Tech football announced that they would bring on former Appalachian State defensive coordinator Nate Woody in the same role for the Jackets in a press release earlier this month. Woody will replace former Tech DC Ted Roof, who left the position last year to assume a coaching position at NC State next season.
Woody served as defensive coordinator for the Mountaineers from 2014 to 2017, transforming the perennial Sun-Belt powerhouse’s defense into one of the best in the country. Under Woody, Appalachian State held opponents to 5.1 yards per play, (No. 17 among FBS teams) and ranked No. 4 in the country in total yards allowed, just behind newly-crowned national champion Alabama and ahead of Clemson. Prior to his time at Appalachian State, Woody served as defensive coordinator at his alma mater Wofford from 2000 to 2012, leading the FCS Southern Conference in total defense three times during his tenure.
In a press conference Tuesday, Woody placed special emphasis on the value of recruiting. “We’re looking for a certain type of guy … I don’t mind taking an inch or two off of a defensive lineman if he can giddy-up and go,” Woody said. Woody also indicated that he would do his best to work with Tech’s current defense. “I always want to find out from [the players] what it is that they want to do … I want to show them the structure of our defense and show them how they can be successful at certain positions.”
Woody brings in his own style of the 3-4 defense, honed during his years at Wofford and Appalachian State, and aims to replace Tech’s bend-but-don’t-break style developed by Roof. Roof had come under fire during Tech’s last season for his defensive play calling, and although the Jackets had finished in the top 20 among FBS teams in opponent points allowed as recently as 2014 under Roof, fans criticized Roof’s strategy in costing them close games this season. Particularly memorable is the team’s one-point road loss to Miami where the Jackets squandered a late lead by allowing Miami to repeatedly complete bubble screens on their final drive.
In fact, the Jackets led by double digits in every game this season except against Georgia and Clemson, but finished with a losing record after blowing multiple leads. Tech’s loss to Georgia ultimately sealed Roof’s fate, as the Jackets were blown out at home 38-7 by the eventual College Football Playoff runner-up.
In a statement released Saturday, Tech head coach Paul Johnson spoke highly of Woody. “I’m excited to have Nate Woody join our staff and lead our defense. He’s achieved a lot of success and helped his teams win a lot of games at Appalachian State and Wofford. I think he’s a great fit for our program,” said Johnson.
Woody’s hire was not the only change in Tech football personnel announced last weekend. Per the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Tech announced that it would not retain defensive line coach Mike Pelton, mainly because Pelton’s expertise lies with the 4-3 defense and not the 3-4 defense that Woody will bring to Tech.
Aside from Pelton and Roof, Tech appears to be retaining the majority of their coaching staff, including head coach Johnson. Johnson is entering his 11th season as Tech head coach, tying him for the 11th longest tenured BCS coach, and tied for the longest tenure in the ACC with Dabo Sweeney and David Sutcliffe. Despite missing bowl games in two of the past three seasons, Tech’s athletic department still appears to have confidence in their head coach moving forward by retaining him and most of his staff during a disappointing 2017 season. Johnson’s current contract runs through 2020.
Despite coming from a much weaker conference, Woody also indicated that he looked forward to the challenge of defending in a Power Five conference.
“[The schedule] is what it is. You look forward to playing against the best … as a player, you want to go out there and play the best. Coaching wise, you want the same thing,” Woody said Tuesday. With an ACC schedule featuring regular match ups with powerhouses Clemson, Miami and Virginia Tech, Tech’s new defensive coordinator will get just what he is asking for — a challenge.
One unresolved question is how the change will affect recruiting moving forward. For his blemishes as a coordinator, Roof was considered by many to be an effective recruiter; as he takes his talents to Raleigh, competition in the conference for talented recruits only grows stronger. Recruiting coordinator Andy McCollum may have to shoulder more of the load on his own, at least until Woody establishes himself in Atlanta and playing for his high-pressure defense becomes an appealing prospect for elite high school athletes.
Tech football will open the 2018-2019 season against Alcorn State. Even the 2015 Jackets, who finished the campaign 3-9, handily beat the Braves. The game may not represent stiff competition, but it will be the first data point in Woody’s tenure, and his time at Tech will be important indeed. He is Johnson’s fourth defensive coordinator, after Al Groh, Charles Kelly and Roof. He might represent Johnson’s last chance at showing he has what it takes to be a great head coach.