New defensive coordinator Orlando stares down the Gibbs precedent

Todd Orlando has a lot on his to-do list — he’s tasked with building an elite defense and is a big part of the Cougars recruiting blitz that begins Thursday — but just moving to Houston has been his toughest transition.

For the Cougars’ only coach without previous work experience in the Lone Star State, adjusting to a new city with his family has been tougher than the football related activities.

“Finding at where the laundromat is, finding out how to get to the airport, finding out when my wife’s going to be up here and where we’re going to move… That’s always the hardest transition,” Orlando said while the new coaching staff met with the Houston media for the first time on Wednesday.

Fortunately for the Cougars’ new defensive coordinator, as he gets more comfortable with the Bayou City he’ll be able to turn more attention to football in the coming days.

Now that the NCAA’s mandated two-week dead period has ceased, the entire staff will focus on recruiting, where he will help search for players to successfully bring his aggressive style to UH. One that has been successful in his stops at Utah State University, University of Connecticut and Florida International University.

However, he’ll have big shoes to fill.

Orlando is replacing former coordinator David Gibbs, who spurned UH’s advances and accepted the same position at Texas Tech University.

Before Gibbs arrival in 2012, the Cougars were one of the worst defenses in the country by almost every statistical measure. In two seasons, Gibbs produced two squads that finished the season in the top 20 in scoring defense.

He helped create a mentality that led the Cougars to 73 turnovers in two seasons. Gibbs also served as the Cougars’ interim coach during a 35-34 victory over the University of Pittsburgh in the Armed Forces Bowl.

But new head coach Tom Herman doesn’t believe there will be any added pressure on Orlando to pick up where Gibbs left off.

“This is a new beginning. There is no replacing. There is no added pressure because of it. There’s just a defensive staff going to work everyday trying to get these guys better,” Herman said.

The two gelled over Herman’s core values, which included a mandate to play tough mentally and physically and have great conditioning to win games in the fourth quarter. For Orlando, a native of gritty Pittsburgh, Herman’s vision meshed with his.

Familiarity with the fertile recruiting grounds that surround Houston was important to Herman when building a staff, but Orlando’s ability to do more with less helped secure his spot.

“To be able to put up the kind of numbers he put up at Utah State was very, very impressive knowing that he’s not doing it with 5-star guys — the development of his players and his scheme allowed that,” Herman said.

Given Orlando’s history, Herman believes Orlando will succeed at UH. Since 2007, Orlando has piloted five defensive units that have ranked in the top 25 of scoring defense.

And during his two years at Utah State, his defensive squads have ranked No. 7 and No. 12, respectively. The two squads accrued 83 sacks, including 49 in 2014.

“I like to be aggressive,” Orlando said. “Offensively nowadays these guys are so creative… My biggest deal is, when people go into an offensive staff room, I don’t want 60 ideas or five guys that have 10 plays each that can beat us. I want to eliminate plays by being aggressive.”

Though he doesn’t know if his squad will continue to be known as the Third Ward Defense, Orlando is sure what brand of defense he expects fans to see next season.

“Number one is being disciplined, do things the right way, be accountable going into it. And put a big smile on your face when you’re coming up into the offices and enjoy learning,” he said.

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