Watch: Defensive Coordinator Jay Niemann Talks Rutgers

PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- Chris Ash's former coach, Jay Niemann, discussed his experiences before an arrival as Rutgers as the new defensive coordinator. Niemann will coach linebackers in addition to his coordinator duties.

COACH ASH: One thing I learned after that interview is I have to add a couple other criteria to determine whether a guy is a good coach or not. Age limit is one of them and your ability to get on Twitter. I've been doing this for 20 years. I think I'm a decent coach. I don't do much on Twitter. I guess I probably can't coach. I felt like at a young age I was pretty knowledgeable and could do a good job, too. I have unbelievable faith and confidence in Drew's ability or I would not have hired him as the offensive coordinator.

 

The next coach that I'd like to bring up, I have had a very long relationship with for the past 20 years. He actually was my coach in college. Didn't do a very good job because I sucked (smiling). But a guy when you look at the positions on staff that I needed to hire, this position was the hardest one for me to settle on because I'm a defensive coach. I know what I want on the defensive side of the ball. I know what I want it to look like. I know how I want it to be coached. I know the terminology that I want.

 

Doesn't mean it's going to be exactly what I've done in the past. It will be a collaborative effort with the whole defensive staff. But I needed to have somebody in that position that I could work well with. When you talk about character, he's a man of very high character. When you talk about competence, he's an extremely competent football coach. When you talk about capability, Coach Niemann and I have similar defensive beliefs and philosophies and we've talked football darn near every week for a number of years.

 

I thought it was very important for me to get an individual like this to work together on the defensive side of the ball. I will be involved on the defense. I'll be in the room some. I won't be in the room some. As head coach, a lot of other responsibilities you have to do. When I go in the room, I want to know it's a guy that's doing it the way I want it done, and when I leave I have trust and faith it continues that way.

 

Really at the end of the day there was really only one guy I had really the utmost respect for and confidence in being able to work together with to move the defense in the direction we wanted to go.

 

I'd like to introduce Jay Niemann.

 

COACH NIEMANN: Appreciate that. It's great to be here.

 

Chris and I, as he said, have a long-standing history. Dayton a few years back. To be able to coach a guy, to watch his career go as it has as an assistant, then a coordinator, to be able to stand back and admire his work, has been awesome to do. Now to be able to be on a staff and serve as an assistant coach with him being the head coach makes it even more special.

 

It's a thrill to be here. It's a thrill to be here under Chris. He's assembled a great group of coaches in the short time that we've been here that have made a great impression on me. He's assembled a fantastic staff of guys, great coaches, great family men, great individuals. I couldn't be happier with the opportunity.

 

I came here for that reason, but also because I believed in talking to Coach Ash that there was a tremendous upside in this program. We're in a very good location from a recruiting perspective. We're in a program that, in my opinion, isn't that far away from being able to turn the corner and get back to being successful again. A lot of things lined up. It's our job obviously to get the corner turned, to get back on track.

 

I'm just super excited for the opportunity to be a part of that process, to contribute where I can, and to help this program go.

 

With that being said, be happy to answer any questions.

 

Q. Jay, you said you feel like you're in a very good location for a recruiting perspective. Are you talking about the talent in this state, keeping some of that home?

COACH NIEMANN: Well, it's important to do. I think anywhere you're at, you need to be able to recruit your backyard successfully. That goes without being said.

 

This whole area of the United States, New York, New Jersey, where we're at, we have a lot of players in this area that are within our reach from a geographical perspective. Not everybody in the country obviously has that luxury.

 

Our job obviously is to go get the best players we can that fit the profile of what Coach Ash wants for our program. We're in a place from a population base where we have a good chance to do that.

 

Q. Have you had a chance to look at this defense on film? It struggled in a lot of games last year. Where do you start when you're rebuilding a defense?

COACH NIEMANN: The first answer is, no, I haven't seen a lot of film. We watched bits and pieces of a couple of games just to get an idea of some of the skill sets of our players. We haven't spent a great deal of time on that and probably won't, in all honesty, until we get through the signing date and have a chance to have that be a higher priority. Right now recruiting is front and center.

 

You have to assess what your guys can do. Drew made reference to that talking about the offense. You can't fit square pegs in round holes. We have to see what our guys can do and hopefully we can build a defense around what they're capable of. That's the first thing we've got to do.

 

Q. Last few years on defense specifically, the secondary has struggled, one of the worst in the country. Having looked at the film, what did you see that was the problem and what changes need to be made?

COACH NIEMANN: I wasn't here obviously in the past, didn't know exactly what went on in terms of who played and what the reasons were for them playing.

 

My understanding of the short-term is some guys got maybe pressed into duty a little quickly, maybe more quickly than what they were ready for. We have to go back and look at how many techniques were taught, were they being asked to do more than they were ready to do. That's all behind us.

 

Moving forward, we have to see what their skill sets are, make sure we're teaching techniques and fundamentals they can do, coverages they can play, then we have to go ask them to execute those things to the best of their ability.

 

Q. There's been times in the past where Rutgers' defense has struggled to find an identity. What do you want the identity to be of this defense?

COACH NIEMANN: Well, first thing we want to be is tough, we want to be aggressive, we want to be physical. We want to be a defense that's fundamentally sound. We want to be a defense that doesn't give up big plays because we're fundamentally sound. Sound on our technique, we want to be a group that plays together with a lot of pride. Those are things that come to me.

 

Q. Did Chris really suck as a football player? Then, seriously, how does your vision match with what he's going to be trying to teach?

COACH NIEMANN: Well, no, first of all, he didn't suck. He was a typical coach that had a playing career probably like a lot of us coaches. Most of us were overachievers. He was an extremely hard worker. He did go through a knee injury which obviously made it tough for him at times until he rehabbed and got back.

 

Student of the game, hard worker, great to coach. Just always hungry to get more knowledgeable about becoming a master of his position, all the things you would expect out of a guy that's gotten himself to where he is right now.

 

He alluded to this earlier when he was up here talking. We have been in close contact over the years, just talking football, everything from scheme to philosophy. So while we've been in different programs, we at the same time have stayed pretty connected. No two people are ever identical, but I think we're really, really close on our beliefs.

 

Q. Jay, you've been a head coach before, then you were a defensive coordinator at D-III. This is your first Big Ten caliber job. Something you wanted for a long time or something that kind of wasn't always a goal and just worked out because it's Chris and it's here?

COACH NIEMANN: I never have a roadmap that says I needed to be at the BCS level. I spent five really good years at Northern Illinois before coming here. We played Ohio State. We played Iowa. We played Northwestern. We played Purdue. I think how we played defense in those games will speak for itself. If you want to go back and look, you're welcome to.

 

I feel comfortable with this role. I am sure he wouldn't have hired me if he didn't feel like I could do a good job with it. I'm excited for that. Hopefully that answers your question.

 

Q. North Illinois, one of the tenets was a lot of takeaways. Can you teach the mindset of that or is that something that happened to work out for that defense?

COACH NIEMANN: I think absolutely you can teach it, coach it, demand it. Hopefully those things come to fruition on game day.

 

I know this: if you don't work on it, it's not likely to happen. It's always an emphasis on the defensive practice field for us.

 

Q. Have you had any conversations with Darius Hamilton at all?

COACH NIEMANN: The only conversations I've had have been with the linebackers, the guys that I'm getting ready to coach. They've been pretty brief in nature. Just trying to make sure the guys are getting ready to come in and report next week, that they're set to go with the workouts. Beside that, we haven't gotten into great depth, I haven't, with any of the guys.

 

We'll talk more about their roles and those types of things once they get here. First thing I wanted to do is get to know them as people, get to know what makes them tick. I think if you can build that trust, have that type of relationship up front, all the other things will come off of that eventually as we work our way through with them.

 

Q. I think you're the only coach who was a head coach of the assistants. Do you think that will be an asset to Chris?

COACH NIEMANN: We really haven't talked about that. It can be an asset. To sit in that chair is different, I will say that. Anybody who has been in that chair knows. Those who have been close to people in that chair have a pretty good idea of that.

 

Chris is going to do a great job in that role. I can already see that. He's going to make that transition as smoothly and seamlessly as anyone can.

 

It's up to him as to whether he wants to try to include me in any question-and-answer sessions of opinions or questions of that nature. That's his prerogative. I'll be available if that's what he wants to do.

 

Q. You also are the dad of a Big Ten football player. Does that help at all, knowing the league that way?

COACH NIEMANN: I don't think it helps at all from an X and O perspective or anything like that to say you have a son, I'm going to actually have two sons that are playing in the Big Ten. It just is what it is. My roots are in Iowa. That's where I grew up. That's where my kids grew up for a large portion of their life. That's where the majority of our family is at. Consequently that's where they chose to go to school. That's just how it worked out.

 

I don't think there's really any advantage one way or the other going through the recruitment process as it relates to what I do.

 

Q. This has historically been a 4-3 defense here. Is that the plan going forward? Also, what is it like being the elder statesman of such a young staff?

COACH NIEMANN: What ever gave you that idea (smiling)?

 

You have to have a starting point. Coach Ash's base is 4-3. That's what mine has been, too. Myself as a coach, when he was playing, he as a player, me as a coach, cut our teeth on 4-3. That's been a while ago. It does dovetail and go in different directions, different areas with your X's and O's. So that's where we'll start.

 

As Drew said earlier, I think one of our big jobs is to decide what our players can do and make sure we're not stuck in our ways and set on things to the point that we can't make adjustments in the scheme to fit the people that are playing it. That needs to be the number one thing front and center, to put our guys in the position to do things they're capable of doing.

 

Q. And being one of the older guys?

COACH NIEMANN: Oh, that part (smiling).

 

That's a perception. Age is a number. I still feel like I can go out there and run on the field with a lot of enthusiasm, keep up with everybody else.

 

Experience plays a role in helping for us to try to do what we're doing as a staff. That's a plus. Beyond that, I don't think about it too much.

 

Thank you.


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