Defensive backs coach Bill Lewis, defensive line coach Jappy Oliver and inside linebackers coach Brian Polian already understood the principles of a 3-4 defense. They were trying to get a feel for what Brown, the person who Irish head coach Charlie Weis hired after the Sugar Bowl to turn this defense around, likes to do, how he calls a game, and how he coaches.
"Bill knows more football then I'll even think about knowing, so it's not so much learning the system, it's just learning how we want to do things in certain situations and kind of putting it together," Brown explained. "Even Jappy, I think it's more we're all learning each other more then anything else. Knowing this is what we want as a group in this situation, this is why we're calling this coverage, this is what we expect on this area of the field.
"I think we're comfortable now. We're just working now. We got through all that getting comfortable part."
As the Irish defense heads into the 2007 season, there is a lot to work on, and a lot of young players to get ready to play. The Notre Dame defense has ranked 65th and 75th the past two seasons nationally, and you can quickly tell from Brown that production like that will be unacceptable. With an aggressive attacking-style defense, young, experienced, whoever, you're out there to make plays, and if you're not getting it done, Brown will try to find somebody else who will.
"We would like as a group across the board, coaching staff and players, we would just like to be known as a group that plays hard," Brown said. "We're competitive, we don't give up big plays. That's what we want. We don't want anything else, but you earn everything you get. Nothings given to you. You go out and earn it. We have goals and we're going to work to reach those."
Weis figured the best defense to suit what he knows and the players on the team would be a 3-4 formation. He tried to hire Brown to his staff when he took the job at Notre Dame, but finally got his man this past off-season. New York Jets head coach Eric Mangini let Brown know Weis contacted him, and he quickly went from being a defensive backs coach in the NFL to a defensive coordinator on the college level.
Under former defensive coordinator Rick Minter's scheme last season, Weis had to ask the defensive staff a lot of questions as far as where are players supposed to be on particular plays, did he make the right read, etc, etc, before passing judgment. Weis said on Monday he is the guy on the staff that probably knows the defense the second most. Through meetings before the spring, spring camp, and afterwards, Oliver, Lewis and Polian have caught up with everything.
"First of all, that's a heck of a football coach," Lewis said. He knows a good coach when he sees one, being that he has coached on the college or professional level since 1963. "He's a heck of a player and a heck of a coach. I've learned an awful lot from Corwin in the time that he's been here, and I'll continue to learn from him because he is that kind of individual and that kind of coach. We have a lot of similarities in the things that we believe in, so it's been a smooth transition. I think he would agree with that. From a coverage standpoint, as far as the back end is concerned, we've probably had to make the fewest adjustments."
Oliver has worked for 10 different college programs since he started as a graduate assistant at his alma mater Purdue in 1979.
"Obviously, I've been around a lot of different programs that have run a lot of different systems," Oliver said. "There is some techniques here and there that are a little different, but the main thing is terminology. Once you get adjusted to the terminology and how you call things, a lot of it's the same. Just a technique here and there that may be different that you want them to do in a particular package that is different from another package.
"Corwin is just eager. He is eager about everything. He lights a fire not only under us, the kids. He's like one of the kids and I like that. We work well together and we just see nothing but good things coming out of this defensive staff and defensive team."
Polian works very closely with Brown, as Brown also handles the outside linebackers. A college linebacker at John Carroll University, the 33-year old Polian is the youngest assistant on staff. He quickly got on the same page with Brown and what he is trying to bring to Notre Dame.
"I think it begins with philosophy and it was not me explaining mine, it was getting on the same page with coach Weis and coach Brown and understanding what it is we're trying to achieve and why we're doing certain things," Polian explained. "Once you understand the philosophy and where it's coming from and what the base principles are, then the rest of it kind of falls in place. Ultimately x's and o's are not that difficult. There is always some adjustments no matter what you're doing and that takes some time to learn all of those things inside and out. But no matter what you're playing, it's about beating blocks, it's about running, and it's about tackling."
***Brown brings flexibility to the coaching staff, that can only help the Irish defense get better. He played eight seasons in the NFL as a safety, retiring in 2000, before coaching special teams at Virginia and the defensive backs with the Jets. In practice, you'll see him jump around from position to position, so players are getting more individual treatment.
"I think that from a defensive structure that we will benefit, and we did a lot of this in the spring and continue to do it in the fall, is Corwin will be working with our outside linebackers, and there is times we did this in the spring and we will do this in the fall, Brian will have all four linebackers and Corwin will come with me," Lewis explained. "And what we'll do is he'll take the safeties or I will and the other guy will take the corners to give us an opportunity to spend more time with the individual technique work that the safeties have and the corners don't have, and that the corners have and the safeties don't have. I think that does nothing but give our guys the opportunity to get better."
Same thing goes for the linebackers when Polian is working with the inside guys and Brown is working with the outside guys.
***To start fall camp, Brown and the defensive coaches will touch on what was learned in the spring. However, if a player didn't retain much, he could quickly get left behind as installation for the Sept. 1 opener against Georgia Tech begins.
"You have to go back and make sure they still know some of the things we taught them in the spring," Oliver said. "Then how quickly they grasp things, yes you go out there and keep feeding them more.
"You're eager. Especially if you have a young kid, a talented kid, somebody that hasn't played very much, if they're on equal footing with one of the guys you had in the spring, if they didn't retain as much, you're probably going to pay a little more attention to that new guy."
***It was an easy transition for the defensive staff to adjust from former defensive coordinator Rick Minter to Brown. Polian thinks it has been just as easy for the players.
"I think one of the great things that coach Brown has done with our football team on defense is that he has helped them understand why it is we're doing certain things and what it is we're trying to achieve," Polian said. "If they have a better understanding of what we're trying to do, instead of just memorizing when I hear this I do this, they're knowledge base increases and how they understand concepts is better now."