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BLOOMINGTON -- Why, if you're James Patton and you've spent your career coaching on offense, even playing on offense, would you switch to defense?
Why would you leave an Oklahoma powerhouse for Indiana's up-and-coming program?
“My goal is to be a head coach,” Patton said. “This move gives me a great perspective. It gets me out of the comfort zone of coaching offensive football. Change is good.”
Patton is the Hoosiers' new assistant defensive line coach, special teams coordinator and recruiting coordinator. It's a whole new world after spending the previous seven years coaching Oklahoma's offensive line.
“It's a chance to defend offensive schemes,” he said. “Defensive football to me is lining up and knowing where guys need to be, know your keys, get physical and beat the guy in front of you.
“Football is about battles. Somebody will win that battle. Who wins the battles consistently? That's what it's about.”
Patton coached winning battles with Wilson for five years at Oklahoma, where Wilson was the offensive coordinator. Two years ago, when Wilson became Indiana's head coach, he talked with Patton about joining him. Patton declined then. He said yes this time after assistant coach Mark Hagen left for Texas A&M.
“Two years ago there were some things I wanted to get accomplished at Oklahoma. We did.”
Patton also has coached with IU assistant offensive coordinator Kevin Johns at Northwestern, offensive coordinator Seth Littrell at Oklahoma, cornerbacks coach Brandon Shelby at Oklahoma, and played with running backs coach Deland McCullough at Miami of Ohio. Patton was an all-Mid-American Conference tight end at Miami.
“I have a lot of ties to the staff,” he said. “It was a chance to get back in the Big Ten environment.”
Those ties include his wife, Nicole, who was an all-state volleyball player at Homestead High School. She played volleyball at Miami.
“In this profession, it's always been about people, and I've been fortunate to work around great people, great coaches and players,” Patton said. “You get a chance to coach great players and get them to play at a high level. That's why we do this.”
Patton will work with defensive line coach Jon Fabris as well as co-defensive coordinators Mike Ekeler and Doug Mallory. One goal will be to provide them with new ideas in devising ways to shut down offenses.
“It's giving them an offensive perspective on schemes, protections, whatever it is and applying it to defense,” he said.
“Coaching guys up front is my background. There are a lot of similarities (between offense and defense). It's technique. Hand placement. Strike. Power. Then it comes down to playing physical, playing with intensity, getting after it. That's where it starts.”
As far as recruiting, Patton has plenty of Midwest connections as well as in the East Coast and in Texas.
“I still think four to six hours from campus is where you should do well, where you sell the program and get the best players.”
Patton is using winter workouts to learn his players before spring practice begins on March 2. The defensive line must replace standout defensive tackles Larry Black and Adam Replogle.
“Right now they're painting a picture to me,” he said of the returning linemen. “I observe players' behavior.
“I'm seeing how they work and what they do. You never know how guys develop. Guys can surprise you at any time.
“Our defensive linemen have to grow up and get stronger. Let's see what they got. Are they making gains? Will they be a factor in the fall? That's our job as coaches.”