Source: Michigan, OC Drevno part ways

Source: Michigan, OC Drevno part ways

Michigan and former offensive coordinator Tim Drevno have parted ways, a source confirmed to ESPN.com on Friday.

Drevno, a longtime assistant of Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh, had been the Wolverines’ offensive coordinator and offensive line coach for the last three seasons. His departure was first reported by The Wolverine Lounge.

It was a mutual decision, a source told ESPN’s Tom VanHaaren.

Michigan’s offensive coaching staff has had several changes since the end of a 2017 season in which the Wolverines finished 91st nationally in points per game. Offensive line assistant coach Greg Frey left for a job at Florida State. Dan Enos, a former Arkansas offensive coordinator, joined the staff to coach wide receivers but left weeks later to take an associate head coach position at Alabama.

Former Florida head coach Jim McElwain officially took over as the wide receivers coach in Ann Arbor earlier this week. It’s not clear yet who will assume some of the coordinator responsibilities previously held by Drevno.

Drevno’s departure means that Michigan has a vacancy on its staff at the moment. The Detroit Free Press reported Friday that Ed Warriner is expected to fill that opening and coach the offensive line. Michigan hired Warriner — a former linemen coach at Ohio State and Notre Dame among other stops — to a non-coaching analyst position in January.

Drevno first worked with Harbaugh in 2004 at the University of San Diego. They had worked together in 13 of the 14 seasons since then, coaching at San Diego, Stanford, the San Francisco 49ers and Michigan.

Tennessee's new coach isn't spying away from the challenge of rebuilding

Tennessee's new coach isn't spying away from the challenge of rebuilding

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Jeremy Pruitt and members of his newly assembled coaching staff popped in and out of Tennessee’s staff meeting room, occasionally huddling in front of the large television on the wall as it spit out signing-day news at a clip surpassed only by the incessant buzzing of Pruitt’s cell phone.

One by one, many of the Vols’ most coveted prospects lingered then passed over the Tennessee cap in front of them on the table in favor of an Alabama cap, a Georgia cap, a Florida cap, a Florida State cap or a USC cap.

For Tennessee fans, it probably felt eerily similar to the Vols’ search for a head coach, which saw one high-profile coach after another linked to the job either turn it down and stay put or elect to go elsewhere. That’s not to mention the very public and demonstrative meltdown among fans, donors, local media and state politicians when former athletic director John Currie tried to hire Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano.

The fallout from the mother of dysfunctional coach searches included a change in athletic directors — mid-search. Currie was out. Former Tennessee Hall of Fame coach Phillip Fulmer was in, and an unfazed and eager Pruitt was the one standing at the podium when the orange haze cleared.

In both cases, the Vols swung for the fences, and while Pruitt can’t speak to what did or didn’t happen in the circuitous process that led to his being named Tennessee’s head coach, he’s not about to apologize for targeting some of the best prospects in the country.

“We gotta have players,” a sleep-deprived Pruitt told one coach as he scurried last minute to squeeze everything he could out of this first class.

The coach responded by asking Pruitt if he would go to Arizona to get him.

“I will go to dadgum China for him if he’s a player,” Pruitt shot back in his familiar Southern twang.

Even though his rise in college football has been meteoric — Pruitt was still coaching high school football 12 years ago — he’s anything but naïve. He understands the challenge ahead of him in rebuilding a program that hasn’t even been to the SEC championship game since Fulmer was coaching (four head coaches ago), but Pruitt also understands the kind of player it takes to build a championship program. He was a part of five national championship staffs as either director of player personnel, defensive backs coach or defensive coordinator at both Alabama and Florida State.

“If we’re not recruiting those players and getting those kinds of players, then we’re not doing our job,” said Pruitt, who takes over a Tennessee program that is a combined 4-26 over the last decade against Alabama, Florida and Georgia with an average margin of defeat of 17.1 points in those 26 losses.

“You win with players, and it’s not always the players ranked the highest,” Pruitt added. “We’re going to trust our evaluations and trust the connections and relationships we’ve cultivated over time as a staff. There are players out there. You gotta go find them. Sometimes, they’re the so-called tier-two players. But most of the time, they’re the players Alabama is getting, the players Georgia is getting, and that’s who we need to be battling against and winning our share of battles against if we’re going to get this program where we all want it to be.”

In short, if the Vols aren’t going to beat the likes of Alabama, Florida and Georgia on the recruiting trail, they’re not going to start beating them on the field any time soon.

The Vols went into national signing day earlier this month feeling as if they were at least in the hunt with such 4- and 5-star prospects as linebacker Quay Walker, receiver Jacob Copeland, cornerback Olaijah Griffin, cornerback Isaac Taylor-Stuart and receiver Jordan Young. All five had Tennessee among their top choices on signing day, a fact that itself is impressive, given how little time Pruitt had to put this class together.

Ultimately all five went elsewhere, but the Vols did win a few battles that resonated, especially when you count the early signing period. For starters, they beat Alabama for tight end Dominick Wood-Anderson of Arizona Western College and linebacker J.J. Peterson of Moultrie, Georgia. They beat Florida for offensive lineman Jerome Carvin of Cordova, Tennessee. They beat UCLA for running back Jeremy Banks of Cordova, Tennessee. They beat Clemson for safety Trevon Flowers of Tucker, Georgia, and held off Georgia for receiver Alontae Taylor of Manchester, Tennessee.

“But what you need is that you need 15 guys that you beat Alabama and Georgia on instead of three or four,” said Pruitt, whose pull-no-punches approach has served him well in the past on the recruiting trail. Tennessee safety Micah Abernathy was recruited to Georgia by Pruitt when Pruitt was the Bulldogs’ defensive coordinator and is confident things are about to change with the Vols, both on the field and on the recruiting trail.

“He never told me I was going to come in and do this or do that when he was recruiting me,” Abernathy recounted. “He told me I was going to come in and compete and told me what he was going to do to help me be the player I wanted to be. My brother also played college football, so I knew how to decipher what was real and what wasn’t. Coach Pruitt was the most real coach that recruited me. We need a little bit of that here. People are going to stand up straight and do it his way. I promise you that.”

Pruitt admittedly had to be a bit creative in this first class. There simply wasn’t a lot of time to put it together after being named Tennessee’s coach on Dec. 7, less than two weeks before the early signing period began and then juggling two jobs while staying on as Alabama’s defensive coordinator through the national championship game.

“Just as I will do here, I was going to finish what I started,” Pruitt said of not leaving his Alabama post immediately after being named Tennessee’s coach. “Tennessee will get that same dedication. It’s the way I believe in doing things.”

He’s not going to mind stepping on toes, either. Case in point: He’s already made it known to some of the recruiting handlers out there in different communities that he’s not going to be coaxed into signing players based purely on offers they might have from other schools, especially when those offers are courtesy offers to help a handler get his prospect into more doors.

As his wife, Casey, warned him earlier in the day: “Being nice will get you fired.”

Pruitt learned that from the best, his former boss at Alabama, Nick Saban, whom Pruitt joked was as savvy coordinating his lunchtime pickup basketball games as he was mapping out the Crimson Tide’s recruiting.

“I used to play in those games, but got hurt because I was too aggressive and had to give it up,” Pruitt said. “I was going all-out for every offensive rebound and hurt myself.”

And while it’s been well-chronicled that Saban is the commissioner for those pickup hoops games, meaning he chooses the teams and calls the fouls, he occasionally even makes trades … mid-game.

“That’s how I got on his team, going for every offensive rebound and every loose ball,” Pruitt joked. “Maybe that’s how I got noticed when I first got there. I don’t know, but it all worked out.”

Tennessee fans are hoping that same aggressive approach works out in their favor, too, now that Pruitt is calling the shots.

Promotions, hires among Bama staff reshuffle

Promotions, hires among Bama staff reshuffle

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama coach Nick Saban has promoted Mike Locksley to offensive coordinator and Josh Tupoi to defensive coordinator and hired two new assistants.

Saban announced the promotions Thursday along with the hiring of Dan Enos as quarterbacks coach and Craig Kuligowski as defensive line coach. Both will also be associate head coaches.

Locksley and Tupoi had both been co-coordinators for the defending national champions.

Enos is a former Arkansas offensive coordinator who had been hired by Michigan in January.

Kuligowski spent the past two seasons as the Miami Hurricanes‘ defensive line coach and assistant head coach.

Longtime running backs coach Burton Burns will become assistant athletic director for football.

Saban also announced other staffing changes.

Joe Pannunzio will take over as the Crimson Tide’s running backs coach with Jeff Banks serving as tight ends coach and special teams coordinator.

New assistant Pete Golding will work with inside linebackers and serve as co-defensive coordinator while Josh Gattis will be co-offensive coordinator and work with the receivers.

Locksley replaces Brian Daboll, who left to join the Buffalo Bills staff. Tupoi replaces Jeremy Pruitt, who took over Tennessee’s program.

“We are excited to be able to promote from within to fill our offensive and defensive coordinators positions,” Saban said. “Both Tosh and Michael are tremendous football coaches who will do an excellent job leading their respective units.”

Marshall's Aaron dies from NYE gunshot wound

Marshall's Aaron dies from NYE gunshot wound

Marshall redshirt freshman defensive tackle Larry Aaron, 19, has died after being hit in the back by stray gunfire during a New Year’s Eve party in Severn, Maryland, the school confirmed on Thursday.

“Marshall University lost a very special young man today and it has shocked and saddened us all,” Marshall coach Doc Holliday said in a statement released by the school. “Our thoughts and prayers are with all of Larry Aaron’s family and friends, many of whom were his fellow Thundering Herd teammates. His loss will be felt in every corner of our program and his spirit will never be forgotten.”

According to the Herald-Dispatch of Huntington, West Virginia, Aaron passed away at Frederick Memorial Hospital in Frederick, Md., on Thursday. He was initially paralyzed from the gunshot wound on Jan. 1. People at the party told Melissa Aaron, Larry’s mother, that Larry was standing by a wall when an altercation broke out nearby that led to gunfire.

The Herald-Dispatch reported that Aaron was shot after throwing his body in front of his girlfriend to protect her.

Marshall will hold a previously-scheduled fundraiser in Aaron’s memory from 6-8 p.m. at Saturday’s men’s basketball game against Charlotte. The school is selling 93strong T-shirts for $20.

Larry Aaron played in eight games and had 13 tackles this year, including one in Marshall’s 31-28 win over Colorado State in the Gildan New Mexico Bowl on Dec. 16.

Coach sues Louisiana College for discrimination

Coach sues Louisiana College for discrimination

BATON ROUGE, La. — The president of a private Baptist college in Louisiana refused to approve a football coach’s hiring because of what he called the applicant’s “Jewish blood,” a federal lawsuit claims.

Joshua Bonadona sued Louisiana College and its president, Rick Brewer, on Wednesday, accusing them of violating his civil rights.

Bonadona, a 28-year-old graduate of Louisiana College, says he applied for a job as defensive backs coach at his alma mater and was interviewed last May by Brewer and the Pineville school’s head football coach, Justin Charles. The head coach later told Bonadona that he had recommended him for the job, but the college didn’t approve his hiring because of his “Jewish descent,” the suit alleges.

“Mr. Bonadona asked Justin Charles what that meant, and Justin Charles stated that Dr. Brewer refused to approve Mr. Bonadona’s hiring because of what Dr. Brewer called Mr. Bonadona’s ‘Jewish blood,'” the suit says.

Brewer didn’t immediately respond to a phone call and email seeking comment.

Charles, who is not named as a defendant or accused of any wrongdoing in the lawsuit, said in an email Thursday that he is “not at liberty to comment on this matter.”

Bonadona subsequently took a coaching job at Hendrix College in Conway, Arkansas, for less money than Louisiana College would have paid him, the suit says.

Bonadona’s attorney, James Bullman, said private religious institutions like Louisiana College can be legally entitled to make employment decisions based on the religion of a job applicant or employee. But people of Jewish heritage are protected as a “distinct race” under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and federal law prohibits employers from failing to hire somebody on the basis of race, the lawsuit says.

“This case has nothing to do with religion and everything to do with Josh’s Jewish heritage and racial background,” Bullman said.

Bonadona, a Baton Rouge native, was born into a Jewish family but converted to Christianity during his time as a Louisiana College student and kicker on the school’s football team. He often led the football team’s “Christian devotional,” but it was a “widely known fact” on campus that his mother was Jewish, the lawsuit says.

Louisiana College hired him to be an assistant football coach after his December 2013 graduation, but he resigned in 2015 to pursue a graduate degree and take a coaching job at Southeast Missouri State University. He resigned from that job last year after Charles assured him that Louisiana College would hire him again, the suit says.

During the job interview in May, Brewer asked Bonadona about his parents’ religious affiliations, the suit says. Bonadona told him his father was Catholic and his mother was Jewish.

“During the interview, Mr. Bonadona repeatedly made it clear that he was a practicing member of the Christian faith,” the suit says.

Brewer has been Louisiana College’s president since 2015. His biography on the college’s website says he is an ordained Baptist minister.

One of Brewer’s predecessors, Joe Aguillard, sued the school in December after filing a previous complaint that accused Louisiana College of discriminating against him based on his religion. Aguillard’s federal lawsuit claims Brewer forced him out of his job as president emeritus in retaliation for Aguillard’s opposition to the school’s “unlawful discrimination and actions.”

Can Houston defensive tackle Ed Oliver really contend for the Heisman?

Can Houston defensive tackle Ed Oliver really contend for the Heisman?

Ed Oliver’s ability to track down any type of offensive player has already netted him an Outland Trophy. 

HOUSTON — Just days before Houston’s 2016 season-opening upset of Oklahoma, when the college football world would be introduced to Ed Oliver, the then-18-year-old was already making his coaches shake their heads at his athletic feats in practice.

While practicing a Sooners play they’d scouted — a quick pass to the running back in the flat, designed to get speedy Joe Mixon out into the open field — they assigned Oliver, a defensive tackle, to “spy” the running back. So when Houston quarterback Greg Ward Jr. motioned running back Duke Catalon over and Catalon sprinted toward the sideline, imagine the surprise when the 280-pound Oliver beat him to the ball.

“When we ran this [in practice], we widened our back out all the way behind the tackle, because we knew [Mixon] could run,” Houston coach Major Applewhite said. “And [Oliver] ran down Catalon’s hip, and the ball was thrown perfectly by Greg, and he knocked it down … like he was in man coverage.”

When the Sooners actually ran the play during their meeting, Oliver didn’t get there quite that quickly but did sprint from one side of the field to the other to catch Mixon — who runs a 4.5 second 40-yard dash — for a meager 2-yard gain.

A defensive tackle covering a running back on a pass play might sound unwise, but with Oliver, anything is possible.

“Athleticism and effort,” Applewhite says, reviewing the play from his office. “He’s a unique player because of his athleticism. There’s a lot of [defensive tackles] that can sit there and plug.”

For the last two seasons, Oliver has terrorized many an offensive backfield. In that time he has amassed 39.5 tackles for loss, more than any other player in their first two seasons in recent memory (nobody in the past five years has compiled that many in their first two years). He’s second among FBS defensive linemen in pass breakups in that span. In December, Oliver became the first underclassman (freshman or sophomore) to win the Outland Trophy.

“I think he’s the most disruptive defensive lineman I’ve seen in college football,” said former Rice coach David Bailiff, who coached against Oliver last season. “He’s as close to the Tasmanian Devil on the football field that I’ve ever seen.”

When it comes to pure football talent, there’s no doubting Oliver’s credentials. That’s why Oliver is at least on the periphery of the way-too-early discussion of Heisman Trophy candidates. Whether he’ll have a realistic shot at the hardware is another discussion entirely.

“We have to see what he does on the field [this season],” Applewhite said. “I think he deserves to be in the conversation. If the award is what it says it is, which is the best player in college football, then he deserves to be in the conversation.”

In the 83-year history of the award, only one player from a primarily defensive position has won it: Michigan cornerback Charles Woodson in 1997. Only 18 defensive players have finished in the top five in Heisman voting, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Ten of those were defensive linemen, but only two defensive linemen have finished in the top five since 1990.

Will a defensive player ever win it again?

“In my personal opinion, no,” said former Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, now with the Miami Dolphins. “And the reason why I say that is because I think there has been some elite guys, not including myself, that have given it some good shots and had good bodies of work to do it, but I think just because it’s such a heavily offensive-oriented and quarterback-oriented and running back-oriented type of award, it’s very difficult.”

Suh, who finished fourth in the 2009 voting and is the most recent defensive lineman to finish in the top five, had a strong case. He also had a “Heisman moment,” by nearly lifting Nebraska to a Big 12 championship with 12 tackles, six for losses and 4.5 sacks in a 13-12 loss to Texas that year. Alabama running back Mark Ingram wound up winning the trophy that season.

Texas quarterback Colt McCoy, whom Suh threw around like a rag doll when they met, finished third, a spot ahead of Suh “even though I put a good thrashing on him in the Big 12 championship,” Suh said.

Former Houston quarterback Andre Ware, who won the Heisman in 1989 and voted for Suh, said that illustrates how difficult it is for a defensive player.

“When that happens, then it’s tough for it to ever happen,” Ware said. “You get that one shot down … then you’ve made it an offensive award. [Suh] deserved to win it in my opinion. But that makes it tough.”

Only six players who have won it didn’t play in the offensive backfield. The frequency at which quarterbacks and running backs touch the ball is a big reason they win it most often.

“It’s different when you have a chance to touch the football every snap. That alone creates the attention that you’re going to get,” said Arizona coach Kevin Sumlin, who coached 2012 Heisman winner Johnny Manziel. “Really that’s a quarterback and a running back. It’s difficult for even a receiver to win it.

“What are we voting for? Is the Heisman trophy the best player in the country? Is it the best catalyst on a team in the country? Those are two different things. … Is this guy the best player on the best team in the country? That’s happened before, too.”

Coaches and former players acknowledged that being a part of a great team is a virtual necessity. Having a big performance on a big stage helps, too. That can be a challenge for a defensive lineman, especially considering how creative coaches get to minimize an individual player’s impact.

“You can game plan around a player,” said Baylor coach Matt Rhule, who played against Woodson’s Michigan team while he was at Penn State. “You can do a lot of speed, no-huddle, up-tempo stuff. You can mitigate some of the defensive player’s ability to affect the game just by getting the ball out of your hand before he gets to the quarterback.”

Oliver has experienced some of that at Houston, but the Cougars’ staff has been creative about where he lines up and the assignments he gets to maximize his impact. So far, it has been successful. The main thing that slowed down Oliver was a knee injury last season that kept him from playing at full strength for the better part of five games. Still, he finished with 73 tackles, 16.5 for loss, 5.5 sacks, seven quarterback hurries, two forced fumbles and a blocked kick.

“[The injury] took away from my mobility, moving sideways a little bit,” Oliver said. “I’m upset at the way I played last year. It really makes me mad, watching film, knowing what I can do and what I was limited to doing.”

The junior-to-be says that he’s at 100 percent now. After winning the Outland Trophy, he’s coming for more hardware.

“I can’t stop there,” he said. “I need to go back and won the Nagurski and the Bednarik. I need both of them.”

If he comes up short, it won’t be for lack of effort or physical gifts. Applewhite said Wednesday morning that Oliver challenged one of the team’s linebackers in a six-station drill — which included a 60-yard shuttle and a short-shuttle, among other agility drills. Unsurprisingly, Oliver won.

Given his production and ability, 2018 figures to be Oliver’s last in college. He hopes to be not just a high draft pick but No. 1 overall. As for the Heisman, Oliver said while he doesn’t expect to be there, being in the conversation would be special “for the city and for the guys I play with and the guys that helped me get there, the coaches for believing me and trusting in me.”

What does he think would it take for him to get there?

“I’d love to be there, but I doubt I’d win,” he said. “I gotta pass for a touchdown, catch a touchdown, run for a touchdown, get some fumbles for touchdowns, picks for touchdowns. It’s all about how much you score.”

Oliver did run for a touchdown lining up as a goal-line running back in Houston’s bowl game last season. Could he lobby for more of those touches?

“You never know,” he said.