Huskies' new defensive coordinator making fiery impression
By Neill Ostrout Journal Inquirer
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STORRS - Many football coaches use different terminology and verbiage to explain the same play or alignment, so that when new coaches are hired there is often a period of adjustment for the incumbent players to learn a new approach even if they aren’t forced to learn a new scheme.
That certainly was the case this offseason for the UConn football team when defensive coordinator Lou Spanos was brought aboard.
In nearly a quarter-century of coaching football at various levels, Spanos has developed his own way of doing things and teaching players. And that’s not just evidenced by few phrases in a playbook.
There is also the partially bilingual, moderately profane manner of reminding his players how to count that he displayed Thursday.
“Uno, dos, tres, (&*>% #@!$) four!” Spanos barked at one of his players during a morning practice in the Shenkman Training Center, using one of his apparently favorite sentence structures.
He has only been on the job here just over a month and the Huskies are only half-way through their allotment of spring practices, but Spanos is already making an impression on the UConn defenders.
That’s no doubt in part because Spanos is a little fiery on the practice field.
“A little?” safety Tyler Coyle, the junior from Windsor, said in mock surprise. “He’ll get you going in the morning, now.”
A good wake-up call is clearly what the Huskies need.
UConn went 1-11 last season and set all-time national records for defensive futility, allowing an almost unfathomable 617.4 yards and 50.4 points per game.
That led to the firing of defensive coordinator Billy Crocker and the hiring of Spanos, who spent last season as a defensive analyst on Nick Saban’s staff at Alabama.
“Obviously I didn’t control last year. What we’re doing right now is focusing on our technique, our alignments, communication, just fundamental football,” Spanos said. “We’re trying to move the line of scrimmage back, tackling, and getting opportunities at the ball.”
As for his style of coaching, Spanos dismisses the notion that it is contrived or unique. He’s just being himself.
“People make labels. All I know is I’ve worked with a lot of good coaches and I have my own identity. I really just coach the way that I would like to be coached,” Spanos said. “You just have to be yourself and make sure the players understand what you want to do and they apply it, and also they have to have fun.”
Spanos has 24 years of coaching experience, most notably 15 years with his hometown Pittsburgh Steelers in the NFL, but he also has spent time at the college level, including a stint as UCLA’s defensive coordinator.
He doesn’t boast about his experience or show off the Super Bowl XLIII ring, but his past does come up in his current dealings with the Huskies.
“We’ll talk about situational football throughout the meetings and in practice,” Spanos said. “I’ll give examples from what I had throughout my career. We showed one the other day with James Harrison returning one for a touchdown. You know, sideline mechanics and getting things blocked. All the little detail stuff that helped us win the Super Bowl.”
The Huskies aren’t close to thinking about Super Bowls or national titles, of course. They’ll start with figuring out how to open the 2019 season against Wagner on Aug. 29 with a victory.
That, and putting the pain of 2018 behind them.
In a way, as head coach Randy Edsall told reporters last week, it can’t get any worse for the Huskies. There’s something of a positive for the UConn defenders in that belief.
“You can just go out there and play. You’re not thinking about, well, I’m not thinking about the past. I’m all for the future and getting things right this year,” said Coyle, who led the Huskies with 108 tackles last season.
And Coyle is trying to be a pillar on which that future is built.
“We need to come together as a unit,” Coyle said. “There needs to be a real leader and I’m trying to take that position over.”
Spanos isn’t the only new coach Coyle and the Huskies are working with this spring, though Darrell Perkins is a familiar name nonetheless. Perkins has returned to coach the UConn defensive backs, a job he previously held from 2010-13, working with Coyle and company.
“It’s all for the future now. We’ve got these new coaches now and they’re pushing us,” said Coyle, who had a key interception during a 9-on-9 drill Thursday. “Coach Spanos and coach Perk, I love coach Perk. They’re good guys and I like it.”
And Spanos, despite their recent statistical past, so far likes what he sees out of the Huskies.
“Coach King has done an outstanding job in the weight room and it’s transferring over here on the grass,” Spanos said, crediting Matt King, the Huskies’ new director of football strength and conditioning. “They’re getting better. There’s a lot of work to be improved on, but they’re working, they’re trying to get coached, they’re trying to do the right thing.”
NOTES: A number of players have suffered injuries that ended their spring practices early. Redshirt freshman safety Terrence Ganyi (shoulder), sophomore defensive lineman Jonathan Pace (foot) and sophomore defensive lineman Lwal Uguak (foot) are each scheduled to have surgery soon for their injuries. … Tight end Donovan Williams missed practice Thursday due to the effects of the concussion, though he is slated to return to action next week. … Defensive tackle Ryan Fines, a senior who transferred from Miami, was also not at Thursday’s practice. … Kyle Williams, a senior walk-on from Hamden, spent a great deal of time practicing with the first team defense Thursday. … The Huskies will hold their first partial scrimmage of the season today.