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Rice turns to Brian Stewart to repair beleaguered defense

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New Owl defensive coordinator has 25 years of college and NFL coaching experience 

Illinois v Nebraska
Nebraska cornerback Joshua Kalu was one of Brian Stewart’s pupils as Husker defensive backs coach. Stewart will be hired as Rice defensive coordinator.
Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images

Rice’s football program is turning the defense over to a coach who once was the defensive coordinator of the Dallas Cowboys.

Brian Stewart reportedly will be Rice’s next defensive coordinator. Stewart, regarded as a 3-4 defensive specialist, spent the last two years as Nebraska defensive back coach. He was the Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator from 2007-2008 and defensive coordinator at the University of Houston from 2010-2011.

Stewart will replace Chris Thurmond who retired as Rice defensive coordinator and cornerback coach at the end of the 2016 season.

Rice has not yet formally introduced Stewart’s hiring. Stewart told Nebraska coach Mike Riley he was leaving for a defensive coordinator job and several media outlets reported that Rice is that job.

Rice’s defense was near the bottom of FBS in several categories last season. The Owls gave up 504.5 yards a game, which ranked last in Conference USA and 123rd in the nation. Rice was last in the country in pass efficiency defense and tied for 113th in scoring defense. In nine games, the Owls allowed 30 or more points. Rice went 1-8 in those games.

Rice appears to have made a smart decision in bringing in someone from the outside with a long track record of success. The Owls clearly needed a defensive shakeup since the unit has been slipping the past two seasons.

Stewart played defensive back in Northern Arizona and Santa Monica City College in the 1980s. His coaching career began in 1992 at Cal Poly. He made college coaching stops at Northern Arizona, Missouri, San Jose State and Syracuse (and later UH and Maryland) before being breaking into the NFL defensive backs coach of the expansion Houston Texans. His other NFL stops included assistant coaching gigs with the San Diego Chargers and Philadelphia Eagles.

As Dallas defensive coordinator, he helped send five Cowboys to the Pro Bowl in 2007: DeMarcus Ware, Roy Williams, Greg Ellis, Ken Hamlin and Terrence Newman.

One of his most impressive college coaching performances was with Houston in 2011. Using a 3-4 defense, The Cougars went 13-1 that season and finished top 15 nationally in red zone scoring, interceptions, tackles for loss, takeaways and opponent completion percentage.

Stewart’s knowledge of H-Town can’t hurt and most of his college jobs were not at high-profile institutions. While Stewart has not had to deal with coaching at a school as academically rigorous as Rice, he appears to know what he’s getting in to.

We’ll find out more particulars from Stewart when he’s formally introduced, but on the surface, the hiring looks promising.