LOGAN, Utah – With 17 years of coaching experience under his belt, Todd Orlando, USU's new defensive coordinator, knows what it takes to run a successful defense.
Orlando, who spent the past two seasons as defensive coordinator at Florida International, also spent 12 seasons at the University of Connecticut, six of which held the defensive coordinator title. He has coached in eight bowl games during his career and has been a part of two conference championships.
With such a resume, he said he is excited to be a part of the Aggie program and hopes to build off the defensive success the team has seen. Heading into the final week of spring practice, Orlando discussed his experiences with the team so far and the direction he hopes to take it in the future.
How have things gone during your first few months on the job and what you have been focusing on thus far?
“It’s been great. The people in this office have been great. Football is football once you start to do it, but the day-in and day-out of it is what changes. The guys have been great with me. Coach (Matt) Wells has helped me out tremendously as far as what he wants as a head coach. Everyone is a little bit different. It’s been good. The football part is pretty universal. With the help of the guys on the staff that know what’s going on, it’s been great.”
Watching film from last year, what impressed you about Utah State's defense in 2012?
“They played extremely hard. They played smart. They’re physical and they enjoy playing. That was the cool part about watching the cut-ups from last year. You watch them fly around to the ball and be very emotional. They play with passion and I’m really impressed with that.”
Three weeks into spring practice are there any defense players that have really impressed you?
“The guys that were legitimate players have all done a great job. They’ve continued to progress. There have been some guys, I won’t get specific with names yet, because I don’t like to do that until we get into a situation where they’ve established themselves because I’ve seen that backfire.”
Even though Utah State lost four quality starters on defense, there appears to be plenty of depth on the defensive side of the ball. Would you agree with that?
“One of our goals was to come in and really establish some depth. There have been guys who have stepped up in some spots and gotten better. Right now we’re just hoping they finish up spring ball the way we want them to so when we get into summer and fall camp we can see how they’ve really progressed. You really won’t know exactly what you have until you get out of fall camp. You get out of fall camp and you get a pretty good idea if a kid is going to continue to develop or continue to play at a high level. You kind of hold off judgement until you get through the summertime. You see how they work out through the summer when they’re away from us. Then you go into fall camp and figure out if a guy is going to be able to play winning snaps for us. There have been a couple spots that we’ve been impressed with and have come along better than we anticipated.”
How does this defense compare with what you coached and other teams you played against during your coaching career in both the Sun Belt and Big East Conferences?
“The biggest thing that you look for is a very good linebacker group. You’re looking for leadership from that standpoint. You’re looking for a bona fide corner; you’re looking for guys that can pass-rush. We have some guys like that. The biggest thing from our standpoint is to continue with that. It’s going to be a long season. You want to make sure if something was to happen to your top guy that there’s not a major drop-off. You want to continue to get people into the program through recruiting. You want to keep developing guys. There are some similarities to the past, but you just never know. There are some positions we have to be very good at to be a good defense. We have a couple guys who have a lot of experience under their belts, so hopefully they can play at a high level.”
What is your defensive philosophy going to be in 2013?
“The biggest thing that I’ve always thought from being a coordinator is to give people multiple looks. I want to be a little bit complex that way, but also from the standpoint of keeping the concepts simplistic if that makes sense. Everything has to tie in together. You can do a couple different things with it, but you can’t get outside the concepts of what you’re doing. Try and keep it simple concept-wise, but try and be multiple with your looks. That’s what I’ve always tried to be.”
Utah State had a dominant defense in 2012 and ranked among the top 15 nationally in numerous categories. Can that success be duplicated in 2013?
“It’s hard to tell because there are so many factors that go into it. In any position, offense or defense, there’s a certain type of camaraderie you have as a unit and group. When you lose people off of that, you might lose a piece of leadership, you might lose a piece of the puzzle. We’ll continue to build to that, but you just don’t know. Some of it is based on the people you play. Some of it is based on people continuing to grow or having big years. We’re striving to be as good as we can be. Then when you go to compete against other teams, you just let it play out. I don’t care how good you are; every year is different. There are always different pieces to the puzzle. That’s human nature. All we’re trying to do is be as good as we can when we’re in meetings or on the practice field together. If we do that, we’ll stay on course. If we lose sight of that, who knows what will happen. We’ll find out better as we get into fall how tight this group will bond outside of just lining up and making plays. There’s a lot more that goes into it.”
What can Aggie fans expect from USU's defense moving forward with you as defensive coordinator?
“Hopefully they’ll see a passionate group out there that loves to play the game. The biggest thing that we need to do as a staff is make sure that our established play-makers are ready to make plays. That’s one of the biggest things we’ll hone in on. That’s why you have spring football. I would hope that it will show up and that these kids will play with a lot of emotion and passion. I expect that out of this group. It’s who they are.”
What must happen in 2013 for Utah State to be successful on defense?
“I don’t know if you can really answer that. If you ask the offense, they want to score points. You ask a defensive guy and he’ll say don’t let them score points. It sounds really simple, but there’s a lot that goes into that. It’s about making sure we set up the field position for our offense, not letting people make explosive plays on us, and to limit points. You can get consumed in statistics and that part of it, but at the end of the day, if we have one more point than them, we win. I think you’re judged off this the same as last year. Winning 11 games is extremely hard to do. You come in there and say you’re not going to get consumed in all of that. Let’s just keep them out of the end zone and if they get close enough, make sure they’re taking field goals. That’s kind of the approach we take.”
Are there percentages or goals that you will set for the defense this year?
“We will, but that will be based on what we see on film of our opponents. Some of them might be things that look good, but when you play against an explosive offense you’ll have to be realistic. We won’t set a straight goal going into it; it will be by opponent. The biggest thing will be to limit the things they do very well. If you do that, if you make them play a different kind of game plan to you, the majority of the time you’ll be in decent shape. We’ll sit down and go over it on a Thursday or Friday and have set goals going into a game, then come back on Sunday and find out how well we did.”
Utah State's offense has evolved into a quick-striking unit over the past few years and has ranked near the bottom of the conference in time of possession. Does that change what you try to do on defense?
“Not at all. It’s not the offense’s fault if they score in three plays. They’re very exciting and very explosive, very fun to watch. I have no problem with that. If they score nine times in five minutes, we’ll sit there and keep the clock running. You can never fault guys for explosive plays. When you have a quarterback who is as explosive as Chuckie Keeton, you can’t fault those guys. I’m looking forward to watching them perform this year.”
As a defensive coordinator, can you talk about Chuckie Keeton and how he compares to other quarterbacks you have coached against during your career?
“Chuckie is a ferocious competitor. I love every part of it. He’s not just a play-maker, he cultivates the mentality on that side of the ball. The biggest legacy that he’ll leave in this program when he graduates is not only what he’s done on the field production-wise, but the culture that he’ll leave the offense in. They want to compete on every play. When things don’t go well for him, he responds to it. Chuckie stays even-keel and he learns. I love the way he competes and goes about it. I’m sure the offensive guys look at that part of it. He’s a special talent. He’s the whole package.”
Megan Allen writes for Utah State University Athletic Media Relations.