What Might David Gibbs’ Defense at Texas Tech Look Like?


David Gibbs enters his first spring football session as Texas Tech’s seventh defensive coordinator in the last eight springs (Matt Wallstedt actually coordinated two springs: 2013 and 2014 before being relieved of his duties after three games of the 2014 season.)

When Kliff Kingsbury began in earnest his search for a defensive coordinator, his sights seemed locked on Gibbs. The problem was that Gibbs had been named interim head coach of the Houston Cougars after Tony Levine was fired. And thus, Kingsbury would have to wait to court Gibbs until after he coached Houston in the Armed Forces Bowl in Ft. Worth on January 2, 2015.

Eventually, Kingsbury got the man he wanted for the job despite competition from Gibbs’ alma mater, Colorado, who wanted Gibbs to coordinate their defense as well. The last time most Texas Tech fans cared about Houston Cougar football was when the teams split a home-and-home series in 2009-2010. Gibbs was coaching in the NFL at that time so most Tech fans don’t know what to expect from a Gibb’s defense.

Complete Houston Cougar games are hard to find online, but the Armed Forces bowl is one of the few that we can examine to see just how David Gibbs’ defense operates. But first, we should know what David Gibbs’ credentials are.

Coaching Background

After playing defensive back from 1986 -1990, and being part of the 1990 National Championship team at Colorado, Gibbs became a graduate assistant at Oklahoma, and then went back at Colorado. In 1995, Gibbs was named the secondaries’ coach at Kansas. Shortly after, he followed KU head coach Glenn Mason to Minnesota, where he was named defensive coordinator in 1997.

From Minnesota, Gibbs’ coaching career took off. He coached defensive backs for the Denver Broncos from 2001 – 2004.  After that, he was named the defensive coordinator for Auburn University in 2005, only to return to the NFL coaching defensive backs for the Kansas City Chiefs. In 2009-2010, while Tech and Houston were playing their series, Gibbs was defensive backs coach for the Houston Texans. After the 2010 season, Houston changed defensive staffs and Gibbs spent a year away from coaching. He resurfaced in 2012 as defensive backs coach for the Virginia Destroyers of the United Football League. And then hired as defensive coordinator for the University of Houston in 2013, where he remained until joining the staff at Texas Tech this January.

From his background, fans can infer quite a bit. The first red flag that pops up is how many times he has changed jobs. Obviously, the life of assistant coaches can be a year-to-year proposition, often due to factors beyond the coach’s control. But Gibbs has not stayed in one place long, and that alone should scare Tech fans that have seen seven different coordinators in as many years.

In fact, the man David Gibbs replaces, Matt Wallerstedt, was so aware of the turnover in the Tech defensive coordinator’s chair that he frequently preached to players and TV cameras alike about how he was in Lubbock for the long-term. It is easy to imagine Gibbs using Tech as a stepping-stone job if he has success on the South Plains. This would be a win-lose situation for Tech because it would mean defensive improvement, but if Gibbs does have success at Tech, it would be natural for other schools or the NFL to begin courting him. It is not a reach to see him leaving for a head coaching position at a smaller school, or to be a defensive coordinator at a more high profile university.

The positives of Gibbs’ resume is the fact that he has been in the NFL learning under the best defensive minds in the game (Denver’s defense was ranked No. 1 in the league when Gibbs was on staff.) He also has knowledge of how to recruit high school players, and he has developed connections with high school coaches across the nation, but especially in Houston — a major recruiting battleground for Big 12 and SEC schools.

What does his defense look like?

Since 2010, I have not watched one Houston Cougar football game because…well…it’s Houston Cougar Football, and I care more about the direction in which the blades of grass in my lawn lean than I care about Cougar football. So this analysis will be based off of only one game, the 2015 Armed Forces Bowl against Pittsburgh.

The Panthers were a power running team the likes of which Tech will only see three times next year in Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. However, we can get a picture of how Gibbs might use the players on his new team and what he likes to do on defense. One note that might be of interest: much like Tech has been for numerous years, Houston’s defensive line was much smaller than Pitt’s offensive line. On average, Pitt had a 70 lb. advantage per player, forcing Gibbs into a situation many Tech coordinators have faced in recent years.

Gibbs opened the game in a basic 4-3 defense (4 down-linemen, and 3 linebackers) with one safety walked into the box because Pitt was in an obvious run formation with only two receivers who were lined up tight, and a full back and tight end lined up in the backfield to block.

In the photo, imagine Tech lining up against the run with Robertson and Jackson on the ends, and Fehoko and Keland McElrath at defensive tackle.

In a 4-3 Tech might send senior Micah Awe out at middle-linebacker, flanked by Mike Mitchell, and the red shirt freshman Dakota Allen, or sophomore Sam Atoe. It would make sense to bring Keen0n Ward down into the box to support the run and leave J.J. Gaines as a deep cover safety.

Throughout the game, UH based out of the 4-3 formation, but would not hesitate to go to a 3-4 alignment on passing downs. Much of the time (I’m not a math guy so I didn’t count or do percentages), Gibbs blitzed a linebacker from the 3-4. This could be a place where a player such as Mike Mitchell is turned lose to help get pressure on the quarterback from someone other than Robertson and Jackson.

One interesting note is that against Pitt, a run-first team, Gibbs had a safety in the box on almost every play unless it was a long passing situation. Trevon Stewart, a 5-9, 185 lb. safety seemed to roam the field, lining up in several different places. Often, he was the safety brought into the box, but at times he was on the line in a stand-up position and sometimes he played deep single high coverage. The benefit of a 3-4 defense is to confuse the offense by having multiple players who can blitz or move around the formation. Mike Smith, Tech’s interim DC last year, chose to cause confusion using his linebackers and ends. This could be a difference for Tech this year. Keenan Ward, who is 5-9 and 199 lbs., would be the logical player for Gibbs to put in this role.

Focus on Stewart (who is lined up at the 43-yard-line) for a few plays and see how many different places Gibbs put him; his job on this play is solely pass coverage. And he is easy to spot because he is the player with the long dread-locks coming out of his helmet.

This shot shows Stewart dropped back into man-free coverage in a 3-4 defensive alignment, meaning his job is to be the last line of defense against the pass.

In the next shot, notice that Stewart is lined up in middle of the field on the 44-yard-line singled up in man coverage with the inside slot receiver (who is a tight end).  Gibbs leaves a single safety high in coverage with man coverage everywhere else.

Finally, notice how Gibbs even puts Stewart on the line of scrimmage to support the run.  Below, Stewart is the second player from the bottom of the frame in a stand-up rush position.

The idea of a multiple front defense is the defensive equivalent of offensive coaches saying they want to have a balanced attack.  Almost every team will run a variety of fronts on defense.  However, it is unusual to see a coordinator use a safety to create these different looks.  In most schemes, a linebacker or defensive end is the player who moves around the defense.  If Gibbs uses this same methodology at Tech, look for Keen0n Ward to have a huge season.

Positives from this game:

Against a bigger physical team, Gibbs’ defensive line performed well. They were quick to the ball and often arrived at the ball carrier with more than one player. Another aspect of the defense I like is the multiple fronts. The Cougars switched between the 4-3 and the 3-4 on the majority of plays, often without substituting any linebackers or defensive backs. When Pitt made a big play, it was almost guaranteed that UH would be in a different front on the next play. However, and I think this is because of Pitt’s offense; Gibbs almost always brought one of his safeties into the box. I expect to see this often against Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and even spread teams that run the ball well such as Baylor, and Oklahoma State.

It should also be noted that the team was down 34-14 in the 4th quarter, but didn’t give up and won the game 35-34. The comeback was all offensively driven. The defense hardly saw the field in the final quarter because UH recovered two consecutive on-side kicks. But despite playing a poor game overall, the defense came up with a stop on the final drive (though drops by Pitt players were a huge help to the Cougars).

Gibbs seems like a motivator, and the fact that his team didn’t quit is huge because the 2014 Tech defense often quit when they faced adversity.

Finally, Gibbs blitzed but not as much as every Madden video game player wants their team’s coach to. When he blitzed, it usually came from a safety but there were a few linebacker blitzes as well. I hope he lets linebacker Mike Mitchell loose in pass rushing situations to maximize his athleticism.


In the Armed Forces Bowl, Houston allowed almost double its season total in points, and its defense was dominated by a power five conference foe. This could be due to a deficit in talent, but non-the-less, the defense was Houston’s liability that day.

Another concerning trend in the game was the awful tackling by Houston. Like Tech’s defense last season, Houston defenders (especially the linebackers and safeties) tried to dive at the feet of the ball carrier rather than making a quality form tackle.

Also, the worst unit on the field was the Cougar’s secondary. It must be noted that the field conditions were poor due to rain, but the Cougar defensive backs frequently fell leaving Pitt receivers open, and there were also times when Pitt receivers simply beat the Houston secondary. Remember, passing is not the strength of the Pitt attack, but had they not had a number of drops, Pitt could have easily passed for 300-yards against a team whose interim head coach specialized in coaching defensive backs.

However, bowl games are odd. Red Raider fans need only to remember the 2014 Holiday Bowl as proof that bowl games can be anomalies. But the game is worth studying to get a feel of what Gibbs likes to do on defense, and it appears that he will use his safeties to do much of the heavy lifting.


When Gibbs was hired, Tech fans and many in the Lubbock media were elated with the move. In 2013, his defense was ranked 117th in the nation according to the NCAA’s website. And last year was a miraculous improvement as Houston’s defense climbed to 18th in the nation. In comparison, the 2014 Texas Tech defense was ranked the 124th out of 128 teams in the nation. Houston allowed 19.5 points per game, and Tech allowed 41. Houston allowed 335 total yards per game; 136 per game on the ground. In contrast Texas Tech (warning: before reading this aloud, put your children in another room for their own psychological well-being) allowed 513-yards per game, and 259-yards per game on the ground. Houston also had 19 interceptions, which speaks well of Gibb’s ability to coach the secondary. On the other end of the spectrum, Tech had six interceptions last season.

Some will argue that Tech played in the top offensive league in the nation, and the competition Houston faced skewed its rankings. I find this argument weak. Though Houston played weaker teams than Tech did, Houston also had lesser talent than Tech. So the competition each team faced was on equal footing with the talent each team had. Yes, if Houston played a Big 12 schedule with the players they had, they would have been ranked much lower. However, they also would have likely had better athletes themselves if they were a power five conference team.

What Gibbs was able to do in two years at Houston is impressive.

During this season and the search for a defensive coordinator, I was in the Mike Smith camp. Though the results on the field were not great, when Smith took over the defense looked like they played harder and faster. Most of the yards Tech gave up were in the second half as the team’s lack of depth caught up with them. What I like most about Smith is that he is a Red Raider, and has been for life growing up in Lubbock, and he has turned down multiple NFL offers to stay at Tech. What this defense needs most is consistency. From all accounts, Smith is bright enough to coordinate a defense and he is beloved by his players (I think the Fehoko family would adopt him), so he appears to be at Tech for the long haul. I fear that if Gibbs turns Tech’s defense into a top 40 unit, he will be lured away by a bigger school or will receive a head coaching opportunity, thus creating more turnover with the Tech defense.

Aside from the speculative analysis, I can’t ignore the mind-blowing improvement of 99 places in the rankings Gibbs’ defense at Houston made from year one of his tenure to year two. While I am a Mike Smith fan, Kingsbury wanted Gibbs and he got his man. Here’s to hoping that Gibbs can work for Tech the same magic he worked for the Cougars.