Q&A with Coach Paul Randolph

If ASU's offense is poised to be high octane this season, get ready to experience a "nitro" defense as well. To explain that title, as well as provide an assessment of the returning and incoming defensive linemen, Devils Digest sat down with ASU's co-defensive coordinator and defensive line coach to talk about those topics and more in this exclusive and in-depth interview.

DevilsDigest: It seems as if almost every staff member has some kind of connection to Todd Graham, but obviously no one has a more of an extensive working relationship with ASU's head coach than you do. Can you walk us through your coaching career path with Graham?

Paul Randolph: "The connection started when I coached at Toledo and Coach Graham who was at West Virginia was promoted to defensive coordinator and they needed a defensive line coach. I got a call from him and I didn't know a single soul there. I interviewed and I was hired. He was in charge of FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) and once he got promoted he needed someone else to be in charge of that. So, I think because of my background with FCA he hired me (laughs). But I was fired up to be there.

"I was with him for one year there and when he left for Tulsa I left for Alabama and was there for three years. When he got the head coach position at Rice he called me. He said that he called five or six times to get me to come to Rice, but that's not true - he only called me three times (smile). Naturally, I joined him there because I knew his passion, I knew his energy and I knew that if anyone could turn it around it would be him. Then I followed him to Tulsa, Pittsburgh and here at Arizona State."

DevilsDigest: As someone who knows Coach Graham so well, how would you describe him both as a coach and a person?

Paul Randolph: "He's a coach that wills his team to win everywhere he has been. Everywhere he has been he always has set goals for him and his staff to accomplish there. As a staff we always stood firm to what we are capable of doing. We always put a lot of emphasis in our relationships with the kids and help them mature to becoming young men and give them a foundation going into the real world.

"I believe in the things Coach Graham believes in. We recruit players that have high character and want to get the most out of their education. I believe in these ideals and values so it's naturally always easy for me to be with him on the same staff."

DevilsDigest: Graham's high octane concept is not exclusive to the offense. As defensive coordinator can you give the defensive version of this concept?

Paul Randolph: "High octane is for the defense – for the defense I like to call it nitro. High octane is 93 octane and we on defense are going nitro which is a little more juiced up. That nitro people put in their cars is highly volatile and explosive. But put it in the right situation you can harness that energy and become something special. That is how I see our defense.

"When you see us on defense, you see 11 busy bodies with a purpose. I like to think about it like a sand blast machine: you got all those grains of sand that are just sitting there dormant. But the minute you put them under pressure they become a driving force. That's how I see us as a nitro defense – highly explosive attacking defense that plays with a purpose. That is what I want our defense to look like. We're attacking, we're pressuring, we're swarming but it's all controlled chaos."

DevilsDigest: Your title is defensive coordinator, but Coach Ron West is listed as co-defensive coordinator. Can you explain how both of you divide the duties of this position and who will be responsible for play calling on game days?

Paul Randolph: "Every stop I have been with Coach Graham, and even coaching at other places, the way our staff was always set up is that there are no big egos because we are all in this thing together. If we ask our players to be unselfish, we as coaches have to lead by example. We understand as a defensive staff that it doesn't matter who gets the credit.

"Each person on our staff brings different experiences. Coach West was a defensive coordinator at a few places. He coached defensive line and linebackers and even coached offensive line. So he brings the perspective of coaching on both sides of the ball. If we're talking about how another team's offensive line is going to protect our pressure, he's our go-to guy. He will tell us what is the best way to attack them. We play Illinois this season and he coached there last year. So guess who is going to be our go-to guy when we prepare for that game?

"My job is to make sure we can all work together. The final say-so comes from me – I'm the defensive coordinator. But everyone in our room has some input. Coach Ball has been a defensive coordinator in this league at Washington State and of course Coach Graham knew that when he hired him. Coach Ball is a defensive backs guy and in my eyes he's my defensive pass game coordinator. I'd be foolish not to use his expertise as someone who coached in this league and is a defensive backs guy. So he has his input when we're talking 3rd and long, two-minute drill and all those types of things.

"Joe Lorig recruited the West Coast, and has been both a secondary and linebackers guy so he brings his own expertise. So in my eyes, Coach Graham has done a magnificent job putting together a great defensive staff. Each of us has been a defensive coordinator and has a little of an ego but that is OK, because we are all good enough friends and professionals to know that as we go our defense goes. So we will be one unit and as we go each week we will get input from all the coaches on staff.

"My responsibility is for the vision of this defense, the attitude, and the little details of the defense – no question about it. Game planning during the week will determine if I'm calling plays on Saturday or Coach West. Most of the time it will be me, but I will rely heavily on the guys that sit with me on my right and on my left in the meetings during the week. Your calls are determined in those meetings, not on Saturday. So we will build that game plan as a defensive unit."

DevilsDigest: With spring practice starting up in a week you're very busy these days reviewing the defensive line's performance from last season. As you go through that process, how would you assess this group?

Paul Randolph: "We have guys with experience and that's the best thing I like about this group. Some of the players here are explosive, some our gap guys. Just like our coaching staff it's good to have players who each of them bring a different element.

"You have Will Sutton who's an explosive guy and was highly productive last season. Corey Adams played last year and had pretty good production and he was asked to be a gap guy getting doubled team and letting the linebackers play. He has done his job extremely well. Davon Coleman has experience playing a lot and starting in some games. Carl Bradford who's our hybrid linebacker/defensive end played well, Joita Te'i, Gannon Conway and Toa Tuitea all played last year…so to me I'm tickled to death that I have eight, maybe nine guys with Pac-12 experience. Hopefully that translates into leadership because we don't force leadership on players – we ask them to lead themselves. If they can do that and play the way we want them to play with passion and enthusiasm then the leadership will come.

"I like the experience we have on defense up front and in the backfield. Coach West has his job cut out with the all the inside linebackers that graduated or left to pursue an NFL career, but he will get it done."

DevilsDigest: Can you give me your evaluation on the four linemen signed in the recruiting class?

Paul Randolph: Jaxon Hood – "He fits what we are about - highly explosive. Great character, athletic, nasty, playmaker – that's Jaxon Hood all lumped up into one bundle of joy with a smile on his face. He wants to come in and play as a freshman. Guess what? I will give him the opportunity to do that. We will determine if he's ready to play or not. But he represents everything we are looking for in a player we recruit. This is how we want all of our defensive guys to be like athletically, socially and academically. All of our new guys will play inside, but Jaxon could play five-technique in some situations."

Milo Jordan – "He has some work to do, but Milo possess the same athletic ability. He isn't 285 lbs. so he may be a three-technique lineman. He's a playmaker and a hard worker and just has to continue to work hard as he approaches his time to come in here."

Mike Pennell – "This is what a defensive tackle should look like as far as being this wide and this big, because Mike Pennell blocks out the sun. He's 6-5 300 plus plus pounds, but he possess some athleticism – I won't say like a cat, but maybe like a big cat. He's a big unit that can clog up the whole middle by himself but is athletic enough to pass rush. He's a rare athlete to have that kind of size, speed and agility. Great character and I'm tickled to death to have him come and play for Arizona State."

Jake Sheffield – "He's everything we thought he was going to be. Ex-military guy that says ‘Yes Sir' all the time. When Coach Graham talks his eyes are just piercing through Coach Graham as he listens to every word. Even when Coach Graham is asking a question not expecting a response, he will still say ‘Yes Sir.' His work ethic – he works his tail off because that is all he knows. He has a lot of ability and will no doubt play inside. Even though he doesn't have the Pac-12 experience I see him competing to play this season and that's what he wants to do."

DevilsDigest: As a defensive staff you do want to run a 3-4 front, but do you expect it to be a gradual transition this year and something that we'll see more and more in 2013?

Paul Randolph: "Looking at our personnel, and obviously I haven't seen them yet personally on a football field, I think that our personnel allows us to be multiple in our schemes and that's what we want to do. We can show you a 4-3 look, a 3-4 look and even a 3-3 look with the personnel we have. With the defensive guys we have coming in the fall I think our schemes will even look different than they will now in the spring.

"There is no question that with this defense our strength is up front, and this was a 4-3 front a year ago. But we can still be a 3-4 and a 3-3 front this year and again we can be multiple with our personnel without substituting. Just like not substituting is a key to a great offense, it's also a key to a great defense. Offenses these days don't let you substitute anyway, so you want to get in and out of packages without substituting and we will have the ability to do that and still be an attacking defense."

DevilsDigest: What are your spring practice goals for the defensive line?

Paul Randolph: "Number one is mental toughness. I want to see fight, and I'm not talking about physical fight, but being able to push yourselves beyond a certain point even when you are strained mentally. Also, fundamentals, fundamentals, fundamentals. I believe in technique. I believe an average player can become a good player, or a good player can become a great player with proper technique.

"So those are the two things I'm going to look for, and the players will also not have a choice but be relentless in the way we attack the football."

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