JMU Coach Everett Withers Has Some Interesting Thoughts About Defense

By DJ Byrnes on January 9, 2014 at 12:42p
James Madison's new football coach, Everett Withers, speaks during a news conference at which he was officially introduced, Tuesday, Jan 7, 2014, in Harrisonburg, Va.

Everett Withers' head coaching days are in their infancy at James Madison University. He hasn't even named his coordinators yet, but he has an idea of what he's looking for on defense:

I want to die fast if I'm going to die. I don't want to go real slow and let people bend but don't break. I want to go try to get the quarterback. We want to be aggressive on defense.

It's interesting because up until he was hired by JMU, Everett withers was a co-defensive coordinator of a defense that was decidedly not aggressive. 

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vitaminB's picture

Fire Luke Fickell?

45OH4IO's picture

Sarcasm font optional. Hahaha. Also, excellent use of a question mark!

AJW_16's picture

I'm Ron Burgundy?

"Sometimes you eat the bear and sometimes the bear eats you." 

GoBucks10's picture

Don't tell me he was holding out on us!!

"Because I couldn't go for three."  - Woody Hayes

Ethan's picture

Man is it going to suck if our DBs still play 10 yards off the ball. I'm not on the Fire Fickell bandwagon (a reassignment to Asst. HC and LB coach seems warranted), but if he continues to call shots and we end up that way, it's going to make 2014 a frustrating season. Here's to hoping Withers is just trying to distance himself from the dumpster fire that was the Ohio State defense in 2013

Barnsey69's picture

"Here's to hoping Withers is just trying to distance himself from the dumpster fire that was the Ohio State defense in 2013"

Thank the Maker that I was born in Ohio, cradle of coaches, US Presidents, confederate-stomping Generals, and home of The Ohio State University Football Buckeyes- 2014 UNDISPUTED National Champions!

mrspray's picture

Having gone to JMU when they won a nat'l championship, I'm excited to see where he can take the program - I haven't cared about JMU football since they beat VA Tech though, so unless they start winning soon, I will continue to not care so much...

In case you're curious, it's Mr. Spray

teddyballgame's picture

More evidence that he may have been the scapegoat.

Run_Fido_Run's picture

How do you know that? Maybe Withers really wanted to take the JMU job and he wants to play an aggressive defense because that's what he believes in - not because he's reacting against his last job. We don't know.
In 2012, the Buckeye defense gave up a series of big plays, especially at the beginning of the season. Urbz made it a priority to fix that problem - in essence providing the direction that he didn't want to die fast; he'd prefer to die slower, if forced to choose. And there is an argument to be made for that approach given that Ohio State's TD in the red zone percentage has been so high in 2012 and 2013. 
This season, they reduced the number of explosive plays allowed, although things kinda fell apart the last three games, but then gave up a lot of underneath passing yards. 
The bottom line is that the Buckeyes defense hasn't been up to Buckeye standards with either approach - whether bending-but-not-breaking or being aggressive.

SilverState's picture

My bad, FFDV'd you.

carence's picture

His comments are left to interpretation:
Either he wanted to be aggressive and wasn't able to or he wanted to play zone all the time, it didn't work out and now he want's to change.
I don't think he will ever come out and say exactly what went on behind the scenes.

dubjayfootball90's picture

agreed. Definitely open to interpretation, but now it makes you wonder even more... 

You can feed a bobcat all the chili it wants. That don't mean it's going to crap out diamonds.

97Buckeye's picture

I read this quote yesterday and it actually has me a bit worried. He seems to be firing a last parting shot back at Ohio State with his comments. What if he'd been pushing for an attacking defense all along and Coach Fickell, or worse yet Coach Meyer, was holding him back and calling the soft defenses that hurt us so much? I was hoping Withers' move to JM meant Coach Meyer had kindly asked "the problem" to move along without firing him, but this comment leads me to believe that "the problem" might still be with us.

fanfarris's picture

Withers could not do what he believed OSU Defense should be all about.Fickell's Fans were saying all year long that it was Withers who called the shots and he was the one that made the defense one of the worst ever at OSU.Now They are spinning it ,after Withers comments,by saying it was Meyer who called the shots.I really think that Fickell will be a cancer for the Defense next year.He will be pissing and moaning wanting to be the main man,instead of him counting his lucky stars that he is still getting paid over 600,000 for giving up around 600 yards for more than a few games.Who ever say that he is a good recruiter,why then it took Meyer and Vrable and others to go get Rkwan? Vrable will stay no matter what now.Its in his best interest.


tracyre's picture

Just said the same thing to my husband...damn...

InvertMyVeer's picture

Well there goes the 'It was probably Withers fault we gave receivers 10 yard cushions all year long' narrative that I was successfully convincing myself of...

Football is complicated...

CTBuckeyeFan's picture
“When I came here,” Withers said, “I told Luke, ‘Look, I’m here to help and lend ideas. I’ve done it at other stops. You’ve done it here for a long, long time. This place has been successful on defense. There’s no need to change a whole lot. If there’s something we can enhance, let’s do it, let’s make it better.’ ”
Perhaps the biggest schematic adjustment will be in the pass defense. Senior cornerback Travis Howard said that Withers is a proponent more of zone coverage instead of tight man-to-man coverage.
“We’re playing a lot more off, so that gives us more opportunities to make plays on the ball,” Howard said. “They said we’ve got a lot of guys who can go out and compete and make a lot of plays on the ball. So us playing a lot of man-to-man wouldn’t really be such a great idea.”
Your narrative was pretty spot on

osu07asu10's picture

Thank you CT for this!
We were 3rd in the nation in total sacks (7th in sacks per game).
Withers' soft zone coverage didn't mix with an aggressive front that often placed a great emphasis on the LBs picking up a zone in coverage.

CJDPHoS Board of Directors // Best friends with Homey Hache

The 0 is silent.

FitzBuck's picture

Sounds aggressive to me.
wouldnt an aggressive secondary play more press coverage?  If Fick calls the base D and Withers the coverage how does he have a leg to stand on?

Fitzbuck | Toledo - Ohio's right armpit | "A troll by any other name is still a troll".


First, thanks for posting this to remind all of us.  Second, the telling part of this article is Withers' quote at the end that says "...It’s not any one man’s defense. It’s a group effort.”
Uhh yea... we need a single DC or at least a singular Defensive philosophy and set of schemes that can be implemented harmoniously.  Some of the crap defense is certainly the players, but the coaches are at fault for not being able to sell a system effectively and coach it - it sounds like a 3 headed monster that was just waiting to implode... and it did.

"I don't apologize for anything.  When I make a mistake, I take the blame and go on from there." - Woody Hayes

TheShookster's picture

Urban said he was going to try and bring the best coaching staff in America to Ohio State...everyone made fun of Brady Hoke for saying "the players didn't execute" instead of laying the blame on Borges. I don't know anything about X's and O's but I do know that even if you have a bad defense, you should see it improve over the course of the season, and I only saw the defense get worse.
This is a scattered thought. I'm on the fire Fickell bandwagon but at the same time I don't know what I'm talking about so I'm not on the bandwagon. 

He ain't even stretch doe!!

I_Run_The_Dave's picture

Sounds to me like he prefers to give up the explosive play, if he's going to give up the touchdown.  I would say his time in Columbus was a success.

Run_Fido_Run's picture

Honestly, it surprised me when Withers was characterized as the "Co" who was supposedly pushing softer coverages and bend-but-don't-break, while Fickell was seen as the "Co" pushing tight coverages and aggressive risk-taking.
Their past track records suggested just the opposite. I was a fan of Heacock, but his philosophy was to make an offense earn everything. He called a lot of zone. The reason the Silver Bullets appeared to be "aggressive" was because they were fundamentally sound, tackled in space, and generally kicked ass at what they did. When Jermale Hines ran over the WR that was trying to block him on a bubble screen and single-handedly destroyed the play, that was "aggression"; therefore the system appeared to be aggressive.
Yes, they mixed in blitzes, but not in a hell bent sort of way. It was more that the LBs and DLmen beat the dudes in front of them, forcing the QB to throw early to receivers that had nowhere to go once they caught the ball, or the QB would get frazzled and miss the receiver altogether. 
And I don't write this in support of Withers. Unlike Withers, Heacock refused to die at all - fast or slowly. And, as Ross has mentioned numerous times, the main underlying problem seemed to be lack of identify, clashing and disjointed philosophies from the two "Co"s that never meshed together. Probably either system works fine - Withers or Heaock/Fickell - properly implemented and with the right players, etc. 

I_Run_The_Dave's picture

Also, "bend but don't break" was how Jim Tressel's defenses generally played.  If you force an offense to slowly, methodically, drive the field, eventually they will make a mistake and are forced to kick.  This is statistics.  If you play aggressive and give up the big play, you are going against the odds instead of playing to them.
The other tennet of Tressel teams was a grind it out offense.  We gave our defense time to rest.  Urban Meyer does not do that, we either punt quickly (we had a ton of 3 and outs, or drives with only 1 first down this year) or we score quickly.  Either way defense gets no rest and is going to give up plays and make mistakes.
I'm not sure our defense's struggles under Urban Meyer are entirely the defense's fault.  There's something to be said about the success of Tresselball, and we saw that with MSU this year.

vitaminB's picture

You might want to relook the numbers.  We didn't have a ton of 3 and outs.  And we didn't run as much uptempo stuff as people seem to think.  We definitely ran a ton of running plays.  We are not Oregon, as much as I wanted us to be.

DLB1276's picture

Exactly. They kept bringing this up during the Orange Bowl.

I_Run_The_Dave's picture

I will relook at them when I get the chance, but I felt like we had 3 or more 3 and outs in games where we struggled, such as Wisconsin, PSU, MSU, and Clemson.  On scoring drives in games where our defense struggled, I also felt like we scored a lot in 2 minute or less drives, rather than clock killing drives of 5+ minutes.  Early in the season, we had a few games with 3 TD's within the first half of the first quarter.  It seemed to me like throughout the season, we had very few scoring drives that lasted more than 3 minutes, even when we ran Carlos Hyde.  Maybe I'll go back to the poor defensive games and look at the drive summaries and all that later, but right now I'm speaking from my impression of the season.
What I am really saying is that I think having an explosive offense is a defensive liability.  Oregon fans would probably agree.  I bet even TAMU's defense performs better and keeps them in more games if their offense slows down a bit.  This doesn't mean that our defense wasn't completely awful at times, but it wasn't getting much help from the offense, that's for sure.

Kevdaddy8's picture

This to me sounds very much like him declaring that he's happy to be able to finally institute a defensive philosophy that is marketedly different than the one he was forced (as the coordinator not responsible for making the overall defensive scheme calls) to endure during his tenure at OSU.  It also wreaks of him explaining to his team, fans and admin why they need not worry about him bringing the dumpster fire that is our defensive scheme along with him.  However, no matter how else we interpret it, he's clearly describing OSU's defensive philosophy and not that of his years of success prior to OSU.

SPreston2001's picture

I wish we ran an "attacking" style defense at Ohio State. As I was watching the NC I couldnt help but notice how both teams were constantly attacking the QB!! I was in awe!!! It seemed like both teams brought pressure on every single play!! Loved it!!

rdubs's picture

Only 2 teams had more sacks than us all year.  That's getting pressure.

costinjr's picture

I want to die fast if I'm going to die.

Maybe that's what he was teaching our corners?

Thomas's picture

Man, sounds like this man is finally going to do what he has wanted to do at tOSU. Which, doesn't boed well for Fickell's position. I don't even know what to think now...

BayArea_Buckeye's picture

Our weak defense was because of Fickell. 
This is the bend but dont break philosophy that carried over from Tressel's days. Our defense was better then, but I still hated it. 
We have played soft coverages for the past 10 years, way before Withers got here. I'm just surprised Urban is buying into this bullshit. 
Even Dabo called us out on playing soft. How you can consistently play soft when all they did was beat our ass by screens is something I will never be able to understand about our defensive gameplan. Soft coverages work in the Big Ten where you don't have any big passing threats, but when you face teams like Florida State, Clemson, Oregon, etc...You need to press these fast WR who run timed and quick routes. 

fanfarris's picture

Soft Defense didn't even work with few BIG  teams.


sarasotabcg's picture

the quote from Withers isn't shocking; he said the same thing during the season. So did Vrabel. So did Urban. As for Fickell........

buckeyedexter's picture

I don't think there is a problem with bend but don't break defenses, the problem was we had a bend AND break defense.

chemicalwaste's picture

Sometimes they didnt bend so much as break.

Indy_Buck87's picture

There you have it.  He switches jobs takes a jab at his former colleague.   I for one agree with him.  Line up and play and If you get beat you get beat but do not play soft afraid of giving up the big play and allow yourself to be dink and dunked to death.  We need to get rid of kitty soft paws and get us a hard nosed attack first coordinator that is gonna pressure the offense and bring the heat with a relentless destroy all and asks questions later mentality.  

I know of only two things that are infinite, space and human stupidity.....and I'm not sure about space". Albert Einstein.

Buckeye Chuck's picture

Not to sound too dismissive of Withers, who has a pretty good track record as a coach, but this is boilerplate. All new coaches say they're going to be "aggressive" and have an "attacking defense" because they know that's what fans want to hear. 
I assume Withers is going to play a lot of zone at JMU because that's typically what he's done, but zone doesn't mean "passive" or "let's just let the QB complete everything and then make the tackle."

The most "loud mouth, disrespect" poster on 11W.

4thandinches's picture

For those wondering why Withers might take such a substantial pay cut, if he was never truly able to play/call the defense this might be a good break for him to have total control.

I wasn't born a Buckeye but I became one as fast as I could. 

andretolstoy's picture

I don't believe any coach in Football, let alone at The Ohio State University, has a game plan NOT to be aggressive.

lljjgg's picture

Interesting thing I noticed about FSU during the National Championship Game:

They primarily play off coverage. They're just much, much better at it than us I suppose.

d5k's picture

Most non-revisionists understand that it isn't the position of the CB's but what they do after the ball is snapped that matters.  Get off blocks, leverage the ball, cover your responsibility tight and play the ball in the air.  Basically 2012 Roby exemplified these things and most of the Star/Safeties we had before this latest batch.  We need fresh blood that is willing to play fundamentally sound and aggressive.

45has2's picture

It's very difficult to play the ball in the air when your back is to it. What I have seen at all levels of football is the lost skill of looking back for the ball. Most DB's play the man and not the ball. Which is why we see passes to the back shoulder, receivers plucking the ball off the back of the DB and passes thrown short. All of the previous would result in a break up or interception if the DB simply turned his head.

"I don't like nice people. I like tough, honest people." -W.W. Hayes

brandonbauer87's picture

File this in the interesting category. 

Jdadams01's picture

Once again, Meyer always maintained the Fickell had final say on the Defensive calls.

Dougger's picture

Saw Boyz n The Hood for the first time last week. Great movie. 
Related: fans are on both sides of the fence. IMO Urban is the guy who knows what he's doing. If he's gonna keep Luke around and tell Wither's to get bent and earn a lot less as a head coach, I'm ok with it for now. I just hope it gets results.

I like football

cuttyrock's picture

It's simple Luke Fickell plays bend but don't break. We played it for years but Heacock was in charge so it was ran slightly different. Fickell is the only coach left from that regime. Taver, Johnson, Paul Haynes, and Jim Heacock all gone from being a coach. I know Heacock is quality control but he's not on the field or in the press box calling plays and making adjustments. I feel like this defense has done a disservice to the Buckeyes defense because it made stop using their football IQ and start playing not to let opponents score and when you play not to opponents score you will give up a lot of points. It's like we are playing a form of prevent all game long. Fickell is the primary reasons for the defensive breakdowns. It's funny because I remember when Heacock was coaching and we lost to Florida and LSU and what people said about him. Bend but don't break defense sucks and to me we need to be more aggressive. I think we have regressed thanks to Fickell. I and most still agree with that but Heacock brought more blitzes out of the scheme Fickell does not. I rarely ever saw Heacock blitz a cb who was not the star. Heacock would blitz lb and the star some though. This is Fickell version of the scheme and until he doesn't call plays anymore and the lb actually play physical I just don't see this defense getting a lot better.  

Drew's picture

The plot thickens.
Withers past has always used some sort of soft zone pass coverage sets with aggression only once the wr has entered the zone coverage. He will blitz, but he's not some sort of innovative DC. Do the research. There was a lot of backlash as well from the fans that he was too conservative. North Carolina and prior.
I can't believe Meyer would hire him just based on his people skills, and recruiting. But if you look at our safety play and schemes back there - not good. Pitt Brown was a good recruit. Barnett top notch. These guys looked so lost at times. That's coaching. Once Powell went back there for the Bowl game he looked confused as well.

Fickell recently stated the same thing - time now to be aggressive. 
"We have to be more physical," Fickell said. "We have to get it back to being more aggressive. That just means guys understand exactly what they're doing so they feel confident in what they do."
Response to Fick's comments - Why was OSU D not aggressive enough in 2012,13? Withers? But Withers says he wants to be superaggressive. Who's lying here, coach? Or is it deeper than that?
For sure there wasn't cohesion between Withers / Fickell. 

BTW, Super Aggression is foolish. Especially on Defense. In today's Power Spread offenses you will continually get burned with all out aggression. Passive Aggressive is the way to go. Or if you will, Deceptive Aggression. Lure the Offense into entering Space they "think" they want to enter. Land Mines. Not easy. But for sure - All Passive, or All Aggressive is a mistake.
I think Fickell likes Deceptive Aggression - Zone Blitzing, Mixed Coverages, etc. He was more aggressive than Heacock - but never super aggressive.
And he's right about Turnovers - "Who cares if we turn it over" Get the damn ball back - that's the kind of aggression we need. Positive forward stuff but not crazy stupid stuff. 

I don't know about Withers - maybe he never had enough autonomy to do what he wanted. So maybe preOSU he was forced to use zone stuff he didn't like. Maybe he was hoping to be Ultra Aggressive at OSU, but Meyer and Fickell wouldn't allow that. But in the process there was a constant battle of philosophy.
Contrary to what everyone thinks, Fickell is not conservative and won't be if he has any say. But he also won't be throwing 9 in the box and blitzing every down either. Thank god.
In the end, maybe no one is a bad coach here - just need to all be on the same page.
Will be curious to see how James Madison does under this "ULTRA AGGRESSVIE" approach. Sounds interesting. Especially the Frantic Tempo he wants to try on Offense. Few teams run it all game long. The best, Auburn, Baylor, Missouri - mix up Tempo, not just Hurry Up or Frantic all the time.
Plus Multiple offense usually means a lot of different sets and schemes. This can be a nightmare without the right guy running the offense.
This all makes me wonder if Withers really "gets it" scheme wise. Aggression is good. OVER is as bad as UNDER.
Withers is definitely a motivator and good people coach. Other than that there are a lot of questions.