You won’t see many unfamiliar faces lining up for Chattanooga’s defense next fall.
There could be some new, younger faces filling reserve roles in the Mocs’ secondary. The group also needs to find replacements for two key components to last year’s top-ranked unit—outside linebacker Shane Heatherly and defensive end Josh Williams.
Aside from that, though, there couldn’t be more continuity. Not among the personnel, anyway.
The Mocs might be welcoming back nine starters from last year's defense, which ranked second in the Southern Conference in scoring defense (20.4 ppg) and total defense (308.4 ypg), but the unit is also breaking in three new coaches this spring. The changes start at the top, too.
After serving as the squad’s safeties coach last season—his first at UTC—Adam Braithewaite was promoted to defensive coordinator following Adam Fuller’s departure to Marshall in February. While Braithewaite's not an entirely new coach, he's filling a new role this spring.
“He’s a little quieter [than Fuller], but it’s all about a respect level,” senior defensive tackle Derrick Lott said. “We need him as our defensive coordinator and he needs us as his players. We respect him and he respects us, and we’re just out here working hard as usual.”
Fuller also coached the team’s linebackers for the past four seasons, and defensive assistant Austin Plemons departed in the offseason as well, prompting head coach Russ Huesman to add two more defensive coaches to his staff—linebackers coach Rusty Wright and defensive assistant Brandon Cooper.
“Coach Fuller did a great job with us for the past four years, but coach Wright coming in, he has a lot of experience at some great places,” fifth-year senior Gunner Miller said. “I think we’re going to be just as solid as we have been, and all he’s going to do is help us get to the spot we need to faster."
There’s been some early hiccups this spring amongst the staff, too, but nothing they can’t work through.
"We’ve got good coaches," Huesman said. "I like them all, obviously, or I wouldn’t have hired them. I’m confident in every one of them and they’ll do a great job. When you’ve got new coaches in, they’re not real sure where to be, how to be, and when to move, but we’ll get that corrected."
That’s what spring is for.
“Not only are the players learning the scheme, but new coaches are too,” Braithewaite said. “We’re going to push the envelope as much as we can, and things will start clicking eventually. There’s a fine line between having guys playing fast, hard and physical without being confused, and installing too slow and minimizing your mental game. We’re walking that line right now.”
The players have noticed some slight changes in coaching style, but as far as what they’re being taught, it’s basically the same.
“It's the same defense," said two-time All American linebacker Wes Dothard. "Coach [Braithewaite] has been with us for a year—almost a year—so it’s just him coming in and taking over. It’s a lot different from when coach Fuller was here, but coach Wright is a great linebackers coach. He has a different kind of philosophy, but he still expects us to fly around.
“We’re adjusting to it as a team.”
Michael Murphy covers UTC athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelNooga.