Ranking 20 Years of UCLA Defensive Coordinators

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Nov 15, 2013; Pasadena, CA, USA; General view of an alternative black UCLA Bruins helmet on the sidelines during the game against the Washington Huskies at Rose Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

1. Lou Spanos, 2012 – 2013

Evaluating Spanos (and in the same vein, Ulbrich) is difficult because Jim Mora was the first UCLA head coach in 40 years to come in with prior experience on the defensive side of the ball. As such, Mora has much more of his fingerprints on the UCLA defense than Toledo, Dorrell, or Neuheisel ever did. That said, what Lou Spanos did in turning around Chuck Bullough and Joe Tresey’s mess is remarkable.

Statistical Rankings
Year | SOS | SD | TD | DFEI | DS&P+
2012 | 26 | 59 | 69 | 29 | 40
2013 | 12 | 35 | 49 | 18 | 27
Avg. | 19 | 47 | 59 | 24 | 34

Spanos converted the defense to a 3-4 front, emphasized speed and containment, showed vision in moving players into different positions as needed, and made halftime adjustments.

Those stats may not jump out at you, but keep in mind that the 2011 defense ranked 92nd, 84th, 111th, and 77th in our four categories. Additionally, improvement continued into Spanos’ second year. The worst category is total defense (yards-per-game), a statistic that Jim Mora has explicitly said he doesn’t care about. In everything else, he brought the defense into the top quartile in the country.

Spanos did this with exceptional defensive talent at his disposal: Jones, Zumwalt, Marsh, Odighizuwa, Kendricks, and Anthony Barr (Spanos and Mora worked to transition Barr from a FB into the 9th overall draft pick at OLB). That doesn’t even include the talent brought in under Spanos that has yet to become draft eligible, including Myles Jack, Deon Hollins, Kenny ClarkTahaan Goodman, et al.

More: UCLA Football: What will Define a Successful Season

Game-wise, Spanos had some stinkers, mainly in his first year, with losses to Cal (43) and Baylor (49). But by the end of 2013, UCLA was putting on defensive clinics in shutting down USC (14) and Virginia Tech (12).

The one game that speaks volumes is at Nebraska in 2013. Down 21-3 in the second quarter, the defense altered its approach and mindset and held Taylor Martinez, Ameer Abdullah, Kenny Bell, and the rest of Nebraska’s offense scoreless for the remaining 37+ minutes of gametime. Total domination, made possible by a coaching staff willing and able to make adjustments on the fly in game situations to a degree previously unseen at UCLA.

Where is he now: Spanos left after the 2013 season to return to the NFL and is currently the linebackers coach for the Tennessee Titans.

Next: A New Hope?