ACC: Marion Hobby

Dabo Swinney invests in his program

February, 16, 2012
Talk about putting your money where your mouth is.

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney has taken it upon himself -- basically out of his own pocket -- to give his assistants raises.

There is a clause in Swinney's contract stating that if he won the ACC, he would rise to a certain level from a salary standpoint among ACC coaches. When he won the 2011 title, that meant this year's contract would increase by $422,000. He is taking $265,000 of that to give to his coaches. Technically, it's an allocation -- not money he has already received. It is money he would have received -- and that is the key difference between what Swinney is doing and what Georgia coach Mark Richt did.

Regardless, it's a true investment in his program -- one I've never heard of or seen elsewhere in the college coaching ranks -- and odds are it will pay off. It is proof of the literal value of coaching stability.

Swinney's decision stems from today's announcement that the Compensation Committee of the Clemson Board of Trustees approved a proposal from athletic director Terry Don Phillips to grant salary increases totaling $450,000 for seven assistant football coaches, and the head strength coach. It will be in effect for two years, and 60 percent of that money is coming from Swinney. The remaining 40 percent, or $185,000 will be provided by the athletic department.

According to the school's release, Swinney is expected to make $1.9 million in 2012, which will rank 46th nationally according to the most recent data available to Phillips. The staff, including the head coach, is expected to rank between 12th and 15th.

“Coach Swinney has opted to invest in the stability of the program with money he earned in 2011,” Phillips said in a prepared statement. “We have a young football team returning for 2012 and 2013 and he felt it was imperative to have stability from a staff standpoint. These are all options that had been in his existing contract.”

“I am extremely grateful to the Board of Trustees for its approval of these salary increases,” Swinney said in the release. “We have a great staff and I want to do everything I can to keep it together at a critical time in our program. We have a young, but talented team and I feel we have a chance to do something very special in the near future.”

Earlier, it was announced that offensive coordinator Chad Morris would earn $1.3 million and defensive coordinator Brent Venables would earn $800,000 during the 2012 season, meaning Clemson’s nine full-time assistant coaches will earn $4.2 million.

Here is the official run-down of the remaining staff salaries recently approved by the Board of Trustees:

Joey Batson (strength coach) $200,000

Dan Brooks $310,000

Robbie Caldwell $310,000

Tony Elliott $205,000

Charlie Harbison $375,000

Marion Hobby $375,000

Danny Pearman $310,000

Jeff Scott $215,000

ACC's best offseason coordinator hire

February, 17, 2011
Finally. Now that Maryland has hired/promoted a defensive coordinator, all of the major coaching changes in the ACC should be complete.

Aside from the two new head coaches -- Maryland's Randy Edsall and Miami's Al Golden -- the coordinator positions will have the most influence on the conference race. Five programs in the ACC -- Boston College, Clemson, Maryland, Duke and Miami -- will have new coordinators in 2011:


OUT: Offensive coordinator Gary Tranquill (retired)
IN: Offensive coordinator Kevin Rogers (spent past five seasons as QB coach of Minnesota Vikings)


OUT: Offensive coordinator Billy Napier (fired)
IN: Offensive coordinator Chad Morris (hired from Tulsa)


OUT: Offensive coordinator James Franklin (head coach at Vanderbilt)
IN: Offensive coordinator Gary Crowton (hired from LSU)
OUT: Defensive coordinator Don Brown (took same position at Connecticut)
IN: Todd Bradford (promoted from inside linebackers coach after a month)


OUT: Defensive coordinator Marion Hobby (hired as Clemson defensive line coach)
IN: Jim Knowles (promoted from within)


OUT: Mark Whipple (fired)
IN: Jedd Fisch (former QB coach of Seattle Seahawks)
OUT: John Lovett (fired)
IN: Mark D'Onofrio (spent past five seasons with Golden at Temple)

BEST HIRE: Rogers. His experience is unmatched, and it's what separates him from the others. That's not to say there's not experience on this list -- Knowles and Crowton are both former head coaches. That's a huge bonus. But Rogers recently completed his 36th year in the coaching profession, 28 of which have been spent at the collegiate level. Fisch coached one collegiate season, at Minnesota. Morris has one season of collegiate coaching experience. Rogers has worked with the likes of Donovan McNabb, Bryan Randall and most recently Brett Favre. His biggest strength -- developing quarterbacks -- is what BC needs most right now. Rogers knows the ACC -- he coached at Virginia Tech. That's not to say that the others won't make an immediate impact or extract drastic improvements, but Frank Spaziani's hire was worth the wait.

Spring preview: Coastal Division

February, 15, 2011
We've already looked at who and what to watch in the Atlantic Division this spring. Here's a breakdown of three issues facing each program in the Coastal Division:


Spring practice starts: Feb. 16

Spring game: March 26

What to watch:
  • Jim Knowles taking over as defensive coordinator. After coaching the safeties last season, Knowles was promoted in late January following the departure of Marion Hobby to coach Clemson’s defensive line. It’s not a complete overhaul on defense, but for the third time in as many seasons, a different person will be calling the plays. Knowles has also assumed the lead role with Duke’s practice scheduling and weekly preparation.
  • New faces at linebacker. Duke graduated its leading tackler from 2010, Abraham Kromah, and freshman All-American Kelby Brown is out while recovering from knee surgery. Those two slots will be wide open this spring and the competition will be among Austin Gamble, C.J. France, Tyree Glover and Kevin Rojas.
  • Offensive line shuffling. The Blue Devils return four starters up front, but they’ll be missing the glue of the line in Bryan Morgan, who graduated. Brian Moore, who has started the past two seasons at right guard, will make the transition to center. John Coleman and Laken Tomlinson are expected to compete for the right guard spot.

Spring practice starts: March 28 (tentative)

Spring game: April 23

What to watch:
  • Starting quarterback competition. Tevin Washington enters the spring at No. 1 on the depth chart, and it's his job to lose, as he has the most experience after taking over for injured starter Joshua Nesbitt in 2010. Synjyn Days will give him legitimate competition this spring, though, and it will increase this summer with the addition of standout recruit Vad Lee to the roster. For now, though, it’s between Washington and Days, as David Sims is expected to move to B-back.
  • Offensive line reshuffling. Georgia Tech will have to replace three starters in all-conference center Sean Bedford, right tackle Austin Barrick and left tackle Nick Claytor, who decided to leave early for the NFL draft. Phil Smith, Barrick’s backup last year, is the only one with any experience at tackle. The staff will likely have to move a player or two from guard to tackle, and only it knows who those candidates might be right now.
  • Revamped secondary. Jerrard Tarrant's decision to leave school early and enter the NFL draft left the Jackets without any returning starters in the secondary. Junior cornerback Rod Sweeting, sophomore cornerback Louis Young, redshirt freshman cornerback Ryan Ayers and sophomore safety Fred Holton are front-runners, but they all have a lot to prove this spring. Holton and Young played sparingly as true freshmen and combined for 21 tackles. Sweeting played in all 13 games and had one fumble recovery and eight passes defended, including one interception. Senior cornerback Michael Peterson may help, and safety Jemea Thomas played as a true freshman in 2009 but redshirted last year. There’s some talent, but the inexperience makes it a question mark.

Spring practice starts: March 5

Spring game: April 9 or 16

What to watch:
  • New staff, new schemes. Defensively, first-year coordinator Mark D’Onofrio will work with two other assistants who were with him and first-year coach Al Golden at Temple, so there is familiarity there. Linebackers coach Michael Barrow has to learn D’Onofrio’s system, but the players tend to pick it up faster if the majority of the staff is already acclimated to it. Offensively, everyone will be working together for the first time. Jedd Fisch wants to run a pure pro-style offense based on matchups, and the good news is that several of the assistants, because of their respective backgrounds, are already schooled in at least a version of it.
  • Quarterback battle. Golden has said he would like to name a starter by the end of the spring, making these practices critical auditions for both Jacory Harris and Stephen Morris. Harris has both flourished and flopped as a starter for the Canes, and his injury last year gave Morris the opportunity he needed to win the people’s choice award. Has a new era of quarterback begun, or will Harris finally have the breakout season Miami fans have waited for in his final year as a Cane?
  • Corner competition. Following the departures of Ryan Hill, DeMarcus Van Dyke and Brandon Harris, Brandon McGee is the only corner remaining on the roster with any significant experience. He played in 11 games, started one, and had 15 tackles. Redshirt freshman Devont’a Davis, sophomore Kacey Rodgers, and redshirt sophomore Jamal Reid will also compete for playing time. There are also several incoming freshmen who could be immediate contributors.

Spring practice starts: March 16

Spring game: April 9

What to watch:
  • The rookie quarterbacks. There’s no guarantee that Bryn Renner will be the Tar Heels’ starter in 2011, but he enters the spring slightly ahead of the race, as he was No. 2 on the depth chart last season and was pushing T.J. Yates for the starting job at this time a year ago. The staff would also like to see what true freshman Marquise Williams, who enrolled in January, has to offer. Braden Hanson and A.J. Blue will also compete for playing time. Blue was injured two years ago and redshirted last season.
  • Running backs race. The Tar Heels graduated three key players from 2010: Johnny White, Anthony Elzy and Shaun Draughn. Ryan Houston is back for his fifth year after redshirting last year and is the most experienced of the returnees. Giovani Bernard was a true freshman last year and had been expected to get some playing time, but he tore his ACL on the third day of training camp. It’s not clear yet how much he’ll be able to participate this spring. Hunter Furr played sparingly last year and true freshman Travis Riley, who enrolled in January, are also in the mix.
  • Another strong defensive line. If Quinton Coples was an all-conference selection as a defensive tackle, he could be scary good at his natural position, defensive end. Coples played there as a freshman and sophomore, but switched to tackle out of necessity last season. The defensive line should once again be the strength of the team, but it will be reconfigured again, as Coples’ move will leave a defensive tackle spot up for grabs. Junior college transfer Sylvester Williams, who enrolled in January, could fill that role.

Spring practice starts: March 16

Spring game: April 2

What to watch:
  • The search for a new starting quarterback. With Marc Verica graduated, the lead contenders to replace him are the ones who saw the field last year -- Michael Rocco and Ross Metheny. Neither of them started, but Rocco played in six games and Metheny five. Nobody has thrown the ball more than Rocco’s 25 times. The staff will also look at Michael Strauss, who redshirted last year, Miles Gooch, and David Watford, who enrolled in January.
  • Competition at running back. With leading rusher Keith Payne graduated, the question becomes what can Kevin Parks do after redshirting last year? There’s a lot of depth at the running back position, but Parks, the No. 56 running back in his class by and national prep record-setter out of the state of North Carolina, came to Charlottesville facing high expectations. With Payne gone, this could open the door for him to meet them, but returning starter Perry Jones will also be competing for carries.
  • Development of the receivers. In January, Jared Green Tweeted that he had decided to transfer after finishing his degree in Charlottesville this spring, according to a school spokesman. His departure, coupled with the graduation of Dontrelle Inman, leaves the Cavaliers without two of their top wideouts from 2010. With Tim Smith coming off an injury, the development of other receivers will be critical -- especially with a new starting quarterback.

Spring practice starts: March 30

Spring game: April 23

What to watch:
  • Quarterback Logan Thomas. The Tyrod Taylor era is over, and Thomas is the front-runner to succeed the winningest quarterback in school history. Ju-Ju Clayton is the only other quarterback on the roster who’s ever taken a snap, and he’ll push Thomas this spring. It’s Thomas’ job to lose, but the staff is looking for him to improve his accuracy. He played quarterback in only his final two high school seasons and was projected as a tight end. He’s still raw and learning the position, but physically, he’s a clone of Cam Newton. If he develops some poise in the pocket, look out.
  • Competition on the defensive line. The Hokies have to replace starters John Graves (defensive tackle) and Steven Friday (defensive end), who both graduated. They’ve got Antoine Hopkins and Chris Drager back, but it’s possible Drager could move back to tight end after starting 10 games at defensive end last year. Tackle Kwamaine Battle, who started the first two games before he tore his ACL and Hopkins took over, is another front-runner. Hopkins’ younger brother, Derrick, will also be in the mix, along with James Gayle and J.R. Collins. Redshirt freshman defensive end Zack McCray, the cousin of Logan Thomas, has also impressed the staff so far.
  • Tight end auditions. The graduation of Andre Smith leaves the Hokies with only one returning tight end who’s caught a pass in a game, Randall Dunn (one). Redshirt freshman Eric Martin was the second tight end when the Hokies used two-tight end sets, but he missed three games mid-season with an injury.

Clemson adds two assistants

January, 10, 2011
Former Tulsa offensive coordinator Chad Morris and former Duke defensive coordinator Marion Hobby will join Clemson's coaching staff, the school announced Monday. Both accepted positions over the weekend. Morris will serve as Clemson’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, while Hobby will be defensive ends coach.

(Their appointments will be official after normal background checks are completed this week.)

Both of these coaches are good hires, and Clemson should be better in 2011 for it. Clemson defensive coordinator Kevin Steele knows Hobby, and they'll work well together, and Morris has had proven success at Tulsa, which is exactly what the Tigers' offense needed -- experience.

Morris was the offensive coordinator at Tulsa this past season, where the Golden Hurricanes ranked 13th in the nation in passing offense with 288.7 yards per game and 15th in rushing offense with 216.9 yards per game. Their 505.6 total offensive yards per game ranked fifth in the nation. Tulsa was the only school in the nation to rank in the top 15 in both rushing offense and passing offense.

Tulsa averaged 41.4 points per game, eighth best in the nation, and scored at least 28 points in 12 of their 13 games. Tulsa was also fifth nationally in first downs per game with 25.6, and tied for fifth in touchdowns scored from the red-zone with 46. Morris’s offense scored 64 touchdowns overall off scrimmage plays, 32 rushing and 32 passing.

Under Morris, Tulsa improved from 58th in the nation in rushing to 15th, from 32nd in passing to 13th, 35th to fifth in total offense, and 44th in scoring to eighth.

Hobby returns to Clemson after spending the last three years at Duke. He was assistant head coach, defensive coordinator and defensive line coach for the Blue Devils. In 2008, Duke's defense held opponents to 23.4 points per game, the lowest in 20 years, and held three opponents to less than 10 points, a first for the program since 1976.

This is Hobby’s second stint at Clemson. He served as defensive line coach in 2005, helping the Tigers to an 8-4 season and a Top 25 finish in the AP poll. Clemson finished 11th in the nation in scoring defense that year, allowing just 17.6 points per game. Clemson also ranked in the top 25 in the country in total defense, pass efficiency defense and rush defense that year.

A closer look at Duke's bowl miss

December, 15, 2010
Earlier today we took a look at Wake Forest’s bowl miss. Here’s a closer look at Duke:

How it happened: The easiest answer is that they didn’t win the close games. Duke lost to Wake by six points, Maryland by five, Boston College by five, North Carolina by five. The reasons behind that can be explained by Duke’s inability to get pressure on quarterbacks and too many turnovers. Duke was 113th in the nation in sacks, and 112th in turnover margin. It was a transition year defensively, as Duke adjusted to a new scheme under first-year coordinator Marion Hobby, and they also had a first-year starting quarterback in Sean Renfree.

What needs to change: Duke needs to recruit better, faster athletes on the defensive line and be more consistent up front. Offensively, the Blue Devils have to take another step forward in establishing the running game, sustain drives, and not turn it over.

Bowl bound in 2011? Duke has reasons for hope in that the defense will be in the same system and the offense return the majority of its proven playmakers. The nonconference schedule is manageable with home games against Richmond, Stanford, and Tulane, and a road trip to FIU. Duke has to play Atlantic Division winner Florida State in its crossover game, but it also has Wake Forest and Boston College, two winnable games. Even with losses to Stanford and Florida State, Duke will be bowl eligible in 2011.

5 things to watch in the ACC

August, 20, 2010
Here are five things worth watching in the ACC this fall:

First-year coaches: For the first time since 1976, somebody other than Bobby Bowden will be coaching at Florida State. The Jimbo Fisher era has begun, and expectations are already soaring for a program that returns all but one starter on offense. The Seminoles were picked by the media in July to finish first in the Atlantic Division, but in order for that to happen, the defense will have to show significant improvement under first-year coordinator Mark Stoops. At Virginia, Mike London has replaced Al Groh, who is now the defensive coordinator at Georgia Tech. London has changed the schemes on both sides of the ball and is tasked with facing Richmond, the program he left, in the season opener.

Veteran quarterbacks: This is one of the main reasons expectations are higher for the conference this fall. Virginia Tech senior Tyrod Taylor is poised for a breakout season, Miami junior Jacory Harris has spent the summer trying to cut down on his mistakes, Georgia Tech senior Joshua Nesbitt has the best grasp of the triple-option offense since he took over the position, and Florida State senior Christian Ponder could be a Heisman Trophy candidate if the Seminoles win big. UNC senior T.J. Yates has one more chance to prove he can lead the offense, and it could be the final hurrah for two baseball stars in NC State’s Russell Wilson and Clemson’s Kyle Parker.

1,000-yard rushers: For the first time in conference history, the ACC returns five 1,000-yard rushers in Virginia Tech’s Ryan Williams and Darren Evans, Maryland’s Da'Rel Scott, Boston College’s Montel Harris and Georgia Tech quarterback Joshua Nesbitt. It’s one of the deepest positions in the ACC this fall, and there are plenty of other skilled backs who could crack the 1,000-yard mark this season like Georgia Tech B-back Anthony Allen.

Injured stars returning: Possibly the most anticipated return of the season will be that of Boston College linebacker Mark Herzlich, who, after making a full recovery from Ewing’s Sarcoma, a type of bone cancer, was sidelined this summer with a fractured foot. He is still listed as day-to-day. The return of linebacker Nate Irving from a serious car crash last summer could also give NC State’s defense a much needed boost of both talent and leadership, and the return of Evans will make Virginia Tech’s backfield one of the best and deepest in the country.

Defenses in transition: London is switching the Cavaliers back to a 4-3 defense while Groh is taking Georgia Tech to a 3-4 as the Jackets’ new coordinator. Florida State first-year defensive coordinator Mark Stoops is transitioning the Seminoles to more zone coverages, and Duke coordinator Marion Hobby will be calling the plays for the first time in Durham. Virginia Tech’s defense won’t change, but the faces will, as the Hokies have to replace six starters from a year ago and will likely be missing staring linebacker Barquell Rivers for the season opener against Boise State.

Opening camp: Duke

August, 9, 2010
Schedule: Practice starts at 6:15 p.m.

What’s new: Marion Hobby was promoted to assistant head coach/defensive coordinator and will be calling the plays for Mike MacIntyre, who is now head coach at San Jose State. Duke will still be a very multiple defense.

Sidelined: Freshman defensive back Quan Stevenson is out indefinitely with a leg injury.

Key battle: Running back. Jay Hollingsworth tops the preseason depth chart, but Desmond Scott, Patrick Kurunwune and true freshman Josh Snead will all be pushing for playing time. Hollingsworth started two games last year -- against Maryland and Virginia -- and Scott started four games and led the team in rushing as a true freshman with 262 yards.

New on the scene: Junior college transfer tight end Cooper Helfet. He is listed as a backup tight end, but he could emerge as a downfield threat in the passing game. He played wide receiver primarily at Santa Rosa Junior College and has two years of eligibility remaining.

Breaking out: Receiver Tyree Watkins. He will be a redshirt freshman after earning a medical hardship because he suffered a season-ending knee injury last year. He’s in a crowded, talented group that includes some of the ACC’s top receivers, but Watkins’ teammates have raved about him this offseason.

Don’t forget about: Safety Lee Butler. He played primarily at corner his first two seasons, but moved to safety this past spring. He had a good spring and recorded the team’s top vertical jump (40.5). He played in 11 games last year, started seven, and had 39 tackles, one interception and four pass breakups.

All eyes on: Sean Renfree. For the first time in four years, Duke will have a new quarterback. Renfree has big shoes to fill, as Thaddeus Lewis set or tied 56 school records. Renfree completed 34 of 50 passes for 330 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions as Lewis’ backup last year. He suffered a season-ending knee injury against Georgia Tech and had surgery to repair his torn right ACL on Nov. 23. He was limited this past spring.

Quotable: "I think we'll run the ball better this year. We're going to throw it. Everyone knows that. But we are going to run it better." -- Duke coach David Cutcliffe

More camps opening.

Duke spring wrap

May, 7, 2010

2009 overall record: 5-7

2009 conference record: 3-5

Returning starters

Offense: 9, defense: 6, punter/kicker: 2

Top returners

WR Donovan Varner, WR Conner Vernon, WR Austin Kelly,T Kyle Hill, RB Desmond Scott, C Bryan Morgan, DE Patrick Egboh, P Kevin Jones, PK Will Snyderwine

Key losses

QB Thaddeus Lewis, DE Ayanga Okpokowuruk, DT Vince Oghobaase, LB Vincent Rey, CB Leon Wright, SS Catron Gainey

2009 statistical leaders (* returners)

Rushing: Scott* (262 yards)

Passing: Lewis (3,330 yards)

Receiving: Varner* (1,047 yards)

Tackles: Rey (98)

Sacks: Okpokowuruk (6)

Interceptions: Wright (5)

Spring answers

1. Depth at receiver. The Blue Devils found enough helping hands that they were able to move Johnny Williams, who caught 31 passes last year, to defensive back. Tyree Watkins, who didn’t lose last year’s eligibility despite an injury, had an impressive spring, as did Cory Gattis, who redshirted last year.

2. More multiple on defense. The defense will be a little different under Marion Hobby, who will take over the play-calling for Mike MacIntyre, now the head coach at San Jose State.

3. The need for Snead. The running game got a much needed boost from rookie Josh Snead, who graduated early and enrolled in January. He’s a compact, explosive player who came physically prepared to play. He had a handful of runs of 50 or more yards in scrimmages throughout the spring that showed he can be a contributor.

Fall questions

1. Renfree’s health. All indications are that quarterback Sean Renfree is healing from a torn ACL on schedule and will be the starter this fall, despite missing the contact portion of spring drills. He’s the only player who has taken a snap in a game, and the staff is encouraged by him, but he’s still a rookie who hasn’t been tested since his injury.

2. Defensive line concerns. Can the defensive line be productive and deep enough to have a positive impact? Overall it’s thin and inexperienced. Patrick Egboh and Wesley Oglesby, two fifth-year seniors, need to lead the way. It will be Charlie Hatcher’s first year seeing significant playing time after helping out on the interior last year. True freshmen could help immediately because of the low numbers.

3. Bowling, anyone? Coach David Cutcliffe made noticeable strides in the win column his first two seasons, but Duke is still searching for that bowl bid. How Duke will fare in its toss-up games against conference opponents will answer that. If the Blue Devils can get wins against Wake Forest, Maryland and Virginia, the postseason will be within reach.

ACC's lunchtime links

May, 6, 2010
Just enough ACC news to keep the links alive today ...

  • First-year Virginia coach Mike London has committed a secondary NCAA violation, thanks to Facebook. The only problem I have with that one is that London isn't my friend.
  • NC State can be one of the top three programs in the ACC, says Chick-fil-A Bowl executive director Gary Stokan, an NC State grad. But there are pros and cons to being the Pack's AD.
  • The Miami Dolphins took on a project in Duke defensive end Vince Oghobasse, and Duke defensive coordinator Marion Hobby thinks he'll fit better in the Dolphins' 3-4 scheme.
  • The Orange Bowl's partnership with FedEx had nothing to do with ratings and everything to do with ESPN, says ACC spokesman Mike Finn.
  • Sure, North Carolina's defense is good, but it will take more than that to win the ACC title, writes's Stewart Mandel.

Three spring questions for the ACC

March, 17, 2010
We’ve looked at each team individually heading into spring practices, but now that more than half the conference has actually started practicing, let’s take a broader view of the questions facing the ACC as an entire conference this spring:

1. How quickly will the returning injured stars shake off the rust? Virginia Tech running back Darren Evans, NC State linebacker Nate Irving, and Boston College linebacker Mark Herzlich all missed the 2009 season and are hoping to make impacts this fall. Evans’ progress will help determine the redshirt status of David Wilson in addition to how the carries are shared with Ryan Williams. Regardless of how much he is able to contribute on the field, Irving’s mere presence has been a boost to a struggling defense in need of one. And Herzlich’s return, coupled with the maturation of teammate Luke Kuechly, could give the Eagles one of the best linebacking corps in the country.

2. Which quarterbacks will emerge this spring? With starters Jacory Harris, Josh Nesbitt, Sean Renfree and Russell Wilson not participating in spring ball, the door has opened for their backups. (Unless you’re at Florida State, where backup quarterback E.J. Manuel will miss his second straight spring session with an injury.) There are quarterback competitions from Chestnut Hill to Coral Gables this spring, and whether or not Wilson and Clemson’s Kyle Parker choose baseball careers could shake up the conference race.

3. How quickly can the defenses rebuild? The ACC has earned a reputation as a defensive conference, but several programs will be under new leadership this spring. At Georgia Tech, the defense is switching to a 3-4 under Al Groh. Virginia is switching back to a 4-3 now that Groh is gone. Marion Hobby will now call the plays for Duke and at Florida State, new coordinator Mark Stoops is tasked with turning around one of the nation’s worst defenses in ‘09. At NC State, former Georgia Tech defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta has taken over the linebackers and all four defensive linemen will be new starters. Virginia Tech will be missing seven starters this spring and the best defensive player in the conference -- former Georgia Tech defensive end Derrick Morgan -- is simply irreplaceable.

Cutcliffe's spring overview

February, 15, 2010
Duke coach David Cutcliffe met with the media on Friday to preview the Blue Devils' spring practices, which began on Sunday (He deemed it the Valentine's Day massacre). Here are the highlights of his overview and what he'll be looking for:
  • Consistency in the punting game. All three special teams starters return in snapper Jackson Anderson, punter Kevin Jones and kicker Will Snyderwine.
  • Execution of kickoffs, i.e. placement, hangtime and depth.
  • Cutcliffe said the defense would have a new look with Marion Hobby calling the plays, but declined to elaborate.
  • There will be more of an emphasis on the pass rush, which Duke has struggled with in the past two seasons. Cutcliffe said he thinks he's got some players better equipped for it this year.
  • Quarterback Sean Renfree is "way ahead of schedule" in rehabbing from his knee injury, but he won't see any real practice time.
  • Offensive guard Mitch Lederman is out this spring with an injury, and Cutcliffe is a bit concerned about that, as he's looking for improvement up front.
  • There will be more competition across the board this spring, as he's looking for playmakers who can come through on third downs and in the red zone.
  • There will be a bigger emphasis on the running game, but Cutcliffe declined to say why he thought that was or how it will be made better because he thought those answers might put Duke in a competitive disadvantage.
  • Two players will switch sides of the football for spring practice with Johnny Williams, who caught 61 passes for 712 yards over the past two years, moving from wide receiver to cornerback and Kenny Anunike shifting from tight end to defensive end. The defensive line is depleted, and there is enough depth and talent at wide receiver for these moves to be possible.

Duke names defensive coordinator

December, 28, 2009
Duke has promoted Marion Hobby to assistant head coach/defensive coordinator (formerly defensive coordinator/defensive line) and hired former Cornell coach Jim Knowles as defensive coordinator/safeties, the school announced Monday.

Coach David Cutcliffe also promoted Jim Collins to assistant defensive coordinator/linebackers (formerly assistant coach/linebackers).

Knowles was the head coach at Cornell for the past six seasons and a member of Cutcliffe's staff at Ole Miss in 2003,

"We are thrilled to have Coach Knowles rejoin our staff," Cutcliffe said in a prepared statement. "Jim played a big role in the success of our 2003 team at Ole Miss, so I know what we're getting in terms of his personality, work ethic and football knowledge. His understanding of defensive football is at the head of the class and our players will enjoy playing under his leadership. His experience as a head coach certainly will pay dividends within our program, and on top of his coaching abilities, we know he'll be a great fit on our staff because we're so familiar with each other."

“In our profession, it’s about the people,” Knowles said. “Coach Cutcliffe is one of the most respected coaches in our profession. I’ve worked for him in the past and he’s a fantastic head coach to work for. Coach Cut is an amazing family guy who treats the entire staff with great respect. Cornell will always have a special place in my heart. But there is a time and a place for everything, and I felt like I was ready for a new challenge.”

Early observations from Duke

August, 15, 2008

Posted by's Heather Dinich

DURHAM, N.C. -- This is a very odd feeling, sitting in an eerily quiet, dimly-lit Cameron Indoor media room, writing about Duke football.

There is reason to be here, though, and his name is David Cutcliffe.

I just got back from watching the first few periods of Duke football practice and had a few observations.

* The intensity of this coaching staff literally echoes throughout the trees around the practice fields. These guys don't tolerate anything a notch below what they're asking. Defensive coordinator Marion Hobby was barking at his players as they went through pass rush drills, and defensive backs coach Derek Jones could be heard yelling from the adjacent field to one of his corners: "PAY! ATTENTION! TO DETAILS!," Jones yelled. "I asked you to do THREE things!"

Not that they're not encouraging the players, too. Cutcliffe strolled through and checked out all of the drills going on, hollering things like, "I like that!" to safety Eddie Morgan, and "Be an athlete, Adrian [Aye-Darko]."

Cutcliffe's motto this season is "practice makes permanent."

* Not only is leading rusher Re'quan Boyette injured and not practicing anymore, but both of his backups -- Clifford Harris and Tony Jackson -- are being held out of full-contact drills Friday for nagging injuries. 

* I can see why Cutcliffe's first priority in terms of tangible upgrades to the program is in his practice facilities. One of the fields is only 75-yards long, and the other looks like it could be a recreational park in a small neighborhood. 

I'll get a chance to speak with some players and coaches later this afternoon, so more is coming.