The first-time defensive play-callers in FBS in 2017

Posted by: Chris Vannini on Friday March 31, 2017

There are 7 first-time defensive play-callers in FBS in 2017.

Two were promoted from within, while five arrived with a new head coach. Last year, there were 18 first-time play-callers on defense. This list doesn’t include Fresno State’s Orlondo Steinauer, who previously called plays in the CFL.

Here are 2017’s first-time defensive play-callers:

Marcus Freeman (Cincinnati) – Freeman spent the last four years at Purdue, including one as co-defensive coordinator. He worked with Luke Fickell as a GA at Ohio State in 2010 and played under him at OSU from 2005-08. Freeman will be Cincinnati’s sixth different defensive play-caller in as many years.

Chris Kiffin (FAU) – After six years coaching Ole Miss’ defensive line, Kiffin moves to his first defensive coordinator job, and just his second different full-time coaching job. FAU’s defense allowed 11 more points per game last year than in 2015, the sixth-largest increase in the country.

Legi Suiaunoa (Hawaii) - Suiaunoa was promoted to defensive coordinator in his second season after Kevin Lempa left for an off-field job at Michigan. Suiaunoa previously coached the defensive line at Hawaii and Montana. The Rainbow Warriors allowed 37.3 points per game last year.

RELATED: The first-time offensive play-callers in 2017

Derrick Odom (San Jose State) – The Spartans have first-time play-callers on both sides of the ball. Odum spent the last two years coaching defensive backs at Oregon State and followed Brent Brennan to SJSU. The Spartans allowed 34.7 points per game last year, No. 103 nationally.

Brian Jean-Mary (South Florida) – Jean-Mary was one of several Texas assistants to follow Charlie Strong to USF. He’s been with Strong since 2010 at Louisville and Texas, coaching linebackers. USF’s defense was No. 92 in scoring D last year, allowing 8.7 more points per game than in 2015.

Clayton White (Western Kentucky) - WKU also has two first-time play-callers. White spent the last four years at NC State coaching safeties. The Hilltoppers were No. 41 in scoring D last year (24.6 ppg) and bring back six starters on that side.

Jim Leonhard (Wisconsin) – Leonhard is in just his second year as a coach, and he takes over the No. 4 scoring D in the country. The 34-year-old former Badger spent a decade playing in the NFL and joined the staff last year as defensive backs coach. When Justn Wilcox left for the Cal head coaching job, Paul Chryst promoted Leonhard to defensive coordinator and handed the young coach the keys.

See CoachingSearch’s 2017 offseason studies here

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