Stop Talking About Ryan Walters
I get it. He's great! He's built an amazing defense! You're worried about what happens when he leaves! But can we maybe stop talking about the Secretary Of Defense and start talking about the troops? Schwarzkopf came up with a great plan for Operation Desert Storm, but even he would credit the troops and their training, not the plan.
This one will be short and sweet. I have about 45 minutes here. So I can't do my normal "make sure you know what I'm saying" thing. But this one has been building since Thursday night, and I want to talk about it.
First off, know that your experience is not my own. You might read the headline here and say "who is talking about Ryan Walters?". Usually, when I do this, I'm talking about my Twitter mentions. You don't know you're being repetitive when you tweet @ me, but this is my experience on Twitter right now:
So our experiences are not the same. I'm full on "I GET IT, EVERYONE" while you're not even aware that this is going on. But the fanbase right now - especially Illini Twitter - has, in my view, gone off the Walters deep end.
(And, again, that part I get. He's awesome! He won't be here forever because he's destined for great things! We're lucky to have him! But even he has probably reached "I GET IT, EVERYONE" status.)
Let me just make a list. That's always the best way to keep myself to 45 minutes.
1. If you sat down with him right now, I guarantee he would tell you "it's these players, not me."
Yes, that's something every coach feels like he has to say. But I've spoken with him enough to know this to be true: he wants the focus on these players. It's possible he inherited 7-8 NFL defenders, and he's reaping the benefits of their outstanding play right now.
Sure, that's the humble view and you hear him say that and do the giant fake wink while saying "SURRREEEE it's all on the players", but since the beginning of time there have been great coordinators with awful defenses because they just didn't have the talent. He has the talent. And that's the main thing making this defense great right now.
2. I'm not joking when I say 7-8 NFL defenders.
Three starters from last year were on NFL active rosters last week (Tony Adams with the Jets, Rod Perry with the Browns, and Kerby Joseph with the Lions). Four players on the current roster seem like absolute locks to make NFL rosters some day (Johnny Newton, Keith Randolph, Devon Witherspoon, and Quan Martin). And there are underclassmen (sophomore Seth Coleman, freshman Gabe Jacas, freshman Matthew Bailey) who have shown early NFL promise.
My point: it's possible we look back at the 2021 and 2022 defenses in a few years and simply say one thing: "man, what a collection of talent - 9 of the 11 starters from 2021 are on NFL rosters right now".
This is not to say that it's 100% players and 0% scheme. I'm simply saying that my mentions are 98% Walters and 2% players. I believe we should be talking about the players more than the defensive coordinator.
3. Bret Bielema is the head coach and Terrance Jamison is the DL coach and Kevin Kane is the OLB coach and Andy Buh is the linebacker coach and Aaron Henry is the CB coach.
I'll say it again. Walters is awesome. The defensive improvement from 2020 to 2022 is incredible. But he's not the ~only~ reason this defense has been great.
There's also a head coach who seems to know what he's doing in building a Big Ten program. And there's an associate head coach who coaches the outside linebackers and has a big say in the defensive game-planning. The DL coach, the LB coach, and the CB coach are all part of that as well.
Which gets me to my overall point: we should be talking about ~all of these things~, not just Ryan Walters. For whatever reason, this whole thing has been built up into "if he leaves we're in trouble", and I don't see it that way. On the "if he leaves we're in trouble" scale, the players are always in front of the coaches.
Let me say that again because you were already formulating your response for the comments and you missed it.
On the "if he leaves we're in trouble" scale, in my book, it goes players, then coaches. Great players are harder to replace than great coaches. People do not think this is the case because of recruiting - when you recruit well for your scheme (like Wisconsin or Iowa), you have replacement players ready to go and there's rarely a dropoff - but as an Illini fan, I can tell you that the same defensive scheme can look overwhelmingly different one year to the next simply because key players left.
Yes, you have to have it all. Great players running a great scheme called by someone who knows what he's doing. It's very obvious that Ryan Walters knows what he's doing. But the first two things are being ignored (at least in my mentions). This is a solid scheme (tweaked by Walters and all of the defensive assistants) with some incredible players. In my opinion we should be talking about them more than Walters.
Time is up and my wife is waiting for me so the other 13 paragraphs in my head will go unwritten. Re-reading this, maybe I should change the title to "stop talking ONLY about Ryan Walters."
No time to change it. Gotta go.