Texas coach Tom Herman is betting that another close friend is the right person to help rebuild his defense.
Former Rutgers head coach Chris Ash was announced as Texas’ new defensive coordinator on Tuesday. The former UT defensive analyst was the clear front-runner since Todd Orlando was fired on Dec. 1.
Ash will join the coaching staff on Wednesday but will not coach in the Alamo Bowl, according to UT.
“After taking a hard look at a lot of options at defensive coordinator, Chris was the one that continued to stand out,” Herman said in a statement. “We couldn’t be more excited what he’ll add to our staff.”
Herman hired many of his close friends upon his arrival at UT in 2017, citing the need for “alignment.” The only person on the staff he didn’t really know beforehand was offensive line coach Herb Hand.
Ash, who turns 46 on Christmas Eve, is another of Herman’s friends from their coaching days together at Iowa State (2009) and Ohio State (2014). Together, they called offensive and defensive plays for the Buckeyes’ run to the first College Football Playoff championship.
“I’ve witnessed firsthand Chris’ skills as a game planner, his attention to detail and ability to develop players,” Herman said. “He gets the best out of every one of them and has a history of building physical, fundamentally sound, winning defenses. He has done it at the highest level, is a tremendous all-around coach and an awesome person.”
Comfort hires can backfire, but Ash has a solid track record as a defensive coordinator.
He’s been a coordinator at Wisconsin (2011-12) and Arkansas (2013). He went to Ohio State in 2013 and served as a co-defensive coordinator in the hopes of working under Urban Meyer to burnish his credentials as a head coach. The Buckeyes ranked 19th in total defense during their 2014 championship season and finished 22nd nationally, allowing 22 points per game.
In 2015, Ohio State ranked second nationally alongside Alabama in scoring defense. Both teams allowed just 12.5 points per game. The Buckeyes ranked ninth in total defense that season as the program went 12-1.
That performance helped Ash land the head coaching job at Rutgers, where things were rocky from the start. He went 8-32 in three-plus seasons and was fired in late September this year from what is perceived as one of the toughest jobs in the Big Ten.
Ash came to Austin and sat in on Texas coaches meetings the week of the Oklahoma game. He was still due an estimated $8.47 million from Rutgers for the balance of his contract.
Any money Ash earns at another job will offset what Rutgers owes him, according to his deal. He is likely to get a multi-year contract at Texas, although all contracts must be approved by the UT System Board of Regents.
“Number one, I’m humbled and extremely honored to be able to coach football at The University of Texas,” Ash said. “I want to thank Tom Herman and (athletic director) Chris Del Conte for this opportunity and for their professionalism throughout the process.
“I have a great deal of respect for Coach Herman as a coach and a person,” Ash added. “If I didn’t believe in him, I wouldn’t be making this move. I have complete confidence and faith and trust in his ability to lead and to coach, and I’m excited to be a part of this program.”
The Longhorns had a strong defensive start under Herman and Orlando upon their arrival from Houston. Texas had the second-best defense in the Big 12 in 2017 and was third in 2018. But the Horns dropped to eighth this season and allowed 446.3 yards per game, the third-highest total in school history.
So Herman parted ways with Orlando, who had another year left on his contract worth $1.7 million. Orlando was the sixth-highest paid assistant among major college programs, according to USA Today’s coaching salary database.
“I felt like we needed to play more fundamentally sound and felt like in order to do that, we needed someone new to come in and lend a fresh, new perspective on defense,” Herman said last week.
Herman is still looking for a new offensive coordinator. He demoted Tim Beck on Dec. 1 and reassigned him to quarterbacks coach for Alamo Bowl practice.
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