Simmons, Stretz Retained on ASU's Staff

What started as a speculation became official this weekend. Cornerbacks coach Al Simmons and defensive line coach Grady Stretz will make the transition from Dirk Koetter's staff to Dennis Erickson's. Both coaches joined the Sun Devils in 2006, and were part of an impressive turnaround on the defense. Devils Digest spoke to the two on Saturday regarding the good news they received.

Al Simmons, a 21-year coaching veteran, has previously spent a total of four years as an assistant among Erickson's staff, serving as the San Francisco 49ers' cornerbacks coach in 2003 and the team's secondary coach in 2004. Prior to coaching under Erickson in the NFL, Simmons served as Oregon State University's secondary coach in 2001 and 2002, also under Erickson's direction. "The guy is extremely competitive," said Simmons. "You can feel it in the way he talks. He's very passionate about the game, and works very hard. He's a good man that players can relate to and want to win for him – he has that type of personality."

His familiarity with Erickson means that he has faced his innovative offense many times in practice and has a first-hand experience with the punch it packs. "He's done a good job spreading his offenses out," explained Simmons. "He's one of the first guys (in college football) in the late 80's early 90's running with an empty backfield set, running the shot gun and getting rid of the ball quickly. His offense was hard to blitz. He does everything for the most part with one personnel group, so you didn't know as a defense what you were gonna get. So, he always had the passing talent, but he also always had a 1,000 yard rusher. So his objective is to run the football first, and when he spreads you out he creates (running) lanes."

During his first season at ASU, Simmons helped mentor a Sun Devil pass defense that ranked third in the Pac-10 (181.9 avg.), the lowest average by a Sun Devil defense since 1992. His cornerback unit will have its stiffest test of the season, as they face the nation's leader in total offense on Christmas Eve – the University of Hawaii.

Simmons has seen Hawaii just last year, as he was coaching with San Jose State. "Their quarterback is as good as anyone in the country," Simmons commented. "He has tremendous confidence in his abilities, he's extremely accurate and what's most impressive is that is very accurate when he throws on the move. What we have to do to stop them is not let them know what we're doing, because their receivers adjust their routes based on coverage."

As someone who just moved to the valley less than a year ago, there's a sense of relief on a different level for staying put with ASU. "You move into your house, and because you work so hard you just unpack the things you need (smile)," notes Simmons. "I still have a lot of boxes in the garage I haven't gotten to. So it's a blessing for me that it happened this way, and I don't have to move. There was a period of uncertainty when you didn't know who was gonna be here, and your mentality was ‘whatever happens, happens.' Some things you can't control, and you can't worry about them. Things happen for a reason, I got lucky and I just count my blessings."

Unlike Simmons, Defensive line Grady Stretz had no prior experience coaching with Erickson. Yet, his achievements in 2006 were impressive enough for his new boss. ASU had the third-greatest defensive improvement in the nation, allowing 298.5 yards-per-game, 170.25 fewer yards-per-game than the Sun Devils allowed in 2005. On the ground the maroon and gold yielded only 116.6 rushing yards-per-game, 63.2 fewer yards than last year.

"I had a chance to visit with him the other day, and talked to him about what we were able to accomplish this year and our plans for next season," said Stretz. "I obviously heard the great things about him and the good work environment he has, so I obviously was interested in staying here. I'm glad it all worked out."

Out of all the defensive linemen who played a significant role this year, ASU loses only three senior players: Jordan Hill, Kyle Caldwell, and Will Kofe. The teams still stands a chance to get a sixth year of eligibility from pre-season All-American Loren Howard who missed all of 2006. The more certain new additions for next season are a pair of junior college transfers who redshirted due to injury – Alex Fa'agai and Martin Tevaseu, as well as a tandem of talented freshmen who redshirted in Jon Hargis and Zach Niusulu. "I'm excited to working with those guys in the spring," remarked Stretz, "developing them and seeing how they come along. They really can help our front four."

Keeping Stretz in the fold is also invaluable for recruiting purposes. Stretz is a valley native, who is very familiar with the local high school scene. "I have roots here in the valley," he said, "and it's good that I can touch base with them (recruits) again and tell them I'm still staying around and introduce them to the new coaching staff."

Sun Devil Source Top Stories