Wake Forest in 2017 and Elko did such a good job turning around the Irish defense that Texas A&M gave him a three-year contract worth more than $1.8 million annually.
Kelly promoted 37-yearold Clark Lea to replace Elko and the Fighting Irish defense took another step forward this season, ranking eighth nationally in yards per play allowed (4.53)
While Venables coaches like a sugared-up 10-yearold who can barely stay off the field during the games, Lea is professorial in his demeanor and approach.
“We joke a lot they we definitely chose the wrong side (of the ball) to do it,” Lea said Wednesday. “It’s a lot more fun to be an offensive coach these days. The challenges inherit in defending modern offense require some ability to process and think and be creative. And I think that’s a fun part of what we do. It’s a game of strategy.”
But, Lea added: “It’s not about being schematically cuter than the team you’re playing. It’s about getting your players in positions where they’re confident and they’re playing with great fundamentals and they’re playing really fast and they’re covering spaces. Defense is still about your guy getting off a block and making a tackle and you can’t deviate from that. Even as it becomes basketball on grass.”
Venables could have been a head coach by now but he can afford with be picky, with a great salary and a boss in Dabo Swinney who has built Clemson into Alabama’s biggest challenger for college football supremacy. But for most defensive coordinators, getting a chance to run a program has been difficult.
Over the last two years there have been 42 coaches hired in FBS and 34 have had offensive backgrounds, a fact pointed out recently by Football Scoop. Working for Alabama coach Nick Saban seems to help.
The Tide is also on its third defensive coordinator in three years as Tosh Lupoi was promoted after last season to replace Jeremy Pruitt, who is now Tennessee’s head coach. Pruitt got the job when Kirby Smart left to lead Georgia in 2016.
Oklahoma defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeill spent years coaching defense for Mike Leach at Texas Tech before becoming a head coach at his alma mater, East Carolina.
After being fired at ECU, coach Lincoln Riley brought McNeill to Oklahoma in 2017 to be defensive line coach.
Riley turned to the 60year-old McNeill in October to try the Sooners’ defense after Mike Stoops was fired.
Oklahoma ranks 101st nationally in yards per play allowed (6.03).
Especially in the wideopen and wild Big 12, a defensive coordinator needs drown out the criticism and not get too down about those gaudy scores.
“As a play-caller or a defensive coach, you’ve got to make sure you keep things in perspective and respect it and know there’s a good chance they can put some points on the board,” McNeill said.
“But you can’t caught up into worrying about it too much. The defensive thought process has to be get the ball back to your offense. Break serve. Of course, as a defensive guy all his life, 38 years of coaching, you’d like to have a zero.
“But at the same time you’ve got to be ready to
In 2013, Syracuse linebackers coach Clark Lea celebrates a win. Led by coordinator Lea, Notre Dame’s defense ranks eighth nationally in yards per play allowed (4.53).