Topper coaches coupling youth with experience

Running backs coach Greg Nord presides over the team during stretches. Nord has over 30 years of coaching experience to his name, including over 25 years in the state of Kentucky. Alyssa Pointer/HERALD

Kyle Williams

When the Hilltoppers step onto Feix Field tonight for their season-opening bout with the Bowling Green State Falcons, they’ll be representing WKU football as a member of Conference USA for the first time. For some, it’ll mark the first time they’ve ever fully geared up in preparation for a regular-season game.

With 67 underclassmen comprising the 105-man roster, WKU is the youngest team in C-USA and the 25th youngest team in the country.

Conversely, the Hilltopper coaching staff is already more experienced than any other coaching staff in its new conference.

Head Coach Jeff Brohm’s staff has totaled 238 years of combined coaching experience on the collegiate level, which is 51 years more than any other C-USA staff.

“I feel great about our coaching staff,” Brohm said. “Not only do they have a ton of experience, but they’re very proven coaches. They love being here. They love working with our guys.”

In addition, Brohm and his staff have familiarized themselves with the area over their lengthy careers. The Hilltopper coaching staff has allotted 64 years of college football coaching experience in Kentucky, and for each of the past 19 years, at least one member of the staff has been coaching in the bluegrass state.

Brohm was born and raised roughly 116 miles up Interstate 65 in Louisville, where he scored a combined 56 touchdowns in his time behind center at Trinity High School. He then recorded 5,451 yards passing and 44 total touchdowns at the University of Louisville from 1989-93.

The first-year head coach spent seven years in the National Football League and played with the likes of Steve Young, Jerry Rice, Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks among others. Brohm’s lone touchdown pass was to Terrell Owens.

“Getting coached from a coach that actually did it with a helmet, you know, it’s a big difference,” redshirt senior receiver Willie McNeal said at the team’s Monday press conference. “He could tell you about his past experiences at times like this and how he prepared.”

Brohm landed a job at his alma mater in 2003, serving as quarterbacks coach until 2006 when he was named assistant head coach. In 2008, he added offensive coordinator to his title. He’s made stops at FAU, Illinois and UAB before arriving at WKU in 2013.

The Hilltoppers return six of nine assistant coaches from a season ago in defensive coordinator Nick Holt, cornerbacks coach Ricky Brumfield, offensive line coach Neil Callaway, defensive backs coach Mike Cassity, defensive tackles coach Don Dunn and wide receivers coach JaMarcus Shepard.

Holt’s Hilltopper defense ranked No. 10 in the nation in pass defense and No. 14 overall in total defense. Under Holt’s tutelage in 2008, USC led the country in scoring defense at just nine points per game and allowed a total of 221.77 yards per game, which ranks as the lowest total by a Pac-10 program since 1971.

Cassity and Brumfield’s secondary units contributed to the Sun Belt’s best overall defense last season with a league-best 14 interceptions, led by now-graduated Tyree Robinson and redshirt senior Cam Thomas, who combined for nine. Thomas led the Sun Belt with five interceptions and 15 passes defended.  

“We have a lot of experience,” Thomas said. “Experience in bowl games and big-time games in different conferences. They all have different ways of going about things, but they come together as one unit to get us ready and teach us all different traits that they taught the past guys…so we’ve just been trying to inherit those different traits and come together as one unit.”

Callaway and Dunn have compiled over 75 years of collegiate coaching experience between them, and although Shepard has just six years of experience under his belt, he’s one of the more vocal coaches on the staff.

“They’ve put a lot of pressure on the quarterbacks. Not just the quarterbacks, but everyone on the team,” Doughty said. “I think that’s good, so the game is easy. A lot of yelling, a lot of screaming, but those guys are so knowledgeable of the game and understand x’s and o’s and why we’re calling things.”

Despite this being the first year on the Hill for offensive coordinator Tyson Helton, defensive ends coach Ken Delgado and running backs coach Greg Nord, they don’t come without strong college coaching backgrounds, either.

Helton has held positions at Memphis, UAB and Cincinnati prior to his gig at WKU and Delgado and Nord each have more than 20 years to their name.

The Hilltoppers’ plan is simple – they’re combining youth and athleticism with an abundance of coaching experience. The plan is simple, but the game plan come Friday night is sure to be anything but.