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Hot Reads: Year in the Big Ten Gives Tuioti a Leg Up

February 28, 2019

Nebraska's new defensive line coach, Tony Tuioti, arrived in Lincoln on Wednesday afternoon. A few hours later, he made his first public comments about his new job and home as a guest on Husker Sports Nightly. Taking a new coaching job is like that. Time is short, but there's a long line of people who need a piece of it.

But that also can make it pretty easy to prioritize, and Tuioti had a good sense of what he need to do most upon arrival.

"Number one, just try to meet with the players," he said. "I want to be able to sit down and talk to those guys . . . First and foremost, it starts with trust. Once we're all on the same page about what we want to accomplish as a group, it's going to be easier to go out there and practice together."

Nebraska will begin those practices on Monday. Scott Frost and the rest of the assistant coaches will meet with the media on Tuesday, so we'll hear much more from Tuioti about joining the Huskers next week. But Frost, in his own radio spot Wednesday, outlined why Tuioti was the choice from a reportedly large pool of candidates.

"We interviewed a bunch of people all around the country. It's different being a 3-4 team than a 4-3 team," Frost said. "I think that position is unique. If it was a DB coach, for instance, everybody kind of coaches those guys about the same. But 3-4 and some of the techniques you ask the defensive linemen to do in a 3-4 compared to a 4-3, it's kind of like Greek and Latin. They're similar but they're different. Or maybe Latin and Italian. It's been a long time since I've gone to school."

Whatever the proper language analogy is, Tuioti speaks the Huskers' language. Over the last two years at California he worked with head coach and defensive wizard Justin Wilcox, who runs a 3-4. The Golden Bears, in two seasons, climbed from 125th in scoring defense (based on points per play) at the end of the 2016 season to 17th at the end of 2018.

Tuioti, who said he was drawn to Nebraska by Frost's reputation among coaches and Nebraska's "football brand," also worked some in a 3-4 defense with the Cleveland Browns in 2014 and 2015. He spent 2016 as the director of player personnel at Michigan. It was a one-year stint, but it was long enough that Tuioti didn't hesitate when asked what that season taught up him about playing defense in the Big Ten.

"You've got to be able to stop the run. It's a physical conference. You've got to win in the trenches. You've got to be able to play in all the different kinds of weather."

The numbers back him up on that. It makes Nebraska's offense-first approach something of a contrarian strategy in the neighborhood it lives in, and we'll see how those numbers might change in the years ahead.

Tuioti, of course, is on the other side of that equation for Nebraska, but in addition to his experience in the Big Ten and a 3-4 defense he also has experienced that intra-conference uphill fight. When Cal hired Wilcox away from his defensive coordinator position at Wisconsin at the end of 2016, it was something of a contrarian strategy, too. The Pac-12 is a conference that trends towards offense, making the Golden Bears' gains on defense a little more impressive.

I think there are a lot of reasons to like the Tuioti hire for Nebraska, but it was when he mentioned stopping the run in the Big Ten that I fully felt, "oh, he'll be great." Not because it's a football chestnut people typically like hearing, but because it's true.

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