UCLA head coach Rick Neuheisel announced the hiring of defensive coordinator Joe Tresey on Tuesday afternoon, bringing to a close what he called a “long and exhaustive” search.
Beginning with the firing of former defensive coordinator Chuck Bullough, who has since been hired by the Cleveland Browns as a defensive assistant, the 59-day ordeal was full of near-misses and increasing fan angst.
Ultimately, Neuheisel circled back to a candidate whom he interviewed early in the process and continued to keep abreast of the situation, despite public interest in Vic Fangio, Rocky Long and Randy Shannon and the eventual would-be hire of former USC assistant Rocky Seto.
In comes Tresey, who coached defensive backs for the United Football League’s Omaha Nighthawks in 2010, after stints as defensive coordinator at South Florida and Cincinnati.
“I met Joe early on in the process,” Neuheisel said. “I was very impressed with his package, his defense, how he would install it. He’s very organized, very attentive to detail. I believe that he exhibited the kind of passion that you look for in a coach and a leader. … He’s got a great belief in the system that he’ll teach and coach and also the numbers back him up.”
Tresey’s South Florida defense in 2009 ranked 24th nationally in total defense at 321.8 yards per game and tied for 19th in scoring defense, using an aggressive base 4-3 defensive package. Neuheisel stressed through the process that he wanted a coach who could be flexible with his gameplan, and Tresey said that his defense is pliable, dictated by game and health situations.
In 2008 at Cincinnati, Tresey’s Bearcats finished 31st nationally total defense (321.9) and 25th in scoring defense (20.1 points per game), after finishing 50th in total defense (368.2) and 13th in scoring defense (18.77) in 2007, when the team led the country in turnovers and interceptions.
“You have to understand their strengths, accentuate their strengths and diminish their weaknesses,” Tresey said. “If the question is, ‘Are you a pressure guy, what are you?’ I think you evolve with your players. …At the end of the day it’s about pursuit, it’s about tackling, it’s about staying on your feet, it’s about meeting and defeating blocks. You know, it’s about when they hit the green, man, they’re going 100 miles an hour and they’re playing their rear ends off for 60 minutes.”
Such issues as tackling and consistency plagued the Bruins in Bullough’s two season as defensive coordinator, after he took over for now-New Mexico St. head coach DeWayne Walker in 2009. The Bruins ranked 94th in total defense (420.1) and 86th in scoring defense (30.3) last year as the team stumbled to a 4-8 record. In 2009, led by a veteran corps that included standout defensive tackle Brian Price and cornerback Alterraun Verner, UCLA finished 32nd in total defense (334) and 27th in scoring defense (21.2).
Neuheisel went through a painstaking process to find Bullough’s replacement, even going through a very public ordeal with Seto, who claimed he received an offer only to have it rescinded. All along, Neuheiel preached patience, knowing full well that after his second 4-8 season in three years since taking over at his alma mater, the microscope loomed large.
The on-again, off-again interest did not dissuade Tresey, though, who monitored the process even as it approached its third month.
“Patience was important,” Trecey said, “but at the same time it was great that Rick communicated like he did. If he just would have cut me off and I never would have heard from him again, and then all of a sudden he called, we might not be having this conversation. He was very honest in the whole process and did a great job of communicating with me.”
Now the two will set out to solidify the rest of the staff, which is missing a defensive line coach after the firing of Todd Howard last week. Neuheisel said defensive backs coach Tim Hundley could move to defensive line coach, but that the staff would determine the course of action when Tresey arrived on today.
“I want Joe to get here, I want him to sit down with Tim and (linebackers coach Clark Lea) and we’ll figure out what is the best combination,” Neuheisel said. “In our conversation last night when I talked to him about going forward he was amenable to a lot of different ways and obviously I know he’s excited about the chance.”