Monte Kiffin has never worked in North Dakota and, as far as we know, he might have never even stepped foot in the state. But the 72-year-old defensive veteran certainly has an affinity for North Dakota State defensive coordinators.
Earlier this month we detailed Kiffin's hand in aiding Gus Bradley to rise from North Dakota State defensive coordinator to the Jacksonville Jaguars' head coach. Now Chris Murray of the Reno Gazette-Journal has described how Kiffin helped Scottie Hazelton, another former Bison defensive coordinator, obtain the same job on Brian Polian's new staff at Nevada.
“He said, ‘Hey, Brian,’” Polian recalled. “‘I have a guy you have to take a look at as your coordinator.’”
Hazleton spent five years at North Dakota State, the last two as defensive coordinator, before Kiffin plucked him away to coach linebackers at USC in 2012.
Polian liked what he heard about Hazleton, and, equally important, Hazleton liked what he heard about Polian.
“I think I can read people OK and when I talked to him on the phone even before I interviewed I got pretty excited,” Hazelton said. “I said, ‘Hey. This is a guy I could see myself hanging out with.’ I thought, ‘Would I hang out and have a beer with this dude? Would I spend time with him outside of work?’”
In lockstep with his short-time teacher, Hazleton plans to run Kiffin's patened Tampa 2 in Reno. He will be tasked with fixing a Wolf Pack defense that finished the 2012 season ranked 110th in rushing defense, 66th in pass efficiency defense, 95th in total defense and 99th in scoring defense.
Nevada ranked seventh nationally in rushing offense and scored nearly 38 points per game, but finished 7-6 in part because of a defense that allowed 41.2 points per game in the team's six setbacks. With quarterback Cody Fajardo and his 3,907 yards of total offense and 32 touchdowns returning to campus, an improved defense can lead Nevada to the top of the Mountain West standings.
“For us, it’s about keeping the scheme simple enough that they guys can play really hard, give great effort,” Hazelton said. “Keep it simple enough that us as coaches can teach them so they can play really fast. You don’t want them sitting around thinking, ‘What am I supposed to do?’”
Read Murray's full story here.