Shealy and Wyatt best fit for KU defense

Most Division One head coaches forced to replace an experienced defensive coordinator with fall camp just a couple of months away would likely find themselves scrambling. Not Turner Gill. For him, the best choices to fill the void were right down the hall.

When Carl Torbush made the difficult trek into Turner Gill's office approximately three weeks ago to inform him of his plans to retire from football, Gill was understandably worried.

Not for the future of his defense, but for his friend's health. Once he learned Torbush - who is preparing to battle low-grade prostate cancer - would be okay, the butterflies in his stomach stilled.

Why? Losing a defensive coordinator just two month before the start of fall camp should send any head coach into a flurry of activity, right? Furiously working the phones, making contact with friends in the profession to scope out viable candidates as quickly as possible.

But not Gill. Thanks to careful planning when first building his staff in December of 2009, all he had to do was open the door of his office and walk down the hall.

"At that point in time, I had to start getting in my mind how I was going to go about the process, and who," Gill said. "There's no question I didn't leave from our staff, because I knew we already had people on this staff who were capable of being defensive coordinators."

Namely cornerbacks coach Vic Shealy and defensive line coach Buddy Wyatt, who were announced Tuesday afternoon as defensive coordinator and co-defensive coordinator respectively.

The two represent the correct choice for a number of reasons. For one, Gill pointed out they were hired to helm the defense in the event of some unforeseen circumstance - as which Torbush's health issues certainly qualify.

Additionally, Shealy and Wyatt possess a veritable treasure trove of coaching experience between them. Shealy has served as a defensive coordinator at two programs in the past - first at UNLV from 2005-2007, and then again in 2009 at his alma mater, Richmond - while Wyatt has been a defensive line coach with some of the sport's heaviest hitters - including Texas A&M, Alabama and Nebraska.

Though Shealy will have the final say on any decisions, according to Gill part of the reason both were promoted was because of how well they worked together in 2010.

"We're very similar in our philosophy," Wyatt explained. "Vic's background is pressure, being aggressive, and that's the same background I come from and my philosophy. I want to try to dictate to the offense sometimes what they have to do instead of them dictating to us all the time what we need to do. We're just similar, and we're all in this thing together."

The most important reason of all, however, has little to do with anything on their respective resumes. Instead, it has everything to do with ensuring the steps forward they took at the end of last season were not wasted.

It's about making sure a group of players who have undergone a great deal of upheaval on the coaching front in recent years can still rely on some familiar faces at practice each day.

"The main thing is continuity," Gill said. "Confidence in having these two guys together along with the rest of our players, we really felt that was very important for us to have continuity. I thought we made a tremendous amount of progress really from probably the second half of the season all the way through spring football."

Though all three reiterated that they hate to lose an experienced voice and a quality person like Torbush, most of his base philosophies will be maintained - with a few wrinkles.

Much of the improvement they witnessed during the spring had less to do with scheme than it did with an infusion of talent (thanks to redshirting players becoming available) and the work of the strength and conditioning staff.

If you take a player who has made himself more athletic through hard word and dedication in the weight room, and move him closer to the ball - say, make a safety into a linebacker - suddenly the difference in speed and dynamism is even more readily apparent.

Now, whereas an unblocked player at that position might not have been able to get to the quarterback in 2010, suddenly he's all over him.

"Those things will progress us forward quickly," Shealy said. "We'll look more athletic in the fall because of it."

There will be some schematic changes, yes, as the Jayhawks look to - in Shealy's words - "line up and create havoc." In 2011, the Kansas defense will look to take away the run through speed and heavy numbers flying to the ball, while creating pressure on the quarterback and planting doubt in the minds of the opposition.

Does it sound like a tall order? Sure. The Kansas defense was, after all, one of the worst in the Big 12 last year statistically.

But Gill, Shealy and Wyatt have seen the growth and improvement first hand. They're optimistic about the future.

And they might even have a few tricks up their sleeve.

"I would rather not get too much into the scheme stuff, because we would like to be able to have that first game or two still have some surprises out there," Shealy said, with a touch of a wry smile. "And I think we'll have some nice surprises. But let's make them kind of figure it out after the ball game and not show too much."


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