STARKVILLE — Fast, physical, and aggressive.
That will be the tag line for Todd Grantham’s defenses at Mississippi State. It’s one he repeated Wednesday at his introductory news conference as MSU’s defensive coordinator.
“I embrace the passion our fans have to be a good defense and be a good football team,” Grantham said, “and we’re certainly going to work our tails off over the next few months to re-establish the identity we need to play with for us to be successful.”
MSU also formally introduced safeties coach Ron English, who was the defensive coordinator at San Jose State last season. This will be his second coaching stint in the Southeast. He worked as
defensive coordinator at Louisville in 2008.
“I’ve been around a bunch of places, but I’m really happy to be here,” English said. “I was just saying to a guy a couple of weeks ago I’ve been out west, but there are really only two places I want to coach, the Big 10 and the SEC. I’m very fortunate to be here, very happy to be here with a great head coach and a great defensive coordinator.”
The introductions of Grantham and English were just part of the news. Also Wednesday, MSU officially announced the hiring of Brett Elliott, former MSU offensive quality control specialist and offensive coordinator at Texas State and James Madison, as quarterbacks coach and D.J. Looney, former MSU offensive lineman and graduate assistant at Georgia and MSU, as tight ends coach.
Former MSU tight ends coach Scott Sallach has been named MSU director of player personnel.
“We are thrilled to bring Brett and D.J. back to Starkville,” Mullen said in a statement. “They understand the winning tradition that has been established here and will be significant assets to our offense both on the field and in recruiting.”
Despite losses to Houston, Kentucky, and LSU (in the Citrus Bowl) in the final three games of the 2016 season, Grantham’s defenses have been in the top 50 in the nation since he worked as defensive coordinator at Georgia in 2010. In yards per play allowed against Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) competition with winning records, Georgia’s defense in 2011 ranked seventh. Last year, Louisville’s defense ranked 17th, allowing 5.13 yards per play. MSU allowed 6.71.
Grantham will enter his eighth season as a collegiate defensive coordinator. He spent four seasons at Georgia and the last three at Louisville.
English had a three-year stint as Eastern Michigan’s head coach that ended with his firing nine games into the 2013 season.
Grantham is charged with fixing a pass defense that allowed 281 passing yards per game and ranked last in the SEC and 120th among the 128 FBS teams last season. Grantham said he will use a team-based approach that values pass rush just as much as sound coverage.
“The guy that turns the ball over the most, at any level, is the quarterback,” Grantham said. “I look at passing defense as a team defense, also. The ability for the quarterback to hold the ball is not a good thing, so we have to find ways to force the quarterback to get rid of the ball.”
English said he had not watched all of the film to identify reasons for MSU’s struggles, but he, too, referenced the importance of pass rush to pass defense.
As for the mix of returning defenders and an incoming recruiting class with 14 defensive signees, including seven junior college prospects, Grantham said his arrival signals a fresh start for everyone.
“Whether you had a great year last year or not as great as what you wanted, we’re going to work to get you better,” Grantham said. “I’m going to evaluate you from what you do while I’m here and what we do on the field.”
Grantham said graduate assistants compiled film cuts of “25 to 30” plays of each player to demonstrate their abilities. He said those cuts primarily will be used as starting points for spring practice.
“We’re all first-year players. It’s a new system, so whether you’re JUCO or you were here last year, it’s all the same,” Grantham said. “The JUCO guys, it allows them to be on the same page as the guys that were here last year because the system is totally different.”
Elliott serving as an offensive graduate assistant (2012-13) and offensive quality control specialist (2014) for some of the most successful MSU teams. He worked closely with former MSU quarterback and current Dallas Cowboys starter Dak Prescott and current MSU quarterback Nick Fitzgerald.
“I am extremely thankful to coach Mullen for providing me with this unbelievable opportunity to come back to the great state of Mississippi and coach quarterbacks at Mississippi State,” Elliott said in a statement.
Elliott returns to MSU after working last season as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Texas State. Prior to his stint in San Marcos, he served as co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at James Madison in 2015.
Elliott played quarterback for two seasons at Utah, including the 2003 campaign under Mullen. After suffering a wrist injury, he transferred to Linfield College, where he was named All-American twice and led the Wildcats to the 2004 NCAA Division III National Championship. He won the Gagliardi Trophy and Melberger Award in 2005. The awards are given to the top player in Division III.
After signing as a free agent with the San Diego Chargers, Elliott played for the Rhein Fire of NFL Europe and was under contract with the San Jose Sabercats of the Arena League when the league halted operations in 2008. He also played in the Arena League and was a starter for the Utah Blaze in 2010 and Georgia Force in 2011.
Looney served as an offensive graduate assistant at Georgia in 2016. Prior to that, Looney held the position of tackles and tight ends coach at Central Arkansas for two seasons (2014-15).
“I am excited to come home to Mississippi State,” Looney said in a statement. “Every coach dreams of coaching at their alma mater one day. I am grateful to coach Mullen and the administration for this opportunity, and I am glad to be a Bulldog.”
Looney was the offensive line coach and recruiting coordinator at East Mississippi Community College in Scooba, where his team won a national championship in his second and final season in 2013. He spent the 2012 and 2013 seasons in that role. The Birmingham, Alabama, native played a key role in helping guide the offense to a No. 8 NJCAA team statistical national ranking in rushing offense in 2012 (239.1 yards per game) and No. 8 in 2013 (253.5 ypg.).
Looney served as an offensive graduate assistant for Mullen in 2011 when MSU won the Music City Bowl. The former three-year Bulldog letterman worked with the offensive linemen and quarterbacks in addition to assisting with MSU’s special teams.
As a player at MSU, Looney was a redshirt freshman on the 2007 team that beat UCF 10-3 in the Liberty Bowl. He was on the 2010 squad that earned a 52-14 victory against Michigan in the Gator Bowl.
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson