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Quiet Pete Kwiatkowski hoping to crank up volume with Texas Longhorns’ defense

Kwiatkowski: ‘The whole idea is to build confidence in these guys to get them to play fast and physical to the best of their ability’

Pete Kwiatkowski has spent most of his life in the Pacific Northwest. 

He was an All-American player at Boise State and ultimately became the team’s defensive coordinator. He called defensive plays for the team’s famous 2007 Fiesta Bowl win over Oklahoma. For the last seven seasons, he built some suffocating defenses at Washington.

Now, Kwiatkowski, 54, is learning life is different here in Texas.

“Never thought I would sweat as much as I do,” Kwiatkowski said Wednesday. “Never been a big sweater. But I do now.”

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New Texas defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski instructs players during a Longhorns practice last week at Royal-Memorial Stadium. He has spent the last seven years running the defenses of the Washington Huskies.

His name is as stiff as that jaw. It’s pronounced quit-COW-ski. Wednesday was the first time he’d spoken with Texas reporters. 

If the Texas defensive coordinator thinks it’s hot now, wait until the season starts. First comes Louisiana, a team that ranked 29th nationally in scoring last season. Then, it’s a road trip to Arkansas. Those same Sooners are lurking in October, too.

Kwiatkowski is inheriting a unit that slipped to seventh last season in Big 12 total defense after finishing third during the Sugar Bowl year of 2018.

The Big 12 is known for explosive offensive numbers. Asked if he had to redefine his version of success, Kwiatkowski laughed and said, “Ask me at the end of the year.”

“Our goal is to hold the offense to under 20 points,” Kwiatkowski said. “That’s our goal. It might be a high goal, but that’s our goal.”

One of the biggest statistics on Kwiatkowski’s resume might be his defensive record against Mike Leach. Washington was 6-0 against Leach’s Washington State teams in the annual Apple Cup battle. It’s not that his teams beat up on Leach. It’s more about Washington having a ton of success against spread offenses, something the Horns see almost weekly in this league.

The last seven seasons at Washington, Pete Kwiatkowski's defenses were typically some of the strongest in the Pac-12. His units finished No. 1 in total defense five times since 2015.

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“We dropped eight a lot, kept the ball in front of us,” Kwiatkowski said. “Mixed coverages to try and confuse the quarterback. Did a really good job of getting pressure on the quarterback with three rushers, which a lot of that was attributed to the coverage changeups. We just were not going to let them get chunk yards and big plays, we made them earn it.”

Kwiatkowski indicated his new team has plenty of working parts. He called out multiple defensive linemen, like Keondre Coburn, Vernon Broughton, Jacoby Jones and transfer Ray Thornton. “Ovie (Oghoufo) has been a really good surprise for us, the transfer from Notre Dame,” he said.

“On the back end, (Brenden) Schooler is picking it up. He’s being real vocal. BJ (Foster) is coming along really good,” Kwiatkowski said. “The guy that’s probably made the most improvement is Anthony Cook. He’s really come on, getting comfortable with the defense, knows what he’s supposed to do, playing faster, physical.”

Kwiatkowski finished by doting on cornerback D’Shawn Jamison, who is “doing pretty good out there on the edge.”

Texas cornerback D'Shawn Jamison will be one of the leaders of the Longhorns' secondary, which could be a strength of this year's defense.

Make no mistake, Kwiatkowski is a no-nonsense, no-frills defensive coach. That’s how they come off the assembly line. He’s not a yeller and screamer, though. 

“Quiet,” Coburn said. “I can’t even describe him as a person. He just loves the game of football. Outside of that, I do not know. He is so quiet. PK be like … (murmurs). I’m like, ‘What?” We all laugh but we know that whatever he’s saying is going to help. So we’ve just got to listen loud.”

As for his three biggest concerns, Kwiatkowski said the Horns need to get better at tackling, get better conditioned and “continue to build depth.” See, no frills.

“One thing that will get me fired up is the lack of effort, lack of focus,” Kwiatkowski said. “That takes zero talent. Guys make mistakes, you coach them up and if they keep making mistakes over and over again, that’s when we tend to have issues.

“The whole idea is to build confidence in these guys to get them to play fast and physical to the best of their ability,” he added. “I guess that’s just my style.”

Contact Brian Davis by phone or text at 512-445-3957. Email bdavis@statesman.com or @BDavisAAS.