Steve Sarkisian is an offensive head coach, but the other side of the ball has been a focal point for Texas entering 2021. New defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski has evidently made an impact on the Longhorns already, and Sarkisian summed up the spring-camp progress Monday afternoon in an interview with ESPN’s College Football Live.
“Well, I think Pete, in his time — what he did at Boise State under (former head coach) Chris Petersen as the defensive coordinator and the success he had there, and then going over to the University of Washington, the success they had there — in my competing against him, he’s always been a thorn in my side, going against him,” Sarkisian said. “I think it’s a very attacking-natured-style defense, especially up front. I think the secondary plays with a ballhawking mentality. And he stresses fundamentals — he stresses technique. And I think that was something that we needed.
“And it’s really shown up this spring. This guy, we practice tackling every day. And this is a contact sport, it’s a physical sport. I think we have to tackle, practice those fundamentals like tackling every day. And PK does that, and I think our staff does that. And that’s where I think we saw a lot of improvement throughout spring practice in that unit.”
Previously at Washington from 2014-20, Kwiatkowski was the defensive coordinator (2014-17). After a two-year stint as the co-defensive coordinator and outside linebackers coach (2018-19), Kwiatkowski moved back to defensive coordinator in 2020 under first-year Huskies head coach Jimmy Lake. Kwiatkowski was Boise State’s defensive line coach (2006-09) and defensive coordinator (2010-13), following Petersen from (2006-13) to Washington (2014-19).
“We’re going to throw a lot at them,” Kwiatkowski said. “There’s going to be a lot of defense and how they react to that. The No. 1 characteristic is toughness. That’s obviously being physical. It’s also having that grit and mental toughness. It’s about how they respond and keep battling and keep grinding.
“It’s not what we start — it’s what we finish. I want to see these guys play with great effort and give their best every day.”
Development was a major factor in Kwiatkowski’s success grooming the Huskies over the years. Sarkisian singled that aspect out Jan. 22 when he introduced his new defensive leader.
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“I think it speaks volumes, one, to the evaluation process first of all, which is going to be critical for us,” Sarkisian said. “It’s not about chasing stars and recruiting for Pete and it won’t be for us. It’s about trusting your own evaluation and seeing the upside that young men have and where they can grow. I think the second thing is when you start talking to PK, and when we first started talking, he kept coming back to fundamentals and technique, fundamentals and technique. That is one of his key components to playing great defense is playing with great fundamentals, playing with great technique and then ultimately cutting it loose and playing fast and physical.”