LARAMIE, Wyo. (AP) — It wasn’t broken, so there was no need to fix anything.
That’s essentially the way Wyoming coach Craig Bohl viewed his decision when looking for a new defensive coordinator. He could’ve made an outside hire when Scottie Hazelton left for the same position at Kansas State back in January, but safeties coach Jake Dickert was already well-versed in a defense that had been one of the Mountain West’s best under Hazelton the previous two seasons.
Wyoming led the league in sacks in 2017 while also forcing more turnovers than any team in college football that season. The Cowboys followed that up by finishing in the top 4 in the MW in points allowed, yards allowed, rush defense and pass defense last season.
Not only had Dickert worked under Hazelton both seasons and helped develop the most prolific safety tandem in program history in Andrew Wingard and Marcus Epps, but he had also been a graduate assistant and position coach for Hazelton on Bohl’s staff at North Dakota State a decade earlier. Bohl didn’t want to mess with a good, experienced thing.
“I felt really good about the trajectory and the direction of our defense,” Bohl said. “Both Jake and (run-game coordinator) A.J. Cooper, their understanding of what’s going on. Every year, we tweak the defense a little bit, but we just felt like it was important to stay with the continuity.”
Dickert figured Hazelton would be one of Chris Klieman’s top candidates for the coordinator job at Kansas State once the Wildcats hired the former NDSU coach, who worked alongside Hazelton on Bohl’s NDSU staff before Bohl left for Wyoming five years ago. The position came open again after Klieman’s initial hire, longtime NFL assistant Ted Monachino, left to join the Chicago Bears’ staff after less than a month on the job.
Once Hazelton’s move to Kansas State became official, Dickert wanted to make sure Bohl knew just how much interest he had in the position. With the vacancy popping up just weeks before the traditional signing day on the recruiting calendar, he made a confident pitch to Bohl over the phone.
“I wanted to say, ‘Hey, I know these schemes. I know these players.’ Just preaching continuity,” Dickert told the Casper Star-Tribune. “We’ve been pretty good the last couple of years. Just coming to him first and saying this is something I’m interested in, I think he had a shared mutual interest.”
Dickert will add his own variations, but Wyoming will stay within the framework of what it’s been doing on defense. The Cowboys will stick with their 4-2-5 base look while many of the coverage schemes will stay the same. They’ll rely heavily on the experience and playmaking ability of senior linebackers Logan Wilson (Wyoming’s top returning tackler) and Cassh Maluia as well as senior cornerbacks Tyler Hall (team-high nine pass breakups last season) and Antonio Hull, Dickert said.
“Personally I was a big fan of promoting Coach Dickert to the d-coordinator job,” Wilson said. “That’s really what I wanted because he was a guy we were all familiar with.
“He’s a good person off the field, and we’re not going to change a lot of things. None of us wanted to go ahead and learn a totally new defense. We’ve been accustomed to a defense the last couple of years, and it’s been working pretty well for us.”
The biggest changes are coming with personnel. Wingard and Epps are gone. So are five players off the two-deep along the defensive line, including all-MW performers Carl Granderson and Youhanna Ghaifan and nose tackle Sidney Malauulu.
There’s still some experience left on the interior with Javaree Jackson and Ravontae Holt, who started the final four games at defensive tackle last season when Ghaifan was suspended. But there are plenty of youngsters that Dickert still has to figure out how best to use their skill sets as they’re being groomed to fill more prominent roles at other spots up front and in the secondary.
“We might have to do it in a couple different ways,” Dickert said. “We might have to find different ways to create pressure. We might have to find a way to make plays and lean on a couple of our returning guys. But spring ball is huge. We’ve got a lot of young guys running around. Just that experience and gaining tons of reps and seeing, at the end of the day in pressure situations, who can make plays.”
But change is being kept to a minimum under the Cowboys’ first-year coordinator.
“The expectations don’t change. I don’t think you ever fluctuate your bar,” Dickert said. “We have set goals we want to hit and set points of emphasis.
“I think the bar is still the bar, and we want to find a way to raise that bar even when people say it’s going to be hard with all of these guys gone.”
Information from: Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, http://www.trib.com