How the 18 first-time defensive play-callers fared in 2016

Posted by: Chris Vannini on Wednesday March 29, 2017

There were 18 first-time defensive play-callers in FBS in 2016.

Some made a big difference in one year, but not always in the right direction. Some don’t return in 2017 due to a head coaching change, while one left for a position job after a successful first season.

Here's how the first-time defensive play-callers performed in their debuts.

Tim Daoust (Ball State) - The Cardinals defense allowed 30.1 points per game, nearly six points more than the previous year. Ball State started 3-1, but went 1-7 in MAC play.

Andy Avalos (Boise State) - Promoted to the job after four years on staff, Avalos’ defense finished in the top 30 in scoring (23.3 ppg). The Broncos started 10-1, but finished with losses to Air Force and Baylor.

Perry Eliano (Bowling Green) - The Falcons were No. 117 in scoring defense (38.3 ppg), which was a 9.4-point increase from the year prior. Bowling Green went 4-8, but won their final three games.

Ilaisa Tuiaki (BYU) - BYU’s defense allowed just 19.5 points per game, No. 14 nationally. The Cougars allowed 10 points or fewer in four of their last five games, and BYU finished 9-4.

Erik Chinander (UCF) - Chinander followed Scott Frost from UCF, and they took an 0-12 team to a 6-6 regular season. Their scoring defense improved by 13.1 points per game, the largest such improvement in the country.

Jeff Koonz / Robert Prunty (Cincinnati) – The Bearcats fell to 4-8 last season, but the defense improved compared to 2015. The 26.9 ppg allowed was nearly a 5-point improvement from the previous year. There were three games in which UC allowed 24 points or fewer and lost, and the offense scored 15 points total in those games. Neither coach was retained after Tommy Tuberville stepped down.

Lorenzo Costantini (Georgia Southern) – The Eagles went 5-7 in Tyson Summers’ first season, and Costantini’s defense finished No. 51 in scoring D (26.5 ppg), similar to the previous year’s numbers.

Hardy Nickerson (Illinois) – The Illini allowed 8.6 points per game more than 2015, which was among the largest increases in the country. They allowed at least 40 points five times.

Ben Needham (Kent State) - Needham was promoted to the coordinator role after three years as linebackers coach. The Golden Flashes allowed 28.7 ppg (No. 67), which was similar to the 2015 numbers.

Jay Sawvel (Minnesota) - Sawvel had been with Jerry Kill and Tracy Claeys since 2001 and was promoted to DC when Claeys took over. The Gophers won nine games, the second time since 1905 the program had done so. Sawvel’s defense was No. 21 in scoring (22.1 ppg), a 3-point increase from the previous year. Claeys was dismissed after the season, and Sawvel joined the Wake Forest staff.

Peter Sirmon (Mississippi State) - Sirmon was MSU’s fourth defensive coordinator in as many years. The scoring D allowed 8.6 points per game more than the previous year (31.8ppg in 2016), and Sirmon became Louisville’s defensive coordinator this offseason.

DeMontie Cross (Missouri) – After a 2-5 start to the season, head coach Barry Odom took over play-calling. Missouri’s 15.3 points-per-game increase from 2015, to 31.5 ppg, was the second highest in the country.

Mike Ekeler (North Texas) – Ekeler and head coach Seth Littrell inherited a 1-11 team and went 5-8 in year one. The scoring defense decreased by 8.7 points per game. But Ekeler left to join the North Carolina staff as linebackers coach in the offseason.

Kevin Kane (Northern Illinois) – The Huskies defense allowed 30 points per game. NIU went 5-7, but won five of their final eight games and allowed 25 points per game in those final eight.

Travaris Robinson (South Carolina) - Robinson followed Will Muschamp to multiple stops and helped take South Carolina to a bowl in year one. The Gamecocks allowed 26.5 points per game. That was at 22 points per game until allowing 56 points to Clemson and 46 to South Florida to finish the year.

Raymond Woodie (South Florida) – The USF defense was No. 92 in scoring D (31.6 ppg), allowing 8.7 ppg more than in 2015. But the Bulls won 10 games, and Woodie followed Willie Taggart to the Oregon staff as special teams coordinator.

Morgan Scalley (Utah) - Scalley had been on staff since 2006 and was promoted to coordinator for 2016. His Utah defense finished No. 33 in scoring (23.9 ppg). They were the only team to beat USC when Sam Darnold started at quarterback. 

Kendrick Shaver (Utah State) – Shaver was promoted to co-defensive coordinator after four years on staff. The Aggies went 3-9 and allowed at least 38 points in four games. Their 29.3 ppg allowed was No. 73 nationally.

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Chris Vannini is in his fifth year with and serves as its managing editor. He has previously written for the Detroit Free Press, The Oakland Press, The State News,, 247Sports and SB Nation.  A graduate of Michigan State University, Chris now lives in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.  Be sure to follow @coachingsearch and send emails to