University of Miami

Miami Hurricanes lose DL coach Jess Simpson to NFL team and announce his replacement

Diaz: Our team isn’t far from competing for championships

The Hurricanes football coach Manny Diaz says, "Maybe it just takes me". as he speaks to the media at the University of Miami on Wednesday, February 6, 2019.
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The Hurricanes football coach Manny Diaz says, "Maybe it just takes me". as he speaks to the media at the University of Miami on Wednesday, February 6, 2019.

About a year to the day that Jess Simpson was announced as the University of Miami’s new defensive line coach, the Hurricanes bid him farewell and announced his replacement.

UM has hired Akron Zips defensive coordinator Todd Stroud as its new defensive line coach and assistant head coach to replace Simpson, who accepted the defensive line coach position with the Atlanta Falcons, where he came from last March to begin his short tenure with the Hurricanes.

The Hurricanes begin spring practice two weeks from Tuesday, on March 19, although the exact schedule has not been released.

“We are excited to welcome Todd to The U,” UM coach Manny Diaz said in a released statement. “As we have built this staff we have emphasized continuity on the defensive side of the ball. Todd is a high energy teacher and motivator whose defensive philosophy aligns perfectly with ours. He knows exactly what a Miami defense looks like up front — from the weight room to the film room to the playing field.

“Todd’s varied background as a head coach, coordinator, position coach, strength coach and recruiter also gives him a unique, overarching perspective. We are fortunate to have someone with his knowledge, experience and character join our program.”

Stroud, 55, spent seven seasons at Akron, including 2018 as the associate head coach and defensive tackles coach in addition to his title as coordinator. Before that he coached at Colorado State, Florida State, North Carolina State, Memphis, Western Alabama, Auburn, Samford and UCF. He has coached everything from the defense to tight ends and fullbacks to being a recruiting coordinator to serving as the strength and conditioning coach at his alma mater, Florida State, as well as Memphis and Auburn.

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Stroud earned his degree from Florida State in 1985 and his master’s degree from Alabama-Birmingham. He started as nose guard for Florida State from 1983-85, and has known Diaz and Diaz’s UM predecessor Mark Richt for a long time. The Tallahassee Democrat reported that Stroud and Richt were roommates at FSU and that Stroud was a groomsman at Richt’s wedding.

The Akron Zips, a member of the Mid-American Conference, finished 4-8 in 2018 and 2-6 in the conference. They were ranked 61 nationally in total defense, allowing 388.1 yards a game. They finished 38th in team tackles for loss and 90th in sacks, and were 67th in scoring defense.

In 2018, the Zips’ defense ranked third in the Mid-American Conference in third-down defense, third in passing efficiency defense and forced 21 turnovers, including two pick-sixes in a 39-34 win at eventual Big Ten West champion Northwestern – Akron’s first win over a Big Ten opponent since 1894. The Zips improved from 91st in yards per play to 36th nationally, and from 66th in yards per pass attempt to 21st in the country.

In 2017, as Akron’s assistant head coach, defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator, Stroud helped the Zips advance to the MAC Championship Game for only the second time in school history. Akron finished seventh in the nation in interceptions (19), and ranked eighth in defensive touchdowns and 19th in turnover margin.

Simpson, a former nationally heralded head coach at prep power Buford High School in Georgia, came to UM to replace former D-line coach Craig Kuligowski after spending the 2017 season as a defensive assistant with the Atlanta Falcons — with a two-month stint at Georgia State. He won seven state titles at Buford and continued his coaching prowess with the Hurricanes.

UM said in its statement that Simpson “resigned to take a coaching position with a National Football League team,’’ though it did not name the team. About three hours later, the Falcons announced that they were hiring Simpson as their new defensive line coach.

Miami’s defense, including its line, was strong this past season, finishing fourth overall nationally, first in team passing efficiency defense, first in passing yards allowed, first in team tackles for loss, first in third-down conversion percentage defense, ninth in sacks and 18th in scoring defense.

The Hurricanes defensive line has lost stellar tackle Gerald Willis III, top end Joe Jackson and tackle Tito Odenigbo to the NFL Draft, but still has a group of talented (although some young and others newly transferred) linemen to take over in 2019, including ends Jonathan Garvin, Scott Patchan and formerly injured redshirt freshman Greg Rousseau; tackles Nesta Silvera and Pat Bethel; and incoming linemen Trevon Hill, a transfer from Virginia Tech; and UCLA transfer Chigozie Nnoruka.

UM’s coaching staff since Diaz took over for 2019 has been greatly revamped, though there have been fewer changes on defense. The Canes previously added Blake Baker as defensive coordinator.

UM is hiring a new director of player personnel to replace Matt Doherty, who was relieved of his duties after National Signing Day. The Miami Herald confirmed through a source that Andy Vaughn, 37, the Arizona Wildcats’ senior director of recruiting and high school relations, will be that man. The news was first reported by 247Sports. According to a source, UM offensive quality control analyst David Cooney and defensive quality control analyst and former UM player DeMarcus Van Dyke are also expected to have a role on Diaz’s revamped recruiting staff.

Miami Herald sportswriter Barry Jackson contributed to this report.

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Miami Herald sports writer Susan Miller Degnan has been the Miami Hurricanes football beat writer since 2000, the season before the Canes won it all. She has won several APSE national writing awards and has covered everything from Canes baseball to the College Football Playoff to major marathons to the Olympics.