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The 15 most important assistant coaching hires of 2022 -- No. 13: Joe Gillespie, TCU

For the first time in a quarter century, someone other than Gary Patterson is the brains behind the TCU defense.

Who: Joseph Gillespie, TCU

Title: Defensive coordinator/linebackers coach

Previous stop: Tulsa defensive coordinator (2019-21)

Why he's important: For the first time since 1997, the TCU defensive playbook won't be written in Gary Patterson's handwriting. Patterson's defensive mastery changed not only the trajectory of TCU football, but of Texas Christian University. When he arrived, TCU was in the WAC; today, TCU is in the Big 12. Along the way, the Horned Frogs finished in the AP Top 10 five times, won the Rose and Peach bowls, and forever avoided the fate of "Rice with not-as-lofty academics." Each day as they walk into the office, TCU's new coaching staff will pass by a statue of Patterson. 

Needless to say, finding TCU's next defensive coordinator was a big job for new head coach Sonny Dykes. 

To fill that job, Dykes pulled one of the oldest tricks in the head coaching book: If you can't beat 'em, hire 'em.

"I had an opportunity to play against Tulsa four years. Did not enjoy those experiences of playing against that defense at Tulsa," Dykes said at Big 12 media days. "So Joe Gillespie was certainly on the radar from day one, and had a chance to talk to people that had worked with Joe. Had a chance to talk to people that knew him. It became pretty obvious to me that he was the right guy. Just loved his coaching style."

In four games against Gillespie and Tulsa, Dykes went 1-3. The one victory came in triple overtime. 

"The way you measure a defensive coach in my opinion is how hard does his team play for him. What's the effort that that defense shows down in and down out. To me that's all coaching. When we played Tulsa, they played harder than any defense we played against in college football."

Beyond the tenacity Gillespie's defense played with, he also loved the alignment. Tulsa played the 3-3-5 scheme, pioneered by Iowa State's Jon Heacock, that's like a magic trick, where the fifth defensive back always seems to be at the line of scrimmage on run downs and deep in the secondary on pass downs. 

PREVIOUS INSTALLMENTS: No. 15 Tim DeRutyer (Texas Tech); No. 14 Rob Sale (Florida).

"They had a great scheme. Loved what they do," Dykes said. "Felt like it made sense in this league, felt like it had been successful in this league."

Like Dykes, Gillespie was a Texas high school coach before he became a Texas college coach. He'd spent the entirety of his career (save one year) at his alma mater Stephenville High School, a 75-minute drive southwest of Fort Worth, winning two state titles as an assistant under Art Briles and one of his own as the head coach in 2012. He was an original member of Philip Montgomery's Tulsa staff and was promoted to defensive coordinator in 2019. Former winners selected Gillespie as the FootballScoop Linebackers Coach of the Year in 2020, the year he developed Zaven Collins -- the No. 2,142 recruit nationally and the No. 29 player in Oklahoma in the class of 2017 -- into the Nagurski, Bednarik and Lombardi Award winner and a first-round draft pick in the spring of 2021. 

Partially on the strength of that Patterson-esque coaching job, Gillespie is now TCU's defensive coordinator.

Here, Gillespie describes his arrival as a odd-front practitioner and what it will bring to the Frogs' defense. "You're going to get multiple looks offensively with the same personnel," Gillespie says, "Why can we not do (multiple looks) with the same personnel on the field as well?"

TCU will also play more zone than it did in years past. "In theory, that's going to lead to more takeaways, because you've got more eyes on the ball now," Gillespie said. For a defense that tied for last in the Big 12 with 13 takeaways in 2021, increasing takeaways could be the key to a quick turnaround. 

Because, let's be honest, TCU's defense needs a turnaround. 

From 2012 (TCU's first year in the conference) through 2019, the Frogs finished among the top two in yards per play defense seven times in eight tries. TCU fielded the Big 12's top yards per play defense four times in that span, and in the other year (2013), they were third. In 2020, TCU tied for fourth. And in 2021? The Frogs tied Kansas for last place at 7.21 yards surrendered per snap, more than a yard beyond eighth-place Texas, and 2.36 yards worse than where the same unit finished in 2018.

Opponents averaged 34.9 points per game, the most since 2004. 

TCU went 5-7 thanks to an offense that finished 10th nationally in yards per play. The Frogs return quarterbacks Max Duggan (806 career attempts) and Chandler Morris, running back Kendre Miller (7.51 yards per carry on 83 attempts) and receiver Quentin Johnston, an All-America candidate. 

If TCU can play effective defense in 2021, the Frogs will play in a bowl game and could march a dark-horse run to Arlington for the title game in the most wide-open year the Big 12 has had in years. And if Gillespie runs TCU's defense as long as Patterson did, the next Frog defensive coordinator will be introduced in 2046.  

That'd be just fine with him. "I told Coach Dykes, 'God willing, this is my last stop.'"