Friday, March 06, 2009

Randy the Ram | by Jay this week, new defensive line coach Randy Hart was formally introduced at Notre Dame. The longtime Washington assistant seems lively and spry, and should bring a lot of energy to the defense this year. Quoth Hart:

“It’s not complicated. It’s not a complicated game. Defensive football is: strike, disengage, pursue and tackle, no matter if you play a 3-4, a 4-3, whatever defense you’re playing. If your guys will strike a blow, get off the block, pursue the football and tackle, you’re going to win. So, let’s not make it complicated.”

“Obviously, the name of the game is to win,” he said. “So we want to sharpen our swords silently, do as good as we can at getting the guys to get to our way of thinking, effort, intensity, attack, getting ourselves up the field, getting after some people, I hope.”
Here's a little bit of video from the presser, where you can get a good sense of the 60-year-old's vigor and enthusiasm. I especially enjoy his warlike metaphors: sharpen our swords, strike a blow. (I'm picturing Ethan Johnson with a katana).

As noted in his bio, Hart was an assistant at Washington for 20+ years, serving through several coaching changes along the way. He found himself on the job market for the first time in a long time when new Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian decided not to retain Hart. The Husky faithful are sad to see him go. In an article on, longtime friend Dick Baird lamented Hart's departure:
He knows how difficult these last five years have been because he has endured it first-hand. He accepted the responsibility and was held accountable. Like I said before, he is a warrior: He is a tough guy who taught discipline, perseverance, and commitment to team. He is one of the all-time great Husky coaches and still has a number of years left in his tank.

Someone will pick him up and their team will instantly become tougher.

Like most of you, I am thrilled and excited with the future of Husky Football under Steve Sarkisian, but at the same time it just won’t be the same without “Mr. Fair, Firm and Friendly”. Washington will rise again, and that young front will lead the way for the Husky defense. Randy Hart won’t be there, but his legacy lives on in those players. He is an institution and one of the foundations of Husky toughness.

He leaves a big hole to fill.
Charlie hired Hart only after offering the job to two other coaches first: 36-year-old Luke Fickell, who decided to stay put at Ohio State as co-defensive coordinator; and Charlie's old friend Romeo Crennel, fired from the Cleveland Browns, and whose recovery from hip-replacement surgery put a damper on jumping into another job so soon. (There's also the rumor that the Kansas City Chiefs want Crennel as their defensive coordinator, so perhaps he's holding out for something a little better than a positional). Ex-Michigan line coach Steve Stripling was also interviewed by Charlie, but was not offered the job.

It's interesting that in filling this spot, Charlie first went after the young up-and-comer in Fickell, but finally settled on two elder statesmen in Crennel and Hart. What changed the calculus? Bryant Young, apparently.
COACH WEIS: But ultimately my game plan of hire changed when [Young] came in as a GA, because it changed from hiring a guy that will be here forever to hiring a guy that you can bring in here that is an experienced guy, that you can groom him to potentially being our defensive line coach.
So Hart would be the mentor, while Young gains experience as the heir apparent. It's an interesting, and potentially appealing, setup.

One other thing might make Hart a good fit for this staff: Hart is well-schooled in an aggressive, blitzing defense. At Washington, Hart was the protege of another longtime Husky coach, Jim Lambright, who was the defensive mastermind under the legendary Don James. Hart was Lambright's line coach and, for a few years, his defensive coordinator when Lambright was promoted to head coach. Lambright built a blitz-heavy Husky attack that cut a swath through the Pac 10 in the late 80s and 90s, and Hart was his righthand man.

I was combing through the archives of the Seattle Times looking for tidbits on Hart (and there are a lot of such tidbits over the last 20 years), and I found quite a few descriptions of Lambright's and Hart's defenses that really rang a bell. Any of this sound familiar?

"...[Lambright's] pressure scheme was intended to stop strong-arm quarterbacks who ruled the Pac-10 at the time, and Washington has been successful with it ever since."

"...Once you make a team one-dimensional, you make your job a lot easier," defensive coordinator Randy Hart said.

"...It's designed to stop the run with an excess of defenders and confuse the quarterback with multiple blitzes and shifts at the line."

...The Husky defense will give up a few yards passing. But it never gives up trying. It attacks, strong-safety blitz, free-safety blitz, both linebackers coming, both dropping back, the rush from the outside, you just never know. "We know what's coming and they don't," Smith said. "It's a lot of fun."

"...Its purpose is to control the line of scrimmage," said Washington defensive coordinator Randy Hart, who runs the high-risk, big-reward defense created by Coach Jim Lambright eight years ago. "We want to make plays in the backfield. We want to be proactive and make the offense react to what we're doing, to put the pressure on them."

If you immediately thought of Jon Tenuta, you're not alone.

One final note on the departure of Jappy Oliver. The occasion of Oliver's firing (let's call it what it is, and not "left to pursue other opportunities") made me go back and look at what we wrote on BGS about his hiring, way back in January of 2005. At the time, we were sanguine about the new staff overall, but we had a rather thin take on Oliver: he had tagged along with Rick Minter, had been a DL coach at Air Force and Vanderbilt for a number of years...and that's about all we knew.

I think it's fair to say that his tenure at Notre Dame was a mixed bag. He certainly had a reputation as a lackadaisical recruiter, which was probably the main reason he was let go. But if you look at the performance of his players, I don't think there was a lot to complain about. I'm far from an expert in assessing proper defensive line technique, but guys like Abiamiri, Landri, Laws, Frome, Brown, and Kuntz seemed to max out their potential under Oliver. This is not to say they formed superior defensive lines -- they didn't -- but criticism of Oliver on grounds of lack of production always seemed misguided to me. His players became all they could be, didn't they? For any position coach, I think that's all you can ask.