John Clay: Co-coordinator idea could work for Cats

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistDecember 20, 2010 

Rick Minter, Kentucky's new co-defensive coordinator, met with the press before Saturday's UK men's basketball game against Mississippi Valley State.

PABLO ALCALA | STAFF

Conventional wisdom says Steve Brown is oh, so outta here.

It also says the co-coordinator concept can't work, not when a man who was coordinator of an SEC defense has a hyphen attached to his title and an alarming alteration made to his job description.

"Somebody has to be in charge of it," said Joker Phillips by way of introducing Rick Minter on Saturday, "and Coach Minter will be in charge of the defense, in calling it, and making sure our daily practices are organized."

Rick Minter and Steve Brown, co-defensive coordinators.

That can't work, can it?

Maybe it can.

You know the coach at Louisville, the one who has the U of L football fan base back on fire after a 6-6 season and a bowl bid?

Before Charlie Strong came to Louisville, he was co-defensive coordinator at Florida.

From 2002 to '04, Strong was Ron Zook's defensive coordinator for the Gators. Strong was Florida's interim head coach for the Gators' Peach Bowl loss to Miami.

In 2005, Urban Meyer assumed the Florida job and brought in Greg Mattison, who had been defensive coordinator at Notre Dame. Meyer named Mattison co-defensive coordinator in charge of the defensive line. He made Strong co-defensive coordinator in charge of linebackers.

In 2006, Florida won the national championship.

There is a bit of a caveat to this example: When Meyer arrived, he made Strong the assistant head coach.

Then Strong departed for Louisville. Mattison took an NFL job with the Baltimore Ravens. Still, Meyer kept the concept. Last year, Teryl Austin and Chuck Heater were the Gators' co-defensive coordinators. And Florida's 2010 problems were not on that side of the ball. The Gators finished ninth nationally in total defense.

Phillips mentioned Saturday talking to Oklahoma Coach Bob Stoops about the concept. OU has co-offensive coordinators on offense in Josh Heupel and Jay Norvell, plus a defensive coordinator (Brent Venables) and assistant defensive coordinator (Bobby Jack Wright) on defense. It hasn't hurt. The Sooners are playing Connecticut in the Fiesta Bowl.

So, under the right circumstances, with the right personnel, the co-coordinator concept can work.

"I look forward to working with Stevie Brown," said Minter on Saturday. "I think he's a classy individual. Highly intellectual guy. ... I look forward to forming a team."

It can work for Phillips, as well. He hasn't even had one full season as a head coach. His mentor, Rich Brooks, is available via phone, that is while the former coach is off fishing in Oregon, or playing golf in Kentucky, or visiting the grandchildren.

Minter was a head coach for 10 years at Cincinnati. He's gone from giving suggestions to making decisions and back again. At Kentucky, he'll be here every day at Phillips' side as a sounding board, a confidant, an advice-giver.

"That's huge, the fact that he has been a head coach," Phillips said. "Rick has been through a lot of those things that are different for a head coach."

Minter has also been through a firing, and the subsequent reality of going back to making your living as an assistant.

"Everybody's career goes high and low, ebbs and flow if you will," Minter said Saturday. "One day you're drinking wine, the next day you're back to stomping grapes."

Brown may think he's back to stomping grapes. He's gone from the man to a man on defensive staff. But he's still an important man, and a good coach. Just because there's a hyphen in front of his name doesn't mean it won't work.

Reach John Clay at (859) 231-3226 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3226, or jclay@herald-leader.com. Read his blog at Kentucky.com.

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