(ECU SID Photos)
Brian Mitchell was hired as East
Carolina's new defensive coordinator on Jan. 25, but the former NFL
player really starts work for the Pirates on Monday.
That's when ECU begins spring practice
and that's when Mitchell and the defensive coaches will really be able
to get a handle on what their talent will allow them to do.
"Right now the glass is half full,"
Mitchell said. "We have an idea on paper who has the ability, who has a
chance to help this football team win some football games. We don't know
exactly what their strengths and what their weaknesses are, so, going
into spring that's going to be a big time evaluation of where you want
to start philosophy-wise.
"Your philosophy is always going to be
based on your personnel. You can go in there with some preconceived
ideas but knowing that the talent says this instead of that, you're
still in limbo with that glass half full. It's just trying to get
through an evaluation process as fast as you can and see what these kids
can do and what they can't do."
The Pirates will have a 4-3 base
alignment on defense.
"Our philosophy is always going to be
running to the ball and having an attacking mentality," Mitchell said.
"That effort has to be phenomenal effort. It has to be with a nastiness
at the finish and of course we're going to be sound fundamentally and
scheme-wise. We're going to be an attacking defense. Base needs to look
like blitz and blitz needs to look like base.
"That's going to be my philosophy as
long as I'm the defensive coordinator here."
Mitchell coached cornerbacks at Texas
Tech the last four years. Before that he spent 11 seasons as a defensive
assistant at his alma mater, Brigham Young. Mitchell was in the NFL for
three seasons with the Atlanta Falcons and the Dallas Cowboys.
It says something that McNeill, who was
previously the defensive coordinator at Texas Tech, has entrusted those
responsibilities to Mitchell.
"Going into my 16th year, I've been a
part of some really good coaching staffs that have run multiple defenses
with multiple fronts and multiple coverages," Mitchell said. "I think
I've been educated very well. I've been around some very strong-minded
head coaches in Mike Leach and LaVell Edwards (former BYU coach) and of
course, along the way, Bronco Mendenhall (current BYU coach).
"I think all of those men have been
excellent men and they've been excellent teachers. Being a part of what
Coach Ruffin McNeill has done the last three years as a defensive
coordinator kind of prepared me for this job because I came from a 3-3-5
scheme and then Ruff introduced the 4-3 to me. It is very similar to
what (ECU) ran last year. Some of the terminology is going to be
Although McNeill was formerly defensive
coordinator at Texas Tech, he didn't bring Mitchell along from Lubbock
to be his understudy at ECU.
"It was a premeditated move to hire my
coaches based on their experience and abilities," McNeill said. "Brian's
a very knowledgeable and experienced coach who has the ability to relate
exceptionally well with his players. He's been able to draw on his
experiences as a player at BYU and in the NFL and bring those leadership
qualities into the coaching profession."
McNeill expressed his confidence in the
entire defensive staff. Mitchell will coach the secondary in addition to
his duties as defensive coordinator. Pirates associate head coach John
Wiley will work with linebackers. Special teams coordinator Mark Nelson
will coach defensive ends. Former ECU player Marc Yellock will be the
defensive tackles position coach.
"In basketball, you call 'em gym rats
when they hang around all the time," McNeill said in explaining his new
staff's work ethic. "We have a staff of fieldhouse rats. If I didn't run
'em out, they'd be here all day and all night."
McNeill said the coaches will be
looking at a couple of factors in their evaluations in spring practice.
"Whoever makes the most plays, that guy
will start," McNeill said. "That's an evaluation tool we will use —
who's making and finishing plays. We'll also be looking at what guys
have the ability to do their jobs play after play, who has the
capability of doing their job with the technique taught on a consistent
The Pirates lost all of their starters
from the defensive front. Defensive ends C.J. Wilson and Scotty Robinson
were seniors on ECU's second straight Conference USA championship team.
Tackle Jeremy Chambliss was a senior and noseguard Linval Joseph opted
to go pro after his junior season.
Seven of the team's top tacklers in
2009 are gone including free safety Van Eskridge, who was in on 102
tackles, linebacker Nick Johnson (99), linebacker Chris Mattocks (86),
Chambliss (85), strong safety Levin Neal (62), Joseph (60 and Wilson
That means a lot of new players will be
playing defense for the new staff.
It appears to be a tough challenge,
starting with pass-oriented Tulsa in the season opener at Dowdy-Ficklen
Stadium on Sunday, Sept. 5 at 2 p.m. on ESPN.
"I won't think about Tulsa until
probably June," Mitchell said. "You can't put B before A. We've got a
lot of evaluating and teaching to do in the spring."
Mitchell played at BYU from 1987 to
1990 and was a seventh-round pick of the Falcons in 1991. The
All-Western Athletic Conference cornerback played in four bowls while at
BYU and ran the opening leg of BYU's All-American 400-meter relay team.
Mitchell still holds the BYU record for
longest interception return, a 97-yarder against New Mexico in 1989. His
13 career interceptions ranks in a fifth-place tie on the school lists.
His five picks in 1989 was a season high.
Mitchell's NFL experience makes him a
potentially-valuable resource for Pirates with aspirations of playing at
the next level.
"It's a process," Mitchell said. "They
have to start preparing their bodies as soon as they get here and the
mental part is as important if not more important. They need to be
focused on their classes and learn as much as they can in the coaches'