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Assessing possible candidates for the Texas DC position

Will Tom Herman make another comfort hire?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: APR 13 Utah Spring Game Photo by Boyd Ivey/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

With Todd Orlando officially out as the Texas Longhorns defensive coordinator, here’s a look at a few possible candidates that could replace him in Austin.

Chris Ash

According to Anwar Richardson of Orangebloods, the former Rutgers head coach is currently a top candidate to replace Orlando at defensive coordinator. Along with his ties to the Longhorns program this season as an analyst, Ash coached with Herman on Ohio State’s championship winning team as the co-defensive coordinator and as the defensive backs coach at Iowa State in 2009.

During his time at Ohio State, Ash’s primary defensive scheme was a 4-3 over, quarters-based coverage look. While it requires timely rotations throughout the secondary, this aggressive-yet-conservative coverage look helps keep things simple and sound against a variety of offensive schemes.

Hiring Ash would signify that Herman has enough trust in his former partner to succeed against Big 12 offenses in a coaching role that he hasn’t been in since his days at Ohio State.

Iowa State DC Jon Heacock

In 2018, Heacock’s 3-3-5 defensive scheme warranted praise on a national level, as the Cyclones held 11 of 13 opponents below their points per game average and 10 of 13 opponents below their yards per play average.

Iowa State’s 3-3-5 defense and TCU’s 4-2-5 defense held Texas in check offensively this season. While it requires solid play at the linebacker position, these defensive schemes best fit the kind of defensive backs that the Longhorns have recruited over the years.

Heacock offers the right personnel mix along with a fundamental-driven style of coaching from his time at Toledo and Iowa State. Fundamentals and technique were problems for Texas all season long due to poor tackling and discipline.

Utah DC Morgan Scalley

The Utah Utes are on the verge of a possible playoff appearance in large part to Scalley’s defense, currently ranked No. 3 nationally in total defense and No. 6 nationally in SP+. Utah ranks No. 1 in run defense and No. 14 in passing yards allowed. Scalley’s defense is predicated on a primary 4-3 under look with heavy man-to-man coverage on the outside.

Coincidentally, top Texas offensive coordinator candidate Graham Harrell was the only one who exploited the Utes through the air this season, as USC threw for 350 yards en route to a 30-23 victory.

Utah has a veteran group this season with a lot of talent graduating, including their starting quarterback Tyler Huntley and running back Zack Moss, and several key defensive linemen.

Unless Scalley decides to make the jump for a bigger brand and more money under the same position, the rising 40-year-old defensive coach and former Utah safety could be in store for a possible head coaching gig in the Mountain West or at a smaller school out West following his success this season.

Auburn DC Kevin Steele

Steele is currently making $2 million a year at Auburn, so it’d certainly take a lot for him to leave the plains. Similar to Orlando, Steele has utilized different multiple defensive back coverage looks to defend all the heavy spread and Air Raid attacks that have proliferated across college football. Unlike Orlando, Steele’s reached significant success with his methods in the SEC.

He often used a 3-2-6, 3-1-7 defensive scheme to counter some of the SEC’s most prolific passing attacks this season. Even though Mack Jones and Alabama scored 45 points in that wild Iron Bowl game, Steele’s defense held every other opponent to 24 points or less this season. That includes games against Oregon, Florida, Georgia, and soon-to-be Heisman winner Joe Burrow and LSU.

Steele’s unique defensive concepts consist of both three and four-man defensive fronts with dime personnel and quarters coverage in the secondary.

Although Orlando’s defense improved over the last month of the season as the defense got healthier, Texas struggled at getting off the field on third-downs and was near of the bottom of the Big 12 in three-and-out rate. Oklahoma and Baylor both excelled at forcing three-and-outs this season. A 4-3 defensive scheme would primarily focus on limiting gains on first and second-down to create blitzing opportunities to get off the field quickly on third-down.

Who knows, maybe this next defensive coordinator hire entails new defensive position coaches as well. But before Herman settles on a former partner in Ash, he should assess the rest of the market and at least consider some other names.