As we approach February, all of the head coaching vacancies have been filled and so have (most of) the major assistant positions in Texas. Now that hiring season is largely done, things naturally shift toward the future. And with that comes speculation on who's next. Who's the newest hot-shot offensive guru that people want to be first on? What about the next Dave Aranda who's putting together a unique defense somewhere?
Well, as far as this state goes, there's a good indication of who those names are. Here's one name from each program to keep an eye on as the season rolls along that we wouldn't be surprised to see thrown around the rumor mill in 2024 and beyond. Keep in mind, these names aren't all young coaches nor would-be first-timers, just assistants on staffs now that would likely be tossed around during a future carousel.
Bobby Petrino – Texas A&M offensive coordinator
Let's start off saucy, right? Okay, for all of his…polarizations, Bobby Petrino is one of the top offensive minds from the last generation of college football and has a proven track record as a successful head coach. He was 34-17 at Arkansas before his unceremonious exit and is largely responsible for putting Louisville on the map as a football brand during his two stints.
If we see a turnaround from A&M’s putrid offense or Conner Weigman etches his name anywhere near the likes of Petrino’s former quarterbacks such as Lamar Jackson, Brian Brohm, Ryan Mallett or Tyler Wilson, the 61-year-old will certainly be back in head coaching cycles very soon. We are just six years out from him hoisting a Co-ACC title in the midst of Clemson's national title run.
Clayton Carlin – Sam Houston associate head coach and defensive coordinator
KC Keeler’s right-hand man has been in Huntsville for just over six seasons now. He coordinated one of the best units in the country during Sam Houston’s national title run during the 2021 spring season, ten players earned All-Southland honors during that run as well.
His defensive success also stems from prior to his time next to Keeler when he coached under Joe Moglia at Coastal Carolina once again boasting a Top 25 unit. He'll have his work cut out as Sam jumps to FBS but don't be surprised to see the Bearkats' defense be up to the challenge.
Doug Belk – Houston associate head coach and defensive coordinator
This time last year, Doug Belk’s name was deservedly on a rocket to the moon.
Houston was coming off a 12-2 season and the Coogs’ defense was 19th in the nation in points allowed and sixth in total yards allowed. Houston also allowed below 200 passing yards per game and Belk was looking like at the very least that he was in for a massive career move. In 2022, Belk’s defense was the primary reason behind the program’s marred 8-5 final season in the AAC with most of its big playmakers back from the previous year. That record may not seem terrible, but when the Coogs had aspirations of a New Years Six bowl with most of its stars back, it's nothing short of disappointment. Houston also let up 421.8 yards per game including over 278.7 passing yards per game.
Belk is still one of the better young coaches around the state, but this could be a massive year for his career trajectory as Houston enters the Big 12.
Drew Svoboda – North Texas associate head coach and special teams coordinator
Former Texas high school coaches are very trendy right now thanks to the successes of Joey McGuire and Jeff Traylor. Outside of one, no recent Texas high school coach has been as close to a national title as North Texas’ newest associate head coach. Drew Svoboda spent the past two seasons next to Nick Saban as Alabama’s senior special assistant to the head coach, the same position held by Gary Patterson now at Texas. There, he tailored game plans and stats analysis and inquired about high school talent, utilizing his Houston-area connections.
Prior to Alabama, he was at Rice as running backs coach for three seasons. But he cut his teeth as a head coach at Klein Collins for a decade where he posted nearly an 80 percent win percentage. Now taking on a bigger role, pending North Texas' success under Eric Morris, Svoboda could be a new name in the long list of high school coaches appearing on administrators' radars.
Also watch: Chris Gilbert - assistant head coach and tight ends coach
Jeff Grimes – Baylor offensive coordinator and tight ends coach
Jeff Grimes’ offense got arguably the biggest endorsement this past season thanks to Zach Wilson’s struggles in the NFL.
The BYU product looked unstoppable in the wide zone as a junior and Baylor won a Big 12 championship in his first season with a punishing run game. That's two stops now where Grimes has put together a reliable offense alongside offensive line coach Eric Mateos (hint hint) . However, last year, the Bears took a step back thanks to some regression from quarterback Blake Shapen. But towards the end of the season, playmakers like Richard Reese emerging gives Baylor some optimism going forward under Grimes. If Shapen takes a step forward and the run game remains consistent, Grimes’ name will be on plenty of radars.
Also watch: Shawn Bell - quarterbacks coach and Eric Mateos - offensive line coach
Joe Gillespie – TCU defensive coordinator and linebackers coach
Remember what I said about Svoboda being close to a national title? Well, this Joe Gillespie was the other one.
The man who found himself at the center of the CFB Playoff semifinal thanks to his 3-3-5 should see his name surface even more next season if TCU’s defense continues to improve. In 2021, the Horned Frogs were horrendous on that side of the ball and this past fall, TCU wasn’t lockdown by any means but were 16th in opposing completion percentage allowed (55.94) and improved their rushing defense after allowing 6.1 yards per carry in 2021 to 4.3 yards per attempt last year. A drastic improvement prior to Gillespie's arrival.
All of that doesn’t even mention his bonafides as a state-championship winning Texas high school football coach. Gillespie was the former head man at Stephenville and has a blueprint defensively to defend modern offenses. In the era of Traylor and McGuire, you aren’t going to find many others who stack up with his resume.
Joe Price – UTSA wide receivers coach
Jeff Traylor’s tree is going to grow branches quickly, it kind of already has. Former offensive coordinator Barry Lunney’s at Illinois. His replacement Will Stein just got hired at Oregon and former offensive line coach Matt Mattox was just nabbed by Purdue.
Even all of those aside, the name people should be watching is Joe Price. The former North Shore High School assistant started off as a director of player personnel at UTSA before being elevated to an on-field role last January as the teams wide receivers coach. Ask anyone around and he’s played as pivotal of a role as anyone in recruiting and building the Roadrunners into a Group of Five power.
With Traylor's name popping up for bigger jobs after UTSA's first C-USA title, Price should undoubtedly be in the mix for the head job if Traylor were to get hired away, which makes him a soon-to-be star in the profession.
Mack Leftwich – Texas State offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach
The youngest name on this list is the newest play-caller at Texas State. Although he may be one step more away from leading his own program, the 29-year-old coordinated the best offense in all of Division I college football last season at Incarnate Word in his first year as playcaller in which they advanced all the way to the NCAA FCS semifinals.
UIW quarterback Lindsey Scott Jr. was also named a finalist for the Walter Payton Award as the best player at the FCS level. He’s quickly risen through the ranks since joining Eric Morris’ staff as a graduate assistant before becoming quarterbacks coach with GJ Kinne promoting him to coordinator before the 2022 season. He also had a brief stint as the OC at Kyle Lehman High School. The former UTEP quarterback's exciting offense has a chance to put Texas State on the map in a way it hasn't been at the FBS level and if that happens, he's in for massive credit.
Marques Tuiasosopo – Rice offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach
People are going to regret letting Tuiasosopo slide under the radar. First glance at the numbers on the surface and some may be confused as to what Rice did well offensively. Digging deeper and following the team along this season will paint a different picture and show Tuiasosopo’s skillset alongside head coach Mike Bloomgren.
Rice struggled a lot of the season offensively thanks to turnovers and injury. The Owls started four quarterbacks and spent most of the season trying to find its playmakers. TJ McMahon and AJ Padgett eventually won out as the best options and put up respectable numbers, but where Bloomgreen and Tuiasosopo shone brightest were finding a reliable run game and explosive outside playmakers in Luke McCaffrey and Bradley Rozner at wideout. Both Cameron Montgomery and Juma Otaviano averaged over 5.5 yards per carry while Rozner and McCaffrey both had over 700 yards receiving. That ability to generate big plays and finally sustain drives helped Rice reach a bowl game for the first time since 2014.
With JT Daniels coming into the fold at quarterback, the Owls have a chance to take another step forward and if they do, particularly on offense, the former Rose Bowl MVP could be on the move.
Pete Kwiatkowski – Texas defensive coordinator and linebackers coach
One of the top defensive minds in college football shouldn’t need much of an introduction.
Kwiatkowski’s Longhorn defenses are starting to show why he was the linchpin behind Chris Petersen’s successful stint at Washington. Texas was 12th in the nation in opposing points per play and 14th in yards per pass.
His first season in Austin was a bit of a hiccup and created plenty of discussion heading into Steve Sarkisian's second season. But with added talent and speed to the roster, highlighted by a shutout win over Oklahoma, Kwiatkowski silenced doubters. Texas is poised for a massive final season in the Big 12 and don’t be surprised if the 56-year-old’s name gets thrown around as a possible head man elsewhere following yet another successful run calling a defense.
Scotty O’Hara – UTEP passing game coordinator and receivers coach
One look at the receiving talent that’s come through UTEP is enough to back O’Hara’s ability as a developer. Soon we'll likely get to see his skills as a coordinator.
UTEP’s offenses have hinged heavily on big chunk-plays through the air over the past two seasons. In 2021, Jacob Cowing and Justin Garrett were two of the best receivers in the nation with Cowing eventually moving to Arizona and producing a 1,000-yard season further proving his talent. This past year, Tyrin Smith broke out with over 1,000 yards and Reynaldo Flores emerged as a secondary threat in the offense too. With Smith off to Texas A&M, UTEP will once again have to figure out where its outside playmakers will come from, but O'Hara's track record is a good sign.
O’Hara is a fastly rising assistant in Texas and should be on people’s radars very soon if not already.
Also watch: Barrick Nealy - assistant head coach and running backs coach
Scott Symons – SMU defensive coordinator
Similarly to Belk, Symons is in for a pivotal season with SMU being one of the Big Fish left in the new-look AAC. Symons’ defenses at Liberty were consistently one of the best in the Group of Five while also hovering around Top 20 in most metrics. But SMU’s defense last season was by far the biggest issue in an otherwise successful first season under Rhett Lashlee ranking in the 100s in nearly every stat bottoming out at 123rd in opposing rushing yards per game (212.8 yards).
But SMU’s added a ton of help via the transfer portal to that side of the ball and Symons will have a better opportunity to showcase his prowess this season.
Zach Kittley – Texas Tech offensive coordinator and quarterback coach
One of the fastest rising assistants in college football passed his second big test last season back in Lubbock. Kittley took the air raid concepts that he ran at Houston Christian and Western Kentucky back home to Texas Tech under Joey McGuire and the Red Raider faithful are all over it. His profile rose following the development of Bailey Zappe and the pair's seamless domination of the Group of Five in 2021 when they both made the jump from HCU to WKU and nearly brought the Hilltoppers a conference championship.
The Abilene native notably rotated three starting quarterbacks over the course of the season at Tech due to injury and spearheaded the Red Raiders’ best season in the Big 12 since the Mike Leach era, with all three QBs having varying degrees of success.
Tech’s ability to capably produce under Tyler Shough, Donovan Smith and Behren Morton, three quarterbacks with three different skillsets, shows Kittley’s versatility as a play-caller and warrants head coaching looks if the Red Raiders take another step forward.
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