bosses. His time with Maryland may qualify as an image rehabilitation stint, but the highlights of Gattis’ resume still suggest he could be a Power Five head coach.
Jeff Lebby, Oklahoma offensive coordinator: Lebby will be under some pressure to help get Oklahoma turned back in the right direction after an underwhelming start to the Brent Venables regime last season. But at just 39, he’s already proven himself as one of the sport’s top offensive minds while working under the likes of Josh Heupel at UCF and Lane Kiffin at Ole Miss. Red flags over Lebby’s time at Baylor working for Art Briles during a scandalous period aren’t going to totally disappear, but as that period of his career fades further into the distance, his viability as a head coach improves.