There’s a filing system in Jeff Schmedding’s head that his former boss calls an “old-school library.”
“It’s like the Jeff Schmedding Decimal System,” said Aaron Best, the Eastern Washington football coach. “... He is a vault of information. That is probably one of his best assets. He always wants to learn, and he never loses sight of what he’s learned.”
Schmedding, 41, enters the 2019 season as the Boise State football team’s new defensive coordinator — a major step in a career that started when he quit a paying job to perform mostly unpaid work for the Eastern Washington staff. That developed into a 15-year stint on the Eagles’ staff, including a Football Championship Subdivision national championship in 2010 and a runner-up finish last year.
He also was the other finalist for the top job at Eastern Washington when Best was promoted in 2017. He’s cultivated a network of coaching friends and colleagues that includes former Boise State defensive coordinators Andy Avalos and Pete Kwiatkowski to build an extensive football knowledge base to go with a natural feel for teaching that his former bosses say propelled him toward this opportunity.
And that’s fitting — since Schmedding’s first job out of college was as a high school teacher and football coach. He taught full time for two years.
“He knows how to involve the entire room,” said Beau Baldwin, the California offensive coordinator and former Eastern Washington head coach. “He’s not going to sit there and lecture. He’s going to involve everyone. He’s going to keep people engaged. He’s going to ask questions at the appropriate time. You’re not just listening to a monotone lecture, or to somebody who knows what he’s talking about and doesn’t know how to convey the message.
“The guys he coaches could turn around and teach whatever they learn from him. That just speaks volumes for how they’re being taught.”
Schmedding inherits a defense that is expected to provide the backbone for the Broncos this season as they break in new starters at quarterback and running back, but also a defensive staff with three newcomers out of five positions.
“We all feel like we can go in his office and talk to him about whatever we want, whenever we want,” junior cornerback Avery Williams said in June. “The fact that he could come in here on such short notice and become a defensive coordinator on short notice, and that we all are so comfortable with him, that’s big for us because we don’t feel like there was a slip-up at any point in there.”
Schmedding grew up in Spokane, Washington, and competed in football and wrestling at University High. He might have been a better wrestler than a linebacker — with his intensity and work ethic carrying him to a second-place finish in the state wrestling tournament at 215 pounds.
But as much as he loved wrestling, he craved the team aspect of football. He tried, and failed, to walk on to the football teams at Eastern Washington and Idaho. He realized later that he should have played football at a lower level — maybe a Division II or NAIA school — and that regret helped shape his future.
At 20 years old, while attending Eastern Washington, he started coaching at University High. He landed a teaching job at University when he graduated in 2001 and kept coaching. Through his work at college camps, he was offered a graduate assistant position at Eastern in 2004 with a $2,000 stipend for helping with the camp and no money for graduate school.
He quit his paying job and took out loans.
“You have almost that walk-on mentality,” he said.
He was 25 and didn’t have children, so he figured he could afford to take a chance. Worst case, he said, he would have gone back to high school a better coach than before.
That never happened. He received financial support his second year as a graduate assistant, stayed in that role for three years in all and became the safeties coach in 2007.
“Whatever his role was, he did it to a freakin’ high, high level,” Baldwin said. “But he never got caught looking past what that initial role was.”
‘Always a step ahead’
At Eastern, Schmedding helped the Eagles produce a Boise State-like run over the past decade — while playing home games on a red field. He jokes that green fields mean road games in his family, because his kids have only ever seen red or blue home fields.
The Eagles have won at least a share of six of the past nine Big Sky titles and reached at least the FCS semifinals five times in that span.
Schmedding and Zak Hill, the former Eastern Washington assistant who is the offensive coordinator at Boise State, worked the Broncos’ camp in 2011. Schmedding also built relationships with Kwiatkowski and Avalos as he pursued professional development opportunities.
“We tried to do a lot of things up at Eastern that emulated what they do here,” Schmedding said.
Jody Sears was the defensive coordinator for Schmedding’s first year at Eastern. Schmedding served as his graduate assistant, on the recommendation of the head coach at the time, Paul Wulff.
Sears took to Schmedding quickly because of the humility and dedication he brought to the entry-level job.
“He was always a step ahead of you and was very conscientious,” Sears said. “... I knew he would be a great coach.”
Like most of those who have coached around Schmedding, Sears pointed to his ability to teach and his endless search for football knowledge as keys to success.
“He’s thirsty for learning,” Sears said.
Schmedding worked at Eastern under three head coaches. He moved into his first full-time assistant position as linebackers coach and special teams coordinator when Baldwin took over in 2008, became the defensive coordinator in 2015 and remained on staff when Best beat him out for the head job in 2017.
Sears said he tried to lure Schmedding away to Weber State a couple times.
“He’s not a ladder climber,” Sears said. “He’s a loyal dude. ... Where his feet are is the best job in America.”
‘I could only pick one’
One of the turning points in Schmedding’s career came after the 2016 season, when Baldwin left for Cal.
Bill Chaves, who was the Eastern Washington athletic director at the time, needed to call Best and Schmedding to tell them he would make them co-interim head coaches while he figured out a succession plan.
When he tried to reach them, they were in the same office already making a recruiting plan for the interim period. Chaves informed them together, on speakerphone, that they would share the top title.
“I’m getting chills thinking about it right now,” said Chaves, now the athletic director at North Dakota. “If I had any question whether or not they were material to go to the next level, that’s all you needed to know. They put the program ahead of their personal and professional desires.”
Best, who was an All-Big Sky center for the Eagles, has been on the Eagles staff for all but one year since 2000. He got the nod over Schmedding, with Chaves deciding to stay in-house rather than open the position nationally.
“I was just incredibly fortunate that there were two individuals that I thought were stellar to potentially move that program forward,” Chaves said. “Jeff, I think he’s a head coach in waiting, so to speak. He’s going to be a head coach at some point. My problem was I could only pick one.”
For Schmedding and Best, the situation wasn’t as awkward as people might think. They rooted for each other because they wanted to stay at Eastern. Best retained Schmedding as defensive coordinator.
“We had that thing rolling,” Schmedding said. “If somebody from the outside came in, you just don’t know what’s going to happen. ... Of course, as a competitor, you want to get it.”
‘Find a way to go forward’
Schmedding found himself in a similar situation two years later in Boise — and this time he prevailed.
Boise State coach Bryan Harsin called him while he was preparing for the FCS national championship game to see if he was interested in joining the staff. He asked to delay that conversation until after the game, and Harsin agreed.
Harsin was impressed with Schmedding’s interview, and Avalos already knew what Schmedding could add to the staff.
They offered Schmedding the job as outside linebackers coach and co-special teams coordinator, with Schmedding’s special teams expertise playing a role in his selection.
“When things pop up, it’s always about the fit and really the position, what position is available,” Avalos said last week. “... He’s just a fun guy to coach with, a fun guy to run drills and coach with. He’s a tremendous worker and a great football mind.”
Schmedding and his wife, Kristine, had a short list of places they were willing to move with their two boys, Jack (9) and Blake (7). Boise qualified because of the quality of the community and the innovative, successful football program, Schmedding said.
“A lot of people in this business are bouncing around every two years, every three years,” he said. “That doesn’t appeal to me with having a family. ... If you’re going to move your family, what better place?”
Less than two months after the hire, and just before spring ball began, Avalos took the Oregon job. That left Schmedding in interim territory again — this time, in a new place surrounded by coaches he’d just met — and he told Harsin he was interested in replacing Avalos.
The interim situation at Eastern, Schmedding said, prepared him to handle a similar challenge in Boise.
“It was so surreal,” he said. “I had just gone through this same thing. ... The one thing we could not do (as a defensive staff), and you can’t do as a person, is take a step back. You’ve got to find a way to go forward. The way the players responded was unbelievable.”
Harsin said he spoke to “a few other coordinators and guys who were potential candidates,” but he named Schmedding defensive coordinator after the first scrimmage of spring ball.
Schmedding has been running the defense for nearly five months now alongside two other newcomers (inside linebackers coach Zac Alley and cornerbacks coach Jalil Brown), one Boise State veteran (safeties coach Gabe Franklin) and one second-year coach (defensive line coach Spencer Danielson).
“He’s really doing a hell of a job of developing those coaches,” Harsin said.
‘All-out, relentless effort’
Schmedding uses an acronym, SPEAR, to set expectations for his defense. That’s:
▪ Stop the run.
▪ Pressure and confuse the quarterback.
▪ Eliminate explosives.
▪ All about the ball.
▪ Relentless finish.
“First and foremost, I want to be known for how we play more than what we play,” he said. “We talk about all-out, relentless effort.”
Eastern Washington finished 27th in FCS in scoring defense (22.7 points per game) last season and second in turnovers gained (34). The Eagles were 68th in yards allowed (392.5).
While those aren’t spectacular numbers, Schmedding inherited a defense that was 90th in scoring defense in 2014 (31.4 ppg).
Best challenged the Eagles defense to become a strength of the program in 2018, and Schmedding delivered.
“He’s ready for every scenario,” Best said.
Because Kwiatkowski and Avalos were significant influences on Schmedding, his defensive approach is similar to what the Broncos already were doing. He had to learn a new language — the Broncos’ terms were different than the Eagles’ — but expects this year’s scheme to resemble last year with some tweaks that were in the works even before Avalos left.
And no matter the result, rest assured Schmedding will be somewhere working on how to make the defense better. He likes to vacation with his family at Priest Lake; he’ll play lawn darts and bocce with his friends; he’s even a decent golfer for someone who only plays a handful of times a year. But football is never far from his mind.
“He’s constantly working, constantly trying to get better,” said Hill, who is close friends with Schmedding. “Even at home, I’m sure he’s with his kids and he’s thinking about a certain call and how it affects the DBs. He’s just wired that way.”