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Rutgers Football: Potential Candidates for Defensive Coordinator

Jim O'Connor-USA TODAY Sports

Yesterday, it was announced that seven of the nine assistant coaches were fired by new head coach Chris Ash.  As expected, both offensive coordinator Ben McDaniels and defensive coordinator Joe Rossi were not retained.  In addition, special teams coordinator Phil Galiano, assistant head coach/running backs coach Norries Wilson, linebackers coach Bob Fraser, defensive backs coach Darrell Wilson, and offensive line coach Mitch Browning were all let go. For now, wide receivers coach Anthony Campanile and defensive line coach Jim Panagos remain. Campanile has strong ties to North Jersey and Panagos has been very effective recruiting, specifically in Florida. They both seem to be popular among the players as well. It remains to be seen if Ash plans to keep them past the February 3rd signing day.

After making it official that Vince Okruch has been hired as the special teams coordinator, the search continues to fill the coordinator roles on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball.  Yesterday, we reviewed five potential candidates to fill the offensive coordinator role.  Filling that position will probably take longer than filling the defensive coordinator role, as Ash may still be developing his vision for the offense and need time to find the right fit. With Ash being a former defensive coordinator, he knows exactly the type of coach he wants to execute his defense. He also has several strong ties to candidates that could fill that role.  Both former head coaches that Ash worked for at Iowa State, Dan McCarney and Paul Rhoads, were recently fired from their positions and are available.   There has been a lot of internet chatter that Rhoads hiring as is imminent. So much that two Rutgers football beat writers commented on it.

Rhoads was the head coach at Iowa State the past seven seasons, compiling a 32-55 record.  He is by all accounts a class act, but after making three bowls in his first four seasons, he went 8-28 the past three seasons. If there is one thing we have learned in the post-Hermann/Flood era, the predictable choice is not what ends up happening.

McCarney is a mentor of Ash, as he worked for seven seasons as a graduate assistant and then defensive backs coach for him at Iowa State. McCarney was recently fired as the head coach of North Texas.  He went to a bowl and had a 9-4 record his first season there, only to go 4-13 since and was fired after an 0-5 start this season.  McCarney is also 62 years old and there are no indications on what he wants to do next.

Despite coaching under both men, I don't think Ash goes the route of hiring former mentors who have both been fired as head coaches this season.  He is looking to inject positive energy into the Rutgers program, and with his own defensive background, can afford to hire an up and coming coach on the rise.   Two names that could be a possibility are Brendan Daly and Todd Orlando.

Daly played and coached with Ash at Drake University in the late nineties. He then had graduate assistant one year stints at Maryland and Oklahoma State, before taking on the strength and conditioning role for Okie State.  He then coached the defensive line for one season at Villanova before starting with the Minnesota Vikings in 2006. Daly has been in the NFL ever since, also working with the St. Louis Rams and currently is the defensive line coach for the New England Patriots.  Ash has talked about bringing in a winning culture and Daly is fresh off a super bowl victory.

Orlando has been the co-defensive coordinator at Houston this past season under head coach and former Ohio State assistant and colleague of Ash, Tom Herman.  Orlando had previously served as defensive coordinator at FIU, UCONN and Utah State. From this Houston Chronicle article earlier this season, star linebacker Elandon Roberts had this to say about Orlando, "Intense," said Roberts, the Cougars' senior inside linebacker and national leader in solo tackles. "He's never just going to sit back. He brings the 'juice' to every practice. When you walk into the [meeting] room you can feel the urge. It's time to go." That sounds like a coach that would fit in with Ash's persona well. Orlando also played for Barry Alvarez at Wisconsin, who is part of the Hayden Fry coaching tree that Ash stems from.

Another possibility could be Ruffin McNeil, the recently fired head coach of East Carolina, who reportedly refused to accept a contract extension because it did not allow for a salary increase for his assistants. He is known as a high character coach who was beloved by his players and community.  For that reason and based on the circumstances with McNeil at East Carolina, Ash may consider him despite being recently fired.  He would bring a wealth of experience, having served as defensive coordinator at Appalachian State, UNLV, Fresno State and Texas Tech. McNeil went 43-34 at East Carolina and had gone to three straight bowl games before a 5-7 finish this season.

Whoever Ash decides to hire as defensive coordinator, there is no doubt their philosophy and vision will match his own.  Rhoads and McCarney are the obvious names to consider based on their connection and availability. However, I expect Ash to dig deeper in his search.   Whether that means Daly or Orlando or someone else entirely, how well they mesh with Ash's vision will be the key.  That is why I do think whoever he hires, there will be some connection or familiarity between the two.