Following the regular-season finale against Texas Tech, it became clear that changes were coming to the Texas coaching staff. A few days later, four coaches were relieved of their duties or reassigned to an off-field role. The biggest name to be let go was defensive coordinator Todd Orlando, who led a Texas defense that underperformed throughout the 2019 season. Ultimately, Herman did not look far for Orlando’s replacement, hiring former Rutgers head coach Chris Ash as the new Texas defensive coordinator.
Ash is no stranger to Herman. The duo won a national championship together at Ohio State in 2014, with Ash serving as a co-defensive coordinator along with current Cincinnati head coach Luke Fickell. Following the 2015 season, Ash was hired at the head coach at Rutgers. Ash struggled to find success with the Scarlet Knights, winning only 7 games over his first 3 seasons before being let go 4 games into the 2019 season. Following his firing, Ash reportedly spent time as an analyst with the Longhorns. Now, he will get the chance to call the shots and attempt to turn around the Texas defense.
What to Expect from Ash
Ash has had a well-traveled career for only being 45 years old. He spent time previously in the Big 12 as the defensive backs coach for Iowa State for 5 seasons from 2002-2006 and returned for an additional season in 2009. Prior to his time at Ohio State, he was the defensive coordinator at Wisconsin and Arkansas.
The biggest schematic shift will be the transition Texas will make to a 4-man front. The Longhorns almost exclusively operated out of a 3-man front during Orlando’s time in Austin, so expect to see a lot more defensive lineman line up as true defensive ends, which should allow Texas to pressure the quarterback more frequently without having to bring extra men.
Speaking of pressure, the days of exotic blitzes and guys coming from all over the place are likely over. Based on what he’s done at previous stops, Ash isn’t known as a ‘bring the house’ type of coach. His background is in coaching defensive backs, so the expectation should be for the Longhorns to improve in the secondary, which looked lost at times this past season.
Tom Herman mentioned in his media session in San Antonio early last week that he wanted to simplify things defensively and feature the defensive line more, and that lines up with what Ash brings to the table.
It remains to be seen who Texas will bring in to round out the defensive staff. The Longhorns currently have Jason Washington coaching corners and Craig Naivar coaching safeties. It is unlikely both guys remain on staff considering Ash’s background in coaching defensive backs.
The Longhorns will also have to find someone to take over Orlando’s other coaching duty as linebackers coach. Linebacker might be the biggest question mark on the roster heading into next season, so this might be the most important hire Ash and Herman make.
Oscar Giles currently serves as the defensive line coach, and of all the 3 coaches still employed on the defensive side of the ball, it appears he is the most likely to be retained.
It is not known who else was interviewed or was interested in the DC position, so it’s tough to judge the hire without knowing who else expressed interest. The biggest question mark on Ash will be how his scheme will play in the Big 12, which ate Todd Orlando alive after offensive coordinators caught on to his tendencies.
Ash’s simple and conservative approach appears more likely to succeed than Orlando’s aggressive approach, but it remains to be seen how Ash will adjust to the amount of high-quality passing attacks he will see.
Tom Herman is rolling the dice with another coordinator he is comfortable and familiar with. Considering how this past season played out, he is likely using his one get-out-of-jail-free card, betting Ash will be able to simplify things to the point where the defensive talent Texas has on the roster will be able to out-athlete opposing offenses.
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