So you will recall that New Mexico State Aggies head coach Doug Martin recently brought Frank Spaziani on board to be his new defensive coordinator. Martin briefly worked on Spaziani's staff as offensive coordinator when Frank was head coach at Boston College.
This is superficially good for numerous reasons including how good Frank's defenses generally were, and how horrible NMSU's generally are (69 sacks in the last five seasons, for instance). This is also superficially bad because Frank has been out of coaching for a little over three years, and his most recent gig (BC's head coach from 2009-2012) did not end well.
So to find out what New Mexico State might really be getting into, we picked the brain of A.J. Black from SB Nation's Boston College blog BC Interruption.
Underdog Dynasty: Is there anything in particular that his defenses are known for, either schematically or philosophically?
A.J. Black: Frank Spaziani was Boston College's defense coordinator for years, making his bones on a 4-3 soft coverage scheme. A lot of what Spaz would go for is the use of a linebacker (Mark Herzlich for example, in 2010) to drop back in coverage to cover a tight end or slot receiver. The cornerbacks would also play a soft zone or man as well, hardly ever using press coverage, especially on the outside.
When BC had the players this was very effective, as the defensive line could put pressure on the quarterback and the corners could react to the play and get a turnover, a hallmark of a Spaz defense. When BC did not have talented enough defensive players this was a disaster, as good teams picked apart the Eagles defense with little dinks and dunks that BC couldn't stop.
UDD: What if anything do you know about him as a person and or coach? Is he a loud talker to motivate? A real players coach?
AJB: It's important to note that there were two Frank Spazianis at BC. There was Frank Spaziani the defensive coordinator, someone the players liked and who was well respected by everyone there. And then there was end-of-days Spaz, when he took over as head coach and he in was way over his head.
Players tuned him out and he wandered the sidelines, aloof. In both cases, he wasn't much of a yeller, and could be quite charming in press conferences and interviews. However, those quips became very grating as BC fell apart.
UDD: One thing NMSU defenses have done very poorly in recent years is get after the quarterback. Is this something that we can anticipate changing quickly in his system?
AJB: I don't think of Spaziani as a coordinator that puts much emphasis on the pass rush. He isn't into exotic blitz schemes, and won't throw things at offenses that will catch teams off guard. Basically, if New Mexico State is going to get sacks or pressure, it's going to individual players winning those one-on-one matchups.
UDD: Do you think the fact that he's been out of college coaching since 2012 will have any effect?
AJB: Honestly not sure. BC fans, for the most part, have a sour taste in their mouth because of how he left our program. That being said, Spaziani was a solid defensive coordinator for BC for years. For a program like New Mexico State, he could find that fountain of youth. However, a lot of his scheme is based around stud players (Luke Kuechly, Mark Herzlich, BJ Raji etc), so his success at NMSU will be something to watch.
Our thanks again to A.J. for his time answering our questions. It will be interesting to see whether Las Cruces is rejuvenating for Frank, and whether he can get the talent he needs to make his system work for the Aggies like it did for the Eagles.