What Will New Coodinator Mean For Texas D?

New Texas Co-Defensive Coordinator Larry Mac Duff is a 30-year coaching veteran, including multiple stops in the NFL, and continues the pipeline from Arizona's renowned 'Desert Swarm' defense to Austin. What can we expect from the Longhorn defense with Mac Duff on board?

For starters, Co-Defensive Coordinator Duane Akina will now be calling the plays this season (Sources close to the situation told Inside Texas just before the Alamo Bowl that coach Mack Brown was leaning toward giving Akina the reins to the defense. The source also cautioned us pay little attention to the list of the possible candidates being mentioned in the media, namely Jerry Gray and Joe Kines). Akina will continue to coach DBs while Mac Duff has been assigned to direct the linebackers. Mac Duff, who played linebacker at Oklahoma in the early 1970s, is slated to arrive in Austin early next week.

Mac Duff is Texas' fourth defensive coordinator in five seasons, but Akina was elevated to co-defensive coordinator following Carl Reese's resignation in January, 2004. It is somewhat of a surprise when a NFL coach not only agrees to something other than the 'full-time' designation at the collegiate level but is also willing to defer play-calling to a younger sidekick. Yet, MacDuff and Akina are lifelong colleagues and close friends. Both worked together at Arizona from 1987-96 and also at the University of Hawaii from 1984-85. Mac Duff was also the defensive coordinator at Arizona from 2001-02 under former Texas coach John Mackovic. Mac Duff accepted the job after Akina opted to come to Austin just one month after accepting the position with the Wildcats.

While former Arizona coach Dick Tomey is the name most closely associated with the Wildcats' Desert Swarm defense in the early 1990s, Mac Duff is actually credited with designing the record-setting scheme (with a tip of the hat to Tom Landry who invented the Flex Defense for the Dallas Cowboys in the late 1970s). In the desert, it was known as the Double-Eagle flex defense, characterized by its constant pressure and attacking style. It bases out of the 4-3 but it moves (flexes back) two defensive linemen off the line of scrimmage by at least two yards. The offset linemen are the designated tacklers/sackers while their teammates attempt to disrupt blocking assignments. One could almost say that Mac Duff's schemes were the defensive version of the spread offense. He spreads defenders all over the field, even to the point where blockers (ideally) fail to distinguish between, say, a DE, a SLB or a safety. The flipside is that the scheme has proven susceptible to four- or five-wide passing sets and is predicated upon having above-average personnel, particular t DT and at CB. But Mac Duff''s defense led the nation in 1992 by yielding just 8.9 ppg. One year later, Arizona's run defense finished No. 1 nationally after surrendering 30.1 ypg, setting a Pac-10 record.

If there is a tinge of Tomey's influence in Texas' scheme in 2007, it may be this: during his one-year stint as Texas' DE coach in 2004, Tomey often talked about 'defending the goal line with a passion.' Conversely, former Co-Defensive Coordinator Gene Chizik schemed to defend the line of scrimmage with a passion (so to speak) last season, placing an emphasis on run support among the safeties which left them vulnerable to big plays in the passing game. By season's end, Texas had the best run defense and worst pass defense in program history. Chizik stubbornly stuck with his base defense; he played more zone and blitzed less than Akina preferred, indicative that we are likely to see more man defense and nickel- and dime-coverages and an array of blitz packages in 2007. (In fact, any semblance of the Double-Eagle Flex Defense thrives when cornerbacks are able to play man coverage with any sort of consistency).

Mac Duff's hire is another indicator that Brown places a primacy on NFL-caliber coaches when he goes looking for a new coordinator. Greg Robinson, of course, came to Texas after three seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs while Gene Chizik had previously turned down an offer from the Jacksonville Jaguars before coming to Austin in January, 2005. He also declined to become the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' secondary coach following Texas' national championship season.

Mac Duff was the special teams coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers for the past four seasons. It says something when an NFL assistant is retained when there is a regime change at the top. Mac Duff was one of the few 49ers coaches that Mike Nolan kept when he took over as the 49ers head coach in 2005. (Note: Nolan and Mac Duff have an extensive history, dating back to when they were on staff at Stanford in the early 1980s). San Francisco ranked sixth in the NFL in net punting last season (41.6 yards), while 49er P Andy Lee is on record for crediting Mac Duff with his improved numbers. (Mac Duff refined Lee's techniques by shortening his steps and by teaching a more compact release). Mac Duff was also the special teams coordinator for the New York Giants during their last Super Bowl season.

Special teams could be an area where Mac Duff could give an improving Longhorn unit an additional boost. Texas ranked among the nation's Top 20 in four special teams categories at the end of the 2006 season and has blocked more kicks than any other Division-I program (under Akina's watch) during the past five years. The Achilles Heel, relatively speaking, remains kick-off coverage. Texas' coverage team finished No. 41 last season after yielding 19.5 yards-per-return.

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