Donte Williams (pictured with Maurice McKnight during Pro Day at Spartan Stadium on Mar. 18, 2015) earned widespread respect among San Jose State football fans for his recruiting skills and coaching a top Spartan secondary. An original member of Ron Caragher’s coaching staff, Williams was recruiting coordinator and defensive backs coach. Under Williams, the San Jose State pass defense ranked #1 in Division I FBS in passing yards allowed in 2014 and #2 in the same statistic in 2015. Additionally, Williams gained national media recognition from Sports Illustrated for his quality recruiting classes.
After the retirement of defensive coordinator Greg Robinson, who had been on staff for the past two seasons, speculation emerged that Williams would be promoted to defensive coordinator. Oddly, as word got out from media that San Jose State had hired new coaches for the defensive line (Barry Sacks) and linebackers (Arnold Ale), there was nothing about a new defensive coordinator. Soon after San Jose State reportedly offered the DC position to Williams, the University of Arizona announced Sunday that Williams would join Rich Rodriguez’s staff as a defensive assistant. Previously, Williams was a candidate for coaching positions at Texas Tech and North Texas, so it was no secret that he would be gone once offered a job higher up the coaching ladder.
The departure of Williams sparked much concern and fear among the Spartan fanbase, some justified and some not. When a recruiter sells players on a school only to leave, it is a given that some players may switch commitments. Poaching of San Jose State recruits did happen after Mike MacIntyre took the head coaching job at Colorado after the 2012 regular season. Already, some current San Jose State commits say they would not have given commitments had they known Williams would leave.
However, the disappointment of not promoting Williams to defensive coordinator warrants some skepticism. Williams has nine years of coaching experience, all either as a graduate assistant or position coach. Elsewhere in the Mountain West, Boise State’s Marcel Yates (who is now in the same position at Arizona) first became a DC in his 12th season as a coach, in 2012 at Texas A&M. Air Force’s Steve Russ got his first DC job in his seventh coaching year. Yet San Jose State has a unique situation: The 2015 season showed the need to supplement Ron Caragher’s relative inexperience as a Division I FBS coach with seasoned coordinators. Under offensive coordinator Al Borges, whose career dates back to the mid-1970s, the Spartan offense improved in points per game, yards per game, and red-zone efficiency. The younger Jimmie Dougherty just could not cut it as a Division I OC. Greg Robinson, whose career is similarly as long, also improved the defense after the disastrous Kenwick Thompson experiment of 2013.
Losing Donte Williams perhaps has the hidden benefit of opening the door for Barry Sacks to be the next defensive coordinator in addition to defensive line coach. Sacks, a coaching veteran of nearly three decades, previously coached the D-line at San Jose State from 1998 to 2000 under Dave Baldwin. Sacks most recently was co-DC at Nevada from 2004 to 2006 under Chris Ault. Each season, the Nevada run defenses improved statistically, giving up 4.9 yards per run in 2004, 4.3 yards in 2005, and 4.0 in 2006. With San Jose State’s run defenses stubbornly giving up 5.0 or more yards per run during the Caragher era, the current defensive line coaching staff was not producing the results for a consistently successful team. Furthermore, thanks to Williams’ recruiting efforts, Sacks will have plenty of talent on defense to coach up, such as defensive backs Andre Chachere and Maurice McKnight and linebacker Frank Ginda. Sacks will also balance out the relative youth of Arnold Ale and new defensive backs coach Will Harris.
With National Signing Day just under two weeks away, it is important for Caragher to name a new defensive coordinator in a timely matter, as recruiting is on the line. It would have been better for Caragher to have been more proactive with the DC position, since he likely knew about Robinson’s coming retirement before it became public knowledge. Caragher already has a well-qualified DC candidate on staff in Sacks, his qualifications being not just his last name. Even if Williams did become DC, the hiring of Sacks still would have provided the defensive staff an older member from whom the younger coaches could have gained much wisdom and knowledge.