Gibbs’ optimism, simplified scheme sparks defensive turnaround


The Cougars lead the nation in turnover margin. | Justin Tijerina/The Daily Cougar

Head coach Tony Levine was looking for simplicity and positivity in a new defensive coordinator this offseason — two things that aren’t common in defensive coaches.

Levine found both in David Gibbs.

Since his January arrival, Gibbs has been putting those two qualities to work, changing up the defensive scheme and transforming an offense-heavy school into a team with a defense that leads the nation in both takeaways and turnover margin. But it still is not just the defense, in Gibbs’ mind, that has kept UH undefeated in conference play.

“When you are building a defense, it’s a process. You don’t want to set goals too high and have people not reach them, then it’s just the same old, same old,” Gibbs said. “For me, and I tell the players this all the time, our goal is to give the offense a chance to win the game in the fourth quarter.”

Once Gibbs stepped into the position, he simplified and modified his approach to accomplish his goal of allowing the offense to win the game. He used the multiple 4-3 and 3-4 design to disguise looks and cause havoc for opposing offenses.

With Gibbs’ version of the multiple, he is able to create turnovers by tricking the opponent into thinking they have a matchup advantage. Gibbs is able to make offenses believe what he wants them to, allowing him to confuse and ultimately create more turnovers.  The Cougars can run the same blitzes and coverages out of different fronts, which keeps offenses guessing.

This type of defensive simplicity is exactly what Levine was hoping for when he brought in Gibbs.

Levine first came to know Gibbs when a new head coach was brought in to Levine’s alma mater, the University of Minnesota, one year after Levine’s graduation. The new head coach brought along with him a 29-year-old Gibbs, who would become the youngest coordinator in Division 1-A at the time.

In two years, Gibbs helped convert the Golden Gophers’ defense from one that was last in the Big Ten to one ranked eighth nationally in pass efficiency defense and scoring defense.

Levine continued to follow Gibbs’ career long after he left Minnesota, watching him coach defensive backs with the Denver Broncos, then to Auburn, where his defense would lead the SEC in sacks and rank sixth in the NCAA, and finally to Houston. After a stint as the defensive backs coach for the Kansas City Chiefs, Gibbs spent a year coaching for the Houston Texans.

After he left the Texans at the end of the 2010 season, Levine, an assistant coach at the time, finally had the opportunity to work with Gibbs.

Gibbs voluntarily joined the Cougars once per week to watch the defense practice, meet with the defensive staff and watch films.

Once Levine became head coach and realized after one season that a change was needed at defensive coordinator, he looked no further than Gibbs.

“When I interviewed Coach Gibbs, his philosophy, his charisma, his persona was exactly what I was looking for for that position, even more importantly than scheme,” Levine said.

“I wanted someone in this position who was confident, very positive and a good teacher, so I hired Coach Gibbs more or less because of those qualities.”

It was those qualities Levine saw during the interview, and Gibbs’ ability to keep an open mind that has allowed him to create a unique yet simple scheme that has helped build UH’s defense from the ground up.

“Our defensive package is literally like no other nationally because it is a little bit of one thing, it’s a little bit of another thing — it’s got some NFL flavor to it from Coach Gibbs’ nine years there, it’s got some (defensive backs coach) Zac Spavital stuff from his years at Oklahoma, it’s got some (linebackers coach) Vernon Hargreaves stuff from when he was in Miami, it’s got some (defensive line) coach (Ricky) Logo stuff from when he was at Vanderbilt and Troy,” Levine said.

Had the players not bought into this new system like the other defensive coaches, and consequently Gibbs, UH might not currently be sitting as one of the top defenses nationally.

For sophomore defensive back Trevon Stewart, the change in leadership and defensive scheme has been nothing short of great.

“Last year, everything was so complicated. It was hard to pick up on different plays and schemes, and Coach Gibbs just made it so simple,” Stewart said. “There was a negative vibe last year, but now Coach Gibbs has gotten everyone up and in good spirits.”

That good feeling is one shared by Gibbs, whose wife and two kids have fallen in love with Houston after spending the past five years in the Bayou City. For Gibbs, the position as defensive coordinator for UH has been a perfect move.

“It was just the perfect setup for me. I didn’t have to move, I got to be a defensive coordinator and coach a lot of great kids,” Gibbs said. “It was just the perfect match for me.”

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  • A what a great hire. Gibbs has truly turned us around on that side of the ball. I now love watching us on D. What a great job coach Gibbs has done, Go Coogs

  • I knew when I saw that Levine hired Gibbs with his credentials that UH was going to see a better D. The Coogs defensive performance should help him with recruits on that side of the ball. I’m glad to read that he and his wife likes Houston, too.
    And, here’s kudos to another write-up from someone new to me. You guys (and now gal) are killers on the sports columns. You’ll have great resumes if you continue this for a career.

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