PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) - As coach Chris Ash infused youth into his coaching staff at Rutgers, he went back to his youth to find his defensive coordinator.
Jay Niemann is the veteran on the Scarlet Knights staff that has three assistants age 28 or younger, including offensive coordinator Drew Mehringer.
The 55-year-old Niemann coached Ash at Drake as the defensive backs coach and defensive coordinator.
Ash said choosing his defensive coordinator was his most difficult job.
“I know what I want on the defensive side of the ball,” Ash, 42, said. “I know what I want it to look like. I know how I want it to be coached. I know the terminology that I want.”
Ash got to see what Niemann’s defense can look like firsthand last season when Northern Illinois played Ohio State. As the Huskies’ defensive coordinator, Niemann’s unit held the Buckeyes’ potent offense to 298 total yards in a 20-13 Buckeyes win.
Ash wants to run a 4-3 defense at Rutgers, the defense he has predominantly coached during his career. The same goes for Niemann.
However, Niemann knows you have to coach a system that fits the players on the roster.
“You can’t fit square pegs in round holes,” Niemann said. “We have to see what our guys can do and hopefully we can build a defense around what they’re capable of.”
Niemann said his immediate goal to learn as much as he can about his players.
“One of our big jobs is to decide what our players can do and make sure we’re not stuck in our ways and set on things to the point that we can’t make adjustments in the scheme to fit the people that are playing it,” he said.
Fortunately for Niemann, Rutgers’ current personnel fits a 4-3 scheme since that was what they used under Kyle Flood.
While his only coaching experience at a Power Five school was at Washington early in his career as a graduate assistant, Niemann has had success coaching defense at both the Division III and FCS levels.
He had been the defensive coordinator at Northern Illinois since 2011.
Northern Illinois ranked eighth in the nation in turnovers with 29, and fourth in interceptions with 22. In 2014, Niemann’s unit forced 24 turnovers.
It’s a trait that he’d like to carry over at Rutgers.
“Absolutely you can teach it, coach it, demand it. Hopefully those things come to fruition on game day,” Niemann said. “I know this: if you don’t work on it, it’s not likely to happen. It’s always an emphasis on the defensive practice field for us.”
Neimann’s reason for coming to work for his former player was simple. He thought he could help take the program to the next level as Rutgers enters their third season in the Big Ten.
“I believed in talking to Coach Ash that there was a tremendous upside in this program,” Niemann said. “We’re in a very good location from a recruiting perspective. We’re in a program that, in my opinion, isn’t that far away from being able to turn the corner and get back to being successful again. A lot of things lined up. It’s our job obviously to get the corner turned, to get back on track.”
As for being one of the elder statesmen on the staff, Niemann is not concerned.
“That’s a perception. Age is a number,” he said. “I still feel like I can go out there and run on the field with a lot of enthusiasm, keep up with everybody else. Experience plays a role in helping us to try to do what we’re doing as a staff. That’s a plus. Beyond that, I don’t think about it too much.”
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