Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Mystery man

While it's been widely assumed that Michigan will fill its vacant defensive coordinator position by promoting linebackers coach Jay Hopson (formerly the defensive coordinator at Southern Miss), Rich Rodriguez's comment today in an interview during the Motor City Bowl would seem to imply otherwise:
"I'm putting that on hold until after the bowl games ... A lot of the guys who might be interested are preparing for them right now."
It's possible that Hopson will still end up as the pick, but it's obvious that Rodriguez at least has some other names in mind as far as guys he's interested in talking to.

One person who's been mentioned prominently since Scott Shafer resigned is West Virginia defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel, who turned down the chance to join Rodriguez at Michigan last year. Other potential candidates include John Chavis (D-coordinator at Tennessee under Phil Fulmer), Ron Vanderlinden (linebackers coach at Penn State and a former Maryland head coach and Northwestern D-coordinator who spent time as a grad assistant at Michigan) and Rocky Long (former New Mexico head coach).

One other name -- which I hadn't seen anywhere before this week -- also seems to have jumped into the discussion.

Rick Smith, the secondary coach at East Carolina, apparently is the running. Smith would seem to be an out-of-the-blue candidate, but a brief investigation reveals the following connection to Rodriguez:
1997-1998 Defensive Coordinator & Secondary Coach Tulane
Rodriguez, of course, was the offensive coordinator for Tulane in 1997 and 1998, when the Green Wave finished 7-4 and 12-0, respectively, under Tommy Bowden. Those seasons were the program’s first above .500 in a decade, and propelled Rodriguez and Bowden to greater heights.

Smith, on the other hand, is a bit of mystery. After the 1998 season, he took the D-coordinator position at Cincinnati, which he held for two years, then served as assistant head coach and recruiting coordinator at Kentucky for two years. Since then, he's seemingly gone backward (or sideways, depending on your opinion). He was co-defensive coordinator at Louisiana Tech and then secondary coach for the Berlin Thunder of NFL Europe before getting back into the college ranks with his current position at East Carolina. He is now 60 years old.

This obviously brings about some questions as to why he was never able to move up the way his colleagues did, and makes it a bit odd that he's suddenly in the running for a coordinator job at a place like Michigan.

I haven't heard anything specific connecting him to the D-coordinator opening (other than the previous relationship with Rodriguez), so at this point, I'm having a hard time believing that this is anything more than an unsubstantiated rumor.

Based on Rodriguez's comments from his Motor City Bowl interview, it seems very likely that he's interested in a few guys who are a bit more well-established at the D-coordinator level -- if he wasn't, Hopson probably would have already been promoted. The only real question now is whether he can get one of them.

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