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Seth Littrell’s Defensive Coordinator Hire Is Super Important

I have made big decisions in my short time on this planet. I have hired and fired people. I have never had to hire someone whose job performance would determine my fate.

The next hire at defensive coordinator is a career decision for Seth Littrell. After firing Troy Reffett a year ago, (along with offensive coordinator Bodie Reeder) Littrell went with Clint Bowen. That proved to be disastrous. I cannot imagine going back to the resumé stack and trying to find yet another defensive coordinator.

Just a couple of seasons ago, Seth Littrell was one of the next coaches, having took little old North Texas to something like prominence. He was on the Jim Rome show. He beat Arkansas handily and got a highlight reel out of it. Mason Fine was a dark horse Heisman candidate. For the G5 schools, it was right out of the playbook. All that was missing was a Cinderella undefeated season, a little speculation about the CFP that would not likely come and NT would have had its Boise/UCF/Coastal Carolina moment.

Life, and football are fleeting and if this year and season were not a reminder of that I cannot imagine a scenario that would persuade you otherwise. Seth Littrell is in a precarious position. No one will confirm that he is on any hot seat (why would they?) but the fan backlash is against him like it has not been in recent memory. Not everything is online, but the general feeling is one of dissatisfaction. The old guard — the ones that send me chain mail threads and forward GOP memes range from cynical to resigned to the fate.

The concern when Littrell was hired — we had a coaching tracker back then! — was that he would be a pass-first, score-happy coach with little regard to defense. The result is … a score-happy coach with a terrible defense. The told you sos have told us that they have told us so and we are waiting on a replacement for the guy who engineered the worst defense in recent memory.

MGN was supportive of the Reffett scheme and thought he did a decent job. His style was always attacking and at his previous gigs his defenses were known for their takeaways and aggression when they were good, and their allowing big plays when they were bad.

Clint Bowen had coordinated some Kansas defense to something like a decent job. Here at MGN, we didn’t see anything outstanding but expected that he must have impressed Littrell in the interview and, having worked under sometime NT advisor Mark Mangino, he impressed Littrell enough that he was hired.

MGN has always believed — and this is supported by some well-known coaching blogs and the like — that it does not matter so much what kind of front you usually start out in, as you are always reacting to the offense and trying to stop them. Defenses need to be versatile and well-prepared. That North Texas’ defense last season looked unprepared and well, inflexible, is evidence that the coaching was poor.

The teaching part is interesting, considering the published version of how the most successful coach in the game hires the next assistant. It includes a marathon session of chalk-talk with the staff, where the prospective coach teaches a concept the way he would teach the players, vetting by various staff, impressions from his wife and recommendations from former coaches, according to the Athletic.

I have not seen much — or heard much — about the process by which Littrell is vetting coaches. To put it bluntly, it is likely because nobody is particularly interested enough to write about it.

The whole endeavor of being a head coach reminds me of the Peter Principle. I work as a software developer and I have seen plenty of great developers crash and burn when given a manager-adjacent role. The failures just do not have the requisite skills to manage a team, or project even though they were superior performers when it came to doing software development.

Seth Littrell was a really good offensive coordinator. He has shown that his offenses can do amazing things this past season as he coordinated the offense and called the plays. It is possible that he simply does not have the skills to evaluate coaching talent to work under him. It could also be true that Littrell just hit a bad run in an otherwise solid run of evaluating coaching talent. Graham Harrell is reportedly interviewing for the open Boise State post. A handful of former NT staff were poached by other programs — Filani, Choice, Davis for example.

We all are allowed to make mistakes.

There is only so much slack allowed any coach in this game. College football is big business even in CUSA and impatience is not just an Austin concern, it happens in Huntington, WV and Denton, Texas as well. Seth Littrell simply cannot survive another terrible defensive performance even though he has recruited well and put up big numbers on offense.

Just win, baby.

The rumors tell me that he has a hire close to signing on the line which is dotted. It is a good one. He ran a 3-3-5 scheme and that is fine as long as you get the buy-in, and teach it and everything I said above. He had an All-American. He comes highly recommended.

Hopefully it all works out because it is great that you won in 2017, but the calendar says 2021, boss. What have you done for me lately?