Back by overwhelming demand, FootballScoop will once again examine the assistant coaching hires that will have the biggest impact on the college football season and the coaching job market in the 2020 season and beyond.
No. 20: Zach Arnett, Mississippi State
No. 19: Larry Fedora, Baylor
No. 18: Justin Hamilton, Virginia Tech
No. 17: Sean Gleeson, Rutgers
No. 16: Adam Fuller, Florida State
No. 15: Matt Lubick, Nebraska
No. 14: Mike Bobo, South Carolina
No. 13: Rhett Lashlee, Miami
No. 12: Marvin Lewis and Antonio Pierce, Arizona State
No. 11: David Ballou and Matt Rhea, Alabama
No. 10: Scott Cochran, Georgia
No. 9: DJ Durkin, Ole Miss
No. 8: Joe Moorhead, Oregon
No. 7: Todd Orlando, USC
Who: Chris Ash, Texas
Title: Defensive coordinator/safeties coach
Previous stop: Rutgers head coach (2016-19)
Why he’s important: You never want to draw too many conclusions off of one game, particularly a game where the coach we’re talking about didn’t even coach. But let’s examine the 2019 Alamo Bowl.
As the clock (literally) wound down on the worst decade in the program’s modern history, Texas put together one of its best defensive performances of the 2010s. The ‘Horns limited Utah to 3.5 yards per rush, 5.5 yards per pass attempt, collected five sacks, racked up 21 yards in TFLs on rushing downs, won 10 of 14 third downs, permitted just 15 first downs and just generally kicked tail in a 38-10 win.
After playing off the ball all season, rising junior Joseph Ossai generated first-round hype in moving to an edge position in the ‘Horns’ new 4-down front, earning game MVP honors with nine tackles, six TFLs and three sacks.
And, again: It was just one game. Not only that, this one game was a de facto home game for Texas, while Utah was checked out after losing its spot in the Playoff in a Pac-12 Championship loss to Oregon.
Still, it was enough to get observers to say, Where has that been all season?
And when you get down to it, isn’t that Ash’s entire job this season?
Texas returns 82 percent of the production from a defense that will feature the most talent of any since the Mack Brown era. (Yes, the recruiting services always seem to like UT’s classes, but the school hadn’t pulled back-to-back Top 3 classes, as it did in 2018-19, since the early Mack era.)
The program has very much earned its “I’ll believe it when I see it” reputation to this point. The Longhorns closed the year strong — collecting nine sacks in their final two games after compiling just 18 in their first 11 contests — but many of those same players were lit aflame by LSU, and Oklahoma, and, uh, TCU and Kansas. TCU quarterback Max Duggan threw for a season-high 10.1 yards per attempt in a 37-27 win over Texas, and Kansas dropped 48 in Brent Dearmon’s first game as offensive coordinator.
The Longhorns believe a switch from Orlando’s 3-3-5 to Ash’s 4-2-5, with Ossai as one of the four, is the key to unlocking the talent on the roster.
“I don’t think it’s any secret that we want to be in some more four-man front,” Herman said. “If we are in a three-man front, I think our guys need to be in position to rush the passer — playing more five-technique than 4i — but if that gets the 11 best on the field, that’s what we’ll do.”
“We want to be more disruptive and I think this scheme gives us the opportunity to do just that,” Ossai told 247Sports. “The D-line or the front seven, linebackers included, needs to set the tone so that the game can be [dictated]. If you can control the line you can control the run, you can put pressure on the quarterback, you can predict the plays of the offense and you can call the game easier.
“It’s just a better game and it flows better for us if the defense can be dominant, especially up front,” he added. “We’re taking that and we’re running with it.”
“If we want to win at a high level,” Ash said, “be a team that can win championships here, it’s going to start at the front back.”
Ash, who worked with Herman at Iowa State and Ohio State, leads an almost entirely new defensive staff. Jay Valai joined him from Rutgers as cornerbacks coach, Mark Hagen was hired from Indiana as defensive tackles coach, and Coleman Hutzler left South Carolina to coach linebackers. (Defensive ends coach Oscar Giles is the lone survivor.)
“When I look up front, there are a lot of big, strong, physical players that are coming back that played a lot of snaps last year,” Ash said in February. “We have to identify who are going to be our primary pass rushers; I think Joseph (Ossai) has an opportunity to be one of those types of guys. And then I look at the secondary and the number of players that are coming back that have played snaps in games, there are a lot — 14, 15, 16 guys that have played or have a chance to play for us moving forward… It has the most players that have the potential to play of any secondary I’ve been a part of in my career.”
It’s the job of those men to make sure, after a decade of falling short, that the whole finally adds up to the sum of its parts.
“I’m not concerned about what happened in the past. The past is behind us,” Ash said. “We’re focused on the process to get this defense to where everyone would like it to be.”