Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Husker defenders get to know new defensive coordinator Bob Diaco, like his energy

New defensive coordinator Bob Diaco coaches defensive end-turned-outside linebacker Alex Davis, right, during practice. Davis said Diaco has been patient, but demanding about the position change. “When he gets on you, you know it’s out of love,” Davis said.

By Rich Kaipust

April 5, 2017

LINCOLN — Junior safety Aaron Williams is like any of his Nebraska defensive teammates in that he has spent the Huskers’ first 10 spring practices both committing mistakes and making good plays.

Almost all of those come with a reaction from first-year defensive coordinator Bob Diaco, who seems to be everywhere and interacting with everyone.

And by now, Williams said, you realize that Diaco’s not just pushing the speed limit with everything he’s doing. He’s also showing tact and consistency in how he goes about it.

“He’s not a person who’s going to get in your face, yell, cuss you out because you’re messing up,” Williams said. “But if you’re wrong, he’s gonna let you know you’re wrong. Just like when you’re right, he’s gonna let you know you’re right.”

Diaco at his introductory press conference spoke of a coaching style that was uplifting, and not rooted around tearing players down or emasculating them. Young men, he said, flourish in a supportive environment.

NU players have been living it this spring — and confirm that the 43-year-old from New Jersey has been everything he said he would be.

“I think the thing about Coach Diaco is when he gets on you, it’s all about he wants you to be perfect,” outside linebacker Luke Gifford said. “He wants you to be detail-oriented. And he may get on you, but he will be the first to praise you. So you might have one bad play, but the next play he’ll be right behind you tapping you on the butt.”

Defensive end Carlos Davis said his first impression of Diaco was that “he’s for real.”

“And what he wants done is going to get done,” Davis said. “No questions asked.”

In the process, however, Diaco does so without profanity or getting personal. Safeties coach Bob Elliott, who was with Diaco at Notre Dame and Iowa, called it part of being a great communicator.

Asked about that approach Tuesday, Diaco said: “If you’re not using disrespectful words, and demoralizing words, and emasculating words and dehumanizing words — if you don’t communicate that way and it’s not part of your DNA, then you can coach the guys.

“They want to be good, they want to be coached,” he said. “And you build a relationship and communicate with respect and love. Being nice and telling people what they want to hear is not my version of love. Being honest and truthful and consistent and caring and respectful, that’s the ties that bind.”

Elliott knew better than anyone what players would see when spring practice started on March 4. But he didn’t waste any time sitting back and observing out of curiosity.

“I knew how they were going to respond to Bob,” Elliott said. “I’ve been through this before with Bob, and I knew they were going to love him, and they were going to react to his energy and his enthusiasm and his thoroughness and knowledge of this scheme. And his ability to teach.

“There was no doubt in my mind that they would eat it up and they would buy in, and for the most part I think that’s happened.”

Alex Davis started spring practice with a position change, moving from defensive end to outside linebacker in the new 3-4 scheme. Some mistakes admittedly were made in the early going.

Davis said the message from Diaco, who also happened to be his position coach, came in a positive manner, but also with a demand: “C’mon, catch up.”

“When he gets on you, you know it’s out of love,” Davis said.

Williams and linebacker Mohamed Barry said they like how Diaco carries himself and holds players accountable. Barry called him genuine and said he likes how Diaco dresses, giving a thumbs-up to the regular gray sweatpants and gray T-shirt over a black hooded sweatshirt.

Almost every conversation or interview, though, comes back to Diaco’s enthusiasm.

“His energy is all day long,” Elliott said. “He’s an all-day sucker now. He goes from early morning to late at night. It helps me. I mean, I feed off his energy. I think all the coaches do, and all the players. And that’s why my confidence in Bob and what he can do is complete.”

Diaco was on the move from the get-go, running alongside players and exhorting effort just minutes into that first practice last month. Defensive players immediately realized that they race from spot to spot and never stop until a drill is over, or be called out for it.

But Gifford said the Blackshirts already had seen the spirit and intensity in the meeting room and when Diaco was around morning workouts.

“We had talked so much about our attitude and the way we do things, that everyone knew how practice was going to be,” Gifford said. “So it really wasn’t a big adjustment. It was like, ‘All right, this is the way it’s going to be. Everyone’s going to go 110 percent all the time, and that’s just the way it is.’ And that’s the way it should be.”

Diaco is just as quick to find a receiver or quarterback and slap a helmet when the offense has its moments. Linebacker Marcus Newby laughed when asked how many calories the former Iowa safety might burn in a two-hour practice.

“He’s high energy, and that’s something I feel like we were missing,” Newby said. “It’s something we have now, and guys can feed off it, guys can play around that, and just have fun. Attack the ball, have fun, play fast.”

Results won’t be known until September. It’s hard to say how much improvement Diaco can make with personnel that is fairly similar to a year ago.

But head coach Mike Riley opted for change after the last three teams to beat the Huskers in 2016 totaled 140 points and more than 1,500 yards.

So Williams said the Huskers can’t help but share in the urgency that Diaco brings, and don’t worry about a battery that never seems to need re-charging when he is around the NU football complex.

“He probably slows down around his wife,” Williams said, smiling. “She’s probably the only one who’s got that power over him. Other than that, he’s the same. What you see is what you’re going to get from him, every day, no matter where we’re at.

“That’s him. That’s his life.”

Elliott knows one of the other exceptions. It’s the press box on Saturdays. Where Diaco is studying the offense and calling plays.

“Bob’s great before a game, he’s great at halftime ... but he’s a different guy up in the box,” Elliott said. “He’s calm. And sometimes I get out of hand and he has to calm me down.”

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