Simple Texas defense will benefit from buy-in, staff continuity

Erich Schlegel

Two members of the defensive staff have worked with head coach Charlie Strong over the last several seasons.

A day after the new offensive brain trust for the Texas Longhorns met with the media, the defensive coaches were available on Thursday to talk about their side of the football.

Where the offensive staff is still working to get to know each other as they share ideas and work as a committee to form an identity for the offense and decide who is calling plays, there is much more continuity with the defensive staff.

That's because everything the defense does will trickle down from head coach Charlie Strong, the longtime defensive coordinator who won two national championships at Florida while holding that title. And because Strong brought two defensive coaches with him from Louisville.

Defensive coordinator Vance Bedford will take insight from Strong during the game, but will ultimately hold the responsibility for what happens defensively.

"He is on the headset with offense and defense so he gives me free range to do what I want to do and to make the call I want to make. Is he involved? Yes. Is he going to make suggestions? Yes and so is Chris Rumph, Chris Vaughn, and coach BJ (Brian Jean-Mary)," said Bedford on Thursday.

"I am not one of those guys that says, 'it is my way or the highway.' I think it is collectively what is going to make us successful and all of us have an input. At the end of the day, is it going to fall on me? Yes it is. If the game is on the line and I have to make the call? Yes I do. So that is part of it and that is what is great about working with Charlie."

Where some coaches might want to strive to put their own identity on their unit in an effort to better their own career, Bedford and Strong have long had an understanding about the way that they interact in terms of game planning.

"One thing I told him when we left Florida to go to University of Louisville is, 'Charlie, I know you are the head coach and you are going to be busy but I want you to understand that I am coming here because I am counting on you to stay involved' Again, he is one of the best defensive coordinators in the country with two national championships," said Bedford. "Why would you not want him to be part of everything that you do? All the game planning that you do? I think that is important."

Perhaps as a result of that, the two share a similar philosophy defensively, according to Bedford.

"He has great suggestions because the biggest thing that he believes in is keeping it simple. So do I so we get along just fine. If it is simple, they can play fast. If they play fast, you have a chance to win a lot of games."

Just as Strong and Bedford will share some responsibilities in terms of the overall direction of the defense, so too will Bedford and defensive backs coach Chris Vaughn work closely together with the defensive backs. On past staffs, the defensive coordinator has also been the linebackers coach for the Longhorns, but that is changing this season since Bedford and Vaughn will coach the defensive backs together, while Rumph also takes on the duties of coordinating the special teams.

The advantage in that division of duties is that since Bedford isn't in charge of a position group by himself, he's free to spend more time with the rest of the defense.

"Having him here gives me the opportunity to walk around and spend time with the d-line and linebacker meetings to make sure we are all on the same page," said Bedford. "That is what it does."

In the past, defensive backs coach Duane Akina was typically the most energetic coach on the field for the Longhorns, constantly coaching up, encouraging, or providing some tough love to his players. Amid the din of a practice, Akina's voice was often raised above the rest.

According to linebackers coach Brian Jean-Mary, the coach on the new staff most likely to take over a similar role is Bedford.

"He adds a lot of life and a lot of energy to practices," said Jean-Mary. "Even when it is a down time and when things are going good he always has a positive attitude and really tries to bring out the best in the kids but actually helps us out as coaches also because he is a very detail-oriented guy and obviously as a coordinator he strives for perfection but he understands that not everything is always going to be perfect and he always has a smile on his face while he is doing it."

Jean-Mary is the other member of the staff who has worked extensively with Strong and Bedford, meaning that he doesn't have to adjust to their demands -- they're all already on the same page from their time together at Louisville.

"Continuity is big. The thing about us is that we are not going to be very complicated on defense but the fact that we have basically us three that have worked together and going into our fifth year I think makes a huge difference because we all are going to be speaking the same language to the kids and we all have the same philosophies."

For defensive backs coach Chris Vaughn and defensive line coach Chris Rumph, there's no continuity since they came from Alabama and Memphis, respectively. So their collective task this spring is to learn the ins and outs of the Strong/Bedford defense.

According to Jean-Mary, that process is well underway already.

"I think coach (Chris) Vaughn and coach (Chris) Rumph have done a great job in trying to learn our terminology and taking the crash course these last couple weeks and if they have questions, they don't only have to ask coach Strong or coach Bedford, they can ask myself and vice versa," said the linebackers coach. "So they are getting it from three different people and I think that is really helping to speed up their process in learning what we are going to do on defense."

Despite the learning curve for the two defensive coaches new to the system, there's already a consensus about how the defense should operate.

"It is the same philosophy that probably coach (Vance) Bedford has said, coach (Chris) Rumph, and coach (Chris) Vaughn," said Jean-Mary. "We all come from the same school of defense and we want to have smart, tough, and dependable guys. We are not going to be too complex but we do want to have guys that can handle different situations because as a coach we always tell the players it is not what we know, it is what we can coach you to know and how you can transfer that on the field."

"So we always want smart guys. Obviously you want big, strong, fast guys that are going to be productive when they get on the field but you also want some guys, especially at linebacker positions, that have some leadership qualities. When things aren't going the best, you always look for some guys on the team as far as players to be able to get those guys and bring them from out of whatever rut they were in."

For defensive backs coach Chris Rumph, his philosophy fits with the simple approach adopted by Strong and Bedford.

"We're not going to go out there and say that we're the smartest coaches in the world and outsmart, out-scheme guys. We're going to get our guys lined up, on the same page and we're going to play hard and through the whistle for 60 minutes."

Just like on the offensive side of the ball, Rumph believes that the staff is willing to work together harmoniously for the good of the team, removing the self from the process.

"That's one of the things that I love about this place and that I love about this coaching staff -- there are no egos," said Rumph. "We're all just ball coaches and bouncing ideas off each other. One coach may say something, somebody may agree, disagree. I may say we did it this way and it was successful, so let's try it. He may say let's do it or he may say no. If you can get it done, get it done. There are no egos. People are willing to listen to each other. We don't have all the answers; we're just some ball coaches trying to win some ball games."

"I think that's big, when you can go into a place with no egos and nobody is worried about, 'This is my defense. This is your defense. This is my D-line. This is my linebackers.' It's all about we. We're all pulling in the same direction. We all want the same thing. We know that and at the end of the day there's going to be one decision made in that room and we're going to go with it. But before we get to that decision, everyone is going to have an opportunity to say something."

With the continuity enabled by Strong, Bedford, and Jean-Mary working together and the level of buy-in from the two new coaches, the Texas defense should have a chance to improve quickly, especially since the players won't have to digest a big playbook, but instead focus on on fundamentals like technique, all while honing their toughness in the crucible of strength and conditioning coach Pat Moorer's offseason program.

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