Boise State defensive coordinator Marcel Yates has decided to take a position on the Arizona coaching staff, a source told the Idaho Statesman on Sunday.
Thayer Evans of Sports Illustrated reported on Twitter that Yates was expected to be the Wildcats’ defensive coordinator.
Yates leaves after two years as the Broncos’ defensive coordinator and less than a week after offensive coordinator Eliah Drinkwitz left the program for North Carolina State. Coach Bryan Harsin’s original offensive coordinator, Mike Sanford, also left after one year.
Harsin didn’t retain his defensive coordinator or half of his co-offensive coordinator duo from his first year as a head coach at Arkansas State.
Yates will be the third of nine full-time assistants to exit the staff this offseason. Defensive backs coach Julius Brown was let go. Brown has been replaced by Ashley Ambrose, according to a source, but that hire hasn’t been announced.
The departures of Sanford and Yates cast a shadow over the program of Harsin. The three came to Boise for the 2014 season as alums in dream positions.
“It’s the best school to coach at in college football,” Sanford said in January 2014. “This has been a dream for me. This place really formed me. I think this place really has that destination feel for me as a football coach.” Thirteen months later, he took an offensive coordinator job at Notre Dame but wasn’t the primary playcaller.
“This is my second home. … It was real easy for me when I got the call from coach Harsin,” Yates said in January 2014. “For me, it’s all about my family. Having my wife from here … she already had our bags packed.” Two years later, he’s headed to Arizona.
To put the turnover in perspective, former Boise State coach Chris Petersen lost three coordinators in eight years and former Boise State coach Dan Hawkins lost one in five years. From 2002 to 2009 — the peak of the Broncos’ success — the only coordinator to leave the staff was defensive coordinator Ron Collins, who followed Hawkins to Colorado.
The top internal candidate to replace Yates seems to be linebackers coach Andy Avalos, whose work as defensive line coach (2012-13) and linebackers coach (2014-15) has drawn raves. The only other returning defensive coach is defensive line coach Steve Caldwell, a career position coach.
Former Boise State defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox (2006-09) also is on the market.
The departures by Drinkwitz and Yates cost Boise State two of its best recruiters and both coordinators at a critical time for recruiting. Signing day is Feb. 3.
Yates was the Broncos’ cornerbacks coach from 2003 to 2005 and defensive backs coach from 2006 to 2011. He became the co-defensive coordinator at Texas A&M in 2012-13 and took a pay cut to return to his alma mater in 2014 as Harsin’s defensive coordinator.
Yates received a three-year contract — a first for a Boise State assistant — after the 2014 season. He received $330,000 per year. He has a $75,000 buyout.
Boise State finished 12th in the nation in total defense this past season at 318.3 yards per game, bolstered by a complete shutdown of Northern Illinois in the Poinsettia Bowl, and 18th in scoring defense (20.2 points per game). The Huskies netted just 33 yards. His defense also allowed 31 and 37 points to triple-option teams New Mexico and Air Force in consecutive home losses in November.
In 2014, the Broncos were 49th in total defense (375.4 yards per game) and tied for 64th in scoring defense (26.8 points per game).
Boise State beat Arizona and coach Rich Rodriguez 38-30 in the 2014 Fiesta Bowl. The Wildcats generated 492 yards in that game but quarterback Anu Solomon was sacked eight times and intercepted twice. One interception was returned for a touchdown and one sack ended the game in the Broncos’ red zone.
Arizona ranked 115th in total defense last season at 467.8 yards per game. Rodriguez decided not to retain coordinator Jeff Casteel and two other defensive assistants. The other defensive assistant left, forcing him to build an entirely new defensive staff. The Wildcats still need a defensive line coach.
• • •
Here is the profile I wrote of Yates that published Aug. 10, 2014:
By Chadd Cripe
© 2014 Idaho Statesman
The obstacles kept coming.
Boise State defensive coordinator Marcel Yates kept dodging them.
He grew up in Los Angeles, where many kids - including his older brother, who was murdered - slip into a dangerous lifestyle.
He stutters when speaking in front of a group, an issue he calls his greatest challenge in life.
His first college - Pacific - scrapped its football program at the end of his first semester.
His athletic career was derailed by bad knees, which reduced him to a special teams role as a Boise State senior.
His first coaching job - at Montana State - offered so little compensation that he worked as a cab driver and bouncer on the side.
He got his first job at Boise State - as cornerbacks coach, in 2003 - only after the original hire backed out.
And he felt he needed to leave Boise State after nine years - for a co-coordinator post at Texas A&M - to prove he was a viable candidate to run his own defense.
All of that, and Yates is still just 36 as he takes the reins of the defense at his alma mater and in the program he helped boost to national prominence.
"Everybody has a challenge, " Yates said. "Everybody's story is their story for a reason. I was always taught by my parents to never feel sorry for yourself and understand that everybody is going to have an opportunity, and it's up to you to take advantage of that."
Yates certainly has.
This is the guy who went out for football for the first time as a high school junior to show his friends he could come back from knee surgery (he tore an anterior cruciate ligament playing basketball as a sophomore) - and then became a scholarship recruit.
The guy who was overlooked initially in 2003 because of his inexperience - then cranked out so many NFL players that they dubbed Boise State "DBU."
"I'm just so happy to see him get an opportunity to display his talent on a national level, " said John Rushing, a former Boise State graduate assistant and current Green Bay Packers assistant who is close with Yates. "I've seen him grow and see himself in that (coordinator) role. He's always had the talent to be in that role."
A brother's guidance
Yates lived in Boise for 13 years as a player and coach before he got this job in December. He met his wife as a Boise State student. Both of his kids - including Eric, a freshman walk-on cornerback for the Broncos - were born here.
His 6-year-old daughter, Kaybrie, responded to his hiring by drawing a picture of Buster Bronco.
"This is my second home, " he said.
His first was Los Angeles, the city he has mined so successfully for college football talent as a Boise State coach.
Like all good recruiters, he connects well with the players - a trait he traces to his days playing travel baseball, where the kids came from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds. He also stared down the same temptations and perils that face the teenagers he pursues.
Yates steered clear of the trouble thanks to his parents, both of whom remained influential despite a divorce; an older brother who made poor choices but told him not to follow; and a passion for sports.
His brother, Tierney Yates, was eight years older and involved in illegal activity, Yates said. Tierney was killed in a double homicide May 5, 2007 - four months after one of Yates' biggest triumphs, the 2007 Fiesta Bowl.
A gang member pleaded guilty to two counts of voluntary manslaughter and was sentenced to 30 years in prison, according to a Los Angeles Police Department report.
"(Tierney) and my parents kind of made sure I stayed on track, stayed out of the street, " Yates said. "So sports was my whole life.
"... He gave me the blueprint of what to do and what not to do, but as I got older it was up to me to do what I wanted. It just wasn't the lifestyle I wanted. Where some people look at the lifestyle a drug dealer may live or that a gang-banger may live and look at that as appealing, it wasn't appealing to me. Appealing to me was Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Jerry Rice, John Elway. That was more appealing to me."
He started playing baseball and basketball at 5. His mom tells him he'd still be playing baseball if he hadn't traded the sport for football.
"I loved baseball. It was probably my most natural sport, " Yates said. "... As I got older, it became long and boring. I needed action."
He played quarterback and defensive back on the football team at Pius X High and returned to the basketball court. He chose Pacific, in Stockton, Calif., over offers from Fresno State, Hawaii and Memphis.
But he got a phone call during Christmas break after his redshirt season at Pacific. The program, he was told, would be disbanded. He could stay at the school on scholarship or transfer elsewhere.
His position coach was the son of former NFL General Manager Bobby Beathard, who was friends with then-Boise State coach Pokey Allen.
"That's how I trickled in (to Boise), " Yates said.
Yates arrived in Boise in 1996 and immediately started at free safety, playing through a torn ACL in his other knee. He missed most of the 1997 season with the knee injury and returned to a starting role in 1998. He mostly played free safety but also appeared at cornerback.
By his senior year in 1999, his knees were so bad that he couldn't play much. He made six tackles as a special-teamer. His left knee is bone on bone, he said.
"He played (safety) the way it's supposed to be played, " said Rushing, who was a graduate assistant in 1998-99. "You always wish you could see how far his career could have went if his body didn't give out on him."
That senior year was not a total loss, though. Yates became a mentor to the young defensive players - most notably safety Quintin Mikell, his roommate on the road and a future WAC Defensive Player of the Year and 11-year NFL player - and decided he wanted to coach.
"Quintin Mikell, in my opinion, owes a lot to Marcel Yates, " Rushing said. "Marcel helped teach Quintin a lot of the tricks of the trade."
Yates put out the word to everyone he knew - including a couple former Broncos who ended up on staff at Montana State, Pete Kwiatkowski and Joe O'Brien - that he wanted to coach. He graduated in 2000 and went home to Los Angeles. He worked in a group home with troubled youth.
Six months later, his friends at Montana State called to offer an entry-level position. He would be the assistant secondary coach under Rushing.
"I left L.A. in January to go to the snow of Bozeman, Mont., " he said.
There, Yates learned the basics of coaching.
And when he left the office in the offseason, he drove a cab and served as a bouncer at an American Legion hall that turned into a hip-hop club on Friday and Saturday nights.
" 'Taxicab Confessions' is a real show, " Yates said. "I wish I had a camera in my cab because it was some interesting situations. It was never a dull night."
Back to Boise
Rushing left after the 2002 season. Yates replaced him as the secondary coach.
But he also met with then-Boise State coach Dan Hawkins about the cornerbacks vacancy on the Broncos' staff. Hawkins told Yates he was the second choice. Tony Oden, now the Detroit Lions' defensive backs coach, accepted the job.
"He had a little more experience, " said Ron Collins, who was the Broncos' defensive coordinator from 2002 to 2005, "but we were very high on Marcel. He was young at the time."
Oden lasted about a month before taking a job closer to home at Eastern Michigan.
Yates was at work one day when he spotted then-Montana State coach Mike Kramer, who was waving as if to say goodbye while talking on the phone.
He handed the phone to Yates. The caller was Hawkins.
"He asked how soon could I be there, " Yates said. "I said, 'When is your next staff meeting?' "
Like his interest in coaching, Yates traces that job offer back to his senior year. Hawkins was the special teams coordinator.
"He called me a special-teams guru, " Yates said. "I spent a lot of time with Dan Hawkins my senior year. If it wasn't for that relationship, he probably wouldn't have hired me here in '03."
Yates distinguished himself with his personality and recruiting. He attracted the attention of bigger programs but stayed in Boise.
Collins remembers the recruitment of cornerback Orlando Scandrick, now of the Dallas Cowboys. Scandrick was heavily recruited but called Yates to say he wanted to play for him.
"He can just talk to you and you feel very comfortable around him, " Collins said. "He's a guy that you look at and say, 'Man, I want to hang out with that dude.' "
When Hawkins left for Colorado after the 2005 season, Yates chose to stay at Boise State with Chris Petersen and coach the entire secondary. His influence helped turn a decent defense into one that led the Broncos to two Fiesta Bowl wins and long stretches in the Top 10.
Yates served as defensive backs coach from 2006 to 2011 under coordinators Justin Wilcox, now at USC, and Kwiatkowski, now at Washington.
He developed future NFL players such as Gerald Alexander, Scandrick, Kyle Wilson, Jamar Taylor and Jeron Johnson.
"It's long overdue for him to get that position and that opportunity, " former Boise State safety Jason Robinson said. "A lot of people didn't really understand how impactful he was during the glory days. Coach Yates had a lot to do with the schematics of that defense."
Coordinator in the making
When Wilcox left after the 2009 season, Petersen promoted Kwiatkowski.
"He was the next guy in line, " Yates said. "I wasn't bitter. Coach K gave me my first job (at Montana State). He taught me a lot. We're very close."
But that left Yates' career at a standstill.
Other schools wanted to hire him as a defensive backs coach and recruiter hoping for a quick fix, but he didn't want to leave Boise for that.
Texas A&M one-upped those offers after the 2011 season. Coach Kevin Sumlin, who was in his first year, gave Yates a co-defensive coordinator title. Mark Snyder was the play caller, but the title would help get Yates into the mix for coordinator posts.
"If you come help me win in the (SEC), I will help you become a defensive coordinator, " Sumlin said, according to Yates.
The opportunity finally arrived when Petersen left for Washington and coach Bryan Harsin replaced him in December. Harsin and Yates played together and were on the Broncos' coaching staff together from 2003 to 2010.
Yates took a 15 percent pay cut because of the financial differences between the SEC and Mountain West.
"For me, " he said in January, "it's not about the conference or the team. It was time for me to do a certain job."
His hire was greeted merrily by fans, who hope his return will fix a Boise State defense that was woeful last year. But as Yates points out, Texas A&M didn't play well on that side of the ball last year, either.
He's still learning his way as a play caller - he made some mistakes in last week's scrimmage, he said - and trying to place his imprint on this group.
He doesn't feel pressure, he said, but he compared the nervous excitement he feels this preseason to the early portion of a game.
"The challenge is here, " Yates said. "The honeymoon period is over. Now the key is to keep the job and to go to the next level with this defense."
His scheme won't stray far from what the Broncos have run in recent years. His major influences are Kwiatkowski, Wilcox and Collins - although he also learned from Snyder at Texas A&M and will distribute the calls with his own style.
Those who know him expect an aggressive, physical, no-nonsense brand of defense.
"He's a very tough-minded guy and he wants tough guys on his defense, " said Collins, who is the linebackers coach at Ohio. "He had that mentality for the secondary, so I imagine that the whole defense is going to be like that."
Players say Yates brings fire and attitude to the Broncos' defense. Those are essential elements.
Execution is next - and that will determine Yates' success.
"He's going to take a special burden every weekend saying we're going to win this game on defense, " said Rushing, who is a defensive quality control assistant with the Packers. "Being a prideful person and a self-critical person, he's always going to take it on his own shoulders to make sure things are done right and make sure he has success."
Marcel Yates file (as of August 2014)
Hometown: Los Angeles
Playing career: Defensive back at Pacific (1995), which canceled its program, and Boise State (1996-99). He was sixth on the team in tackles in 1998 but played sparingly in 1999 because of injury.
Coaching career: Montana State assistant secondary (2001-02), Boise State cornerbacks (2003-05), Boise State defensive backs (2006-11), Texas A&M co-defensive coordinator and defensive backs (2012-13)
Education: Bachelor's degree in social science from Boise State (2000)
Family: Wife, Melanie; son, Eric (19); daughter, Kaybrie (6)
Did you know? Yates used to bowl in a league in Boise. He once held a 185-pin average.