New UCLA defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich is unlikely to implement dramatic changes to the Bruins' defensive playbook, and why would he? UCLA is on the right course, and Ulbrich helped set it.
After two seasons as positions coach for the feared UCLA linebackers corps and doubling as special teams coordinator, Ulbrich is replacing Lou Spanos as the man in charge of the Bruins defense. The promotion accelerates Ulbrich's course on the coaching fast track, as less than five years ago he was still playing in the NFL.
But UCLA head coach Jim Mora said in his official statement via UCLABruins.com that Ulbrich's playing career readied him for his turn as a coach.
"Coach ‘Brick’ is a natural fit for this position, having run an NFL defense for years as a player while honing his abilities to get the most out of his players as a coach," Mora said.
In other words, Linebacker U. is now Defensive Coordinator U.
Certainly the talent Ulbrich had to work with helped, but his linebackers were crucial to UCLA's game plan. The 3-4 base formation Spanos employed relied on aggressive pass-rushers at outside linebacker and capable run-stoppers on the interior.
Anthony Barr was as dynamic a pass-rusher as there was in college football the last two seasons under Ulbrich's guidance. Barr leaves UCLA with 23 sacks, 41 tackles for loss, 10 forced fumbles and All-American recognition—and that he did it all after spending his first two years at running back is a testament to Ulbrich's coaching.
Ulbrich's special teams are further evidence that his transition to defensive coordinator should be a smooth one, evidenced in the play of another of his linebacker pupils, Myles Jack.
Before he was generating headlines for his doubling as an offensive player, Jack was a playmaker on special teams.
"They look at themselves as the motor of this team, the group that can inspire," is how Ulbrich described his special teams unit to UCLABruins.com in November.
Inspiration is a core principle any successful staff needs, and Ulbrich has exhibited it in his short time with the Bruins. He represents a mentality that's been as central to the Bruins' turnaround as anything schematic, if not more so.
When Mora took over at UCLA before the 2012 season, he made no bones about reshaping UCLA's identity, as evident in a July 2012 interview with CBSSports.com's Dennis Dodd.
The perception of UCLA football to those of who were not involved with UCLA football was that UCLA football had become soft...Our intent is to make sure that nobody can say that about us again. Whether it's truth, doesn't matter. Our goal is eliminate that perception, wipe it off the map, never let it cross anyone's lips again.
A defining moment in the turnaround of UCLA came in a November 2012 game against Arizona, when Ulbrich, other assistants and Bruins players donned war paint.
The Wildcats were fresh off a 39-36 win over USC, and UCLA edged Arizona State in a 45-43 victory the week prior. Arizona was a winner of five straight in the series, including a 48-12 rout in Tucson the season before that included a melee before halftime. UCLA ended the skid emphatically, punching the Wildcats in the mouth from the outset en route to a 66-10 win.
The war paint may or may not make another appearance now that Ulbrich is defensive coordinator, but the intensity it symbolized will remaining a defining characteristic.
Kyle Kensing is the Pac-12 Lead Writer.
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