With an entire unit to oversee, Defense Coordinator Don Brown doesn’t have time to hold all hands as he tries to prepare Arizona for each week’s new opponent. And his players are glad he doesn’t either.
“I like the way Coach Brown trains, I like this tough coaching,” Defensive Tackle Trevon Mason said last week. “He doesn’t care where you are, he doesn’t care if you are the star player, he will attack you, especially if you screw it up. Everyone needs that, I think. “
Brown made massive upgrades to his defense in his first year with Arizona, which has been in the bottom third of the Pac-12 in yards per game every year since 2014. In 2019 and 2020, the Wildcats were the dead last defense and scoring defense.
Arizona is still last in the conference on defense at 31.8 points per game, but that’s eight points better than a year ago and the yards allowed are even better. The Wildcats allow 381.3 yards per game, the fifth best in the conference, compared to 473 in 2020.
For 65-year-old Brown, who comes from the old school but still comes into contact with today’s players, his approach is simple: be honest and direct.
“They criticize the performance, not the actor,” Brown said on Tuesday. “It’s direct, it’s pointed. And I think that’s one of my strengths, I’m awesome. If I think something needs to be said, I will say it directly. “
Linebacker Jerry Roberts says Brown is “locked up” and “intense” during games, going through every play of the previous drive with the defense when they hit the sideline. If something has gone wrong, he will respond, but not single out individual sources of error.
“He criticizes the performance as a whole,” said Roberts. “For example, let’s say I go out there and give up a 50 yard touchdown. But he will not necessarily criticize me, he will criticize the entire defense. What could we have done better as a defense if we weren’t just concentrating on the individual? “
That’s not to say Brown doesn’t build close relationships with his players. That just happens not during training and games.
“If you’re out there practicing for two hours, you don’t have time to say, ‘Hey, come here and let’s hug,'” he said.
Brown used the spring and summer to figure out how best to train each of his boys and worked this out for the regular season. From Linebacker Anthony Pandy, who leads Arizona in Tackles and had a pick-six against USC, he said he’s gotten so much better since spring thanks to the relationship they’ve built.
“There were times in the spring when I would have traded it for two used soccer balls,” said Brown. “But that is no longer the case. And it really is by and large because of its approach to the game. We have an honest relationship. I can promise you that. He just wants it. And he wants the truth. The nice thing is knowing that I can be honest with the guy, you don’t have to cover it with candy. He has a chance to take what you tell him and bring it to the field and make the necessary adjustments. His trajectory in the last few weeks has been like this. “
As for the defensive ending Jalen Harriswho’s just having a breakout year: “Another guy who was ready to be coached. This guy is a smart guy, he could read the information and he took it to the field. Now a lot of people can do it in the drilling job, but they cannot bring it to the field. This guy brings it to the field. “
safety Jaxen Turner, who admits he has trust issues, said a face-to-face conversation he had with Brown prior to the start of the season made a big difference in his game.
“With a new employee, you won’t believe everything they say at first sight,” he said. “I am now fully on board, 100 percent inside.”
Turner was disqualified twice for targeting, including early against USC. Rather than pissing him off for costing his team, Brown just made sure Turner knew he was playing right and that mistakes sometimes still happen.
“I don’t know what you’re doing with it,” Brown said, saying that aiming “could be the worst rule in college football. They coach the tackling every day, we coach posture, head positioning and all those things. I thought he was under him, but I’m not the officer who runs the rule. Did you look at the piece and say he did it on purpose? It’s an absolute no, the answer is of course not. But for me you just keep going I had a player (in Michigan, Khaleke Hudson) a few years ago who had games in a row (with targeting). Then it went away. It’s a tough, tough deal. “