Defensive coordinator Matt Wallerstedt faced a huge obstacle from the moment he signed on the dotted line with Texas Tech. Namely, how was he going to convince his players that this time, it was going to be different. The Red Raider defense has gone through defensive coordinators like Madonna goes through men. There was Lyle Setencich, then there was Ruffin McNeal, then James Willis, then Chad Glasgow and then Art Kaufman. Now comes Matt Wallerstedt.
You could forgive veteran Tech defenders if they needed to look at a program to determine who was coaching them this week.
And let's face it, the defensive results have not been very pretty for as long as anybody can remember. The tenures of Setencich, Willis and Glasgow were unmitigated catastrophes. The defenses showed a pulse under McNeal and Kaufman, but not a whole lot more than that. Indeed, Texas Tech's defensive history going all the way back to the late 80s has not exactly been a chronicle of Napoleonic glory.
Given all of the above, the current crop of Red Raider defenders might have been a jaded, cynical bunch. Hard to convince, and difficult to coach. But to hear Wallerstedt tell it, his players are testifying by the sermon. He frequently uses the verb "preach" to describe his pedagogical approach, and perhaps a certain amount of fire-and-brimstone fanaticism is getting through to the Red Raiders.
"I think really, these guys have bought in," says the Kansas native with the distinctly north of the Red River accent.
"I know Kerry Hyder, you know, I've had conversations with him. He's seen all kinds of defensive coordinators; he's seen all kinds of coaches come through here, and I think his comment was this was the fastest he's seen a package put together as a unit, across the board, everybody learning their job and really executing and having fun within the scheme. They've really bought into what we're doing and we're looking for a big summer."
And it is because of the radical difference between Wallerstedt's scheme and that run by his predecessor, Art Kaufman, that "buying in" is so crucial. Kaufman was a fairly conservative defensive coordinator. He believed in keeping the scheme simple, executing it well, and taking few risks.
Wallerstedt's approach is well nigh diametrically opposite. He preaches (there's that word again) aggressiveness above all else. He wants turnovers. He wants to blitz at both ends of the field and to try to shake something loose. And if his defense gets dinged, well, they've got to get up off the mat and come up slugging again.
That kamikaze approach, predicated upon creating turnovers and havoc is one the Red Raiders seem to like. And that natural affinity doubtless contributes to the buy-in.
"I think a lot of that's a mindset, too," says Wallerstedt about aggression and turnover creation.
"And if you play generic sometimes you may play down. If you call aggressive, then we're gonna collision and run into stuff, and the kids are excited about it, and we've been preaching it and we've had success doing it. So any time you have success doing it they start to buy in even more, so it's been fun to watch the process."
With Matt Wallerstedt calling Texas Tech's defensive shots this season, "generic" is one adjective you will never see. And the Red Raider defensive players, apparently, couldn't be happier about that.