-- It's easy to identify the next wave of offensive coaches in college football. They're the ones landing head-coaching jobs.
From Houston's Tom Herman to SMU's Chad Morris to Colorado State's Mike Bobo, offense is in around the country. Even casual fans might know the hashtag #StittHappens, a nod to new Montana coach Bob Stitt and his fly sweep brilliance.
It's tougher to identify the names to know on defense. Not the Chavises or Muschamps or Fosters or Smarts. They're made men. The challenge is locating lesser-known coaches crafting defenses to keep pace with offenses operating faster and scoring more than ever. These are the coaches excelling in the right categories, which have changed in recent years because of the offensive surge.
Stumped? You're not alone. Several Power 5 coaches surveyed for this story struggled to list key names on the defensive side.
But we kept digging and came up with a list to file away entering the 2015 season.
Josh Conklin, defensive coordinator, Pittsburgh
After overseeing arguably the nation's best defense the past three seasons at Michigan State, Pat Narduzzi set a high bar for his defensive staff at Pitt. Narduzzi's decision to hire a 36-year-old defensive coordinator from a 4-8 Florida International team might have raised some eyebrows, but not when you look closer at what Conklin did.
Despite FIU's offensive struggles, Conklin's defense led the nation in fumble recoveries (19) and ranked in the top 10 in defensive touchdowns (6), total takeaways (33) and turnover margin. FIU also finished 13th nationally in red zone touchdown percentage against and 10th in goal-to-go touchdown percentage against.
Conklin also knew the Cover 4 system Narduzzi used at Michigan State and had employed some of the same zone pressures at FIU.
"It was important for me to get somebody who knew what we liked to do and somebody who was willing to change and do what we'd done," Narduzzi said. "He doesn't know it all yet, neither do I, but he has a similar system and wants to continue to get better. He's a very intelligent guy. He's a great teacher, a great motivator and he's a great secondary coach."
Chris Klieman, head coach, North Dakota State
Everyone knows the adage about defense and championships, and North Dakota State has won four consecutive FCS national titles behind a ball-control offense and a disciplined, efficient defense. Klieman, the Bison defensive coordinator for the 2012 and 2013 championships and the head coach for last season's title, keeps his zone-heavy scheme simple but stresses positioning. Missed tackles are going to happen, especially against up-tempo offenses that get the ball in space.
It's what happens next that matters most.
"Everybody understands their leverage angles and where they can miss if they do miss a tackle," Klieman said. "We're trying to keep leverage on the football at all times. If we keep our rules and principles, you know you're the outside fitter, you know you're the B gap player, you're the flat player, if everybody knows their jobs and leverage principles, you can eliminate big plays.
"As offenses are trying to get 85 and 90 plays off, defensively, you have to keep the ball in front and, more importantly, keep leverage."
NDSU finished third in the FCS in points allowed last season and also excelled in takeaways (28) and on third down (32.1 percent converted).
Barry Odom, defensive coordinator, Missouri
Odom returns to his alma mater, where he worked on the football staff from 2003-11, after doing a masterful job with Memphis' defense. Memphis ranked in the top 10 nationally in yards per play allowed and in the top 20 in red zone efficiency, goal line efficiency, points allowed and adjusted QBR.
After losing defensive coordinator Dave Steckel to Missouri State, Mizzou coach Gary Pinkel wanted continuity on defense and found it in Odom, whom he closely observed while Odom led Memphis' defense. Several FBS coaches noted Odom's knack for mixing up looks with his base 3-4 scheme. Pinkel noticed, too, seeing the growth in Odom both as a leader and as a tactician during his time away.
"Coordinating is a whole different level, you're like the head coach of the defense," Pinkel said. "The scheme was very appealing, very similar to ours but they did some other things. Being able to get in different personnel sets and depend on the strengths of personnel, defensive line, linebacker, it allowed us scheme-wise to be a little bit more creative.
"The multiplicity of the 30 defense, it was intriguing and there could be value in different years with different circumstances and personnel."
Todd Orlando, defensive coordinator, Houston
Tom Herman knew when he landed his first head-coaching job, he wanted to hire a defensive coordinator who ran an attacking 3-4. It's the scheme Herman most struggled with as an offensive coordinator.
Herman had been tracking Orlando for several years and hired him after Orlando led a Utah State defense that ranked third nationally in sacks and in the top 15 in yards per play allowed, yards per rush allowed and points allowed. His 2013 defense finished second nationally in red zone touchdown percentage allowed and ranked sixth in three-and-outs forced. The Aggies were the only defense not to allow a run of longer than 10 yards in 2013.
Herman was most impressed that Utah State finished in the top 10 in tackles for loss in each of Orlando's two seasons as coordinator.
"It's so important when you can keep an offense off schedule and tackle them behind the chains," Herman said. "It's usually a drive-staller, and his teams were notorious for doing that. To be able to bring guys from various places but still only create a four- or five-man rush, you don't have to sell the farm to get a decent pass rush.
"Watching his defenses on film, it aligned exactly to what I envisioned."
Phil Snow, defensive coordinator, Temple
Coaches seeking a blueprint on how to build a stifling defense in the tempo/spread era should check out Temple last season. The Owls excelled in the most important categories to combat the spread: red zone defense (first nationally), goal line defense (tied for sixth), takeaways (tied for 11th), defensive touchdowns (tied for second), points per drive allowed (fifth) and yards per play allowed (12th). Temple ranked seventh nationally in percentage of plays allowed gaining more than 10 yards (16.1).
Snow, at his fifth FBS post as defensive coordinator, has evolved his scheme to become more multiple and detailed. The coaches threw the entire package at players in 2013, knowing they would struggle, but the light went on last fall.
"You have to give a lot of looks," Temple coach Matt Rhule said. "Even versus the fast no huddle, the run-pass option, he has a lot of detail. When our players go out and see the fast no-huddle, we're hopeful they don't panic. Phil talks about eliminating the big plays. Don't give up 150 yards in five plays. That's what spread, no-huddle has done.
"You're so exhausted on defense that you're mentally not tough enough. The biggest thing is just to be detailed."
Five more names to know
Tom Allen, defensive coordinator, South Florida: Everyone knows about the former high school coaches revolutionizing offense in college football. Allen could do the same on defense after elevating through the prep ranks in Florida and Indiana. As linebackers coach at Ole Miss, he helped propel the "Landshark" defense that surrendered a nation-low 18 touchdowns last season, ranked fifth in red zone touchdown percentage against and 12th in takeaways (28).
Scott Boone, defensive coordinator, Nevada: The Wolf Pack defense improved significantly in Boone's first season as coordinator, cutting its scoring average allowed by a touchdown from the 2013 season. Boone's aggressive scheme helped Nevada rank 11th nationally in takeaways. Boone has solid roots after a successful run as a coordinator for William & Mary in the Colonial Athletic Association, a league that has produced FBS defensive coordinators such as Penn State's Bob Shoop and Arkansas' Robb Smith.
David Gibbs, defensive coordinator, Texas Tech: Gibbs brings an extensive résumé to Lubbock after orchestrating a Houston defense that led the nation in takeaways (43) in 2013 and trimmed its points allowed total by more than two touchdowns from the previous season. The Cougars were one of only eight teams to finish in the top 20 nationally in points allowed in each of the past two years. Houston also finished in the top 25 nationally in points per possession allowed in both seasons.
Ron Roberts, head coach, Southeast Louisiana: Several FBS coaches praised Roberts' work, including Wisconsin defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, who cut his teeth under Roberts at Delta State. Roberts uses an attacking, multilayered scheme built around a three-man front. Southeast Louisiana's defense ranked in the top 15 of the FCS last season in red zone defense, takeaways, points allowed and third-down percentage allowed.
Tyson Summers, defensive coordinator, Colorado State: New Colorado State coach Mike Bobo scored a coup in hiring Summers, whom several FBS coaches cited as a rising star. Summers excelled in his lone season as UCF's defensive coordinator, guiding a unit that ranked in the top 10 in points allowed, rush yards allowed and red zone scoring percentage allowed. UCF ranked fourth nationally in yards per play allowed (4.47) and percentage of plays for zero or negative yards (42).