How did your move from Arizona State to North Carolina come about?
“There was talk about it a year ago, but Coach had his agenda and he wanted to bring his staff, so it wasn’t really going to work out last year. We were all together at Illinois. So then Vic [Koenning] reached out to me and then Larry eventually called. That’s how it went about – Vic reached out to me and asked me if I had any interest. And then Dan Disch reached out to me, so both of them really got involved.”
How beneficial is joining a defensive staff loaded with guys that you’ve coached with before?
“You can go faster. You don’t back up to reteach. A lot of times when you lose two coaches, you have to back up and reteach and you’ve got to get them introduced and it takes a little bit longer. Now you can just pick up where you left off.”
You played under Charley Pell and Danny Ford at Clemson, both of whom played under Bear Bryant. How did that experience shape your coaching philosophy?
“The bottom line is that was a winning tradition and a hard-edge type mentality. Keep the pedal to the metal. You’re always pressing. That was the philosophy I was brought up under and so I just pretty much kept the same philosophy. Keep pressing, keep going and try to maintain a hard-edge mentality – two screws in a well type deal – and be very physical with what you do. Attack and be very sound fundamentally. And just be very disciplined, because that’s what that is.”
Does that mesh well with Koenning’s and Disch’s approach?
“Oh yeah. And Coach Fedora. That’s probably been the thing that I’ve found… You’ve got to be yourself, but I think the way I was coached and brought up, I think it’s just good for young people. They need that. They need structure. They need discipline. The best in a man can be brought out when he’s pushed into some tough situations, so you want them to be strained and you want them to be worked and you want them to be driven. A lot of good things happen when guys are driven and strained. Either you find out what they can really do or you find out if they can go to another level that they never thought they could. That’s what we did at Clemson when we got them to another level. I remember the guys, the first spring we were there, that wanted to leave and wound up being first round picks.”
You were quoted recently as saying that you used more multiple looks at Arizona State last year than UNC used. Other than that, were there a lot of similarities between the two defenses?
“You know, I thought that initially, but I didn’t realize Vic was that multiple last year.
He was more multiple last year than I thought he was. I know we’re doing some things that we didn’t do last year, that we’re looking at right now, but I think through the course of the year he was pretty multiple. A little bit more than I thought. He ran more packages than I thought he would the first year. We might have been more multiple out of our base scheme, our base personnel.”
In looking at ASU’s stats last year, you led the nation in tackles for loss and were second in sacks and fourth in interceptions. Do those numbers speak to your aggressive approach in trying to dictate tempo on the defensive end?
“Yes, exactly. We wanted to change the tempo on defense for the offense. Give them different looks, make them think that we’re doing this and then do something opposite. So four off the side, then it looks like four off the side, then it’s four off the other side. Then we would look like we’re playing zone, but we were playing man free. Just different things. Got rats in the hole in a man-3 concept, got a rat picking off passes just because the quarterback doesn’t know. We just kept mixing up the coverages.”
How beneficial was your time working on the offensive side of the ball under Rich Rodriguez in learning how to scheme against the spread defensively?
“The biggest thing that it enables me to do is that I have an understanding of what people try to do to us offensively and how they see things and how they see weaknesses. One of the things that you have to do, that I found the way that people stopped what we did at Clemson when we were running that offense, was they showed us one thing and they took it away.
“And that offense is designed around attacking the bubbles and if they cheat on the perimeter we’ll throw bubble routes and we’ll throw the football on the perimeter, so you have to be able to hold up on the perimeter and you’ve got to be able to take things away. It gives me the advantage as a defensive coach now because I’ve coached on both sides of the ball.
“At one time prior in my career, I actually coached on the defensive side of the ball eight years in a row and had four years on offense prior, and then went back and coached 12 more years on offense. So that helped me, but now it’s helped me even more. It helps me to be able to adjust. It helps me to be able to see what they’re trying to do to help make adjustments. It helps me understand what I’m looking at.”
You’re coaching linebackers and the Bandit position, which is a shift in approach from last year’s coaching assignments. How do you envision that Bandit position? Is there much of a difference between the Bandit and a linebacker outside of the Bandit playing with his hand on the ground a little more?
“The Bandit has to be able to be a drop guy in coverage. He has to be able to understand where he fits in the scheme. He has to be able to learn to fold and fit off certain runs. Then he’s supposed to be able to impact the quarterback by rushing the passer and making plays. So the Bandit’s got to be a guy who can buzz into coverage and make something happen in the coverage aspect and then be able to be a rusher and impact the quarterback rushing the quarterback and then be able to fold and play the run.
"So it’s really not much different than playing a Will [weakside] linebacker. We just term him a Bandit and the Will’s our next backer and then Mike’s the next one. When we’re a 4-2-5, the Bandit is more of a rush guy. When we’re a 3-4, the Bandit’s more of a drop guy.”
Is there a specific type of mold you’re looking for when recruiting the linebacker position?
“I want speed. I want agility, change of direction, burst. Very flexible young men. Guys who are tough, physical, that can make a difference. I want bright and smart. I want the smartest and brightest guys. I want to go get guys that are really good learners that can understand things and learn how to adjust. I want guys who are academically focused that want to work hard off the field as well as on the field because those are normally your best type players.”