Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
WACO, Texas -- Brian Norwood has one of the most difficult challenges in college football.
Baylor's defensive coordinator competes on a yearly basis with historically potent offenses at Texas, Oklahoma, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State in the Big 12's South Division. And Texas A&M hasn't been too shabby over the years, either.
But Norwood, who arrived last season after seven seasons at Penn State, has a growing confidence after his defense's development last season.
We sat down to talk with him about a variety of topics. Norwood discussed the Bears' recent defensive growth, what he learned from Joe Paterno, Joe Pawelek's development as a ball-hawking defensive standout and whether he likes Peachy Paterno or Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla better as an ice cream of choice.
What has it been like getting started at Baylor after all the time you spent at Penn State?
Brian Norwood: It's actually been good because the players and the university are hungry for a change. With coach [Art] Briles, it's been fun. He's a great coach and a good person first of all, and a fun guy to be around who really has a passion for the game and a passion for young people. We share a lot of the same visions in regards to football and how it impacts life. It's actually been very good.
I've taken a lot of things from great coaches I've worked with and played for from little league to college and now have the opportunity to pour those things into a great program with a great upside here at Baylor. And so far, it's been good. I've enjoyed the job and the people and the players have really responded -- they are very hungry.
With your nucleus of nine starters back, how much more prepared do you think your team will be in the second year working with you?
BN: I thought they did a great job last year. The seniors this past year stepped in and they had to make the biggest change because they were used to doing things a certain way and we were really trying to change mindsets and thoughts. They did a good job setting the stage for the young guys and this spring we're going past the things we've done already.
I think there's a comfort level there that has us working and getting ready as we work towards a viewable difference on the football field. I think we have a chance to do some good things, I really do. And the guys are working very hard. I'm excited to take another step.
Was the transition from the Big Ten to the Big 12 more difficult than you would have initially imagined?
BN: It was a bigger transition because of the style of play and because of the different offenses and systems. All of them have a wealth of talent built around it. You line up and play Oklahoma one week, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and Missouri and all those teams have solid talent and great guys running in their system. A team like Texas is that way, too. They've been established in their offense.
Then, there's that part of it being a new guy and doing something new. Some of the stuff we do defensively is a little different, which helps. Not a lot, but it's different. But it definitely caught my attention, all the points being put on the board and the offensive approaches and everything was a lot different than the Big Ten.
The Big Ten is a great conference in itself. There's no difference in them both having great athletes. But some of the coaches are a little different -- they've been successful in both conferences. It was different approach. We didn't get a ton of two-back teams that are successful here in the Big 12. It's a little more spread out with talent in what we faced.
Senior linebacker Joe Pawelek has really become a productive player since he started playing with your defense. What specifically have you done that has brought that out in him?
BN: Joe is an intelligent player. He's a good football player but his football IQ is probably off the charts. He puts himself into position to make a lot of plays. He's a team leader and guys respect him for what he does. He came into this system and linebackers have to be solid in what we are trying to do.
I feel we were fortunate to come in here myself to have this defense where we had a guy like that already in place. There are a lot of players who were in place and bought in to what we're doing, probably have bought into what [Baylor strength coach] Kaz Kazadi and strength program have done. They've changed a lot of guys.
Joe has been fine and he likes what we do. When you have guys who like that who are ready to go really from the start, it really helps you out.
Speaking of Joes, how did working for Joe Paterno at Penn State help you to prepare for the challenges of this job?
BN: That's one of the things you don't really realize until you step away. I think coach Paterno's fundamental discipline to the game and the approach has been something that has been big for me. Just like my first spring here was about getting a lot of basic things -- about getting good at fundamental things, being tough, attacking the game, being passionate about and committed to each other and being loyal. Those qualities are things you see in what Joe does consistently.
When you are in the Paterno family and working with him and tied in with Penn State, it's a family thing. Within that, there's a bond. The way he runs it, at the end of the day, those fundamentals pay off in football and in life. I've tried to do that here, too.
Have you found that Baylor's recent success since you arrived has started resonating with recruits?
BN: I do believe that people see what we are doing. Coach Briles has been about change everywhere he has been. He hasn't jumped into the most glamorous jobs that people might see, but he sees the diamond that's there in what he's trying to develop. And that's a credit to him.
He's about coming to places where people give him a chance to turn things around. He did it when he was in high school and college. People have bought in to what he's about and his vision for the program. It's been exciting.
Do you sense a hunger in the guys around the program?
BN: There's no doubt. I sense a belief in the guys. Like with anything, believing is half the battle. I think last year when you look at our game films, you see a lot of things that teams did, but also a lot of things we didn't do. Even base things. Those things -- if I had done this or called that as a coach -- our opportunities were even better and may have won. It's that clear.
In the Texas Tech game, we were very close and had two turnovers given back to them. There were other things going on at the same time you see on film every week. If we are better at doing the little things we'll be better.
Have you noticed that some of Baylor's recent basketball success has stoked something in the school's fan base that might be transferrable to football?
BN: These people are hungry for a winner. I went to the game against Georgetown the other night. [Men's basketball] Coach [Scott] Drew at the end of the game got on the microphone after the game and thanked the fans. He talked about that this team had a vision it would beat Texas, Kansas and Georgetown. They've run off string of wins against quality opponents. The sky is the limit.
Those are things that we need and believe we need to have, too. You want to go to bowl games. Things we want to do are attainable.
Going to a bowl game is one of them and there isn't any doubt about whet
her we can get it. There's not a question about it. If we went out and played today with people we had today, we could do that. And that's where we are.
Baylor has invested a lot of money recently in its athletic facilities with the construction of the new Highers Athletic Complex, a gleaming $34 million state-of-the-art facility that ranks with any in college football. You'll have an indoor practice facility open soon, too. How much do those improvements in your facilities help you?
BN: It's like night and day. Now we're even par with everybody in the conference in terms of facility. And now we need to be successful in football. The reality is that people know we are different than other Baylor teams in the past.
I learned that more from people talking to me who have watched us. They know we are hustling and fighting. Those things make me more excited about the change that we have produced here so far. The same players have changed physically. And they have changed mentally, too.
Given the choice, would you select Peachy Paterno or Blue Bell Vanilla ice cream?
BN: Peachy Paterno. I guess it's from being in Pennsylvania. We went back to a dairy when I went back there last week. We went to an old school central Pennsylvania and dairy stuff was off the charts. It's like that at the school, too.
Now, the Blue Bell stuff is good. I'm a diabetic so I don't eat it very often. But I do like ice cream.