Clemson's Defensive Coaches: A Closer Look

After the last-second loss to Virginia two weeks ago, most Clemson fans were calling for Coach Bowden to do a little house-cleaning among the defensive coaching staff. However, a thrilling overtime win over Georgia Tech made most fans soften their criticisms, in large part because the young Tiger defense came up big when they had to.

Facing the nation's most efficient passer, the D thwarted all three attempted 2-point conversions by the Jackets and held them to a field goal on the last 2 critical drives of the game. Undoubtedly, most fans don't think we're in as dire straits as they did a couple weeks ago, but skepticism still remains about the Clemson defensive coaching personnel.

The two best indicators of a coach's productivity have to be on-the-field performance and effectiveness as a recruiter. So, can our defensive coaches coach, and can they recruit? Well, before I get into that, I think it's important to analyze each coach's credentials. So, here goes………

Rodney Allison – A former quarterback at Texas Tech, Allison has coached the majority of his career as a runningbacks coach, with stints at Duke, Southern Mississippi, and Auburn. He joined Tommy Bowden's staff in 1998 as a defensive ends coach, marking the first time in his career that he had coached on the defensive side of the ball. Bowden clan connection – Allison coached running backs under brother Terry and with Tommy at Auburn.

Thielen Smith – A former linebacker at LSU, coach Smith has taught among the high school ranks, then as a linebackers coach or defensive line coach at Southwestern Louisiana, Tulane, LSU, Northeast Louisiana, and then again at Tulane. Bowden clan connection – Smith coached defensive line at Tulane, where the Green Wave defense was mediocre at best during Bowden's tenure.

Jack Hines – Hines coached high school football for 11 years, with stints as a graduate assistant at Florida State and coaching at Samford and Auburn. Bowden clan connection – Hines in Coach Bowden's brother-in-law. Other than coaching high school football and at Division I-AA Samford, Coach Hines has never worked under anyone other than a Bowden.

Reggie Herring – A former All-American linebacker at Florida State, Herring has been a linebackers coach and/or defensive coordinator at Auburn, Oklahoma State, and Texas Christian, before coaching at Clemson since 1993. Bowden clan connection – Herring started 3 years at linebacker for Papa Bowden at FSU. Bobby Bowden even stated one time, "I don't think Reggie knows the meaning of the word fear. In fact, I've seen his grades – he doesn't know the meaning of a lot of words."

Let's take a look at how well they can recruit. In last year's signing class, 29 players inked with the Tigers. Of those 29, Clemson's defensive coaches were the primary recruiters of only 7 of those signees. In fact, signing 9 players alone, Rick Stockstill out-produced the total production of all 3 defensive recruiting coaches. In addition, Brad Scott equaled their production by signing 7 players by himself.

Here are the totals of players signed

Rick Stockstill – 9

Brad Scott – 7

Burton Burns – 4

Rodney Allison – 3

Thielen Smith – 3

Ron West – 1

Mike O'Cain – 1

Jack Hines – 1

While joining the staff late into the 2001 recruiting campaign, Mike O'Cain single-handedly inked as many prospects as Ron West and Jack Hines. In addition, the quality of player that the defensive coaches signed doesn't compare to that of our offensive coaches. Airese Currie, Roscoe Crosby, Tymere Zimmerman, Charles Bennett, Ben Hall, Mo Fountain, David Dunham, Eric Sampson – all the thoroughbreds from this past recruiting class with multiple offers were signed by either Scott or Stockstill.

To Rodney Allison's defense, even though he only recruited 3 players, the ones he did recruit - Leo Reed, Rod Whipple, and Leroy Hill - all had a handful of other Division I offers. Thielen Smith, on the other hand, only signed 3 players – Michaeux Hollingsworth, Wendell Singletary, and Mark Jetton - who had very few other Division I offers other than Clemson. Singletary had to choose between Clemson and UNC, who had just fired their head coach. Now, I'm sure they're all great players, but from an objective recruiting standpoint, neither Hines nor Smith can take credit for winning a "recruiting war" over a major prospect.

As for how well the defensive staff members can coach, that's anyone's guess. Tommy Bowden is ultimately the only person who can do anything about it, and he possesses much more knowledge about how good they are than I or any other fan who is dissociated with the team could. However, with the defensive production we've had since Bowden has been here, you've gotta wonder if Coach Bowden is second-guessing his staff decisions.

I think Jack Hines has to be the most suspect. Any job he's ever had other than high school coaching and a brief stint at Div. I-AA Samford has been under a family member. You'd think if he was really good, like Terry, Tommy, and younger brother Jeff, he would have served under several different bosses with no Bowden ties. If on the field performance is any indication, no one can argue that, given the amount of talent Hines had to work with last year, the secondary underachieved.

Last year all 4 starters in Clemson's secondary were NFL-caliber defensive backs. Robert Carswell and Darrell Crutchfield are currently playing in the NFL. From a talent standpoint, there's no doubt in my mind that Alex Ardley possessed even more talent than either of those two. The reason he didn't make the cut with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers stems from his off the field troubles. Charles Hafley, the final starter from 2000, is a quality player who could very well be playing in the NFL at the end of this season. With that kind of talent, I just don't see how the secondary could have been so terrible. Even with a poor pass rush, I don't understand it.

The most glowing indication that this unit underachieved was the play of Darrell Crutchfield. He got burned so many times last year, his jersey turned brown, yet he wound up on an NFL roster when Keith Adams didn't. That right there is enough reason to suggest Crutchfield's use as a scapegoat among Clemson fans for last season's secondary woes is totally unfair to the young man. I just don't understand how someone with NFL talent can look so awful in a collegiate scheme. Talent doesn't explain it.

As far as the defensive line goes, Coach Bowden has obviously expressed concern about the defensive line this season with the depth problems, but he also has been very critical of the line play in each of his first 2 seasons he was here. Plus, Bowden has to be wondering if he should have chosen someone with better credentials – heck, Allison had never coached defense in his life before he came to Clemson. There hasn't been a time under those two when the defensive line wasn't a weakness of this team. You really have to wonder if prized recruits out of high school like Terry Bryant, Jovon Bush, and Terry Jolley would have been more productive if someone other than Smith or Allison instructed them.

From my brief experience on the practice fields, I've been critical of the amount of yelling Smith and Allison do. Tthat has to lose its effectiveness if it's done all the time. The difference between the two seems to be that Smith actually appears to be a teacher in that he provides very intricate instruction on technique in many different facets of the position. Allison basically compensates for a lack of knowledge at the defensive end position by yelling louder when a player knows he made a mistake or by yelling louder to make a player hussle, (which is on every play).

I can understand giving a guy an earful if he slacks off, isn't focused, or begins to wear down. However, I don't understand how Coach Allison can be screaming on the first day of freshmen practice for them to hussle and run through their drills all day long. Does he not realize that on their first day, the freshmen are already itching, dying, begging to show what they can do and give it their all for their new coaches? You don't need to resort to screaming like a crazy savage to motivate them when they're already motivated as much as they'll ever be.

As for Herring, I still contend that he's a great linebackers coach. The job he did in 1999 with three unknown sophomore linebackers who were as green as the grass they were playing on spoke volumes about how effective he was as a position coach. The fact that Herring offered Keith Adams and Chad Carson when no other Division I school would tells me that he also is a tremendous evaluator of linebacker talent. I mean, let's give the guy a little credit in that regard. Also, Herring gets courted at the end of every season by rival programs, which is truly more than anyone can say about Hines, Smith, and Allison.

As for Herring's ability to serve as a defensive coordinator, that could be a different story. I'm not going to touch that one, because it's such a hot topic. I empathize with all the fans that are tired of hearing, "well, let's just give him a little time." Major tests for Herring's defense are still down the road against NC State, Florida State, USC, and Maryland. Plus, Wake Forest has a bruising ground assault that gained over 400 yards of total offense against Florida State. My point is that if Herring's defense continues to improve this year against the tough tests we have ahead, Clemson fans could have a very different opinion of him at season's end, although I'm not too confident right now.

Either way, I don't think Bowden will ever fire Herring. Ever. Now, because of the cold reception Herring has received from Clemson fans so far, he may consider taking another offer at some point, but I doubt Bowden will ever fire him. Look at Bobby Bowden – the man will retire as the best coach in college football history, and one of his trademarks is loyalty towards his assistant coaches. The only firing Bobby Bowden has done occurred in 1983, when Jack Stanton was fired as defensive coordinator so that some guy named Mickey Andrews could replace him.

I just don't think Tommy will ever fire Rodney Allison and Jack Hines, either, because of the strong Bowden ties. Allison worked with Tommy at Auburn and received glowing recommendations from brother Terry. Jack Hines is an impossible fire because the family vacations may become a little awkward.

In a nutshell, I think the offensive coaches have proven their competence through the on-the-field performance of our Tigers since Bowden has been here. What no one can argue, though, is that our offensive coaches have proven to be infinitely better recruiters than our defensive coaches. With the recruiting record of Jack Hines, Rodney Allison, and Thielen Smith, one could easily make the case that they should only retain their jobs if they produced a better final product than the offense. From this layman's perspective, the choice appears fairly easy to makes some staff changes.

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