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Brown gives Terrapins makeover
Jeromy Miles was ensconced in the transfer process after the 2006 season, eager to find a school to provide the right fit for the rest of his college career.
Eventually, Massachusetts coach Don Brown paid a visit to the safety’s New Jersey home. He popped in a tape to demonstrate just what his defense was about.
Blitzing, it turned out. Lots and lots of blitzing.
“I just fell in love,” Miles said.
And now it is Maryland’s turn.
On a team that lost more than 30 seniors, the Terrapins’ change of defensive coordinators - and their divergent philosophies - is the most glaring difference between the bunch that went 8-5 a year ago and the team arriving Monday as practice commences in College Park.
Out is a scheme predicated on zone and shielding defensive backs from one-on-one coverage as much as possible. In is a chaotic gauntlet predicated on applying pressure everywhere, a philosophy Brown honed at smaller schools almost exclusively in New England in the past quarter-century.
If nothing else, it will be different. The Terps have gone 33 games without a defensive touchdown. They’ve scored just twice on defense in the past 59 games.
“I really can’t compare it to last year,” cornerback Nolan Carroll said. “I think it’s better than last year. Now we’re attacking, which is something we haven’t done.”
Such is usually the case with Brown, who punctuates discussions of his livelihood with brief odes to the value of toughness, fundamentals, versatility and building relationships. But nothing is quite as meaningful as the relentlessness defining Brown’s philosophy.
“Who doesn’t want to be aggressive in your approach?” Brown said. “Just like offensive coaches sell their system and how they’re going to go about doing their business and trying to get kids excited, we’re trying to do the same thing on our side.”
Kevin Morris was Brown’s offensive coordinator the past nine years, the man stuck with sending an offense into the Brown buzzsaw day after day, week after week.
But for the ultimate Brown nugget, he thought back to their early days at Northeastern and a meeting in the opening week of camp.
“It seemed like a softball question at the time - ‘Hey, we’re going to do blitz today. Are you ready for a blitz?’ ” recalled Morris, who took over at Massachusetts this year. “I said, ‘No, we’re not there yet.’ And his response was ‘So you’re not ready to play?’ And my response was ‘Bring on the blitz.’ So you’d better be ready to play when you’re with Don Brown.”
For anything - like seven defensive backs on the field at once. Or a safety who could just as easily drop back into man coverage as zip through a hole in the line out of the same front.
Then there are the carefully calibrated names of his personnel packages from the past. Shogun. Fox. Rock. Stud.
And perhaps the most telling of the bunch - Trauma.
“It was a good stunt,” Brown said wistfully - or at least as wistfully as the blunt New Englander will allow himself.
And one Old Dominion coach Bobby Wilder likely dealt with during his time as Maine’s offensive coordinator. The weeks he was to face Brown were as much about covering every potential weakness because Brown was sure to find them.
With well-disguised blitzes (as well as a creative propensity to adjust from opponent to opponent), Brown’s defenses earned a reputation for exploiting any opening.
“Oh my goodness,” Wilder said. “I spent a lot of time on him. It was as good a coach as we faced. I looked at it as a great learning experience because if you could block what he’s bringing, you can block anybody’s fronts. Kids see a base 4-3 with America-zone-fire. That’s a piece of cake compared to this two-down, five-man twist Brown brought last week.”
Brown’s multiplicity is a direct result of acting as something of a pigskin packrat. Every tweaked scheme that helped him win at some stage is stashed away in a playbook he streamlined this offseason with the extra time he is permitted without head coaching duties.
The philosophy, though, didn’t change.
“He’s relentless,” said Miles, who transferred to Massachusetts from Navy. “Every play. One thing he hates is to play zone coverage. He’s always [saying], ‘You think I want to sit back and watch people pick apart my defense?’ He’s very intense. He doesn’t like to let the quarterback breathe at all.”
Brown sat with New Hampshire coach Sean McDonnell at a New England sports writers dinner in December. At the time, Brown was in the mix for the vacant job at Yale.
“I said there’s two reasons you should take it,” McDonnell said. “One is you’re in the latter part of your career and you have an opportunity to go make some great money and coach at a great institution. Two, I won’t have to coach against your sorry [butt] anymore. Donnie just started laughing, and I said, ‘I’m serious. I’m getting tired of this stuff.’ ”
Brown didn’t end up at Yale. A month later, though, he replaced Chris Cosh as Maryland’s defensive coordinator - Brown’s first major-college gig.
“I’m happy for him,” McDonnell said. “[But] I’m glad he’s out of the league.”
The Terps, meanwhile, are glad he’s in theirs. It did, though, take time to adjust.
“At first, I was kind of hesitant because we really haven’t played anything like this,” Carroll said. “From a corner standpoint, he was asking us to press virtually the whole game. We haven’t done that. We’ve been a cover 2, cover 3 and just stayed back and watched the ball get thrown on us. Now he wants us to get in their face.”
All of which requires a maximized effort. It’s what led to winning at more than a half-dozen stops, and opponents like McDonnell constantly noticed the effort players put forth for Brown.
“They’re going to play hard or they’re not going to play for him,” James Madison coach Mickey Matthews said.
It’s unsurprising praise for a man who simplifies the purpose of defense to stopping the run, generating pass rush and covering receivers (oh, and creating some turnovers, too). While he could have continued at Massachusetts the rest of his career, the challenge of bringing his defense to a power conference intrigued him.
“I’m a hard worker, a grinder, a tough guy,” Brown said. “I like to compete. I think the best compliment … that people can make about you as a coach is your players play hard. That’s what it’s all about. If you get them to play hard, most of the time good things are going to happen.”
That’s an attitude the Terps’ defenders are falling in love with all over again.
About the Author
Patrick Stevens has covered Maryland and other Mid-Atlantic college sports for more than a decade. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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