Minium: Bobby Wilder has upgraded ODU' s football defensive coaching staff
By ODU Athletics
By Harry Minium
Less than a year ago, Galen Scott was among the hottest of commodities in college football assistant coaching circles.
The then-safeties coach at Virginia Tech was getting feelers from SEC schools and other ACC programs. He was viewed as a guy who could help lead you to a national championship.
Scott had a meteoric rise after a record-setting playing career at Illinois State. In his fourth season of coaching at his alma mater, he was named defensive coordinator. He was also defensive coordinator at Memphis under current Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente.
After two seasons coaching with Fuente at Tech, Scott was promoted to co-defensive coordinator and given a huge pay increase.
How important was holding onto Scott for the Hokies? Bud Foster, perhaps the nation's most well-known and best defensive coordinator, agreed to share his title with Scott.
Flash back a year earlier to Greenville, N.C., when East Carolina hired David Blackwell away from Jacksonville State to be its defensive coordinator.
Blackwell had a distinguished 22-year resume. In his last four years at Jacksonville State, the school ranked a composite third in total defense in the Football Championship Subdivision and won four Ohio Valley Conference titles in a row.
In 2015 and 2016, Blackwell was a finalist for FCS Defensive Coordinator of the Year.
An ECU graduate, Blackwell also coached at Clemson, Pitt and South Florida, among others, before turning Jacksonville State into a defensive powerhouse.
So it goes without saying that when Bobby Wilder announced recently that he hired Blackwell as defensive coordinator and Scott as safeties and cornerbacks coach, he upgraded his defensive coaching staff.
He has two former defensive coordinators, both of whom have worked at successful Power 5 programs, and that's a rarity for a mid-major FBS team.
“We’ll now basically have two defensive coordinators on our staff and they both have great reputations and backgrounds,” Wilder said. “They’re not ego guys.
“They’ll work together. They’ve got a friendship going back many years and a tremendous respect for each other.”
Blackwell became available after the entire ECU staff was let go after last season.
Scott resigned from Tech last April after a mistake in his private life ended up being sensationalized on social media.
Without going into details, Scott deserves a chance to coach again. To paraphrase Jesus, let him without sin cast the first stone.
Wilder also announced Monday that he hired Daric Riley, who also coached at ECU, as the outside linebackers coach, and that Austin Shelton has been promoted to assistant recruiting coordinator.
Riley also has a good resume that includes stops at UAB, SMU, Jacksonville State and Charleston Southern, his alma mater. Shelton, previously a quality control assistant who worked with quarterbacks, was already playing a big role in ODU’s recruiting, and it was a natural step up for him.
ODU made a tremendous hire when they persuaded Dwight Galt IV to become the director of sports performance which will have a direct impact on football. Galt worked for seven years at Penn State under his father, Dwight Galt III, the school’s assistant athletic director in charge of performance enhancement.
Defense has long been an issue at ODU
This has not been an easy offseason ODU football. In November, Wilder fired six coaches, including three on the defense, following a 4-8 season. It was the Monarchs’ third losing season in four years and their worst record in their 10 seasons of football.
Defense has long been a sore spot for fans. Even when ODU was an FCS powerhouse, quarterback Taylor Heinicke and the offense were so good that the Monarchs would simply outscore opponents.
ODU was last in Conference USA in all but one defensive category last season. Nationally, ODU was 118th out of 129 FBS schools in yards allowed (471.4) and 111th in scoring defense (35.9).
And that was with a veteran defensive that included Oshane Ximines, the defensive end who is likely to be selected in the NFL draft.
In its five seasons in Conference USA, ODU’s defense ranked among the top half of the league only once – in 2016. That’s the season the Monarchs won 10 games, tied for the C-USA East title and defeated Eastern Michigan in the Bahamas Bowl.
In other words, when the Monarchs play good defense, they win.
Last season, the Monarch secondary has mixups on passing coverage that left players wide open for touchdown passes, including two touchdowns in a 28-20 loss to Florida International early in the season.
Coaches don’t make tackles, nor do they cover receivers, but it was clear change was needed.
Firing coaches means firing friends, people you’ve spent thousands of hours with during the year. As Wilder said at a press conference in November of the coaches he let go, “They’re all good coaches and good people.”
Galen Scott is engaging and personable
I spent half an hour with Scott Friday afternoon, and found him to be personable, smart and engaging. He expressed gratitude to Wilder for hiring him and to Fuente for recommending him to Wilder.
He and Fuente roomed together as graduate assistants at Illinois State and they have been close ever since. Scott introduced Fuente to his eventual wife at Illinois State.
Scott says he called Fuente last week to tell him he’d been hired by ODU.
“He said to me, ‘Congratulations, you’re back in coaching.’ “
Then, after a short pause, Fuente said. “So we play you’all next season.”
Scott said that made him chuckle. It will actually be the third year in a row that ODU and the Hokies have met.
Tech won, 38-0, in 2017 and Scott said he was impressed with what he saw of the Monarchs then.
However, ODU stunned Virginia Tech, 49-35, last season in Norfolk in what was one of the biggest upsets ever in college football. Scott, who coached high school football in Texas last fall, watched the game on TV.
“That really surprised me and I think did a lot for Old Dominion's reputation nationally,” he said. “I was impressed at how well ODU played. The crowd really help them.
“I knew they had talent. But that game last season really showed the potential of the program.”
ODU plays at Virginia Tech on Sept. 7 this season.
“I’m sure Tech already has that game circled and highlighted,” Scott said. “They’re going to be fired up for that one.”
Scott said he interviewed with Wilder at the recent coaches’ convention in San Antonio. He said Blackwell’s decision to become defensive coordinator helped draw him to ODU.
“Coach Blackwell recruited me and coached me in college,” he said. “I know what kind of dude he is. He’s a better person than he is as a coach, and he’s a hell of a coach.
“That’s what helped lead me here, the chance to work with him and knowing what kind of talent we’ve got here.
“Coach Blackwell was one of the first ones to reach out to me when I was going through a hard time last year. He said 'persevere be strong' and I followed his advice.”
Scott drove from Texas and arrived in Norfolk Friday. He met with ODU’s defensive backs briefly.
“We have such an influx of new players," he said. “I told my guys the first time I saw them that everyone has a clean slate. Just work hard, work smart and let’s go make it happen.”
Under Blackwell, defense will play hard, Wilder says
Wilder said he didn’t need to see Blackwell’s resume to know he’s a good defensive coordinator. ODU played at ECU last season and it was the worse offensive performance of the season for the Monarchs, who lost 37-35.
ECU sacked quarterback Blake LaRussa nine times and was the only team to hold ODU under 300 offensive yards.
“The No. 1 thing that stood out to me was how hard those kids played on defense,” he said. “There’s a difference between thinking you’re playing hard and everyone running to the ball.
“There was no other team like that we played last season.
“Later in the season they had injuries, their head coach got fired. They weren’t the same. When we played them, it was an impressive defense.
“We struggled for everything offensively at ECU. And coach Blackwell made adjustments that were necessary.
"To me, what I saw in that game was coach Blackwell's resume.”
Blackwell has been on campus a couple of weeks and is already in the process of transitioning ODU from a traditional 4-man defensive front to a 3-man line.
ODU is going to that defense for two reasons. First, ODU’s depth on the line is thin. Secondly, having eight defenders drop back in pass protection should help ODU in Conference USA, which is largely a spread offense, passing league.
“Our players are excited about the possibilities of playing a 3-4 defense,” Wilder said. “So is the coaching staff.”
Defensive line coach Jeff Comissiong is the only holdover on defense, and Wilder said he will mesh well with Blackwell, Scott and Riley.
“Our players are going to like coach Blackwell,” he said. “But they’re also going to know they’re going to have to play hard on every down.”
Will the coaching changes be enough to make ODU’s defense competitive?
We won’t know for a long time. Winter workouts began Monday, then come spring and summer practice before ODU opens Aug. 31 at home against Norfolk State. That's more than seven months away.
ODU recruited a lot of immediate help in the offseason – 13 junior college players arrived on campus this weekend, including 11 defensive players, and Wilder is still recruiting the Juco ranks.
How it will all play out on the field remains to be seen. But suffice it to say that Wilder appears to have recruited a staff that will finally give his team a good shot of playing good defense.
Contact Minium: email@example.com