Saturday, June 16, 2007

Everett Withers: A Closer Look

The new University of Minnesota defensive coordinator has his work cut out for him. Last season, the Gophers defense ranked near the bottom of college football.

The Gophers were:

86th in scoring defense at 26 pts/gm
113th in overall defense at 426 yds/gm
92nd in rushing defense at 158 yds/gm
117th in passing defense at 268 yds/gm

Most Gopher fans remember the shocking comeback Texas Tech made against the Gophers last December. It's the job of new coordinator Everett Withers to turn those numbers--and the sometimes painful results--around.

Withers comes to the Gophers with an excellent track record. He spent the last five years as defensive back's coach with Jeff Fisher and the Tennessee Titans. Before that, Withers was at the University of Texas where he held the same position. Withers also has had a chance to run his own defense during a stint at Louisville from 1995-97. So, what to expect from Withers?

According to CBS Sportsline, Withers' philosophy is to get after it on defense.

His philosophy is the roughly the same as an angry pit bull: attack, attack, attack.
And he's had success doing it. In 1996, at Louisville, Withers had the Cardinals defense ranked fouth nationally in both total defense and rushing defense. That team gave up 235.8 yards per game and 81.1 on the ground. That same team also forced 41 turnovers, good enough to lead the NCAA.

And it was at Louisville where Withers began an encouraging stretch of developing talent. With the Cardinals, Withers helped bring along Sam Madison, who has turned into an All-Pro with the Miami Dolphins. And with Mack Brown at Texas, Withers brought along another familiar name.

At Texas, Withers helped develop cornerback Quentin Jammer into one of the Big 12's best defensive backs and helped ease redshirt freshman Dakarai Pearson into a starting role at safety.
And in Tennessee, Withers has helped Chris Hope, Tank Williams, Kevin Dyson, Adam "Pac Man" Jones and Lance Schulters, among others, progress. At Lousiville, Texas and Tennessee, Withers has improved the product he was responsible for.

During his last season in Texas, Withers had the Longhorns ranked best in the coutnry in pass efficiency defense, holding opponents to a 45 percent completion rate.

Withers guided a Longhorns secondary which ranked 75th in the nation in pass defense in 1997 (132.7 efficiency rating) to first in the nation in 2000 (88.02). Withers is credited with helping a young corps of defensive backs improve in a number of statistical categories after becoming familiar with the pro-style man-coverage philosophy.
Withers continued his success in the NFL:

From 2002-04, Withers helped the Titans defense tally 57 interceptions, which was the most for the franchise over a three-year period since 1993-95. The 57 interceptions also ranked fourth in the AFC and eighth overall during that time. The Titans totaled 21 picks in 2004, including 16 by the secondary. In 2002, Withers directed a revamped secondary that added safeties Lance Schulters and rookie Tank Williams. The new arrangement helped the defense earn a top 10 ranking and Schulters’ six interceptions were the most by a Titans safety since 1993. Withers also developed Andre Dyson into a starting player as a rookie in 2001 and helped him total 16 interceptions during his four-year Titan career, including six his final season.
Gopher fans shouldn't expect an instant turn around. While Glen Mason didn't leave the cupboard bare exactly, the 2007 defense will need to learn a new attacking philosophy. And for Withers to succeed in Minnesota as he did at Louisville and Texas, he'll need the same type of players. Brewster and the Minnesota recruiters have helped that process by getting landing some early committs for the 2008 class.

Brewster coached with Withers at Texas and seems to be willing to hand over day-to-day defensive duties to the well-traveled coach. Brewster has given Mike Dunbar control of the offense, and his comments to an interview with the U's Goal Line Club, it appears he'll do the same with Withers. Brewster said:

He is a man who I have been able to put into a leadership position. He has deserved to be in a leadership position for a long time, he just didn’t get theopportunity. I am giving him the opportunity
It would seem Withers is qualified for the opportunity in Minnesota. He has a coaching track record that might even surpass that of our head coach. He should have success turning aroud the oft-devastated Minnesota defense. He'll just need some talent to make it happen.

This was the fourth installment of PJS' look at new assistant coaches for Minnesota's football and basketball teams. Previously, we looked at offensive coordinator Mike Dunbar and basketball assistants Vince Taylor and Ron Jirsa. As promised, we're saving Saul Smith for last, because, well, nepotism isn't cool.