Grading the Hires: CU’s Assistant Coaches – Defense

CU 2020 Coaching staff ... With a press release on Friday, March 6th, the CU coaching staff for the 2020 season became official. Head coach Karl Dorrell retained four coaches from the previous staff – two on both sides of the ball – and added six new assistants.

… The review of the assistant coaching hires on offense can be found here

Here’s a list of CU’s 2020 assistant coaches:

Offense

Darrin Chiaverini – Wide receivers/Offensive coordinator*

Taylor Embree – Tight ends

Darian Hagan – Running backs*

Danny Langsdorf – Quarterbacks/Passing game coordinator

Mitch Rodrigue – Offensive line

Defense

Tyson Summers – Inside linebackers/ Defensive coordinator*

Demetrice Martin – Cornerbacks

Brian Michalowski – Outside linebackers*

Chris Wilson – Defensive line

Brett Maxie – Safeties

(* Coaches retained from previous staff)

So … what do we make of Karl Dorrell’s list of assistant coaches? …

Assistant Coaches: Defense

Tyson SummersInside linebackers coach/ Defensive coordinator

On paper, the Colorado defense took a step back in the first year under defensive coordinator Tyson Summers:

  • 2018 … 380.3 yards allowed per game; 27.3 points allowed per game;
  • 2019 … 441.9 yards allowed per game; 31.8 points allowed per game.

So why were Buff fans so excited when Tyson Summers was retained as the defensive coordinator by new head coach Karl Dorrell?

The short answer: Summers, a former head coach at Georgia Southern, played a big role in CU’s in-season improvement on the defensive side of the ball.

Despite a rash of injuries and player defections – especially in the secondary – CU’s defense got better as last year went along. After giving up 34.9 points and 486.9 yards per game in the first eight weeks, they allowed an average of just 25.8 points and 352.0 yards the last four games.

A simplified defense, as well as game experience, helped CU’s young defense play better.

“That’s why you see guys like KJ Trujillo being able to play better as the season goes on,” Summers said last December. “I think that’s why you see guys, some of those freshmen … be able to be really consistent and continue to improve.”

November wins over Stanford and Washington gave Buff fans hope for the future of the defense under Summers.

“There’s a lot to be excited about moving forward to the future,” Summers said. “We’ve got a team that is hungry, a team and a defense, in particular, that’s very hungry to prove they can do it all year. I think we’re in as good a spot as we can be defensively.”

Better the devil you know?

Continuity and enthusiasm for what the future might bring under Tyson Summers makes his retention a solid move.

Grade … “B+”

Demetrice Martin – Cornerbacks

Martin comes to the Buffs from the University of Arizona, his latest stop in a coaching career that has been almost entirely in the Pac-10 and Pac-12 conferences.  In addition to having a wealth of experience in developing defensive backs, he has also been long-regarded as one of the top recruiters on the west coast, including this past season, in which Martin was Arizona’s highest-rated recruiter.

Martin coached the cornerbacks for the Wildcats the last two seasons (2018-19) under head coach Kevin Sumlin, which followed six years on the UCLA staff (2012-17) tutoring the defensive backs for Jim Mora, Jr.  At UCLA, he earned the title of assistant head coach in 2014, ahead of his third year on the staff.  Bruin defensive backs earned a host of honors during his time there.  That followed three years (2009-11) coaching the secondary for Washington after it named Steve Sarkisian as its new head coach.

While it’s hard to trace all of the places Martin has coached (which includes high schools and junior colleges in the Los Angeles area), it’s not hard to understand that he has spent a great deal of his life playing, coaching, and recruiting in southern California … and has been very successful in doing so.

“Demetrice is a high energy, passionate coach who gets the most out of his players, both on and off the field,” said Dorrell of his new cornerbacks coach. “He has a reputation for being a great recruiter, and has outstanding experience.  He’s a good communicator and teacher of the fundamentals who is also very concerned with the players’ welfare.  He is very familiar with the footprint of the Pac-12 Conference with 14 years of coaching and recruiting within it.”

If Buff fans learned anything from the Tucker staff, it’s all about recruiting, recruiting, and recruiting … and Martin can recruit.

Grade … “B+”

Brian Michalowski – Outside linebackers

The second defensive assistant coach to be retained by Coach Dorrell is outside linebackers coach Brian Michalowski.

Michalowski was in his first season as a full-time assistant coach at the FBS level in 2019 (Michalowski came to Boulder after spending one season as a defensive analyst at the University of Georgia, where he worked alongside Tucker and CU’s defensive coordinator, Tyson Summers), but was widely praised by players and former coach Tucker for his role in the development of the outside linebackers. Tucker also praised Michalowski’s role as a recruiter.

In fact, 247 Sports rated Michalowski as one of the best recruiters in the Pac-12 for the Class of 2020 (No. 13 in the conference, second only to Darrin Chiaverini among CU coaches, who was rated as the No. 8 recruiter in the conference). Michalowski was instrumental in bringing four-star defensive end Jason Harris to Boulder, and also recruited three-star defensive end Devin Grant, three-star junior college defensive end transfer Guy Thomas, three-star defensive end Alvin Williams, and three-star junior college transfer cornerback Jaylen Striker.

This fall, Michalowski will again coach the outside linebackers. While the roster is fluid when defining outside linebacker v. defensive end v. star backer, there are six Buffs on the spring roster listed as “outside linebacker”: juniors Guy Thomas; Jamar Montgomery; and Alec Pell, along with freshmen Alec Pell; Joshka Gustav; and Alvin Williams.

Michalowski may not yet have a long term track record as a great recruiter, and he may not have yet proven himself to be a great linebackers coach.

But he does appear to be above average – at the very least – in both categories.

Grade … “B”.

Chris Wilson – Defensive line

I do like this hire … very much.

CU fans were concerned, if not demoralized, when last year’s defensive line coach, Jimmy Brumbaugh, left CU for Tennessee (of course, the defection of Mel Tucker to Michigan State a few days later trumped the Brumbaugh move).

The Colorado defense – especially the defensive line – made great strides during the 2019 season. Picked as the 9th-best in the Pac-12 by Athlon, the unit went from a liability to a strength under Brumbaugh. And, with five-star prospect Antonio Alfano and five – count ’em, five – quality defensive line recruits coming in, the sky was the limit.

Until Brumbaugh left for a promotion (to co-defensive coordinator) at Tennessee.

And then … Karl Dorrell found Chris Wilson.

Chris Wilson joins Dorrell in a homecoming back to Boulder, where he coached the defensive line under Gary Barnett for five seasons from 2000-04.  He spent the 2019 season as a defensive assistant with the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals.

Wilson, 51, coached All-Big 12 performers Justin Bannan and Tyler Brayton at Colorado, the latter of whom also earned third-team All-America honors, along with other familiar names to CU fans like Marques Harris, Matt McChesney, Brandon Dabdoub, Gabe Nyenhuis and James Garee.  He joined Barnett’s Colorado staff from Illinois State, where he was the D-line coach the previous two years (1998-99).

From 2016-18, he was the defensive line coach for the Philadelphia Eagles under head coach Doug Pederson, where in 2017, the team won the NFC East with a 13-3 record and went on to defeat the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LII.

Between those jobs, Wilson coached defensive lines at Oklahoma, Mississippi State (where he also spent time as defensive coordinator), Georgia, and USC.

“Chris brings a wealth of experience both on the college and professional levels,” said Dorrell. “He’s a well-respected defensive line coach who has also been a coordinator, and with the Philadelphia Eagles, a Super Bowl champion coach.  This is a man who deeply cares about his players, and he knows the intricacies of the university having coached here for five seasons.  He’s excited to return to Boulder.”

Wilson knows CU and Boulder (check), has coached and recruited in the Pac-12 (check), is accomplished as a coach at the position (check).

And Wilson will have plenty of toys to play with this fall.

Grade … “A”

Brett Maxie – Safeties

Maxie is an old guy like me, and at 58, is a veteran secondary coach of 21 combined seasons between the professional and collegiate ranks, which followed 13-year career as a defensive back in the National Football League (153 NFL games that included 104 starts).  Maxie comes to CU from the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., where he was the defensive coordinator for the 2019 season.

So, a total of 34 years in the game, either playing or coaching defensive backs.

Nice.

In the NFL, Maxie started his coaching career with Carolina, then on to Miami, Dallas and Tennessee before staying in Nashville to coach in the defensive backfield in 2014 and 2015. Maxie then returned to the NFL, coaching for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 2016-18.

“I’ve known Brett to be a really good mentor and teacher with young people,” said Dorrell of Maxie. “He coached the defensive backs at Vanderbilt while I was there, and I felt he had a great connection with his players and got the most out of them.  He enjoyed a long, stellar career in the NFL, and you don’t play in the league for that long without becoming a total student of the game.  The players will benefit greatly from that knowledge.”

CU defensive backs – and CU fans – should take heart in having a safeties coach who not only has played in the League, but has coached in the League. His coaching experience at the collegiate level – and therefore his recruiting prowess – remain to be seen.

For now, anyway, this appears to be a solid hire.

Grade … “B+”

Overall, the lineup of assistant coaches on the defensive side of the ball can be what you want it to be. You can see a defense with a returning defensive coordinator in Tyson Summers whose team last year gave up over 30 points/game – the first time that’s happened to the Buffs since 2014. Or, you can see a returning defensive coordinator in Tyson Summers who helped the defense improve over the course of the year, playing its best ball in November.

You can see a defense where two of the three new assistant coaches were not coaching college football (and therefore not recruiting college athletes) last season, or you can see a defense where the three new assistant coaches bring decades of experience to the fold.

It’s easy in March to see the new coaching staff through black-and-gold colored glasses. Time will tell if the new staff under Karl Dorrell is an improved over the 2019 staff led by Mel Tucker.

But considering the circumstances – taking over in late February when almost every other college football program not named Michigan State already had its coaching staff in place – the fact that we are even having the discussion about an upgrade in the coaching staff is impressive.

Overall Grade … “B+”

—–

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.