Q&A with Coach Ron West

Devils Digest caught up with ASU's co-defensive coordinator and inside linebackers coach to talk about his defensive philosophy and his expectations of spring practice.

DevilsDigest: You coached with Todd Graham for one year at Tulsa, but aside from that connection, what else brought you to Arizona State?

Ron West: "When I coached at Illinois last year we played Arizona State, I felt that they had great players and a good program. They played very well defensively against Illinois that day and Illinois wasn't able to score a lot of points in that game. So when you have a defense that held a team, like Illinois that day, to just 17 points, you obviously give yourself a chance to win every game. So I was really impressed with the way the defense played in that game and when the Arizona State job became available I was thinking about that game.

"I also liked the tradition of Arizona State football. It's a program which I always heard a lot of good things about and I always have been intrigued by the Pac-12 conference and thought that it was one of the best conferences in college football. So those things, along with coaching with Todd Graham before drew me to this opportunity."

DevilsDigest: It's ironic you talk about the fine job the ASU defense did against Illinois, because no team last year held ASU to fewer points (14) than the Fighting Illini did. As one of the defensive assistants then on the Illinois staff, how were you able to practically shut down a normally potent ASU offense?

Ron West: "We gave the Arizona State quarterback multiple looks, giving the offense something intriguing to take advantage of and then still taking it away from them. I think we created some confusion and the players were very focused and determined to do well and played with a high level of intensity."

DevilsDigest: Arizona State obviously had a spread scheme last season, and this year will have a scheme that will be somewhat similar to that. As someone who coached over 25 years on the defensive side of the ball, does the trend of college football offenses moving to the spread formation create more challenges than the more pro style offense that were prevalent 10-15 years ago?

Ron West: "I think the ability to spread the field, but still be able to run the football creates more problems than being able to spread the field but primarily throw the football. You have to be balanced and have an offense that is able to do both. Those are the ones that create the most problems. Having skill athletes who are fast on the perimeter can create a lot of big plays that hurt defenses. Being able to limit those big plays is the key for every defense.

"I still think you'll still see in our league some more conventional offenses that will run the ball, run the ball and then play action pass, like Stanford. But like you said some offenses like Arizona State last year have the zone read where they are more vertical and have a lot of bubble screens to the perimeter. As a defense you have to be ready to defend both type of schemes."

DevilsDigest: From the short time you have been on staff here, what is your assessment of the middle linebackers and what are your expectations of this group?

Ron West: "They will have to play with extreme passion and vision, and put in a lot of effort to be great football players. Obviously they will have to be physical, but also play clean. We run some blitzes that will put them in situations that will help them make plays. We're a multiple formation defense, but also a defense that has an attacking style. We're not going to sit back and let the offense dictate to us the tempo of the game. We're going to attack and when we attack it doesn't mean that we have be in man coverage, we can also attack playing zone.

"Just like the offense needs to be balanced, so does the defense so it can create confusion."

DevilsDigest: This defense is going to show both a 4-3 and 3-4 look this season. Aside from having an extra inside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme, how do the responsibilities of the inside linebackers differ between both schemes?

Ron West: "A lot of times people watching us will think we're running a 4-3, but because we run multiple schemes it actually won't be a 4-3. A lot of the responsibilities of the inside linebackers will stay the same regardless of the scheme. In a 4-3 scheme you will still blitz with your linebackers, still covered gap routes and cover the edges…it just depends what you want to do with your linebackers.

"The biggest thing about a 3-4 scheme is that it brings outside pressure or inside pressure, but also allows you to drop in coverage. That scheme just allows you to do that more than a 4-3, because you don't have four defensive lineman with their hand on the ground and you have an extra linemen that allows you to cover better."

DevilsDigest: You are sharing the defensive coordinator role here at ASU with Paul Randolph. Can you specify how both of your duties will differ?

Ron West: "We're both are going to draw up the schemes, build the game plan and just talk about the things that can make our defense the most efficient in stopping the run and controlling the pass. It's just about working together to get all that accomplished, not just the both of us but also the entire defensive staff.

"At linebacker I will coach the MIKE and WILL and be responsible for them in the scheme we run. If I have to do some crisscross work with (outside linebackers) coach Loring, we'll go ahead and do so and will help out each other's position."

DevilsDigest: Granted, sure tackling is something that every team works on during practices. Yet, with the struggles the ASU defense has had in this department, especially in the team's five-game losing streak to end the season, will there be more emphasis on this aspect starting with spring practice?

Ron West: "We were going to put emphasis on tackling anyway, because this is how we coach. We're going to tackle from day one and pretty much do it every day of the week. Even when we don't have pads on we will work on the fundamentals of tackling like body position, balance, where your hips are, where your eyes are, where your arms are…all the fundamentals of tackling.

"Tackling year-round is what I've always done as a coach, and that is what coach Graham believes in too. So this is something we were going to emphasis anyway."

DevilsDigest: Aside from improving tackling, what are some of the other goals you are trying to achieve in spring practice?

Ron West: "The biggest thing is that we have to find in the spring is our identity. We want to create a football team that has a passionate attitude and plays with a lot of intensity and effort. We want a physical and tough team. We really need to find out about our players. See what they're good at and what scheme we should run for them to be successful. We want to be a multiple scheme defense that plays with discipline and toughness.

"Hopefully we'll see our character rise to the top by the end of spring practice, and show that we can successfully handle adversity if those situations present themselves. With the way we run spring practice I think we are going to find out a lot about our players."

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