Corwin Brown ready to transform Notre Dame’s D
It’s less than 90 miles from Julian High School, just off Interstate 94, to the campus of Notre Dame, which sits within shouting distance of the Indiana Toll Road.
Rather than wend his way through Gary, Portage and LaPorte, Corwin Brown took the scenic route. He came to Notre Dame not from Julian, but from the New York Jets, where he spent the past three seasons as coach of the Jets’ defensive backs.
Brown and Fighting Irish head coach Charlie Weis got to know each other over a half-dozen years, the first four with the New England Patriots, the past two with the Jets. Those were the first six years of Brown’s eight-season NFL playing career. And while Brown was a safety who also made noise on special teams, and Weis was always coaching on offense, the player made an impression on the coach.
“We go back a ways,” Brown said. “He’s direct, upfront. I learned a lot from him, even though he’s on the other side of the ball. He’s been a mentor.”
“I’m a big fan of Corwin,” Weis said. “I tried to hire him when I first moved here.”
Brown, 37, stayed with the Jets because of family. But the second time Weis called, this time offering the coordinator post, Brown had to consider it.
“It’s Notre Dame for one, and Charlie for two,” Brown said simply. “It’s the opportunity. He didn’t have to sell it. I loved the Jets and had a good time there. But this is Notre Dame.”
That’s from a Michigan man, incidentally. Brown starred at Julian in football and track, and was a four-year letterman at Michigan. Perhaps the best game of his Wolverines career came Sept. 12, 1992, when he made 11 tackles, blocked a field-goal attempt, forced a fumble and deflected a potential game-winning pass. The opponent was Notre Dame, the final score 17-17.
It’s Brown’s job to build a defense that’s buckled in most big games the past several years. The Irish have won 19 games under Weis in two years, more than any two-year period since 1992-93, when Lou Holtz ruled the roost, but are 1-4 against top-10 teams under Weis, the victory a win over Michigan two years ago. And 0-2 records of Weis’ teams against Southern California and in bowls are telling, as are the 85 points the Irish allowed to USC and Louisiana State in the final two games last season.
Exit Rick Minter. Enter Corwin Brown.
“We’re going to hit and run,” Brown said. “We want to play mistake-free football. There’s nothing magic about that. If we’re not where we say we are, we’ll get it right when we look at the tape.
“If we’re not playing well, I’m not happy.”
To get happy, Brown, with Weis’ approval, is switching to a 3-4 defense, which is somewhat unusual for college. Most schools have four down linemen, or at least have a linebacker cheating up so much he may as well be a lineman. A three-linebacker set is also routine, sandwiched between the four linemen and the four-man secondary.
A 3-4 almost taunts the offense to run, and at the same time offers more protection against the pass in two ways: There’s an additional linebacker to go after passes and those who receive them, or that extra man can be used to barrel toward the quarterback from the edge of the line, where most college offenses provide less effective protection than is seen in the NFL.
Brown put it this way: “The 3-4 gives us the flexibility to do different things. But no matter what, you have to tackle. You have to run to the ball. You can’t allow explosive plays.”
All of this is music to the ears of defensive end Trevor Laws, a fifth-year senior.
“It’s a totally different defense,” Laws said. “We’re still putting stuff in, but it seems more aggressive.”
That is precisely the idea. Now comes the difficult job: implementing it.
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