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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

Need to Know

Key New Defensive Coordinator Hires

When a new coordinator comes into town, it often means a return to the drawing board.

As sure as the leaves change color in the fall, as sure as Our Dear Reader will shoot 38 under-par playing 18 holes of golf, as sure as the B.C.S. disappoints: every year brings us a new crop of offensive and defensive coordinators on the F.B.S. level. Some spots open up as a few lucky coordinators get the chance to run their own program, and some open up because a coordinator takes the fall for a team’s lack of production on his side of the ball. This coming season is no different, as each major conference contains at least one team installing new offensive or defensive schemes concocted by its newly hired coordinators. Want to know a few new defensive coordinators to watch among the B.C.S. conferences? Don’t forget your whistle.

Defensive Coordinators

Mark Stoops, Florida State One of the three Stoops brothers coaching in the F.B.S., Mark Stoops takes over for longtime Florida State defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews, whose successful career ended with a poor performance in 2009. As Jimbo Fisher’s lead assistant, Stoops will be charged with bringing back the fast, athletic and aggressive defenses that were the hallmark of the Florida State program for the better part of two decades.

Stoops arrives in Tallahassee from Arizona, where he led the Wildcats — coached by his brother, Mike — to a top 25 finish in total defense in 2009. He’ll be given more rein in game-planning and play-calling with the Seminoles, which was at least part of a draw strong enough to convince him to leave Arizona. I think Stoops will be a good fit in Tallahassee; his Arizona defenses at least somewhat resembled the F.S.U. defense of old, especially on the defensive line, and that should dovetail well with the talent that was left for him by the previous staff.

Mark Snyder, South Florida The former head coach at Marshall from 2005-9, Mark Snyder will be calling the defensive shots for Skip Holtz at South Florida in 2010. One of the more highly regarded defensive minds in college football, Snyder was at his best under Jim Tressel at Ohio State, where he coached from 2001 until he left to take the position with the Thundering Herd. With the Buckeyes, Snyder was responsible for the stingy defenses that peaked with the 2002 team that finished second nationally in scoring en route to the national title. While his defenses at Marshall were more pedestrian, the talent base in South Florida should allow Snyder to put together units that should hold up well in the Big East.

Carl Torbush, Kansas A two-time head coach in the F.B.S., most notably at North Carolina, Carl Torbush take charge of the Kansas defense under first-year head coach Turner Gill.  It’s not an easy spot to be in; Kansas had a hard time stopping anyone a season ago, putting the team in the unfortunate predicament of merely outscoring the opposition. It didn’t work very well. When Kansas was on its way to the Orange Bowl in 2007, the Jayhawks matched a high-powered offense with an opportunistic and physical defense. The defense really lost its way over the past two seasons: 28.6 points per game combined, as opposed to only 16.4 points allowed per game in 2007.

So in comes Torbush, with his mixed history of success at some major F.B.S. programs. Take close note of his history in the Big 12: hired in 2002 as part of Dennis Franchione’s first staff at Texas A&M, Torbush was the architect of some of the worst defenses in that program’s proud history. In 2005, his final season with the Aggies, the Torbush-led Wrecking Cred allowed 465 points: then a school record, and only 20 points less than the R.C. Slocum-led Aggies allowed from 1992-94. Wow. The year after Torbush left, the Aggies moved from 94th nationally in scoring defense to 44th. Correlation? It’s difficult to think otherwise. So it remains to be seen what level of success the Jayhawks will have on defense in 2010.

Monte Kiffin, U.S.C. Perhaps the most famous defensive mind of his generation — maybe any generation, for that matter — Monte Kiffin enters his first year as the defensive coordinator for the Trojans, following his son Lane across country from Tennessee after a single season in Knoxville. It would be difficult to imagine a better situation for a new coordinator than the one Kiffin finds himself in with U.S.C.: to say he’ll have a stocked cupboard to work with might be an understatement. Kiffin will have plenty of blue-chip talent to fit into his scheme, and given the performance of what had been a much maligned Tennessee defensive under his stewardship last season, I think it’s going to be fun to watch things evolve in Los Angeles this fall. It will be interesting to see how Kiffin adjusts to facing the type of offense that live in the Pac-10. Unlike the SEC, where most teams are employing more traditional attacks, the Pac-10 will feature a healthy mix of spread philosophies (Oregon and Arizona), traditional offenses (California and Stanford) and a few in between.

Vic Fangio, Stanford Vic Fangio arrives at Stanford after spending the past four years coaching in the N.F.L. for the Baltimore Ravens, the last two years under John Harbaugh. In fact, Fangio has spent the last 24 seasons on the professional ranks, a period that included defensive coordinator roles for the Panthers, Colts and Texans. In hiring a veteran like Fangio, Stanford is doing its best to have a defense that rivals its already top-level offense; If Fangio can turn the Cardinal defense into a productive and stingy unit, there’s no question that the Cardinal will again find themselves in the Pac-10 championship hunt.

Al Groh, Georgia Tech One thing that Al Groh’s teams at Virginia shared — for the most part, at least — was a stout, well-coached defense. There’s no question that the Cavaliers struggled mightily on the offensive side of the ball during the majority of the Groh era, and this lack of offensive production eventually cost Al Groh his job following last season. It wasn’t long after Groh had gotten his walking papers that Paul Johnson tapped him to be the new defensive coordinator for the Yellow Jackets, taking over for the pink-slipped Dave Wommack. Wommack’s charges finished ranked 54th in the nation in total defense as well as 56th in scoring defense in 2009 — hardly the stuff of nightmares — but Johnson felt like a change was needed, and certainly felt that Al Groh and his 3-4 defense would be a massive upgrade.

How did Virginia’s defenses fare under Groh? Virginia’s average ranking over the past five years in scoring defense and total defense was 37th and 39th, respectively. Although the 3-4 defense has long been popular on the N.F.L. ranks, very few college teams attempt to run the scheme due to its complexity. The 3-4 can work on the college ranks, however, as Groh illustrated with the Cavaliers. It can also be easier, in a sense, to land defensive players for the system: while landing a recruit best-suited for the nose tackle spot can be difficult, the look emphasizes speed.

Todd Grantham, Georgia No new coordinator, on either side of the ball, will face more scrutiny than Grantham, the new defensive coordinator at Georgia. He was hired to replace the much-maligned Willie Martinez, who first came under heavy fire following a loss to Georgia Tech to end the 2008 regular season; his defense never recovered from that second half barrage, and he was released from his position following a very disappointing 2009.

One of the reasons Grantham will be firmly under the microscope is the size of his contract. He’s the third highest paid defensive coordinator in the country, trialing only Kiffin and Will Muschamp of Texas, though Muschamp’s contract does include his hefty coach-in-waiting price tag. It is also worth noting that Grantham was not the first choice for the position; he might not have been the second, nor the third. Alabama’s Kirby Smart was offered the position, but declined. There was at least some mutual interest between Georgia and Virginia Tech’s Bud Foster and L.S.U.’s John Chavis, but discussions did not move very far with either coach.

As with Groh, Grantham will install a 3-4 defense. He’ll be aggressive; fast and furious, not read and react. It’s fair to point out that while Georgia has struggled mightily defensively for the last season and change, the Bulldogs — like U.S.C. — do not lack for talent. In fact, Grantham’s scheme, in conjunction with the team speed among the Georgia back eight, could lead to an immediate defensive revival. Georgia fans certainly hope so. As does Mark Richt, of course.

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  1. [...] Pre-Snap Read just posted a review of new D coordinators. Aggressive, fast and furious sounds good to me: [...]

  2. [...] not sure if Ryan Myerberg has the timeline of Coach Grantham’s hire totally correct, but you’ve got to love this [...]

  3. Lou Tripodi says:

    Keep an eye out for John Lovett at the University of Miami. He is a brilliant football mind.

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