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2011 Official Kentucky Football Yearbook sneak peek: Inside the Mind of Minter

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Wherever Rick Minter has coached, whether it was at Notre Dame, Cincinnati, South Carolina or Marshall, his teams have had a penchant for forcing turnovers and negative-yardage plays. (photo by Chet White, UK Athletics) Wherever Rick Minter has coached, whether it was at Notre Dame, Cincinnati, South Carolina or Marshall, his teams have had a penchant for forcing turnovers and negative-yardage plays. (photo by Chet White, UK Athletics)
The following feature appears in the 2011 Official Kentucky Football Yearbook. To read all the content inside the 128-page yearbook, you can purchase it online here or find one at your local Kentucky Kroger, Fan Outfitters and other select retail locations. The yearbook is $10.  
 
When Rick Minter sits down to talk defense with you, he sits down to teach you.

He closes the door, stacks a few papers and turns his full attention to you. What's supposed to be a crash course into a new, cutting edge defensive philosophy turns into an old school, no-nonsense one-hour classroom.

If time allowed -- specifically, if it was after hours when everyone else leaves Minter at the Nutter Training Facility to burn the midnight oil and live the game -- he'd talk more and perhaps diagram a few plays. But there is only so much time you have with Minter before he goes back to crafting his defense.

So you sit back and pay close attention. Minter, weathered by time and 12 previous college coaching stops, looks like a man nearing the end of his football life. His words, however, have never sounded stronger and his passion is as evident as it was in the 1990s when he, as the head coach at Cincinnati, guided an irrelevant and broken-down program to its first bowl appearance in 47 seasons.

"I'm like a professor with the way I coach football, maybe too much so," Minter confesses. "But I believe knowledge is power and knowledge is confidence. Assuming all other things are equal, the smarter team has the best chance of winning."

Minter's fever for the game was one of the main reasons head coach Joker Phillips decided to go after Minter following the 2010 season.

Despite some local perceptions, the defense under Steve Brown has been pretty good. In his four years as the lone defensive coordinator, UK's total yardage allowed improved from 118th in the nation in 2006 (the year before Brown took over) to 45th last year.

But Phillips wants to take the defense even further. He doesn't just want a top 50 defense anymore; he wants a top 20.

As a former assistant coach under Minter at Cincinnati and longtime friend, Phillips kept in contact with his mentor and knew what he was capable of. When Phillips saw what Minter did last year at Indiana State as a linebackers coach and his two seasons as defensive coordinator at Marshall (2008-09), Phillips viewed the decision to split the coordinator position into two co-coordinator roles as an opportunity to take the next step and make the defense even better.

"Rick is all ball," Phillips said. "He doesn't go home at night. He stays here and does football. That's what he does."

It wasn't a hard sales pitch to lure Minter from Indiana State, but there was the delicacy of having two coordinators, the power of which would be in Minter's hands.

"I'm sure it was a little tough on Steve," Phillips said. "It's just a decision I decided to go with. One thing I wanted was more minus-yard plays and turnovers."

And that's one thing Minter certainly brings to the table. Indiana State had a 2-54 record in the previous five years before his arrival, but Minter's defensive unit, in leading the Sycamores to a 6-5 mark, led the conference in interceptions and ranked second in takeaways in 2010. In Minter's first season at Marshall, the Thundering Herd doubled its turnover rate.

"When we send our kids out on the field, the No. 1 thing we want to do is go get the ball," Minter says. "We want to be a better takeaway defense."

Schematically, what you learn about Minter's defense during the teaching session is that it's as much of a reflection of him as anything. Experienced by time and coaching stops like Notre Dame and South Carolina, among many others, Minter has taken the best of what he's learned in his 30-plus years of collegiate coaching and applied it to his multiple-look defense.
 
While everyone will try to pinpoint exactly what his defense will look like this fall -- is it a 3-4, a 4-3 or a 4-2-5? -- Minter will tell you its base is a hybrid and its strength is its adaptability.
The way Minter sees it, it's up to the defense to adapt to the offenses and gimmicks of modern day college football. That means adjusting from week to week and snap to snap.

Take, for instance, last season. On one weekend, UK had to face the spread option attack of a team like Auburn. The next week it had to deal with the power and speed of South Carolina.

"Offenses today have such a great pizzazz and flavor to them that you must be adjustable on defense," Minter says. "You find great 'backs, you find great receivers, quick O-lines, fast-tempo teams and slow-tempo teams. All we are trying to do is put our guys in position to match up no matter what they see. We will have a plan that will be successful against any of those styles of play."

But Minter also wants to impose the same type of changes on the offenses. Instead of just adjusting, Minter wants his defense to be the aggressor. From a fan's perspective, you'll see more blitzes, more chaos and a lot more speed this fall, but there is also a lot the naked eye won't see.

Minter says they might line up to show blitz only to drop back eight in coverage. Sometimes there will be four guys with their hands in the grass. Other times there will be two linebackers and five defensive backs with three down linemen. Minter didn't even rule out the possibility of a 3-3-5.

The idea is to create confusion. Going back to Minter's initial teaching point, knowledge is power, and he wants his team to be the one that knows what's going on.

"The way you do that is put the most amount of doubt, the most amount of confusion into the opposing offense," Minter says. "If they can look over there and know exactly what we're doing, then we have no advantage. It then gets down to talent and how much you want it. But if the quarterback has an ounce of confusion in his mind, we've gained a little bit of an edge."

When Minter initially took the job in December and watched film of the pieces he would have to put together, he saw a defense capable of making the transition.

Senior Winston Guy will move from safety to a hybrid linebacker this fall as a part of Rick Minter's new defense. Senior Winston Guy will move from safety to a hybrid linebacker this fall as a part of Rick Minter's new defense. (photo by Chet White, UK Athletics)
There were a few changes that needed to be made to utilize different strengths, and Minter made those this spring. He moved safety Winston Guy closer to the line of scrimmage as a hybrid linebacker, changed cornerback Martavius Neloms to safety, and prepared linebacker Ridge Wilson to play both standing up and with his hand on the ground as a pass rusher.

Minter used the winter bowl practices at the BBVA Compass Bowl in Birmingham, Ala., to give the players an initial taste of the new defense and then went to work this spring installing the base packages. If Minter were constructing a building, this spring's installation process would be like setting the foundation.

Initially, not everyone was willing to grab a new shovel.

"When you come in and install something new, it's somewhat like marrying into a family of kids," Minter says. "They're all teenagers and they're about to leave the house. How do they adapt to the new old man around? With so many seniors on defense, it's both opportunistic for them and challenging at the same time."

Minter sold the veterans on preparing and challenging themselves for the next level. If they aspire to play in the NFL, they have to learn a new playbook anyways, Minter viewed it.

"Let's just move that up a year and put yourself to the test," Minter told his players. "Let's challenge ourselves. Let's reinvigorate ourselves. Let's get excited about doing something new and perhaps a little more aggressive in some areas and see how you respond."

The change has worked so far. While Minter spotted plenty of mistakes in the spring's Blue/White Game, he says they're on schedule with the installation process. They're playing faster, creating more turnovers and cutting down on missed tackles, not to mention players like Guy have emerged as leaders.

In explaining the new defense, you begin to realize the changes Minter is implementing are more than just schematics; they are as much about attitude and belief as they are about the base defense.  

"The thing I was looking for was toughness and discipline, and that's what Rick brings," Phillips said. "We needed a guy that would coach toughness and would coach discipline. Rick was the perfect choice."

From the time Minter closed the door, turned his chair and started talking, it was clear he is a straight shooter. As old school as Vince Lombardi and Paul "Bear" Bryant, he doesn't dance around how he feels or what he thinks.

"I won't 'BS' them and I won't blow smoke," Minter says. "I'm very straightforward and very honest."

Football is his life and his life is football, so he preaches his teachings like it's the gospel.

"Some of them had a hard time with it," Phillips said in referencing the rude awakening guys like Neloms and Guy experienced when Minter was holding practices over by 20 minutes in Birmingham. "I had to make sure those guys understood that this is what we're going to do. He has my blessing and support. You can buy into it or you'll be watching on the sideline."

Minter doesn't apologize for his intensity and ferocity for the game. As he explains, he's trying to do what is in the best interest of the players and the program.

"We're living right now in some of the better years in UK football," Minter says. "It wasn't that everything was broken, but I'm trying to take the program to an even higher level. That's what everybody has to understand. While it might not have been broken, it has to be what your standard is. If you begin to be known as a 6-6 team, guess what? You'll be a
6-6 team. What's wrong with winning a championship or at least saying this is what we're going to do?"

And that's Minter's lesson plan for the day. While he can lecture football, pick apart a defense and instill his wisdom as well as any head coach, what he's trying to sell -- and what he's trying to teach -- is that Kentucky is capable of taking the next step with him.

His philosophy is playing smart football and his mode of attack is a hybrid, adaptable base, but at the end of the day, he has one goal for the Kentucky football program. 

"When people start talking about the University of Kentucky from this day forward," Minter says, "the first thing I want to hear come out of their mouth is, 'My god, what a great defense they have.' "

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