A Closer Look at Everett Withers
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio State hired a head coach who knows a whole lot about success, but Urban Meyer is making sure to surround himself with assistants know just as much about adversity.
If it wasn’t enough to retain Luke Fickell, the Buckeyes’ interim coach for the 2011 season, Meyer has also added former North Carolina defensive coordinator Everett Withers to his new coaching staff in Columbus.
Ohio State officially announced Meyer’s decision Wednesday to add Withers as the team’s associate head coach, along with co-defensive coordinator for the Buckeyes next season.
Some see the move as a second choice for Meyer after Ohio State seemingly could not work out a deal with former Arizona head coach Mike Stoops. In reality, Withers is a guy Meyer has been targeting for some time now.
“Urban Meyer made a run at Withers a couple of years ago to replace Charlie Strong as Florida's defensive coordinator a couple of years ago, so clearly he likes what Withers has to offer,” said Adam Powell, who covers North Carolina football for the 247 Sports site Carolina Blue.
“This hire makes sense on a lot of levels, and I think for the most part UNC fans are happy for Coach Withers that he's landed a good option at a place like Ohio State.”
The 48-year old Charlotte native was one of four candidates to become the full-time head coach in Chapel Hill, but athletic director Bubba Cunningham opted to go with Southern Mississippi coach Larry Fedora instead.
Withers, who served as the Tar Heels interim head coach this season, will continue to coach North Carolina through the Independence Bowl against Missouri on Dec. 26, but he did enough this season to earn the respect of Meyer and many others around the country.
“Withers walked into an incredibly difficult situation having to replace Butch Davis just eight days before training camp started, but he handled himself with grace under fire and proved that he knows a thing or two about football,” Powell said.
“He helped hold everything together when things could have really unraveled this fall, and I think UNC fans are grateful to Withers for that.”
Davis was fired on July 27 amid NCAA investigation of academic misconduct and allegations players received improper benefits from agents. Much like Fickell, who took over after Jim Tressel was forced to resign, Withers stepped in to an impossible situation and actually held his own.
The first-time head coach led the Tar Heels to a 7-5 season and their fourth straight bowl game. It was only one victory better than the 6-6 season Fickell posted at Ohio State, but also just a win shy of matching the school’s record under Davis in each of the previous three seasons.
In 2009, the Tar Heels' defense was among the nation's elite, ranking sixth in total defense, 10th against the run, 13th in scoring defense and 14th in pass defense. Carolina was the only school in the country ranked in the top 15 in total yards allowed, scoring defense, run defense, pass defense, pass efficiency defense, third-down defense and tackles for losses.
Carolina had 19 interceptions and set a single-season ACC record with 508 interception return yards. Withers was nominated in 2009 for the Broyles Award, which is presented annually to the nation's top assistant coach.
But Withers was not without his criticism in Chapel Hill. The Heels dropped to 30th in total defense in 2010 and 40th in 2011. They still posted 19 interceptions a year ago—11th most in the country—but there was some critique over the way he handled late-game situations.
“Probably the biggest criticism UNC fans had with Withers over the years was his propensity late in games to go to an NFL-style 'prevent' defense,” Powell said.
“Which a few opposing teams nickeled-and-dimed with screen passes and short passes to great success at crucial times.”
In 2009, Carolina blew a 24-6 lead over Florida State in the second half by allowing the Seminoles to outscore them 24-3 over the final quarter and a half. They also blew second-half leads against N.C. State in 2009 and 2010, but Withers will not be alone in coaching Ohio State’s defense.
He will share the co-coordinator position with Fickell, who will be in charge of calling the defense for the Buckeyes. Meyer expects the two will be able to work cohesively together, much like Fickell and Jim Heacock from 2005-10, but how does Withers’ style mesh with that of Fickell?
“Coach Withers is a solid defensive coordinator who puts an emphasis on swarming the football and creating turnovers in a 4-3 scheme,” Powell said.
“As a recruiter, Withers has placed a particular emphasis on larger defensive backs who can potentially play either cornerback or safety, as well as recruiting high school safeties to be converted to outside linebackers.”
The Buckeyes are certainly in need of some speed at the linebacker position, where Ryan Shazier proved that, sometimes, smaller guys can pack the biggest punch. If Shazier is healthy enough for the Gator Bowl, and Fickell indicated that he would be, the Buckeyes plan to use both Shazier and Andrew Sweat on the field together.
What remains to be seen is what Ohio State’s defense will look like in 2012 and beyond. Fickell and Withers will obviously keep the traditional 4-3 defense in Columbus, but will they continue to use specialty positions like the “Leo” or “Star?”
Only time will tell.
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