Matt Guerrieri has to have one of the stranger job descriptions in college football. He is the co-defensive co-ordinator, along with defensive line coach Ben Albert. And he shares the defensive backfield responsibilities, coaching the safeties, while someone else coaches the cornerbacks.
Until this February that someone else was Derek Jones. Jones spent 12 seasons at Duke and helped turn Ross Cockrell and Breon Borders into All-ACC and NFL corners.
Jones left Duke for Texas Tech. David Cutcliffe is about as plugged into the college-football-coaching community as anyone can be and it didn’t take him long to replace Jones.
Nine days to be exact.
Chris Hampton was tagged to replace Jones. Hampton played at South Carolina, where he had the highest grade-point average in the program. He then coached at Arkansas State, Georgia Tech, McNeese State and finally Tulane before coming to Duke.
“We are excited for Coach Hampton to join us here at Duke,” Cutcliffe said in a media release at the time. “His experience both as a student-athlete and coach will pay immediate dividends within our program. Coach Hampton has earned the respect of many coaches and administrators within the coaching industry and I’m confident he will make a smooth transition into our defensive staff room.”
That defensive staff room was about all that Hampton saw for some time, spring practice being canceled after only three sessions. Like countless other coaches Hampton had to become fluent in ZOOM, in a hurry.
But now Hampton and his players are beginning to figure it out face-to-face.
What are they finding out?
Hampton met with the media Wednesday morning. He was asked what characterized a Chris-Hampton-coached secondary.
“I think we will be fast, physical. We will not beat ourselves. We will be a group that makes plays and is already around the ball. I hope the number one aspect that you’ll see in a group coached by me is extreme effort.”
Josh Blackwell is one member of that group. He’s a redshirt junior cornerback, He adds another perspective.
“Coach Hampton . . . . brings a lot more technical coaching. He’s very hands on with us. I like the guy a lot. He’s very smart, very tangible. He’s instilling what a cornerback can be be, both in the ACC and at the next level.”
Hampton accepts the praise.
“That’s what you are first as a coach, you’ve got to be able to teach, to make the complex simple. I think I have a gift of doing that, hopefully. These guys are smart, being at Duke University, and they catch on quick and adapt. They’ve taken to the coaching and the teaching. They’re quick learners.”
Hampton adds that he and Guerrieri are meshing seamlessly.
“It’s been awesome. . . We kind of hit it off. That’s part of the reason I came [to Duke], to work with him.”
Hampton confirmed that Mark Gilbert is practicing at a high level, as if he had never been injured. Blackwell and Leonard Johnson also have starting experience at corner and Jeremiah Lewis played a lot as a redshirt freshman last season. But Hampton added the names of redshirt freshman Tony Davis and redshirt sophomore Ken Torain as two others who are making a case for seeing the field.
So lots of pupils for a gifted pupil. Exams hopefully starting in a few weeks.