Saturday, July 09, 2005

Know Thine Enemy: The Underlings | by Michael

(This is part 5 of a series on the newly-hired coaches ND will face this year.)

Over the last four weeks we've profiled some of the new head coaches for our opponents, and before tackling the last one (Pittsburgh’s Dave Wannstedt), we’ll take a quick look at some of the assistant coach shuffling for some of the other teams on this year's slate.

(Note: the Vols and the Midshipmen apparently made no changes to their staffs this offseason).

Michigan Wolverines
Take a look at the current Michigan staff. During the off-season, former Irish assistant Bill Sheridan left to coach linebackers with the New York Giants. Sheridan was the recruiting coordinator and the DL coach, although he was originally hired as a LB coach. Veteran DL coach Steve Stripling will replace Sheridan; he comes from in-state rival Michigan State and his coaching resume also includes over fifteen years of coaching linemen with Minnesota, Louisville and Indiana.

In my opinion, this is a great move for the Wolverines. Why did defensive coordinator Jim Herrmann and/or Lloyd Carr ever think it would be a good idea for Sheridan to coach the line when all of his previous experience came from coaching linebackers and safeties? In the two years that Sheridan has been the DL coach, sacks dwindled from 42 to 29 to just 21 last season. Is it a coincidence? Considering how much technique is required for defensive line positions, and the vast experience that Stripling has over Sheridan, it’s not hard to imagine that Michigan’s line performance will be greatly improved in '05. (But I’m still left wondering why Sheridan was made the DL coach in the first place.)

Michigan State Spartans
Who would have ever imagined that a Michigan State defense that gave up 381.4 total yards and 27.2 points per game last year would be raided for coaches by the two Big Ten powers, Michigan and Ohio State?

As mentioned above, Lloyd Carr cherry-picked the Spartans for his new DL coach. Upon losing Stripling, MSU head coach John L. Smith took his search for a new line coach beyond the Big 10 and hired Lucious Selmon, a former All-American at Oklahoma who had most recently coached DL for the Jacksonville Jaguars from 1995 through 2002. Although Selmon has been out of the game for two years, he has over 25 years of coaching experience and he would appear to be a great find for Smith.

Meanwhile, Smith also lost secondary coach Paul Haynes to Ohio State, but he quickly found a great replacement in UTEP defensive coordinator Tim Hundley, who had over 30 years of experience coaching at UCLA, Oregon State, Washington and Colorado. As Smith said at the announcement presser, "Tim Hundley was the No. 1 guy on my list. I have wanted to hire Tim for years but the timing was never right."

Unfortunately, the timing wasn’t right this year, either. Soon after the announcement, Hundley changed his mind and went back to Mike Price and UTEP.

Smith eventually found another former coordinator who was willing to take a step down to work as a position coach: former Ole Miss coordinator Chuck Driesbach, who has solid experience in the 4-2-5 scheme that Michigan State ran last year. Driesbach has previously worked as a defensive coordinator at TCU (Gary Patterson was one of the first coaches to embrace the 4-2-5), Western Michigan and Pittsburgh (under Johnny Majors).

The Spartans weren’t hit with losses only on the defense; when Ron Zook took over at Illinois one of the first hires he made was Reggie Mitchell, who had been Michigan State’s ace recruiter and RB coach. To fill this hole, Smith hired Ben Sirmans, who had held the same position at Kent State for the last five years.

Finally, Michigan State also lost one of their defensive graduate assistants, David Watson. Why is this relevant? Well, it was Southern Cal who snatched him up, and considering how dominant the Trojan program has been the last few years, I’m quite certain that Pete Carroll had plenty of applicants to fill his two graduate assistant openings this year. Watson may be someone to keep an eye on down the road.

Overall, while I’m not sure how well Michigan State will do on the field this year, I have to admit I'm impressed with Smith’s staff -- especially some of the new hires.

Purdue Boilermakers
Take a look at the current Purdue staff. Tony Samuel was hired to replace DL coach Gary Emanuel, who joined the San Francisco 49ers as their DL coach. Joe Tiller got a steal of an assistant coach with this move. Samuel had been the head coach at New Mexico State from 1997 to 2004, and while that may not turn any heads, prior to that he coached outside linebackers and rush ends at Nebraska under Tom Osborne from 1986 to 1996. Under Samuel, Purdue's pass rushers should continue to terrorize opposing quarterbacks.

Purdue also added Mike Jacobs as a graduate assistant; he'll work with the offense. Jacobs played center for Ohio State from 1997-2001 and will replace Burt Thornton.

USC Trojans
Last but certainly not least, take a look at the current Southern Cal staff. Everyone knows that Norm Chow left to become the offensive coordinator of the Tennessee Titans, but fess up, who knew that their QB coach, Carl Smith, took the coordinator position with the Jacksonville Jaguars?

To replace those two key figures in the Trojans’ juggernaut, head coach Pete Carroll promoted WR coach Lane Kiffin to coordinator and hired Steve Sarkissian as assistant head coach and QB coach. Sarkissian, who was a quarterback under Chow at BYU, will run the offense while Kiffin, who played under another QB guru, Jeff Tedford, at Fresno State, will call the plays from upstairs. Confused? I’ll let Pete explain:
This is a great opportunity for us to keep our philosophy intact and our style and concepts... 'Sark' grew up under Norm Chow and played for him. We'll be able to keep our continuity... It's a big role to fill as Norm leaves. But Sark will be the guy you'll go to now with questions on the offense... [Kiffin will] do all the duties Sark needs... Sark will administer the game on the field and have the last say on the plays. Lane will be upstairs calling the plays. But Sark has the final say-so, unless I enter in.
Did you follow that? Consider it the Rock-Paper-Scissors offense. Kiffin calls the plays, but Sarkissian trumps Kiffin -- yet Kiffin plus Carroll beats Sarkissian. With returning talent like Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush, Lendale White, Steve Smith and Dwayne Jarrett, it probably won't matter most of the time, but who knows. I can't imagine this three-headed creation being more effective than a single-brained Norm Chow.

The Trojans lost another cog of their offensive coaching staff as OL coach Tim Davis joined Nick Saban’s Miami Dolphins staff. Enter Pat Ruel, who comes from the NFL and possesses over 30 years of college and pro experience. Ruel seems like a nice, safe pick, but to be honest, I would have expected Carroll to find someone better. He’s been with four teams in five years since he entered the NFL (Detroit Lions in 2000, Green Bay Packers (split OL duties) in 2001-2002, Buffalo Bills in 2003 and New York Giants in 2004). His collegiate experience isn’t much better, with his most recent stops being Northern Illinois (1985-1987), Kansas (1988-1996) and Michigan State (1998-1999). Take a look at his background and decide for yourself.

The other high-profile loss from the Trojan staff occurred on the defensive side of the ball, as DL coach, recruiting coordinator, and majority whip Ed Orgeron replaced David Cutcliffe as the head coach at Ole Miss. To replace Orgeron, Carroll hired Jethro Franklin, who had most recently been the DL coach for the Green Bay Packers. Franklin has also coached at the college level, with stops at UCLA and Fresno State on his resume. Additionally, Kiffin will take over Orgeron’s recruiting coordinator role.

Also on defense, Carroll promoted former graduate assistant Ken Norton, Jr. to a full-time assistant position. Norton will be sharing LB coaching duties with Rocky Seto. The other graduate assistant, Dennis Slutak, was promoted to Director of Football Operations.

David Watson, as mentioned above, and Sam Anno are the new Trojan graduate assistants. Watson will work with the offensive line. Anno, who will assist the defense and special teams, played linebacker for Southern Cal from 1983-1986 and then enjoyed a seven-year career in the NFL. He was most recently was an assistant coach at Venice High School.