Editor's note: This is the seventh of a 10-part summer series rating the top D-I college football coaches in the country. From position coaches to head coach, Dennis Dodd and you, the community, will compile an All-Star team of the nation's top 10 coaches. Next up: Offensive coordinators. Vote now!
Brian Cabral, Colorado
Brian Cabral is supposed to be about linebackers. The position defines his career. But how do you limit a man's livelihood to just a position?
|Cabral won a Super Bowl with the Chicago Bears (1985) and a title in Colorado (1990). (Provided to CBSSports.com)|
But he's also a mentor to thousands of Polynesian kids who want to play football in the States. Cabral was born in Ft. Benning, Ga. but grew up in Hawaii. His heritage is definitely Polynesian. His dad, Walter, was the first Hawaiian to play at Notre Dame. Brian has recruited Samoa extensively and is somewhat of an icon in the islands where he grew up. He continues to work in the offseason all-Polynesian camps in the U.S.
"My experience is they're the most popular people on the team," Cabral once said of Polynesians. "They are easy-going but at the same time very passionate. It's a game that they enjoy. It's a game that fits their nature."
Colorado has recruited its share of kids from the South Pacific but for Cabral, it is more than recruits. For a while the 51-year-old was the glue that held the program together. He was named interim coach for a period in 2004 during the Colorado recruiting scandal that eventually cost Gary Barnett his job. In the middle of the scandal, Cabral was able to recruit Dizon out of Hawaii. The linebacker stuck around and finished 2007 as an All-American and Butkus runner-up.
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How many assistants are able to survive that and four head coaches? Dan Hawkins is boss No. 4 on a list that has included Bill McCartney, Rick Neuheisel and Gary Barnett.
"They were all different, all different personalities," Cabral said. "I love each one of them because of what I learned from them. I'm the benefactor. I've been with four different guys."
Cabral has been around so long that at one point five years ago, he was commissioned to pick an all-Cabral team. Why not? He can count 1994 Heisman Trophy winner Rashaan Salaam among his recruits.
The next step might be up to head coach. But where? It's possible that no current assistant has meant more to a program. No assistant in any sport has been at CU longer. Cabral is beginning his 19th season. What's the rush?
Five others to consider:
|Pos.||Dennis Dodd||Community Users|
|HC||Pete Carroll, USC||Pete Carroll|
|DC||Jim Heacock, Ohio State||Tom Bradley, Penn State|
|OC||Norm Chow, UCLA||Norm Chow|
|LB||Brian Cabral, Colorado||Luke Fickell, Ohio St.|
|OL||Pat Ruel, USC||Hugh Nall, Auburn|
|DL||Rodney Garner, Georgia||John Blake, N. Carolina|
|DB||Chuck Heater, Florida||Bobby Jack Wright, Okla.|
|RB||Cale Gundy, Oklahoma||Eddie Gran, Auburn|
|WR||Erik Campbell, Iowa||Andy Hill, Missouri|
|TE||Bruce Walker, Missouri||Bruce Walker|
Luke Fickell, Ohio State: Native of Columbus. Former Buckeye. One Butkus Award winner, one Nagurski winner from his crew. Not a bad resume for a guy still in his 30s. All-American James Laurinaitis won the Nagurski (2006) and Butkus (2007). Others who have prospered under Fickell include A.J. Hawk, Bobby Carpenter and Larry Grant. Fickell is hot, trendy and headed for a head coaching job -- soon.
Ken Norton Jr., USC: It just seems like USC became great at linebacker again when Norton arrived as a grad assistant in 2004. By the end of 2009 draft, at least six USC linebackers taught by Norton could at least have gotten to NFL camps. All-American Keith Rivers was drafted ninth overall this year by the Bengals. Rey Maualuga was a freshman All-American in 2005 and a preseason All-American this season. Going into '08, the Trojans have what is being called the best unit in the nation (Maualuga, Brian Cushing, Kaluka Maiava). Not bad for a former UCLA 'backer.
Brock Spack, Purdue: The Boiler's defensive coordinator is known just as well for his position responsibility. At one point, Spack had coached five of the six Purdue linebackers on NFL two-deep rosters. In 2008, he returns to linebackers, the position he coached from 1997-2005. The 2002 Purdue defense led the Big Ten in total defense. Seven members of the 2003 defense were drafted.
Kevin Steele, Alabama: An unfortunate four-year detour as Baylor head coach (9-36 from 1999-2000) hasn't stained Steele's resume. This former national recruiter of the year (rivals.com, 2005) has coached scores of great linebackers at Nebraska, Florida State and the NFL. Where Steele goes, great things follow. Nebraska won a national championship while Steele coached linebackers there from 1989-94. The Carolina Panthers got to the 1996 NFC championship game in Steele's second season.
Ron Vanderlinden, Penn State: Linebacker U. has prospered under Vanderlinden. How do Dan Connor, Paul Posluszny and Sean Lee sound? Connor is Penn State's career tackle leader. Posluszny is one of the most inspirational players in school history as a two-time Bednarik Award winner (nation's best defender). Lee, the next great one, will miss this season with a knee injury but his so valuable he already has been named a team captain. While at Northwestern, Vanderlinden coached Pat Fitzgerald, the only other two-time Bednarik winner. The former Maryland head coach won a national championship as a Colorado assistant in 1990.