There’s been plenty of turnover on the defensive side of the ball this offseason in the SEC. With that in mind, we’ve rounded up some info on each of the 14 defensive coordinators.
Last week we offered up one thing to know about every SEC offensive coordinator.
Tosh Lupoi – Alabama
Nick Saban made an interesting choice in promoting Tosh Lupoi to replace Jeremy Pruitt, as Lupoi has never called defensive plays and is only a few seasons removed from being an analyst with the program.
That being said, any concerns that the Crimson Tide could be taking a hit in recruiting with the switch from Pruitt to Lupoi should be immediately dismissed when you consider the Alabama DC is responsible for signing seven five-star recruits and 20 four-star recruits as an assistant coach. His recruiting prowess isn’t limited to defense, either, as he’s helped land offensive stars such as Tua Tagovailoa, Jonah Williams, and Najee Harris.
John Chavis – Arkansas
When Chad Morris hired John Chavis, the move was met with mixed reactions. While Arkansas now has a more experienced defensive coordinator than any other Southeastern Conference program — Chavis actually has more experience as an SEC coordinator (23 years) than the rest of the DCs in the entire SEC combined, some wonder how he will manage to handle turning around the Razorback defense after failing to turn Texas A&M into an elite defense in his three years in College Station.
If you consider the wisdom of his former boss at LSU, Les Miles, the key to Chavis having success in Fayetteville will rely on the cornerbacks at his disposal.
“When we have great corners, John Chavis is going to play great football because he knows one thing — that guy has that guy, and that guy has that guy, now you can play zone in between that,” Miles said this offseason during an appearance on Sports Talk with Bo Mattingly. “Those two cats that can play real live man-to-man football, they are an advantage for a guy like Chavis.”
Taking those comments into consideration, having Randy Ramsey and Ryan Pulley — if he can return to form after suffering a season-ending injury in the 2017 season opener, will be the ideal pieces for Chavis to build his first Razorback defense around. If Chevin Calloway or Kamren Curl can develop into a lockdown corner on the outside and incoming JUCO signee Dorian Gerald lives up to his recruiting hype, Chavis’ first defense at Arkansas could surprise next season.
Kevin Steele – Auburn
Thanks to Kevin Steele, Auburn has developed a reputation for having a tough-minded, physical team led by its defense. That’s quite an accomplishment considering Gus Malzahn is credited by many as being an offensive guru and was once considered the league’s top play caller. Now the script has flipped and Steele’s unit is the key to the program’s success on the Plains.
Steele’s effect was immediate upon his arrival to Auburn as the program’s defense improved dramatically in four key areas in his first season as defensive coordinator: scoring defense (from 26 points per game to 17.1), rushing defense (182 yards per game to 132), percentage of third-down stops (45 percent to 35 percent), and sacks (19 to 25). Those numbers remained steady in Year 2 under Steele, as well as the Tigers improved in terms of SEC rank in every category except rushing defense in 2017.
Steele also does a great job of keeping offenses guessing when it comes to where the blitz is coming from. In both of his seasons running Auburn’s defense, 10 Tigers have registered at least half a sack.
Todd Grantham – Florida
Fortunately for Todd Grantham, Florida’s defense doesn’t need a total rebuild. However, when it comes to making an immediate impact, there may not be a better defensive coordinator in the league than Grantham. After taking over one of the worst defense’s in recent SEC history at Mississippi State, Grantham turned that unit into one of the league’s best in just one offseason.
Two areas where the Gators can improve next season? Forcing turnovers and registering sacks. Florida forced only 17 turnovers last season, which ranked 9th in the SEC. Over the last four seasons, Grantham’s aggressive defensive system has averaged 25.5 forced turnovers per season — two of those seasons his Louisville defenses led the ACC in forced turnovers. When it comes to getting to opposing QBs, the Gators only managed 23 last season. Grantham’s defenses have averaged just over 36 sacks per season over the previous four seasons.
Mel Tucker – Georgia
Georgia’s defensive coordinator has deep roots in the Nick Saban/Kirby Smart system. Mel Tucker even got his start in coaching as a GA under Saban at Michigan State and landing his first SEC gig as a member of Saban’s first LSU staff back in 2000. Following his time with the Tigers, Tucker went to work under Mark Dantonio, another Saban disciple, at Ohio State. Following a decade of coaching at the game’s highest level in the NFL, it was no surprise to see Tucker land an associate head coach role in Tuscaloosa under his former boss. After following Smart to Athens, he’s helped build Georgia’s defense into the SEC East’s best unit.
In a non-football related nugget, Tucker proposed to his wife on their first date. Considering she said yes, you have to imagine Tucker knows how to make an immediate impression on the recruiting trail.
Matt House – Kentucky
Entering his second season as Kentucky’s defensive coordinator, Matt House improved the Wildcats’ marks in scoring defense, rushing defense and sacks (from 21 to 30) in his debut season as DC. In addition to his duties as coordinator, House also serves as inside linebackers coach, which is noteworthy considering linebackers Courtney Love and Jordan Jones have been two of the better players on defense for the Wildcats over the previous two seasons. House also knows how to get the most out of elite talent on the defensive line, as he coached Aaron Donald at Pitt before he became a first-round pick by the Rams in 2014.
Dave Aranda – LSU
Arguably the nation’s best defensive coordinator, his recently signed four-year guaranteed salary of $2.5 million suggests LSU certainly believes he is, Dave Aranda’s history shows he can play to the strengths of his defenses. Whether he’s in Baton Rouge — with a vast amount of skill players at his disposal, at Wisconsin — with a stout front seven being the strength of his unit, Aranda understands how to play the hand he’s dealt.
His first two seasons in Baton Rouge have featured defenses that each had seven players register interceptions. He also helped the Tigers immediately improve their pass defense upon arrival. LSU had the SEC’s 12th ranked unit before Aranda’s arrival and ranked as the 3rd best passing defense in his first season with LSU. The program’s scoring defense underwent a similar uptick, as the Tigers had averaged over 24 points per game given up in 2015 (10th best in the SEC) and went all the way down to 15.8 points given up a game (2nd best in the league) in his first year calling the defense.
Aranda’s Badger defenses didn’t have the athletics he now has in Baton Rouge, but they were solid up front. That led to Wisconsin possessing the Big Ten’s No. 2 ranked rush defense in 2013, No. 4 in 2014 and finishing up with the league’s No. 1 rush defense in Aranda’s final season with the Badgers in 2015.
Wesley McGriff – Ole Miss
Wesley McGriff has one thing in common with Matt Luke, they are both the only full-time coaches on the Ole Miss staff that date back to Hugh Freeze’s first staff in Oxford. McGriff was a defensive coordinator on both, achieving great success in his first stint as co-DC with Ole Miss back in 2012. The Landsharks led the SEC in tackles-for-loss (103) and finished second in sacks (38) that season. Denzel Nkemdiche, Trae Elston, and Issac Gross all earned some form of All-Freshman honors as well.
McGriff left the college game for a few seasons and coached defensive backs for the Saints. During his time in New Orleans, McGriff coached players such as Keenan Lewis, Kenny Vaccaro and Jairus Byrd in his defensive backfields. Before returning to Oxford, McGriff coached Auburn’s defensive backs in 2016. That season, the Tigers advanced to the Sugar Bowl.
Bob Shoop – Mississippi State
Named 2014 National Defensive Coordinator of the Year by 247Sports, Bob Shoop was instrumental in helping James Franklin turn things around at Penn State and, of course, played a huge role in Vanderbilt’s resurgence serving as defensive coordinator under Franklin from 2011-2013.
Shoop has also shown the ability to help a defense immediately, as his first Penn State defense ranked 2nd in the nation in total defense and 7th in the nation in scoring defense. Penn State ranked 49th in total defense and 58th in scoring defense the season before Shoop’s arrival.
Mississippi State’s defensive coordinator has a strong track record of developing elite college defensive linemen, too. He helped former walk-on Carl Nassib develop into Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year in 2015 and become a third-round draft pick. Shoop has proven he can work with more touted linemen just as well. In his first season coaching Derek Barnett at Tennessee, the lineman became a consensus All-American selection, an All-SEC selection and a first-round selection in the 2017 NFL Draft.
Ryan Walters – Missouri
A longtime assistant under Barry Odom, Ryan Walters was promoted to full-time defensive coordinator this offseason in Columbia. The former defensive back specializes in coaching the backend of the defense and has done so for the previous four seasons for Odom, dating back to their days at Memphis.
During their time with Memphis, Odom and Walters helped improve the Tigers from a three-win program to a 10-win program in a single season. Following that massive turnaround, the two both left for Mizzou. Considering Odom was a former safeties coach in Columbia, the fact he chose Walters to be his first safeties coach at Mizzou should speak to his trust in him to get the job done.
Travaris Robinson – South Carolina
Having worked under Will Muschamp since 2011, Travaris Robinson has coached and recruited some of the best defensive backs in recent SEC history. The list of defensive backs that have worked under Robinson includes Matt Elam, Vernon Hargreaves III, Marcus Maye, Keanu Neal, Jalen Tabor, Quincy Wilson, Duke Dawson, Carlton Davis, Johnathan Ford, Jamarcus King and Jamyest Williams.
In his first two seasons in Columbia, his first two years of being a defensive coordinator, South Carolina’s defense has quickly developed a reputation as an elite turnover causing unit. The Gamecocks finished with the second-most forced turnovers in the SEC in 2016 with 27 and led the league in forced turnovers last season with 28.
Kevin Sherrer – Tennessee
Kevin Sherrer has limited experience as a defensive coordinator, having only held that post once before in 2013 for South Alabama, but his ties to Jeremy Pruitt run as deep as any coaching duo. They both played at Alabama together, and they both coached at Hoover High School on the same staff. When Pruitt got the call from Nick Saban to join his first Alabama staff, Sherrer replaced Pruitt as Hoover’s defensive coordinator. After Pruitt worked his way onto Saban’s staff as a full-time assistant, Sherrer filled the open off-the-field position at Alabama that Pruitt previously occupied.
During Sherrer’s lone season as South Alabama defensive coordinator, the Jaguars finished No. 2 in the Sun Belt in scoring defense, total defense, passing defense and led the conference in sacks (38) and tackles-for-loss (87). Last season, Sherrer coached linebackers for Georgia, which turned out to be the team’s best position on defense. The unit included SEC Defensive Player of the Year Roquan Smith, Davin Bellamy, Lorenzo Carter, and Reggie Carter.
Mike Elko – Texas A&M
A semifinalist for the Broyles Award (given to the nation’s best assistant coach) last season, Mike Elko has made several stops in recent seasons but has found success at each of his stops along the way.
Dating back to his days as Bowling Green’s defensive coordinator (2009-2013), Elko’s unit led the MAC in scoring defense total defense, rush defense and pass defense in his final two seasons with the school. After taking over a bad situation on defense at Wake Forest, Elko’s unit improved in each of his three seasons with the Demon Decans and finished as the ACC’s No. 3 scoring defense, led the conference with 27 forced turnovers and racked up 41 sacks.
His ability to improve a defense with talent immediately, like he’ll have in College Station this fall, was proven last year in his only season with Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish dramatically improved in the following defensive categories last season: rushing defense, pass-efficiency defense, scoring defense, third-down defense, turnovers gained, sacks and tackles for loss.
Jason Tarver – Vanderbilt
Looking to take some responsibilities off his plate on game days, Derek Mason hired his former colleague and close friend Jason Tarver to lead Vanderbilt’s defense next season. Tarver may only one season of experience as a full-time college assistant this century but the one year he was coaching college, as DC for Stanford in 2011, the Cardinal had one of the best defenses in the Pac-12. The team went 11-2 that season, went to the Fiesta Bowl and featured the No. 2 scoring defense in the league.
While Tarver may not have much college experience, he has over a decade of experience coaching defense in the NFL and coached Patrick Willis into becoming an All-Pro in the 2007, 2009, and 2011 seasons. Willis also made the Pro Bowl every single year of Tarver’s five seasons in San Francisco.