Though there was interest across the country, Boise State football coach Bryan Harsin only needed a few days to realize his best option to find a new defensive coordinator would come from within.
Having lost Andy Avalos to Oregon just days before spring practices started March 1, Harsin was impressed with how his team and staff handled the departure. He said following that first practice it was one of the best he’d seen from an energy standpoint.
Instead of a prolonged search, Harsin decided Thursday that outside linebackers coach Jeff Schmedding would be promoted to be the Broncos’ new defensive coordinator. Defensive line coach Spencer Danielson will carry a co-defensive coordinator title, while Zac Alley has been hired as the new inside linebackers coach.
“(Schmedding) has done a phenomenal job,” Harsin said. “How we came out on the defensive side, with a coach down, and how well our coaches prepared our guys, credit our guys, too ... we really haven’t missed a beat at this point.”
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Hired in late January, Schmedding had spent the previous 15 seasons at Eastern Washington, the last four as defensive coordinator. Last season, the Eagles allowed a Big Sky-best 16.8 points per game in conference play, were No. 2 in the nation in turnovers gained (34) and tied for the national lead with six defensive touchdowns.
Harsin said Schmedding’s experience leading a defense, and his shared vision with the staff, were key factors.
“You always hope you can position yourself where you’ve got guys on your staff, if something changes, you’re able to elevate hopefully from within,” Harsin said.
After spending his entire coaching career at one spot, Schmedding said he wasn’t actively looking to leave Eastern Washington. Even if it was for, at the time, a position coaching job, he said he would only leave for a place that has good people, where he could “win big” and where his family could be comfortable.
“I’m not really a guy that wants to bounce around, but this is a place that had all the things I was looking for, it was an absolute no-brainer,” Schmedding said last month.
Danielson, who was a graduate assistant in 2017 for the Broncos, coached the Broncos’ STUD ends last season and was shifted to coaching the defensive line before spring practices. The 30-year-old Danielson has overseen the growth of junior Curtis Weaver, who has 20.5 career sacks. He has made calls in practices, and quickly took on more responsibility after Avalos left.
“Everyone on the defensive staff has had their hand in the pot, which we like, it keeps everyone on the same page, really no misalignments going on,” junior cornerback Avery Williams said.
For Alley, the Broncos’ newest hire, Harsin reached across the country to find another young, energetic coach.
Last spring, Harsin and the Broncos’ staff visited Clemson for a professional development trip, and bonded well with head coach Dabo Swinney and defensive coordinator Brent Venables. Harsin called Swinney after Avalos left to see if he had anyone that may fit in Boise.
Swinney suggested Alley, who had spent the past eight seasons with the Tigers, four as a student assistant, then four as a graduate assistant, working primarily with defensive tackles and linebackers. He was named nickels coach at Charlotte on March 1. The 49ers started spring practice Tuesday.
“Zac’s one of the brightest young coaches we’ve had come through here. He literally could run our whole defense,” Swinney said in a statement. “Could coach any position. ... Zac went out and won the interview. It’s exciting to see him get that opportunity to go out there and be a part of a big-time, winning program like Boise State.”
Coming from a school that has won two of the past three national championships, Harsin said Alley has the right mindset to be in another winning culture. The Broncos had a team-bonding activity of sorts when he interviewed last week, cleaning out their lockers and switching spots to be surrounded by new guys.
Alley “got to see this whole interaction,” and Harsin noted that getting to see that gave the new hire a better idea of what sort of team he was walking into.
“He was exactly what they said he would be,” Harsin said.
Schmedding’s move to defensive coordinator also will alter the plan the Broncos have regarding special teams. He was supposed to be the co-coordinator with running backs coach Lee Marks but will phase out of the role come this fall.
Harsin said special teams will be a collaborative effort this spring — yes, with some input from former coordinator Kent Riddle — but roles will be figured out relatively soon.
“We’ll figure it out as we go this spring a bit, everybody’s got a piece. ... We may solidify it to one or two guys like we had before the change by the end of spring but, right now, I think it’s really good for our staff,” Harsin said.