Texas Longhorns: Duane Akina

This week, we’re taking a closer look at the members of the new Texas coaching staff under Charlie Strong. The third part of our two-a-days series focuses on two defensive coaches who followed Strong from Louisville, and what they’ll bring to their respective position groups.

Vance Bedford
Defensive coordinator/secondary

When Duane Akina announced in January that he wasn’t returning for a 14th season at Texas, the response from Longhorns fans and ex-players was understandable disappointment. He was, after all, the coach who helped make Texas “DBU.” Akina, who’s now coaching at Stanford, embraced that tradition like nobody else.

But when it comes to pride and passion for Longhorns defense backs, Bedford might be the perfect successor. He played cornerback at UT from 1977-81 and developed into a starter and a captain.

Get Bedford talking about Texas’ legacy in the secondary and he’ll go full-on historian, even mentioning that he caught up with two former “DBU” members -- Johnnie Johnson and William Graham -- while recruiting their sons at a recent junior day.

“‘DBU’ started with those guys. Raymond Clayborn, Johnnie Johnson, William Graham, Derrick Hatchett, Glenn Blackwood, Ricky Churchman, that’s when it started,” Bedford said. “Fred Akers came here and turned things around, said we’re going to play man-to-man, and almost every guy I played with went to the NFL. Jerry Gray, Mossy Cade, Craig Curry, Fred Acorn, Jitter Fields; the list goes on and on and on.”

Mack Brown and Akina kept it going, producing 14 All-Big 12 defensive backs and 11 who played in the NFL last season. They made sure today’s players knew and respected those DBs who came before them.

Bedford intends to keep that tradition going. This means an awful lot to him.

“We’re not just ‘DBU,’” he said. “We want to make it Linebacker U and D-Line U, whatever it takes to get the best players in the state of Texas to come here and get this program back to the top where it belongs.”

He felt like he’d won the lottery when he found out he was coming home to Texas, and it’s easy to see Bedford is excited about selling and signing the next generation of Texas defensive backs.

“This is the place to live in the state of Texas, just like this university is the best university in this state,” Bedford said. “Why would you not want to live in Austin, Texas, and go to the University of Texas? I just don’t know who would do something else.”

Brian Jean-Mary
Linebackers/recruiting coordinator

Believe it or not, Jean-Mary has more ties to the state of Texas than even he might’ve realized.

He played linebacker at Appalachian State for the legendary Jerry Moore, a Texas native who played at Baylor and was head coach at Texas Tech.

His defensive coordinator there was Ruffin McNeill, who went on to coach at Texas Tech for 10 years before becoming head coach at ECU. Jean-Mary’s position coach when he arrived at App State was George Edwards, who later coached linebackers for the Dallas Cowboys and is now the Vikings’ defensive coordinator.

And his roommate and best friend during those college years? Dexter Coakley, the future three-time Pro Bowler for the Cowboys.

So, yes, he’s picked up some knowledge about this state along the way thanks to those friendships.

“It almost feels like I was born and raised here,” Jean-Mary said.

A self-described college football junkie, Jean-Mary said following Strong and Bedford to Texas was a no-brainer because he understood the magnitude of coming to a program like this one.

He’s proud of what he accomplished in four years at Louisville. Jean-Mary knows he left a program that’s build to succeed in 2014 and beyond. But coaching at Texas -- and staying with Strong -- was too good to turn down.

“At the end of the day, you only get so many opportunities to really coach at a tradition-rich school like this and feel like you can take your next step in your career as an individual coach, but also helping a team take the next step as a program,” he said.

Jean-Mary inherits a group of linebackers that could return every contributor from 2013, though five of those players -- Jordan Hicks, Steve Edmond, Dalton Santos, Tevin Jackson and Timothy Cole -- are recovering from injuries. He likes this group’s potential and depth once everyone gets healthy, and his expectations are simple.

“We all come from the same school of defense: We want to have smart, tough and dependable guys,” Jean-Mary said. “We’re not going to be too complex, but we do want to have guys who can handle different situations.”

And whatever situations Jean-Mary finds himself in at Texas, he’s glad he has more than few Texans he can call for advice.
AUSTIN, Texas -- Duane Akina, the longtime Texas defensive backs coach and caretaker of “DBU,” will not be retained on new coach Charlie Strong’s staff, a source has confirmed.

Akina had coached the Longhorns secondary for nearly 13 years but acknowledged his tenure at Texas is over on Friday in a series of posts on his Twitter account.

Akina came to Texas in 2001 and in in his time in Austin coached 11 current NFL defensive backs, two Thorpe Award winners and 14 first-team All-Big 12 selections.

Akina briefly left in January 2011 for Arizona and returned to coach the unit again for the 2011 season. He had served as assistant head coach under Mack Brown since 2008.

His departure was not a major surprise, considering expected defensive coordinator Vance Bedford coached the secondary at Louisville, but the news that Akina is leaving elicited a strong reaction on Friday from his former players.

Texas has not lost any verbal commitments over the news that Akina is leaving, but two commits said they were stunned by the news.

Three-star safety Jason Hall (Grand Prairie, Texas/South Grand Prairie) said he’s still solid in his pledge but was disappointed to learn he won’t get to play for Akina next season.

“It’s a tragic loss for Texas, the one who built ‘DBU’ where it’s at right now,” Hall said, “but I’m pretty sure Coach Strong has his logical reasons to not rehire Coach Akina.”

Jalen Campbell, a cornerback in Texas’ 2015 class from Corpus Christi (Texas) Flour Bluff, has been committed since last March and said the prospect of continuing the "DBU" tradition at Texas under Akina was a big reason why he chose Texas.

“It was surprised and I’m still kind of shocked a little bit,” Campbell said. “Nobody really knew if he was going to stay there or get kept or not. I liked him a lot, he’s real fun. Even when I went for sophomore day, he was yelling and screaming and stuff. It was exciting to see a DB coach with that much passion.”

Beford has yet to be announced as Texas' defensive coordinator but is officially listed in the UT directory. Incoming strength coach Pat Moorer and linebackers coach Brian Jean-Mary have also been added to the directory.

Best Big 12 recruiters 

October, 15, 2013

Editor's note: For a look at the national recruiter power rankings based only on Class of 2014 success, click here.

The best college football coaches will tell you that when it comes to recruiting, their business is an art. It’s a craft you must perfect if you want to have the best players commit and ultimately sign. Recruiting isn’t for everybody, but those who are good at it -- particularly for building the 2014 class -- should be recognized, as the business is extremely competitive.

Here are 10 of the top recruiters from the Big 12.

Texas lands versatile 4-star DB Bonney 

September, 5, 2013
It has been a long, winding recruiting process for four-star safety John Bonney (Houston/Lamar).

With 32 offers and an effort to visit as many of those schools as he possibly could, Bonney and his family have put in much time and effort in vetting the potential options, virtually all of them good ones.

In the end, it came down to some long-held feelings, as Bonney chose his childhood favorite and committed to Texas on Thursday night.

The 6-foot, 182-pound Bonney, the nation's 21st-ranked safety, is the 24th commitment in the Longhorns' 2014 recruiting class.

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AUSTIN, Texas -- The talent on Texas’ roster is supposed to be on par with Alabama.


[+] EnlargeMack Brown
Cal Sport Media/AP ImagesTexas coach Mack Brown and his staff have some things to prove this fall.
Both schools have a total of 57 players on their 2013 rosters who earned four-star ratings from ESPN as recruits.

Thanks in large part to its recent No. 1-ranked class, Alabama has 40 players who received ESPN 150 honors in high school. Texas has 35.

Perhaps that gives some perspective on just what the Longhorns' coaching staff is working with entering this season. The cupboard is indeed stocked full.

The depth chart Texas is expected to release on Monday morning will be stuffed with experienced talent, most of whom were big-name recruits.

The coaching staff Mack Brown revamped after 2010 is entering its third season together. This group is responsible for recruiting more than 70 percent of the current 85-man roster, if we include the 2011 class those new coaches kept intact after arriving in Austin.

Make no mistake: These are the kids Brown and his staff wanted, the kids who were brought in to turn this program around.

They’ve brought together all the ingredients, but the recipe keeps changing. What exactly are Brown and his coaches cooking up for 2013?

We’ll find out soon, but having that talent base in place has Texas fans dreaming of a Big 12 championship and a trip to the Fiesta Bowl -- or better. Brown has said all summer that this program is about to be real good again and go on a championship run. Now, it’s on his staff to deliver.

Their coaching could mean the difference between that conference title and another 9-win season. They’re working with essentially the same talent they had last season, losing only four major contributors from 2012. How much more can they get out of this group?

After two seasons of ups and downs, each of Brown’s assistants has something to prove. Major Applewhite is entering his first season as play-caller. Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz wouldn’t be back if many UT fans had their druthers. Even the revered Duane Akina has problems to solve with his safeties.

But this is the staff Brown hand-picked, and he’s praised the fact that, with the exception of Bryan Harsin’s departure, there is strong continuity in having nine of the same coaches working together for a third year.

“I think the coaches that came in two years ago understand Texas better now than they did two years ago,” Brown said at the start of fall camp. “It's a different place. It's a unique place.”

The expectations they must navigate through are high, sometimes unfairly so. If Texas, with its 19 returning starters and its best depth in years, isn’t great, the finger-pointing will start with the coaches. Especially if, for the third year in a row, they’re badly outcoached by Bob Stoops and Oklahoma.

That’s the burden of the job, especially in a season when Texas’ roster looks so good on paper and the rest of the Big 12 isn’t looking all that scary.

That Texas was voted the preseason No. 4 team by conference media says plenty about what the rest of the league thinks of the Longhorns. Yeah, sure, UT a loaded roster. So what? They always have that. What are they going to do with it?

That ranking doesn’t mean a thing one week from now, but still, the implicit message was clear. Texas isn’t the preseason league favorite because too many folks don’t believe it will be better coached than Oklahoma State, Oklahoma or TCU -- no matter how many games those teams combined to lose (14) in 2012 or how much talent Brown has on campus.

Five days from now, Brown, his coaches and all his once-touted players begin a season that could drastically change those perceptions.

“As I've said before,” Brown said, “we have to shut up and play, shut up and coach.”
AUSTIN, Texas -- One year ago, Adrian Phillips had a bum shoulder. Now he has a chip on his shoulder.

Much was expected of the Texas free safety as a junior, and in hindsight that might’ve been unfair. Now that he’s a senior, he has only one chance to make up for a season that was a disappointment.

“I really had to go deep inside myself,” Phillips said, “and say, ‘Look, forget everything that has happened. Only look ahead.’”

[+] EnlargeAdrian Phillips
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesDespite struggling with a shoulder injury from the outset, Texas safety Adrian Phillips still finished third on the team in tackles.
Look back, though, and it’s easy to see this wasn’t entirely his fault. Phillips missed spring practices and fall camp last year while recovering from shoulder surgery that was supposed to sideline him up to six months. So yes, when he was thrust right back into the starting lineup for Texas’ opener against Wyoming, he was playing hurt.

He downplayed the pain early last season, perhaps because Phillips had exceedingly high expectations for himself. This was the year he planned to make a name for himself, to win awards and make All-Big 12 teams and prove he’s one of the next great members of “DBU.”

There was only one problem, and a rather glaring one: Tackling. Missing the hard-hitting days of fall practice proved more problematic than he’d anticipated.

Phillips unwittingly became somewhat of a whipping boy for a Texas secondary that struggled far too often to make stops in the open field. And he couldn’t fathom why.

“You can watch film from my freshman year of me hitting bigger guys than I’ve ever hit before and taking them to the ground. That’s why it was hard for me to understand,” Phillips said. “Everybody knew I wasn’t that player. The fact I was playing that way, they couldn’t figure out what was wrong.

“I couldn’t figure out what was wrong. If I knew, I would’ve fixed it.”

Texas secondary coach Duane Akina searched for solutions and tried starting Josh Turner and Mykkele Thompson at free safety, but Akins didn’t give up on Phillips either.

The dissatisfying season did end on a good note, with interceptions in Texas’ final two regular season games. Phillips still finished third on the team in tackles with 72.

“What turned it around for me was, I just went back to the basics,” he said. “Make contact, run your feet, wrap up. Don’t worry about trying to do too much or trying to get on a highlight tape. Just make contact, run your feet, wrap up.”

He did his best to not let the criticism from Longhorns fans get to him, but there’s no doubt the trials shook his confidence at times. When you’ve come this far yet have no answer for what’s wrong with your game, that’s only natural.

“If you doubt yourself, that’s when problems happen,” Phillips said. “Of course, when you hear that criticism it’ll make you mad, but you never want to use that as doubt. Once you do that, you’re going to lose from the start. You remember what happened and make it better for the next year.”

Akina didn’t need to tell the members of his secondary that their play wasn’t up to the “DBU” standard. The ups and downs of 2012 were motivation enough.

“No matter if you’re coming off a great season or a horrible season, it’s never going to be good enough,” Phillips said. “Coach Akina always wants to raise the bar. That’s why he’s the best coach in America right now.”

Phillips is raising his own expectations too. He says he’s now 100 percent healthy for the first time in a long time, and a full workload in spring practices and summer lifting undoubtedly helped.

He’s grateful his teammates had his back last season when he struggled, and he’s especially appreciative that Akina still believes he can emerge as a top-flight safety. He’s ready to reward his coach’s faith.

“He stayed on our side,” Philips said. “A lot of credit goes to him, because he helped us in our time of need. We are going to get that changed this year."
With 32 offers, four-star prospect John Bonney (Houston/Lamar) is one of the most sought-after safeties in the country. But Texas and Baylor have long been rumored as the teams to beat.

Some have said the Bears, especially lately, have crept into "favorite" position with the No. 21 safety in the country. Bonney, however, said that is not the case.

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Video: Duane Akina wired during practice

April, 26, 2013
The best of Texas defensive backs coach Duane Akina wired during spring practice.

S Adams bonding with Texas commits 

April, 2, 2013
AUSTIN, Texas -- The leaders of Texas’ 2014 recruiting class are a determined group. When they put a fellow recruit in their crosshairs, he’s in for a whole lot of love and attention.

For months now, Jamal Adams has been the target. The ESPN Watch List safety from Lewisville (Texas) Hebron is still constantly hearing from UT commits Jerrod Heard, Lorenzo Joe, Demetrius Knox and Daniel Gresham.

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ESPN Watch List safety John Bonney hasn't had a break since football two-a-days started last August, and he likely isn't getting one in the near future.

First, Bonney went through football season and helped his Houston Lamar teammates on a magical 16-week run to the Texas Class 5A Division I state championship game. Then he quickly shifted to the hardwood, where he played basketball for the Redskins. And now, Bonney is busy on the track, sprinting with his teammates -- several of whom also played football with him.

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2014 safety Bonney on Texas junior day 

February, 10, 2013
Houston Lamar safety John Bonney's trip to Texas for its first junior day of the year started out well.

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2014 S Bonney talks offers, junior days 

January, 14, 2013
The fall was quite busy for 2014 safety John Bonney (Houston/Lamar), who was part of a long, prosperous playoff run with his Redskins teammates all the way to the Texas Class 5A Division I state championship game.

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The Longhorns took a step toward replacing the potential loss of both starting defensive ends in 2012 with the commitment of 2014 edge rusher Derick Roberson (San Antonio/Brennan).

Roberson wasted little time accepting the offer when it came Thursday night.

“I came home from jogging and my dad handed me the phone and said it was coach [Duane] Akina from UT,” Roberson said. “He told me they offered and that they wanted me to come to school. I committed right away.”

Roberson is the first defensive end commitment in 2014. He could be in line to help replace senior Alex Okafor and junior Jackson Jeffcoat, who could forego his senior season for the NFL Draft.

He is the second commitment of Texas’ class of 2014. Athlete Lorenzo Joe (Abilene, Texas/Cooper) was the first to pledge in what became a banner day for a program that unexpectedly shifted the way it went about offering juniors.

Normally the Longhorns wait until after signing day in February to have prospects come to a junior day before it offers. But that changed today with HornsNation confirming that at least 19 recruits from 2014 have been offered.

That included an overjoyed Roberson, who has liked the Longhorns all his life despite only living in Texas for less than a year.

Both of his parents are in the military and they moved from Las Vegas to San Antonio during the 2011-2012 school year. San Antonio has one of the largest populations of Air Force members in the nation with Lackland Air Force Base.

“I’ve always wanted to go to UT,” Roberson said. “They have always been my top option. I just like Texas. I have been looking at Texas ever since I was a little kid.”

Roberson didn’t garner much attention while playing in Las Vegas. But that all changed when he came to Brennan and tormented offenses to the tune of 105 tackles, 31 tackles-for-loss, nine sacks and one interception. The 6-foot-4, 220-pounder claims to run a 4.7 40-yard dash.

He made enough of a name for himself with his performance at one of Texas’ two June camps for Texas to become his first offer. He was also able to develop a bond with Longhorns defensive ends coach Oscar Giles.

“He just told me how he could show me some stuff that I could take down to Brennan and that I could be an all-star,” he said.

The offer came as a complete surprise.

“I didn’t see them coming,” he said. “I don’t know why I went ahead and committed today. I just wanted that offer and wanted the guaranteed scholarship.”
The Longhorns haven’t always been on Brandon Simmons' radar. But they are now after the 2014 defensive back from Mansfield (Texas) Timberview took an unofficial visit to Texas on Tuesday.

“It went real well. I liked it a lot,” he said. “The facilities were real impressive and I enjoyed myself.”

Simmons made the three-hour trip south with 2014 safety Ed Paris of Timberview. The two, who make up one of the best secondaries in the state, were approved for offers by the Longhorns coaches.

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DE Taylor checks in; no offer yet 

April, 4, 2012
Defensive tackle Vincent Taylor (San Antonio/Madison) was able to chat with his Texas recruiter, Duane Akina, on the phone Tuesday night. As expected, he did not receive an offer.

Taylor said the conversation went well and Akina reiterated Texas’ interest in sending coaches to one of Madison’s spring practices later this month.

There was some speculation that Tuesday’s call might be the big one that made Taylor a Longhorn, it was actually just a much-needed chance for him to catch up with UT coaches.

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Texas Longhorns Show Out On Pro Day
The Texas Longhorns produced several eligible NFL Draft athletes who participated in Pro Day Tuesday afternoon in Austin, Texas.