It’s not often that schools wind up essentially swapping coaches and one school and one of the coaches hopes nothing changes. But that’s FIU and Matt House going into this season.
College football’s DC Swap didn’t involve, say, Flash #123 for Green Lantern/Green Arrow #76 or some Congressional quid pro quo on bill voting. But, rather, FIU losing defensive coordinator Josh Conklin to Pat Narduzzi’s new staff at Pittsburgh, then filling the job with former Pitt defensive coordinator Matt House, not taken to Wisconsin when departing head coach Paul Chryst left Pitt.
“It is crazy. It’s a funny world,” House said. “I’ve already learned a lot from [FIU coach Ron Turner], just on organization and how to build a team.”
House fills both holes left by Pitt by serving as linebackers coach after Rob Hartley went with Conklin. He inherits the position group with the most potential on the defense, possibly on the team.
“Coach Conklin was more of a film room guy,” junior middle linebacker Treyvon Williams said. “He spent all his energy in the film room, making sure we had things right, down pat. Coach House, he makes sure we get it in the film room and on the field. He brings the same energy on the field.”
Pitt ranked 34th nationally in 2013 and 33rd in 2014 in defense under House. They worked out of a 4-3, just as Conklin did after FIU assistants Andrae Patterson and Tom Williams helped him junk his 3-4 defense when he came to FIU in 2013. Talent injections via health, academic eligibility and recruiting produced the 2014 Panthers defense that scored or set up 39.8 percent of FIU’s points last year.
House saw that in person last September. FIU grabbed three turnovers, including two Pitt fumbles inside the FIU 10-yard-line, in a 42-25 loss.
“I think there will be a lot of similarities,” House said. “They certainly did a great job last year on defense. So, if it’s not broke, don’t try to fix it. The biggest thing we need to do continue to grow, continue to put our players into position to play fast. You won’t see a whole lot different, especially to the naked eye.”
And the emphasis on turnovers won’t change, either: “The thing we talk to our kids about all the time is taking the ball away. You can’t win a championship without the ball. The ball’s the issue.”
Williams concurred on the similarities and said, “We’ve added a few different things.”
Though some Pitt fans criticized House’s defenses as too passive — 11 angry players driving monster trucks come close to what Pittsburghers like to see in their defenses — House wants FIU to retain the assertive characteristics that led to many of those takeaways last year.
“You saw guys ran like crazy to the ball and hit,” House said. “That’s what it’s all about. Swarming to the football and making the offense feel you.”