Defensive coordinators are coaches responsible for a gridiron football/American football team’s defence. This generally means that the offensive coordinator and the defensive coordinator represent the second level of a team’s command structure under the head coach. The primary role of this position is managing the roster of defensive players, overseeing the assistant coaches, developing the defensive game plan, and calling plays for the defence during the game. This job involves managing multiple assistant coaches, each of whom is responsible for various defensive positions on the team (such as the defensive line, linebackers, or defensive backs).
The job of a defensive coordinator is mostly similar at the collegiate and professional level, although college coaches are more involved in the recruitment process. Furthermore, a successful defensive coordinator is often a stepping stone to the position of head coach. Moreover, most of the major sports with a strong delineation between offensive and defensive positions use similar coaching positions. So, in America, where football is a wildly popular sport, such positions are very valuable, and suitable coaches are chosen accordingly.
Following are some of the best college defensive coordinators in American college football:
Greg Mattison is an American football coach born on November 15, 1949. He is also a former player who is currently the co-defensive coordinator for the Ohio State Buckeyes team. Furthermore, he is known for having served for eleven years at Michigan in various defensive coaching positions and even as a co-defensive coordinator/defensive line coach for the University of Florida for three years. Also, his experience includes the 2006 BCS National Championship season.
Mattison served as co-coordinator of the defence at Florida with Charlie Strong. Strong has also served as Linebackers coach and Head Coach while Mattison pulled double duty working as the defensive line coach. During that time, he was a part of a successful defence team, and that team went overall 31-8 in games played. Along with that, they also won a national championship by beating Ohio State 41-14 in the BCS Championship game in 2006.
Todd Grantham is an American football coach serving as defensive coordinator at the University of Florida since November 29, 2017. Grantham, born in Pulaski, Virginia, attended nearby Virginia Tech from 1984 to 1988, where he played for Coach Frank Beamer in his first season as head coach. He graduated in 1988 with a Bachelors of Arts in Sports Management, and he earned All-American honours his senior year at tackle. Grantham was hired by Indianapolis Colts (1999–2001) to coach the defensive line. His strategy was one of the catalysts for the biggest turnaround in league history.
Later, he moved on to the newly formed Houston Texans (2002–2004) by joining the staff of former Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator and inaugural Carolina Panthers head coach Dom Capers. He worked for Cleveland Browns (2005–2007), Dallas Cowboys (2008–2009), Georgia Bulldogs (2010–2013), Louisville Cardinals (2014–2016), Mississippi State Bulldogs (2017), and now works as defensive coordinator for Florida Gators (2018-present).
Robert Eugene “Bud” Foster Jr. is a retired American college former player and football coach. He received the Frank Broyles Award during the 2006 season, and this award is annually given to the top assistant coach in college football. Foster’s Hokie defences led the nation in total defence, and he is regarded as one of the best defensive coordinators in American college football. In 2019, Foster announced he was retiring at the end of the 2019 season. Foster has coached over fifty players since his first coaching position at Virginia Tech in 1987. These players were drafted in the NFL and include the first-round draft picks DeAngelo Hall, Kyle Fuller, Tremaine Edmunds and Terrell Edmunds; Pro Bowlers Hall, Brandon Flowers and Kam Chancellor and Super Bowl champion Chancellor, Roger Brown, Tyronne Drakeford, Cornell Brown, Pierson Prioleau and Kendall Fuller. Foster also coached former All-Americans John Engelberger, Anthony Midget, Corey Moore, Ben Taylor, Ronyell Whitaker, David Pugh, Willie Pile, Darryl Tapp, Jimmy Williams and Xavier Adibi.
Kirby Smart is a football coach and a former player. Smart has been the current head football coach of the University of Georgia since 2016. His coaching career started with the University of Georgia in 1999 when he was hired as an administrative assistant. Later, he moved to Valdosta State, where he spent one season as defensive backs coach before being promoted to defensive coordinator for the 2001 season. Smart worked as a graduate assistant from 2002 to 2003 at Florida State while simultaneously pursuing a master’s degree. He received his degree from FSU in 2003 and spent one season as defensive backs coach at LSU under head coach Nick Saban in 2004. Smart followed Saban to the University of Alabama in 20007 and was hired as an assistant coach there and later promoted to defensive coordinator. He was awarded the Broyles Award as the nation’s best assistant coach and became the first Alabama assistant coach to win the award.
John Chavis is an American Football Coach with a nickname, “The Chief”, and he has most recently served as defensive coordinator for the Arkansas Razorbacks football team. Also, he is a former defensive coordinator, linebacker coach, and associate head coach at the Tennessee Volunteers football, LSU Tigers football, and Texas A&M Aggies football programs. John Chavis has been a defensive coordinator at Alabama A&M, a historically Black university where he led the defence to the best defensive record in the nation. In 1989, Chavis returned to Tennessee as defensive linebackers and line coach under his former college coach, Johnny Majors. He was promoted to defensive coordinator under Majors’ successor, Phillip Fulmer, in 1995. Over the years, he has worked in different places. However, in January 2018, Chavis was hired to be the defensive coordinator for the Arkansas Razorbacks under new head coach Chad Morris and later terminated for convenience following the 2019 season with a $1.25 million buyout.
Thomas Brent Venables is a well-known American college football coach who currently works for Clemson Tigers football. He coached at the University of Oklahoma from 1999 to 2011, where he served as associate head coach, defensive coordinator and linebackers coach for the Sooners under head coach Bob Stoops. Venables had experience coaching with Stoops at Kansas State and was brought to Oklahoma by Stoops. He coached the linebackers from 1996 to 1998 and was also the Defensive Run Game Coordinator in 1998. After that, he served as a graduate assistant from 1993 to 1995. In 2006, he was one of five finalists for the Broyles Award for the nation’s top assistant coach. In 2012, it was announced that Mike Stoops would be returning to Oklahoma to resume his position that he had until 2004. So, Venables accepted the position of defensive coordinator at Clemson. He had previously reported being a candidate for the head coaching position at a number of schools, including Miami, Kansas, Kansas State, Clemson and Texas Tech.
David Christopher Aranda, an American football coach, is currently the head coach at Baylor University. He served as the defensive coordinator at LSU, Wisconsin, Utah State, Hawaii, Delta State, and Cal Lutheran. His career as a coach started when he retired from playing football due to injuries and became an assistant coach at Redlands High in 1995. Aranda attended California Lutheran University, and as an undergraduate, he was the roommate of Tom Herman and was the linebackers coach for Cal Lutheran Kingsmen football from 1996 to 1999. Aranda graduated in 1999 with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy. When he enrolled in graduate school at Texas Tech University, he also served as a graduate assistant for Texas Tech Red Raiders football from 2000 to 2002 under Mike Leach. Over the year, he had different positions and changes in his late. However, in 2016, it was announced that Aranda was hired to replace Kevin Steele as defensive coordinator for the LSU Tigers. In 2018, he was given a new contract in response to several attempts by Texas A&M to hire Aranda. In 2020, Aranda was named the head coach at Baylor University, replacing Matt Rhule, who left to become the head coach of the Carolina Panthers.
Lorenzo Ward, an American football coach, was born on April 26, 1967, and he is currently the defensive coordinator at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, a position he has held since the 2019 season. Ward has served as the interim head football coach at the University of Louisville for the final two games of the 2018 season following the firing of Bobby Petrino. Ward’s first job involved his alma mater, where he worked as a graduate assistant during the Tide’s 1991 season and later, he worked for the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga, from 1994 to 1998. In 1999, Ward was hired by Frank Beamer to join Virginia Tech’s coach staff, where he coached the secondary. Here he had five All-Big East players and one all-ACC player, including DeAngelo Hall. Ward joined the Oakland Raiders for 2006 before rejoining the college ranks at Arkansas (2008) and then as defensive coordinator at South Carolina from 2009 to 2015 under Steve Spurrier. At South Carolina, Ward was known for coaching Jadeveon Clowney.
Bob Shoop, an American football coach and former player, currently serves as an off-field defensive analyst for the University of Miami. Shoop had served as defensive coordinator at Mississippi State, Tennessee, Penn State, and Vanderbilt. Shoop served as the head football coach from 2003 to 2005 at Columbia University. He was hired with hopes of turning around a struggling program, but his team went without wins in the Ivy League, and he never finished above 6th place. Shoop served as the defensive coordinator at William & Mary from 2007 to 2010. He was named as the defensive coordinator for the Vanderbilt Commodores in 2011 under new head coach James Franklin. Shoop followed Franklin to Penn State for the beginning of the 2014 season, and in 2016 he was announced as the defensive coordinator for the Tennessee Volunteers. He worked for Mississippi State and Michigan. In 2021, Shoop was hired by Miami to serve as an off-field defensive analyst.
Justin Draper Wilcox, an American football coach and former player, was born on November 12, 1976. Since 2017, he is working as the head football coach at the University of California, Berkeley. He started his career as a college football coach in 2001 as a graduate assistant at Boise State under a new head coach Dan Hawkins. After two seasons, he left for the Bay Area to coach the linebackers at California under head coach Jeff Tedford. Three seasons later, he returned to Boise State in 2006 as the defensive coordinator under a new head coach, Chris Petersen. In his four years working in Boise State, the teams lost only four games with a 49–4 (.925) record, and his defences were statistically among the highest-rated in the nation. Wilcox accepted the defensive coordinator job at Tennessee following the 2009 season under new head coach Derek Dooley. In 2017, Wilcox was introduced as the 34th head coach of the California Golden Bears, and they won against North Carolina, Ole Miss, and received #8 Washington State, and three losses by three points or fewer.