See how to transition from position coach to coordinator from one of the most effective defensive coordinators in small college football.
By Nick Davis
Defensive Coordinator/Defensive Back Coach
Rose-Hulman Institute (IN)
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I started off as a defensive graduate assistant at Ottawa University (NAIA). The DC there Josh Homolka did not let me coach defensive line because that is where I had played in college. He wanted me to experience defensive backs and linebackers over my two years. That made me grow a great deal as a defensive coach. I was able to have a background in every aspect of defensive play, leaving as a graduate assistant. In 2012, I applied for a defensive line job at Rose-Hulman and their running back coach left around the same time. They liked me enough in the process that they offered me the running back job. I went from coaching running backs and coordinating the special teams at Rose-Hulman over the next three seasons to the defensive coordinator in 2015. When I became the defensive coordinator, I had no assistant coaches on my side of the ball and had not coached defense in three years. Here are a few tips and tricks that made the transition easy for me.
I knew the first thing I need to do was be organized. Our Offensive Coordinator Brian White was super organized. We had a shared network drive that everything we did on offense was kept on. Our playbook and scouting reports were saved on the shared drive for everyone on staff to access. That has since been taken to the next level with Google Drive, or One Drive over the last few years. I could go back to 2011 when I did not coach at Rose-Hulman and be able to pull any information I needed to pull from the shared drive. One tip is to create folders to keep things together.
Once you are organized you can start working on the scheme. I knew I wanted to take things we did in Ottawa and use them at Rose. I knew I wanted to take offensive concepts we did at Rose-Hulman and use those ideas on defense. I also knew we needed to match what I wanted to do on defense with what the top teams in our league did on offense. If your league is a big passing league, maybe you do not want to play a bear defense every play. You go outside your program and search for ideas. Some of the best resources for me were X&O Labs, twitter, and college game film.
Many concepts and ideas we use today came from me reading articles in 2015 about St. Thomas and John Carroll. So once you have all your ideas together, you need to make a playbook so your coaches and players can learn. We have gone from the traditional playbook to making a video playback. All the players and coaches have phones with them so create a playbook that they can use their phone to access. We use Microsoft Visio to create our playbook. If you are a young coach and want to coach D1, I would suggest learning how to use it. Our defensive line coach last year had a D1 graduate assistant interview where half of the interview was him drawing up things on Microsoft Visio.
Once we have the playbook done, I will do an audio version of the playbook so the incoming freshman or new coaches will have me explaining every aspect of our playbook. For that, I use a screen capturing tool and my office phone doubles as a microphone.
Within our scheme we wanted to be organized. So we created a system that allowed our guys to play fast like our offense did. We yell in the fronts we want to run. It eliminates a signal and allows our guys to line up fast. Our defensive backs will echo the call to the box players. All of our fronts are animals. The different types of animals tell us different front structures. An example would be all three down fronts are cats. So every different type of cat tells our defensive linemen and linebackers the adjustments. The cheetah would tell our defensive linemen to line up in the c gap, where Bengal would tell them to align in the b gap. If we move, it is called a movement, whether it is a 4 man rush, a blitz, or a stunt. We have movement rules we do not break. Like most defenses, we use a word system with the linebackers letters associated with that word. If the word starts with a ‘d’ then our Dog safety would blitz. The number of letters in the word will tell the defensive linemen and other players where to end up.
For example, if we were running our Dig rush out of a cat front the three letters would tell our defensive ends to end up in the c gaps, no matter where they were lined up and our nose to work opposite of the dog safety. The dog safety would need to know to rush the b gap in that example. So we have rules for 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 letter words. If we wanted to break the rules, we created a 7+ system to be the game plan, but we try to associate the 7+ word with what we want to make it easy to learn. Our coverages are all based off a state system. Within each state, if we want a different adjustments, we will use a city in that state that makes sense to the adjustment we might want. For example, in our California coverage, which is our cover 3 and we want to play a cover 3 roll coverage, we would call Fresno to tell the field corner he is the flute player. We also have express tempo where one word means a front, movement, and coverage. We yell in Bismarck and our defense knows we want our Bengal front and bring a movement and our defensive backs we will play our North Dakota coverage.
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The last few tips I would give any new coordinator is learn from failure. I have learned more from the 7 loses in the last three years than any of the 24 wins. You need to grow as a coach each year. My philosophy is the same as it was in 2015, but our playbook is totally different. We took what we were good at in 2015 and have built upon that. I am always looking for ways to sell something different to make it easier for our guys to learn it. In the end, your systems are only as good as what everyone other than the coordinator knows. Be organized and willing to learn new ideas and you will do just fine as a coordinator. My last advice is to show your other coaches you are willing to do some of the tasks that no one else wants to do. This shows others you are willing to do whatever it takes to be successful.
Meet Coach Davis: Nick Davis enters his seventh season at Rose-Hulman and his fourth year as defensive coordinator. Davis has led one of the nation's top defenses over his three seasons. His spread defense has led the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference in total defense, scoring defense, sacks, interceptions, rushing defense, 3rd down defense over the last three years. He has mentored several All-Conference, All-Region, Academic All-Americans, and All-Americans in his seven years.