The Huskers have something brewing on the defensive side of the football. The unit has improved steadily under defensive coordinator Erik Chinander. The group is also the deepest and most talented that it has been under Chinander heading into his fourth year as defensive coordinator.
Part of that is because the team got a core group of players to return for the 2021 season. Defensive lineman Ben Stille, linebacker Will Honas, linebacker JoJo Domann, plus safeties Deontai Williams and Marquel Dismuke all returned to Nebraska for an extra year. Also added into that mix is defensive back Cam Taylor-Britt. The defender saw his stock rise over the course of the 2020 season that landed him on the NFL’s radar.
Since so many defenders came back, many wondered what it was about Chinander’s relationship with his players that seemed to form a tight bond. Earlier this week, Taylor-Britt explained how he feels about Chinander to reporters.
“That’s my dawg man. I love Coach Chins,” Taylor-Britt said. “Coach Chins is a guy you need to be around. I say I can take him anywhere, it doesn’t matter any place, you name it. I can take Coach Chins there just because he has my back. He has your best interest in mind. With Coach Chins, just being around him sitting in his office, you can talk to him about anything.”
When it comes to the defensive schemes the players can come to Chinander with new ideas and he is receptive. They can test the ides out in practice to see if they work or not before coming back to it during meetings. There is a level of trust between the coordinator and his players. That trust is built on respect.
“He’s just that guy,” Taylor-Britt said. “The way he just carries himself. The way he speaks to you is nothing but respect. You don’t have any choice but to respect it. Once you get to be around him, I wouldn’t say fall in love but you fall in love with Coach Chins.”
Chinander has developed a reputation with his players that he is tough but fair. He’s able to do that because he genuinely cares about them. That begins on the recruiting trail with him though. Chinander is an active coordinator with recruiting and is successful recruiting players from all over the country. He connects well because at the heart of it all he wants to develop good people.
“I don’t think it matters where you’re from or what your background is,” Chinander said. “My job is we got to play good defense and win football games. A piece of college coaching that I love is developing kids into men.
“Obviously, it’s not all bubblegum and lollipops out there. Sometimes I lose I’ll lose it a little bit have to get after people. But I think that those kids all understand that I love them. I love them dearly. I love them like they’re my own. When you love somebody sometimes they got to figure out what size shoes I’m wearing. Sometimes they need a hug. Sometimes they got to hear the truth. I think they all know how much I love them. I think that once they really understand how much you love them that there’s nothing you can’t say to them. You know within reason, obviously.”
There is a genuine love that Chinander has for his players. His players feel that way too. Chinander wants that relationship to go beyond the football field. That’s how you build a true connection between player and coach.
“I think once they understand that you really do love them, they can come to you and talk to you about things other than football,” Chinander said. “Really, when they come and talk to me about football, that’s okay. But when they come talk to you about things other than football, problems at home, problems with a girl, problems with whatever they may be having that that’s when you know you’re really connected with somebody.
“Like I said, I just love the University of Nebraska. I love these kids. That will never change. I think that they understand that.
Chinander is comfortable using the word ‘love’ in a profession that might be a little shy to describe things that way. His belief is that his players need to hear that coming from their coach. It’s just the way he’s built.
His players are thankful for that.
Greg is the Recruiting Analyst for Hail Varsity and has covered Husker athletics since 2013. He has always had a passion for sports while growing up in the Chicago area. As he got older and had to hang up his cleats and sneakers, he realized his passion for sports went beyond just watching and attending games. He has covered many events from the Rose Bowl to championship boxing matches. If he’s not talking sports, he’s hovering over his grill. He is married to an amazing woman, Kim, and they have a dog that barks when Greg yells at the TV during games.