Imperial, California - As the coaching hiring season gets underway, there always seems to be a lot of focus on the “flavor of the month” hot offensive or defensive coordinators from Power Five programs. Pretty much any coordinator whose team is in the hunt for a spot in the national playoff will get a lot of attention. Some are deserved, some not. My advice for ADs is to take a hard look at what I call “grinders”. These are coaches who have worked hard, kept their heads down and in many cases intentionally avoided the media spotlight.
Some of these are the best football minds - and best people - in the coaching profession. I’m protective of those types of “grinder” coaches. My father was one, and so is my husband.
Here are some successful grinders who got their shot and produced highly successful careers:
Ron McBride: Toiled as a position coach in high school, junior college, Big Ten, Pac 10 and WAC before getting hired at Utah where he became a Hall of Fame Coach with the second-most wins in school history.
Joe Tiller: What he did at Purdue had never been accomplished before. Tiller spent most of his career as a line coach at several colleges and in the CFL before getting the Wyoming job in 1993, where he built a solid program before building a winner in the Big Ten.
Pat Hill: Spent most of his career as a position coach for eight different teams before landing the Fresno State head job in 1997. Led the Bulldogs to the most bowl games in school history and was one of the winningest college coaches in the first decade of this century.
Chris Petersen: It might surprise some to see his name in this list, but he started coaching at UC Davis, was a position coach at Pittsburgh, Portland State and Oregon before moving to Boise State where his accomplishments speak for themselves.
Over the years we’ve worked with many talented coaches who are wonderful people, but for whatever reason have yet to get that head coaching opportunity. In my opinion these grinders would make good head coaches.
John Baxter: Considered one of the best special teams coaches and recruiters in the country, he took his Academic Gameplan program to two schools that were in desperate need of structure. John won praise at both Fresno State and USC for changing the academic culture at those schools. He has coached in the Big 12 and ACC, 1-AA and Division III. In 2013 he had the unique experience of working for three head coaches - Lane Kiffin, Ed Orgeron and Clay Helton – and helping the team win 10 games, including a bowl game over a ranked team.
Duane Akina: He has over 35 years in the profession and currently is the Stanford DBs coach. Duane been part of winning programs and worked for Hall of Fame coaches Mack Brown at Texas and Dick Tomey at Hawaii and Arizona. He played quarterback at Washington.
Andy Ludwig: A smart and experienced coach who has coordinated innovative offenses at Fresno State, Oregon, Utah, San Diego State, Cal and currently at Wisconsin. He produced record setting teams and coached countless NFL star players, including 2002 NFL No. 1 pick David Carr.
Andy Buh: A dynamic coach and recruiter who has worked for Jim Harbaugh, Pat Hill, Brett Bielema and Chris Ault.
Mike Summers: This consummate professional has coached for more than 30 years in nearly every major conference and the NFL. Mike is currently the offensive line coach at Florida.
Tommie Robinson: As the running backs coach at Texas, Tommie has worked his way through the ranks mentoring some of the best athletes in college football and the NFL. He’s an elite recruiter and motivator.
Here are a couple “up and coming” grinders who I think would make good coordinators and eventually may make excellent head coaches.
Will Plemons: Will has been a defensive line coach in the WAC and Big Sky, and spent the last three years coaching defense in the CFL, this season working for the Toronto Argonauts. Has great energy and enthusiasm and is a proven recruiter.
Tim Skipper: The Assistant Head Coach and linebackers coach at CSU, Skipper comes from a coaching family. His dad and brother are long-time college and NFL assistant coaches. Tim was an all-conference player and set tackling records leaders despite being the smallest middle linebacker in major college football. Since then, he’s been a defensive coordinator at Western New Mexico, Sacramento State and Fresno State, all places that require a grinder work ethic.
Lastly, it would be great to see Ed Orgeron get another head coaching opportunity. He learned a lot from his time at Ole Miss and his magical touch at USC in 2013 helped pull that team together after Lane Kiffin’s firing. He guided them a 6-1 Pac 12 record including a win over No. 5 Stanford.
A lot goes into the process for picking a head coach. Savvy ADs are one who can see through some of the noise of media, social media and donor phone calls to find those rare individuals who will not only be a good fit at their school, but bring the special skill set their situations require. In many of those cases, that takes a hard-working, no frills grinder.
Grinders Deserve a Shot
By Jill Baxter, Sports Agent and Attorney