Sherman's Critical Search For a DC

While the state of Texas seems to be fascinated with the details of Mike Leach's firing and the practice accommodations of Adam James at Texas Tech, the Texas A&M football program and head coach Mike Sherman are quietly searching for a new defensive coordinator. Websider's David Sandhop dives into the search for a new defensive coordinator and breaks down the possible candidates for the job.

While the state of Texas seems to be fascinated with the details of Mike Leach's firing and the practice accommodations of Adam James at Texas Tech, the Texas A&M football program and head coach Mike Sherman are quietly searching for a new defensive coordinator. But this isn't just any assistant coaching hire. Sherman's choice of defensive minds to lead the once great Wrecking Crew will likely determine the ultimate long-term success or failure of the Sherman era.

As an innovative offensive coordinator and head coach with the Green Bay Packers and Houston Texans, Sherman has had no problems quickly building a potent offense in College Station. With a decimated offensive line and few playmakers at running back or wide receiver, Sherman has come out of the starting blocks quickly with successfully attracting nationally-recruited offensive prospects and developing a young core of talent into a No. 6 national ranking in 2009. The future is definitely bright on the offensive side.

However, the same can't be said for the defense under coordinator Joe Kines, finishing in the No. 100's nationally for the past two seasons. Of course, it's hard to put all the blame on Kines given the talent limitations on defense. The talent has slowly improved, and with another talented class arriving next summer, the time for the Aggies to get defensive is now. Thus, it's a good time for a change. Joe Kines did an admirable job under tough circumstances and without his handpicked staff, but with the defensive pipeline now filling up, Sherman should have a better chance of attracting a high caliber defensive mind that can take this unit to the next level. Thus, the A&M defensive coordinator job that couldn't attract top-level candidates two years ago with a depleted talent pipeline, is now a pretty attractive job with the young talent now in the system and the nice price tag that comes with the position.

While we've been told that Coach Sherman is casting a wide net for potential replacements, the word on the street seems to be focusing on two names currently, with a third dark horse candidate also in the discussion.

Phil Bennett has been mentioned as a candidate even before the position came open. Why? Well, he's a good defensive coordinator having led LSU, Texas A&M, Kansas State, and Pittsburgh all to nationally ranked Top 25 defenses. At Kansas State, he had the number one defense in the country and in 1995 at Texas A&M he directed the No. 3 defense in the nation.

We all know that he played at Texas A&M in the 1970's, coached in the mid-1990's, and currently owns a home in College Station where his wife resides. He has made no secret that he'd love to come back home to Texas A&M. Bennett and Sherman also worked together under coach R.C. Slocum in the mid-1990's. So it's logical that Bennett is a serious candidate.

With that said, there appears to be another serious candidate emerging in Sherman's search and that's Tim DeRuyter, the current defensive coordinator at the Air Force Academy. At age 46, DeRuyter has been very successful at several stops in his career, but it's the turnaround that he's orchestrated at Air Force that has the coaching community taking notice. He inherited a porous defense in 2006 and now heads the No. 11 defense nationally. He employs a very aggressive, high risk-high reward approach that has the Falcons No. 4 nationally in creating turnovers. He's been linked to jobs at Virginia, Georgia, and now Texas A&M. Sherman coached with current Air Force head coach Troy Calhoun in 2006 on the Texans' offensive staff, so there's no doubt Sherman has consulted with DeRuyter's boss on his possible fit at Texas A&M.

There will be other names pop up over the next few days, but a dark horse name that has surfaced is the young defensive coordinator of the Boise State Broncos, Justin Wilcox. Only in his early thirties, Wilcox is considered a talented young defensive coach with a bright future. The Bronco defense is ranked No. 14 nationally going into tonight's Fiesta Bowl against TCU. His peers rave about his ability as a coordinator as well as his ability to connect with young men and recruit. He's considered the best recruiter on the Bronco staff and he's been rated as a top recruiter in the nation by some recruiting services.

Here's a closer look at the profiles for these three candidates:

Tim DeRuyter

Tim DeRuyter is in his eighth year overall at Air Force and third since returning to the Academy following the 2006 season. This season is his third as the defensive coordinator/safeties coach and second as associate coach. His 2009 defensive unit finished No. 10 in the nation in both yardage and points scored. His unit ranked No. 5 nationally in pass defense and No. 4 in turnovers created.

DeRuyter established the defensive unit into one of the most improved in the conference in his initial year. The Falcons were sixth in the conference in total defense, fifth in rushing and scoring defense. The Falcons were at the bottom of the conference in each category the year prior.

The defense continued its improvement in DeRuyter's second year, finishing fourth in the conference in every category, total defense, scoring, passing and rushing. Nationally, those numbers are even more impressive. The Falcons ranked 35th nationally in total defense and were in the top 50 nationally in three of the other four categories.

The Falcon defense has allowed just 21.1 points per game over his two seasons which is the best two-year total since the team entered Mountain West Conference play in 1999. The unit has allowed just nine opponents to score 30 or more points over the two-year span. The attacking 3-4 style helped several individuals excel as well. Safety Chris Thomas established himself as one of the top defensive players in the league. A second-team all-conference honoree last year, Thomas posted his second-straight 100-tackle season in 2008. He also set an Armed Forces Bowl record with 16 stops.

A 1985 USAFA graduate, DeRuyter came to the Falcons after two seasons as Nevada's co-defensive coordinator. He worked with the Wolf Pack safeties and directed the pass defense along with assistant coach Barry Sacks.

Prior to his stint at Nevada, DeRuyter spent three years at Ohio University, serving as defensive coordinator and secondary coach. He helped produce the 25th-ranked defense in the NCAA and the No. 2 defense in the Mid-American Conference in 2004. Prior to his stint in Athens, Ohio, he worked for three years at Navy. He also worked at Air Force for four years as a full-time military coach and served one year as a graduate assistant. He worked at Ohio University from 1995-98 as the defensive coordinator.

All told, DeRuyter has 18 years of coaching experience, all at the NCAA Division I-A level, and has coached in nine bowl games. He has experience with both 4-3 and 3-4 defensive schemes and in pressure, attack-style philosophies from different, unpredictable formations. DeRuyter's defenses have traditionally been ranked among the national leaders during his 18-year coaching career at three different I-A schools.

Phil Bennett

The three-decade coaching veteran came to Pittsburgh last year and put his own imprint on the Panthers' defense. Pitt ranked among the country's top 30 in both total and rushing defense. Moreover, Pitt intercepted 16 passes during the 2008 season, the second-highest total for the Panthers since 1996. In 2009, the Pittsburgh defense under Bennett also ranked in the nation's elite, finishing No. 23 in overall defense, No. 17 in rush defense, and No. 1 in sacks.

Bennett joined the Panthers after serving as head coach at Southern Methodist University from 2002-07. Prior to SMU, he oversaw some of the country's top defensive units while at such schools as Texas A&M, Kansas State and Louisiana State.

While rebuilding the program at SMU, Bennett improved the Mustangs' win total for three consecutive seasons, including his 2006 team that reached bowl eligibility and achieved the program's highest victory total in a decade. That squad also received the American Football Coaches Association's (AFCA) 2006 Academic Achievement Award after SMU earned a 100% graduation rate for its freshman class of 2000-01.

Prior to SMU, Bennett was the defensive coordinator and secondary coach at Kansas State for three years (1999-2001). During his tenure, the Wildcats finished among the nation's top five in total defense each season, including second in 1999 (235.0 yards/game), fourth in 2000 (270.54) and third in 2001 (262.36).

Bennett's secondary units were equally impressive, finishing in the top 10 in pass efficiency defense each year. The 1999 Wildcats led the entire country in pass efficiency defense with an impressive 65.7 rating. They also topped the nation in turnover margin (1.55 margin/game), collecting 21 interceptions and 17 fumbles.

In 1998, Bennett served as secondary coach and co-recruiting coordinator at Oklahoma as he helped the Sooners finish sixth nationally in total defense. In 1997, he was the defensive coordinator at Texas Christian and helped the Horned Frogs earn their highest defensive rankings in five years.

Bennett was the defensive coordinator at Texas A&M from 1995-96. American Football Quarterly named him its 1995 "Defensive Coordinator of the Year" after the Aggies ranked in the nation's top 10 in every major defensive category, including total defense (third), scoring defense (third) and pass efficiency defense (second).

From 1991-94, Bennett served at LSU, including his final three seasons as assistant head coach. In 1994 he was the Tigers' defensive coordinator. That season, LSU led the Southeastern Conference in every major defensive category and finished eighth nationally in total defense. Bennett's positional focus was the outside linebackers his first three seasons and the secondary his final year in Baton Rouge.

Prior to LSU, Bennett held defensive coordinator posts at Purdue (1987-90) and Iowa State (1983-86). In 1982 he coached TCU's tight ends and tackles. Bennett began his coaching career at Texas A&M as a part-time defensive ends coach from 1979-80 before assuming a full-time position in 1981.

Justin Wilcox

Justin Wilcox, 32, is in his fourth season as defensive coordinator at Boise State and his sixth season overall after working as a graduate assistant for the Broncos from 2001-2002.

During the first three seasons with Wilcox in charge of the defense, Boise State led the Western Athletic Conference in total defense and scoring defense each year. In 2009, the Bronco defense is currently ranked No. 14 nationally going into their Fiesta Bowl matchup with TCU Monday night. Last season the Broncos led the WAC in total defense (308.2 yards per game), pass efficiency defense (94.4 rating) and scoring defense (12.6 points per game). Nationally, the Broncos finished 2008 ranked No. 2 in pass defense, No. 3 in scoring defense and No. 20 in total defense.

In both 2006 and 2007 the Broncos also led the WAC in rushing defense. In 2007 the Broncos were nationally ranked in pass efficiency defense (24th), total defense and scoring defense (25th), passing defense and sacks (26th), and rushing defense (35th). Nationally in 2006, Boise State was eighth in rushing defense, 14th in total defense, 20th in scoring defense, 28th in sacks, and 30th in pass efficiency defense. Wilcox's defense was instrumental in helping the 2006 Boise State team to a 13-0 record and its now-famous 43-42 overtime win over Oklahoma in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.

Before assuming the duties as the Bronco defensive coordinator, Wilcox spent three seasons at California as linebackers coach. While coaching at Cal from 2003-2005, Wilcox helped the Golden Bears to three straight bowl games and 26-12 record. The Bears played in the Insight Bowl in 2003, the Holiday Bowl in 2004, and the Las Vegas Bowl in 2005. Wilcox was credited with turning his linebackers into a unit that epitomized the Cal defense's swarm-to-the-ball philosophy.

In his two seasons as a graduate assistant at Boise State, Wilcox worked with the Broncos' outside linebackers. He helped Boise State to an upset victory over No. 8 Fresno State in 2001 and a 12-1 record and a No. 15 national ranking in 2002.


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