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August 24, 2007

Top coordinators settle in to new homes

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It was a good year to be a rookie coordinator in 2006.

In their first seasons on the job, Michigan's Ron English and Arkansas' Gus Malzahn earned Rivals.com coordinator of the year honors on their respective sides of the ball.

In the process, both had to beat out other top-notch first-year candidates.

English was the pick in a close contest that also included UCLA defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker, who orchestrated one of the best defensive turnarounds in the country last year.

Hardly a rookie coordinator - but in his first year back in Knoxville - Tennessee offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe made a compelling case for being the SEC's top assistant by reviving the career of Erik Ainge.

Oklahoma's Kevin Wilson shared offensive coordinator duties with Chuck Long before flying solo in 2006 and guiding the Sooners offense through quarterback uncertainty and a serious injury to Adrian Peterson.

Fans often look at head coaches as the ones to turn around a program, but often it can be a tweak in the coaching staff.

Rivals.com will give you a look at the top coordinators looking to make a difference in their first seasons on the job.

The top coordinators with new homes
1. Jimbo Fisher, Florida State
Florida State boosters will pay $537,000 to rid themselves of Jeff Bowden. The Seminoles will be happy if they have to pay another $400,000 this year if new coordinator Jimbo Fisher meets all of his performance-based incentives. In his first year, Fisher is charged with reviving an offense that has been stagnant since Mark Richt left for Georgia. If Fisher can get more out of Drew Weatherford and Xavier Lee, his status as a quarterback guru will be cemented. Not to be overlooked are the additions of Rick Trickett (offensive line), Lawrence Dawsey (wide receivers) and Dexter Carter (running backs) to the offensive staff.
2. Gary Crowton, LSU
LSU is hoping Fisher's replacement will have an immediate impact. The Tigers led the SEC in yards per game and points per game last season. LSU also had the services of the NFL's No. 1 overall pick, JaMarcus Russell. Crowton, whose offenses at Louisiana Tech, BYU and Oregon put up staggering numbers, will bring more spread elements to the Bayou. At his last stop, Oregon finished in the top 10 in yards per game but didn't always capitalize because of a minus-10 turnover margin.
3. Corwin Brown, Notre Dame
Charlie Weis has revived the Notre Dame offense, but his defenses in South Bend have been dismal. To remedy the problem, he went to the same coaching tree from which he came. Brown played for Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick with the Jets before beginning his career as an assistant coach. He has worked for coaches like Al Groh, Herman Edwards and Eric Mangini. Like Parcells and Belichick, Brown favors the 3-4 defense. However, he will have to deal with depth issues in his first season at Notre Dame.
4. Major Applewhite, Alabama
Alabama has handed the reins of its offense to a 29-year-old with one year of coordinating experience on his résumé. In his single season as Rice's offensive coordinator, Applewhite turned little-known receiver Jarett Dillard into a Biletnikoff Award finalist and helped Rice to its first bowl game since 1961. Applewhite has weapons at his disposal in the passing game with quarterback John Parker Wilson and receivers D.J. Hall and Keith Brown. His offense will mix in more three-receiver sets and shotgun formations.
5. Jay Norvell, UCLA
Norvell is the fourth offensive coordinator at UCLA since Karl Dorrell arrived in 2003. After DeWayne Walker turned the defense around last year, UCLA is looking for Norvell to do the same for an offense that ranked seventh in the Pac-10. Nebraska was in the top 20 nationally in scoring and total offense last season, and Huskers quarterback Zac Taylor was the Big 12's offensive player of the year. UCLA will run an offense similar to the one the Bruins ran last year, but Norvell hopes to improve the unit's execution.
6. Patrick Nix, Miami
Miami's defense has been nearly as intimidating as it was in years past, but the offense has had a bit of a drought. Nix is no stranger to working with a game-breaking playmaker after coaching Calvin Johnson at Georgia Tech. Out of Chan Gailey's shadow, Nix now hopes for more leeway to run an offense with running backs Javarris James and Graig Cooper. However, Nix must first sort out the quarterback situation.
7. Sonny Dykes, Arizona
Mike Stoops has built respectable defenses in Tucson but has yet to find an offense to match. The Wildcats finished ninth in the Pac-10 in rushing, passing, scoring and total offense last year. To remedy this, Stoops turned Dykes, an assistant from Texas Tech's high-powered passing attack. In a more pass-oriented offense, the focus will be on junior quarterback Willie Tuitama - who has struggled since his 2005 breakout season.
8. David Lee, Arkansas
Arkansas' quarterback of the future is playing at USC – along with the Razorbacks' wide receiver of the future. Lucky for Lee, he has the running back of the present in Darren McFadden. The Razorbacks rely heavily on McFadden and Felix Jones, but will need to finish better than 108th nationally in passing to contend in the SEC. Lee helped develop quarterback Tony Romo with the Dallas Cowboys last year. In his first stint with the Hogs, Lee also worked with QB Matt Jones. Arkansas will look for Lee to be a teacher for Casey Dick, who ended last season as the starting quarterback ahead of the departed Mitch Mustain.
9. Steve Logan, Boston College
Tom O'Brien was consistent in Boston, but not necessarily imaginative. Logan should change that. He comes to Boston College from NFL Europe and brings with him a strong college résumé. Logan ran a wide-open offense and sent Jeff Blake and David Garrard to the NFL during his 10-year stint at East Carolina. He'll have perhaps his best quarterback prospect in his career in B.C. quarterback Matt Ryan.
10. Chip Kelly, Oregon
Kelly comes to Oregon from Division I-AA New Hampshire, where his high-flying offense averaged at least 400 yards per game in seven of the last eight seasons. Kelly brings with him many of the same concepts found in Mike Bellotti's spread offense. The Ducks put up big numbers last year (422.9 yards per game) but struggled with turnovers. Kelly will look to get the most out of running back Jonathan Stewart and quarterback Dennis Dixon. The two skill-position standouts haven't played up to their potential.
Others to watch:
Offense: Steve Sarkisian, USC; John McNulty, Rutgers; Mike Bobo, Georgia; John Bond, Georgia Tech.
Defense: Tim Beckman, Oklahoma State; Steve Brown, Kentucky; Greg McMackin, Hawaii; Ed Warriner, Kansas; Mike Archer, N.C. State.

David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dfox@rivals.com.
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