Tuesday, January 17, 2012
Q&A: Ohio State assistant Everett Withers
By Adam Rittenberg
Of the two coordinators Urban Meyer brought in from the outside, Tom Herman likely will get more attention from Ohio State fans. It makes sense. Buckeyes fans are anxious to see the team's new direction on offense, and Herman along with Meyer will shape the vision. Everett Withers, meanwhile, comes to Columbus with a different mission: restore Ohio State's defense to elite levels. After producing a top 15 defense for six consecutive seasons, Ohio State slipped to 19th in 2011 and 27th in points allowed -- not bad numbers by any means but not typical for a Buckeyes defense. Withers, a veteran defensive coordinator who spent the 2011 season as North Carolina's interim coach, will lead Ohio State's defense with Luke Fickell.
ESPN.com caught up with Withers last week, and here are some thoughts from the new Ohio State co-defensive coordinator/assistant head coach/safeties coach.
Why Ohio State?
Everett Withers looks to restore Ohio State's defense to its once elite level.
Everett Withers: Just the opportunity to work on a staff that's well-respected across the country, an opportunity to work with Coach Meyer. It is The Ohio State University, so I think it's a great opportunity. As you go through this profession, you get few opportunities to work at places that are in that top four or five in the country. This is one of those places.
What's your perception of Ohio State's defense over the years as somebody who has coached defense around the country?
EW: It's been very stout. Very good versus the run. There's been a number of talented players at all positions at Ohio State. The mystique of this place being good on defense is something that's in the minds of a lot of people who know college football. Hopefully, we can continue that, continue to build on it.
What do you think it will be like working with Coach Fickell as coordinators?
EW: It'll be a great, great experience for me. I don't go into jobs with a lot of ego. I'd like to find a way to win, and if we're all working toward the same goal, that's the key. I've been very impressed with what Coach Fickell has done in the past here, and what he's doing here now.
You were in a tough situation as an interim coach last year with Carolina, and he was in a similar situation [at Ohio State]. Have you talked about those experiences at all?
EW: You know, we haven't spent a whole lot of time. We've been really beating the recruiting trail up and trying to get to know each other defensively. But I'm sure one day when we get some down time, we'll be able to talk about some similar experiences.
Have you talked about blending your philosophy and his philosophy?
EW: We've talked a little, but our philosophies are very similar. He's done a lot of things out of the 4-3, but with the ability to get to the 3-4. Those are a lot of the things I like to do. But we'll sit down and we'll spend some time trying to marry or make sure we're on the same page terminology-wise. I think it's going to be a great experience, and I'm looking forward to it.
Have you been in a situation before where you're sharing a title? How do you adjust to that if at all?
EW: It's funny to me when people talk about being co-coordinator or coordinator. You do things as a staff anyway. Whoever calls it, it's something that we've all agreed on that it's the best way to do it. I think everybody takes ownership of how this defense will play. I'm looking forward to the opportunity to help Luke, and help his game-day experience as the play-caller be better.
You've spent a lot of your career in the south and southeast. You spent the one year at Minnesota [in 2007]. Is there much you can take from that Big Ten experience, or will it be a clean slate for you in this league?
EW: I learned a lot. That was a great experience for me. We weren't very talented at that time, and I think they've done a good job there the last few years. I take a lot of that experience in arriving here in this job. We had an opportunity to play Ohio State when I was at Minnesota, and I thought it was a very talented football team at that time. Hopefully we can continue to be a talented football team here.
Do you think the Big Ten defenses stack up to those nationally, the ones you saw in the SEC and ACC?
EW: I think so. It's all about being able to do what you do philosophically on defense. If your philosophy is to be physical and stop the run and be good on third down, and be good in the red zone and create turnovers, that's the philosophy of a lot of defenses across the country. Now how you get to it and how you work at it is important. So I don't think there's a ton of difference. It's just a matter of how you approach it each day and that you're practicing to win the games.
Interceptions have been a big part of your defenses in the past. How much will you stress that? Before last year, Ohio State had been really good at taking the ball away.
EW: It's important when you're playing in the secondary, when that ball's in the air, boy, you get opportunities to make interceptions and you change the game. I think you have to emphasize it in practice, you have to emphasize route concepts and splits and receivers. Once you get to that point, then a secondary can be aggressive and go play the ball. Again, if you stop the run and you make people one dimensional, you'll get more opportunities to go attack the ball in the air. That's always been my philosophy.
Have you have a chance to look at film on any of the players you'll be working with at Ohio State?
EW: I've looked at a little, not as much as I'd like, but as this recruiting process the next three weeks starts to wrap up, I'm sure we'll be watching a lot more tape and be able to evaluate the talent here.
When you do sit down with the players, what are some of the messages you'll relay to them about who you are and your philosophy for the defense?
EW: The philosophy is in place here, as far as being good on defense and stopping the run and creating turnovers, and being good in the red [zone] and on third down. But my approach is I want our kids to be knowledgeable about what we're doing with the defensive scheme. I want them to be able to communicate well. My philosophy with the secondary is, "Try to be the best in the country." It's always been my approach going into every season with every group, to try to be the best. How can we get there? How can we take that journey to get there? A lot of the good secondary play is about communication and putting yourself in position before the ball is snapped. That's going to be an emphasis of mine.