Les Johns

New Wake DC Jay Sawvel on taking the position, moving defense forward

Wake Forest defensive coordinator Jay Sawvel met with Demon Deacon Digest last week as the Deacs get set for spring camp.

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Jay Sawvel was named the new Wake Forest defensive coordinator on Jan. 18, after not being retained in Minnesota after a coaching change.

Sawvel led a top-25 defense for the Golden Gophers, allowing just 348.8 yards and 22.1 points a game.

Sawvel met with the media last week for a brief Q&A session, as the Deacs get set to begin spring practice on Feb. 28.

On why he came to Wake Forest

Sawvel: “It was a really good opportunity to work for coach Clawson. I did not know him personally. I worked for Jerry Kill for a long time, and coach Kill had always spoke highly of him and knew him personally very well. There was always a respect factor there. I think the thing is we always ran into Wake at different times in recruiting. You always have an idea in coaching how teams are doing. All the sudden in year three these guys start off 4-0. Then they’re bowl eligible, then win their bowl game. You know there’s progress being made and the right steps are taking place. Then when I had the opportunity to meet with and talk to coach Clawson, it confirmed what I was led to believe all along — that he’s very intelligent and very well organized. Those are things that are high appeal to me to work for.”

On differences in style of play in the Big 10 versus the ACC

Sawvel: “There’s a lot of teams who are kind of the same. Northwestern was kind of the same structurally as Ohio State who was the same as Penn State who was the same as Maryland who is the same as Duke. A lot of teams run similar things. Your outliers are a bit different. In this league, there’s Georgia Tech. In the Big 10, it’s more Wisconsin or Iowa, who is more old-fashioned two backs. Wisconsin is all these different bunches. They’re both good, but just different. Georgia Tech is really good, but different. I think a lot of teams structurally carry over. I think a lot of people play three wide receivers, one tight end and the tight end is off the ball. A lot of people do those things and it carries over. There’s a great deal of skill in this conference, so that creates a challenge.”

On if he evaluated the defensive talent returning before deciding on the position

Sawvel: “I did look at who they had coming back. I did look at kind of how they had done. I think the thing is, in coaching, this is kind of the tougher type of job to take in this situation. They DID play good defense here, so you’re trying to take a step forward and you’re already on second base. You’re not starting in the batter’s box. That’s something that’s one of the bigger challenges in coaching. You’re not taking a job where any improvement is significant, because they’re terrible. That’s not what this is. This is a team who has played good defense. I looked into those things, but more than anything his track record of success, his track record of how he recruits and develops players in this program. I was very familiar with him for a long time, because I was a 1-AA coach for a period of time. You knew about Richmond. I was in the MAC, so I knew about his work at Bowling Green. You kind of knew those things, and that was a part of the appeal, because if he’s here than you always have a chance.”

On how he has evaluated the talent now that he’s here

Sawvel: “We’re working with them on the field a little bit right now. We’re able to do some position-specific stuff with no balls. You kind of get a feel for how guys move. You see him in workouts. You see how he moves, how he can adjust his body and those type of things. You get an idea that way, but the true idea will come Tuesday when you see them do football-related things. That’s something - until that happens - I’m a matchup coach. What can our players do? What do they not do as well? How do we get them in position to where the best guys can have the biggest impact? Sometimes that will be a little trial and error since there are three of us new on defense. At times, we’ll have a bad day where you come off the field and say ‘that didn’t go very well.’ It’s part of a process where we try to figure out who is best at what. I’ve watched them on video, but you haven’t watched everybody. There’s quite a few guys who redshirted last year. What are these guys like? Those are all things we have to work through and figure out.”

On running the 4-2-5 scheme

Sawvel: “It’s more because the way football is, you have to have a more versatile guy on the perimeter than just a linebacker. We all could call ourselves something else if they lined up with two backs and a tight end. But the reality is, at Minnesota last year we were 75 percent of the time with five DBs on the field. It’s just what is dictated by the offenses now.”

On what Wake fans will notice different about the defense

Sawvel: “The one thing I hope they notice is that there is no noticeable change in production. I hope that’s one part of it. Everything else, beyond that, the biggest thing you want to do defensively is give yourself a chance to win every game. Every game, do you give yourself a chance to win? Do you put yourself in position to do those things? If you do that, that’s the biggest thing. I don’t want them to leave the stadium and say, ‘if they had just played any defense, they would have won.’

Onhaving other fresh faces in the defensive coaching room with him

Sawvel: “It’s been great. I like the staff I work with defensively right now. I think everybody has good backgrounds, and have given good input. We’ve all been coordinators. There’s good ideas all around. It’s been neat to be in a situation where everybody is new.”

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