Thursday, September 11, 2003

Minter happily stuck in middle of UC's defense

By Bill Koch
The Cincinnati Enquirer

When: Noon Saturday.

Where: at West Virginia, Mountaineer Field.

TV: Ch. 19.

Records: UC (1-0), West Virginia (1-1).

Each team's win is against East Carolina.

At one point during the offseason, University of Cincinnati head football coach Rick Minter considered not naming a defensive coordinator for this year.

He ended up naming two of them, but neither really oversees the defense.

"Basically, I'm coordinating the defense," Minter said. "That's where I spend the majority of my time."

It's an unusual arrangement. Most schools use one defensive coordinator who installs the game plan each week and calls the defenses as the game progresses.

But at UC, which is preparing this week to try to stop a powerful West Virginia running attack, the head coach is in charge. The co-defensive coordinators, Mark Criner, who also coaches the linebackers, and Mike Kolakowski, who also coaches the safeties, are viewed almost as apprentices by Minter.

"Mark and Mike are very, very good football people," Minter said. "We have a good defensive staff right now. They all work together well and they listen well. That's what I need them to do now, is listen. I'll take their input."

Kolakowski, 46, is in his first year at UC. He has 23 years of coaching experience, including five as a head coach at California University of Pennsylvania.

He admits that when he was first told about the arrangement, he wondered if it would run smoothly.

"You don't know how it's going to be," he said. "I've never had that situation. We were trying to feel our way around. But it's all falling into place."

Criner, 37, is in his second year at UC, so he's more familiar with Minter's approach. He coached the Bearcat linebackers last year.

As game preparations begin each week, Minter tells Kolakowski and Criner in broad terms what he wants to emphasize, and they formulate a game plan.

"We'll come up with the ideas ourselves," Kolakowski said. "He tweaks it and says yes or no."

Criner calls the defensive sets from the press box during the game, with input from Kolakowski. But again, Minter has veto power.

One reason Minter decided to use this approach is that he has had a difficult time keeping defensive coordinators on his staff. He has had six in his previous nine years at UC.

"At least now," he said, "if I lose one, I've got the other one. They both deserve it. They're both highly qualified guys."

For Minter, who was the defensive coordinator at Notre Dame before he was hired as the head coach at UC, working so extensively with the defense again is like going back home. But he says this is only temporary.

"This is my first love," Minter said. "As time goes on and they learn more and more about the way I want to attack opponents, maybe I can back away from it more and more, but I enjoy being back over there now."

It's too early to declare the experiment a success. The UC defense played well in limiting East Carolina to 203 yards two weeks ago. But it faces a bigger challenge against the Mountaineers.

"For us to be successful, we've got to be able to stop the run," Kolakowski said. "If we get them to second-and-long or third-and-long, we've got a good chance of defending the pass. But they can run it at you."


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