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Ole Miss must hire someone with a salty defense. Here’s why

A typical daily conversation with my father might have helped me figure out the Ole Miss coaching search once and for all.

Joshua McCoy-Ole Miss Athletics

My father and I recap current events and the week that was during the college football season. This week, we were discussing everything from Alabama trouncing the Rebs by nine touchdowns to who Ole Miss should hire for their next coach after the 2017 season is over. But, on this day, he raised an excellent point that led me to a discovery as incredible as the Holy Grail during Indy’s last crusade.

“As much as I love scoring and running it up on folks, I think we need to get back to having a nasty defense,” my dad exclaimed. “I wonder if you looked at the past few national champions that you would find they were all mean as hell on defense.”

So, I did just that. And by God he was right.

Since 2000, every single damn national championship team had a defense that ranked in the top 20 in total defense except the 2010 national champion Auburn Tigers.

And they had a Cam Newton.

Every. Single. Team. Top 20.

  • 2016 - Clemson, 8th in total defense
  • 2015 - Alabama, 3rd in total defense
  • 2014 - Ohio State, 19th in total defense
  • 2013 - Florida State, 3rd in total defense
  • 2012 - Alabama, 1st in total defense (of course)
  • 2011 - Alabama, 1st in total defense (of course)
  • 2010 - Auburn, 60th in total defense (but again, Cam freaking Newton)
  • 2009 - Alabama, 2nd in total defense
  • 2008 - Florida, 9th in total defense (hey I remember this team)
  • 2007 - LSU, 7th in total defense
  • 2006 - Florida, 6th in total defense
  • 2005 - Texas, 9th in total defense
  • 2004 - Southern Cal, 3rd in total defense
  • 2003 - LSU, 1st in total defense (Saban effect, again)
  • 2002 - Ohio State, 2nd in total defense
  • 2001 - Miami, 1st in total defense
  • 2000 - Oklahoma, 7th in total defense

With Ole Miss in the process of finishing up a 2017 season that literally means nothing outside of developing talent and getting folks reps at the Power 5 level, their full attention needs to be in making the right decision at this proverbial crossroads that they are at.

The last two coaches they hired were offensive specialists. First there was Houston Nutt, who made his name with a three-headed monster at Arkansas made up of NFL backs Peyton Hillis, Felix Jones, and Darren McFadden. And then there was young, upstart Hugh Freeze who tossed it all over the yard at Arkansas State and scored a ton of points en route to a Sugar Bowl victory in 2016 and a few awesome recruiting classes.

This time around, it might be wise to focus on someone who is toting a defense full of head-busters who are trying to get goose eggs. Granted, Nutt and Freeze both won and raised the metaphorical watermark at Ole Miss, but clearly neither of their success rates were sustainable, mainly because of their crumbling defenses and poor recruiting on that side of the football.

Here’s to hoping that Ross Bjork and the search committee are on the same page because I think my father might be on to something. Let’s take a look at some factors that definitely go into this.

You bet your ass you can have a great defense at Ole Miss.

Have you already forgotten 2014? It was just three years ago (I’m not crying, you are) when the Rebs finished 13th in the nation in total defense, one spot behind Alabama, a perennial juggernaut defense full of dudes who certainly only go there because they just love the Tide.

It’s not impossible to recruit talent to put together a unit that can be in the same discussion as the Crimson Tide, Clemson, LSU, Michigan, and Georgia. In fact, it seems to trend more to the coaching and schematic side of things when discussing recent great defenses. Sure most of them have lots of four and five-star players, but Ole Miss did it with some under-the-radar dudes like Mike Hilton, Woodrow Hamilton, Serderius Bryant, and Cody Prewitt.

That 2014 defense had top recruits like Robert Nkemdiche, Tony Conner, C.J. Johnson, Senquez Golson, and Trae Elston, but the rest were just a bunch of dudes who bought into a common goal, knew their assignments, and just wanted to blow shit up over and over.

That is something that has been lacking on the field in Oxford since that team left the playing surface at Vaught-Hemingway. But, it can always come back. And it looks like it’s just going to take a head coach who emphasizes that type of attitude and mindset that is imperative when trying to put together a group of guys that are trying to mentally and physically beat an opponent down week in and week out.

This all starts with recruiting and building relationships with your staff. Ole Miss is smack dab in the middle of prime crootin territory and hiring a name who boasts a stingy defense AND has the recruiting chops to back it up is all ya need. Because once you build it, they will come in droves.

It looks like the Rebs have a shot at a guy with a good defense.

It’s only Week 6, but as it stands right now, Ole Miss is currently in the running for some hot names in the coaching profession. Three names that jump out at this time are Central Florida’s Scott Frost, Troy’s Neal Brown, and UT-San Antonio’s Frank Wilson. And you guessed it: all three have some feisty defenses.

We’ll start with Frost’s Golden Knights (cold water jokes are welcomed). As it stands right now, UCF is sitting at 22nd overall in total defense, holding folks to just 309 yards of total offense and 4.76 yards per play. They recently shut down fellow coaching hot board member Mike Norvell’s offense in a 40-13 throttling. They held the Tigers to just 75 yards rushing and forced four turnovers. That seems pretty good.

Troy’s defense is currently sitting 37th in the country, holding teams to 5.09 yards per play and 339.8 yards per game. Most recently, Brown’s Trojans made headlines when they took it to LSU and punched them in the damn mouth in Death Valley. They held the usual run-heavy offense filled with talented Tiger backs to just 162 rushing yards and forced four turnovers of their own. That also seems pretty good.

Last but not least, literally and figuratively, are Frank Wilson’s Roadrunners. They are ranked 2nd in the country in total defense, trailing Michigan for the top spot by just 3.7 yards. UTSA has only allowed 176 plays to be run against them (against lower competition, mind you) and are stingy as hell. They have only allowed 621 yards THIS SEASON. THAT SEEMS REALLY GOOD.

All three of these candidates are former college players who played on the offensive side of the ball, but they each seem to be onto the same thing I am. They have almost certainly put an emphasis on defense among their team and their staff and it definitely shows.

Good defense beats good offense over time.

Football is a rather simple sport. You tackle. You run. You pass. You score. And if it’s more than your opponent, you win. But, clearly, over time defense is something that is valued more by champions. And for good reason.

After taking a quick look at how teams with the best offense in the nation finished each year, the results outside of a few years were pretty staggering:

  • 2016 - Texas Tech, 5-7 and 6th in the Big 12
  • 2015 - Baylor, 10-3 and 4th in the Big 12
  • 2014 - Baylor, 11-1 and 1st in the Big 12
  • 2013 - Baylor, 11-2 and 1st in the Big 12
  • 2012 - Louisiana Tech, 9-3 and 3rd in the WAC
  • 2011 - Houston, 13-1 and 2nd in C-USA
  • 2010 - Oregon, 12-1 and 1st in Pac-10
  • 2009 - Houston, 5-7 and 3rd in C-USA West
  • 2008 - Tulsa, 11-3 and 2nd in C-USA
  • 2007 - Hawaii, 12-1 and 1st in WAC
  • 2006 - Hawaii, 11-3 and 2nd in WAC
  • 2005 - Texas, 13-0 and National Champs
  • 2004 - Louisville, 11-1 and 1st in C-USA
  • 2003 - Boise State, 11-1 and 1st in WAC
  • 2002 - Boise State, 12-1 and 1st in WAC
  • 2001 - BYU, 12-1 and 1st in Mountain West
  • 2000 - Boise State, 10-2 and 1st in Big West

Now, obviously there were some very successful teams who led the country in total offense. Hell, Texas won it all in 2005 with the No. 1 offense and the No. 9 defense.

But, they also had a guy named Vince Young who was pretty good.

Outside of two Baylor teams and Oregon’s 2010 team, the others never had enough to sustain success later in the year against stouter defenses in conference title games or they lost regular season games when their offense wasn’t enough.

I understand that you need a delicate balance of offense AND defense. In fact, of those recent champions since 2000, the worst offensive team was a Jacob Coker-led 2015 Alabama team that was ranked 30th in total offense. The rest were pretty good. Some of the notable title teams who were good at both: 2014 Ohio State (5th), 2013 Florida State (1st), 2008 Florida (4th), 2004 Southern Cal (6th), and 2001 Miami (3rd).

But, in recent years you can look at teams like Michigan and Florida who are practically stonewalls up front and ball hawks in the secondary, but their offense is nowhere to be found. And it ends up hurting them in games despite their defensive prowess shining through. The key is to not only have a defense that can shut people down, but an offense that can convert those key third downs and put points up on the board. And I mean six not three.

So what does all this mean? Well, taking a look at a surface level statistic like total defense shows that over time, defenses win. Naturally there are other things that work into people’s favor like luck, avoiding the injury bug, scheduling, bye weeks, crazy plays, and the College Football Playoff Selection Committee.

But, as far as the controllables go, the Rebels CAN control who they hire. And when that decision is made here in the coming months after the NCAA gets done doing whatever the hell they’ve been doing for five years, they need to make sure they don’t miss on the hire.

And the new hire needs to be a mean son of a bitch who hates people scoring on him.

Whoever it is, if he does, I know Dad will like him.