Taking direct responsibility for the Western Carolina University football program’s defensive unit could be fairly described as one of the toughest Division I assistant football assignments in the nation. Shawn Quinn views it as a chance to do something special. Hired in January as WCU’s defensive coordinator, Quinn now oversees a unit that has ranked among the Football Championship Subdivision’s worst in recent years while contributing significantly to WCU’s 22-game losing streak in Southern Conference play.
“I think it’s a great opportunity,” Quinn said after he and running backs coach De’Rail Sims joined the staff of Mark Speir MAED ’95. “With a new athletic director (Randy Eaton, hired in December 2011), a new chancellor (David Belcher took over in the summer of 2011) and coach Speir (hired in December 2011), I believe I’m hitching my wagon at the right time. The way I look at it, we have nowhere to go but up.”
The last three seasons, WCU has ranked among the 10 most generous FCS units in both scoring and total defense. Speir’s first WCU squad did allow nearly five fewer points a game (40.82 in 2012, 45.64 in 2011) under defensive coordinator Curtis Walker, who left to become Catawba College’s head coach. But the 2012 Cats yielded almost five more yards a game than the 2011 squad (514.36 in 2012, 509.64 in 2011) and ranked 119th out of 121 teams nationally in total defense.
“Defensively, we have statistically not been very good for years,” Speir said. “And we’re going to have a lot of youth on that side of the ball, but that’s what excites (Coach Quinn) and me is we do have youth to go build a defense that we both want to build. The fact that there’s youth and the statistical history make this very tough. But like I said with this job as a whole, with great challenges come great rewards.”
Quinn has some familiarity with Southern Conference success after spending the 2010-11 seasons as linebackers coach and recruiting coordinator at Georgia Southern University, which has returned to national prominence in recent years. He also knows a little something about turning around bad defenses.
When he became Charleston Southern University’s defensive coordinator last year, the Buccaneers ranked 116th and 112th nationally in scoring and total defense. In his only season before head coach Jay Mills retired, Quinn helped the Bucs become 88 yards and nearly 12 points stingier per game as they rose to 70th in points allowed and 47th in total defense. During his first year at Georgia Southern, the Eagles went from 67th in total defense to ninth.
He said WCU can also turn things around, though he didn’t want to put a timetable on how quickly the Cats will improve their defensive numbers. “It’s about getting the kids to play smart with good fundamentals, good technique and recruiting the right athletes,” Quinn said. “Obviously, the schemes will change, and maybe there’s just a different way of looking at things or teaching something,” he said. “And (I’m) another guy to come in here and reinforce coach’s expectations. Sometimes when you come into a situation and you’ve had success at other places, it adds credibility with the kids.”
Reprinted in edited format with permission of the Asheville Citizen-Times.