Julius Brown is a proven winner. After all, the native of Stockton, California, has been part of five conference championships and nine bowl games as a football coach.
Utah State took notice of that when fourth-year head coach Matt Wells hired Brown back in February to be the Aggies’ cornerbacks coach, a position he held previously at Boise State for the past two seasons.
During his two years with the Broncos, Boise State went 21-6, including winning the 2014 VIZIO Fiesta Bowl (38-30 against Arizona) and 2015 San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl (55-7 against Northern Illinois). Additionally, BSU captured the 2014 Mountain West title with a 28-14 win against Fresno State in the championship game.
Brown preaches the importance of creating turnovers, and during the past two seasons, the Broncos did just that. Boise State recorded 22 interceptions in 2015 to rank as the fourth best in the Football Bowl Subdivision, and in 2014, the Broncos also had 22 picks, good enough for fifth best nationally.
Prior to Boise State, Brown was the cornerbacks coach and recruiting coordinator at Arkansas State. He coached Troy’s cornerbacks in 2012 after spending three seasons as the Broncos’ director of player personnel.
Brown, who played at Boise State form 1999-2003, joins a defense that finished the 2015 campaign ranked 17th nationally in total defense (332.5 yards per game) and 12th in passing defense (180.5 ypg).
Heading into the first practice of the third week of spring camp, we sat down with Brown and discussed a number of topics, including his familiarity with the Mountain West, his coaching philosophy and what it was like being on the opposite sideline for last year’s Utah State-Boise State game, which the Aggies won, 52-26.
How has the new job here at Utah State treated you so far?
“It’s been really good. Coming to a new staff, you start meeting new guys and working with new guys out on the field, so it’s been really good. (Head) coach (Matt) Wells has a great staff assembled and guys have fun coming to work every day, so it’s been a really good experience for me. I’m looking forward to it continuing to develop.”
How has the defensive staff come together with the majority of everyone being new?
“Obviously, (co-defensive coordinator) Frank (Maile) has been here before and with (co-defensive coordinator Kendrick) Shaver being the lone guy back from last year. Really the first couple of weeks were spent just getting everybody on the same page in terms of how we do things here at Utah State. They’ve had a lot of success on defense over the past few years, so it was just getting everybody on the same page in terms of terminology and how we’re going to run things in terms of scheme and things like that, so it’s been good. When you get new guys together, you have a bunch of new ideas, so the defense has kind of taken a life of its own and we’ve changed some things and tweaked some things, but for the most part, it’s been really good.”
Having coached and played in the Mountain West at Boise State, how will that familiarity help you here at Utah State?
“Being in this region and playing the same teams over the last few years, you kind of have that feel that certain teams are going to try to do certain things. Playing against all these teams in this league, it’s very competitive and there is a bunch of talent. If you look around the conference, there are a lot of new faces on each staff. That will be good because it’s a different flavor and you get different things, but being familiar with the players in terms of recruiting and the areas where you go to recruit, it will only help you going forward.”
How would you describe your coaching philosophy?
“The first part is we’re going to be a physical group and we’re going to be physical on defense. We want those guys to play aggressive and create turnovers; that’s the main thing. When you can create turnovers on defense, it kind of jump starts the team. Aggie fans can expect an aggressive group that is going to go out and do their job. They are going to play fast and physical and hopefully, get our hands on a lot of footballs this season.”
What is the mindset for the cornerback group this spring?
“The mindset is just going out there and competing every play. I’ve really been harping on those guys about going out there and competing on every play because that’s the one thing about that position, is you know it’s high risk, high reward. When you make a good play, everybody knows, and when you give up a big play, everybody knows. I’ve really been on them to go out and compete and we’re doing a good job of getting our hands on some balls and creating some turnovers for our defense, and that has to continue to progress. The competition part is huge and having that physical mindset that when you take the field, it’s going to be a physical game.”
What cornerbacks have stood out to you this spring?
“The whole group has shown flashes. Obviously, Jalen (Davis) is the most experienced guy coming back and he’s played a lot of snaps. Daniel Gray also played last year, but I’ve really been impressed with guys this spring in terms of their work ethic. The guys are getting a lot better. (Jentz) Painter is doing some good things inside and Marquan (Ellison) is doing some good things. Wesley Bailey, who redshirted last year, has shown flashes that he can make big plays. Antonio Cole is a kid that we signed mid-year and he’s done some good things early. For that group, it’s just continuing to push the envelope to make sure that they can go out and be mentally ready to go and be physically prepared. Cameron Haney has been steady and he’s a physical kid back there, but we need him to make more plays. He’s another freshman, another young kid. I really like the depth that we have and those kids are working hard every day to get better.”
Coach Wells talked about recruiting taller cornerbacks at the end of the 2015 season. Why is that so important?
“A lot of wide receivers are getting really tall, so teams are getting bigger at wide receiver. We just want to minimize some of those matchup problems. If you have a longer guy with longer levers, he can go up and high point the ball in certain situations, and he can maybe punch a ball out here or there. The one thing for us is we just have to get good football players and we really focused on that in terms of recruiting, is getting guys who are good players that are football junkies and love to play. We’re starting to identify some guys who fit that bill, but there’s no question, the longer levers you have at any position the better off you’re going to be.”
Over the past few years, Utah State has had a reputation of having great cornerbacks who have gone on to play in the NFL. What are your thoughts on that?
“There’s no question Utah State has a long history of developing guys and getting them to the next level, and that’s really something you look for when you recruit. You want to recruit guys who want to get to that level because if you’re going to be great at something, why not do it at the highest level you possibly can? It’s important when we recruit guys that, that is a goal for them. It’s important for our current players, that they know if they come in and do what they’re asked to do and put the work in, that they have that opportunity at the end of the tunnel. The main thing for us, really, is coming out and getting better every day because if we improve as a group and they improve as players every single day, then they’ll have a chance to accomplish that.”
What do you see from this defense as a whole?
“We have some veterans coming back that have played a lot of football. The one thing for us is we have to continue to build depth throughout the spring. If you look at our defensive staff, you’ve got four guys who are really coaching four new positions. Those kids have done a good job of buying in to what we’re asking them to do as coaches. For us on defense, we have to just continue to develop the depth so that you’ve got your front-line guys and then you’ve got guys who can replace them and there’s not really a big drop-off. That’s really what we’re doing, is focusing on creating depth and creating competition at every spot because the more competition you have at each spot, the better you are going to be on defense. If guys are pushing each other and guys are passing each other up on the depth chart, that’s really going to be good for this defense.”
You were on the other sideline for the Boise State-Utah State game last year. What was it like from your perspective seeing how that game played out?
“The one thing that stands out is Utah State created a bunch of turnovers. You saw kids out there that were hungry to play. It was a big game and Utah State did a great job of going out and creating turnovers. Like we talked about earlier, that’s the part that really changed the game. If you go out and you get eight turnovers, and you play as stingy as they were playing, it’s going to be hard for anybody to come in here and win. It was impressive just watching it from afar. Every time our defense took the field, we felt like we had to make a play because Utah State was making so many plays. Vice versa, you start looking at it where you’re creating so many turnovers, then the offense you’re going against starts to press a little bit, too. But, it was definitely an unbelievable defensive performance by Utah State and hopefully, we can have some more of those this year.”
Outside of football, what do you enjoy doing?
“Really just hanging out at home and relaxing. I’m a big sports guy, so I watch sports on TV all the time and I’m really laid back. I also like spending time with my players, so we’ll have them come over and do some things like that.”