D-Line Zou has got a new caretaker, but first-year Missouri defensive-line coach Brick Haley isn’t daunted by the recent track record of success he’s inherited.
Quite the contrary, he welcomes the challenge of maintaining the Tigers’ pipeline of NFL defensive linemen.
“As a defensive-line coach, to be able to come into a situation where the defensive line has been unbelievable for decades is a challenge that you welcome,” Haley said. “I wouldn’t say it’s a burden, but you feed to that fire and say, ‘Let me see if I can make it be even better. Let me see if I can take it to a different level than it’s been.’ It’s a challenge more than a burden.”
Haley — a native of Gadsden, Ala., who spent the last two seasons at Texas — previously served as defensive-line coach for Mississippi State, the Chicago Bears and LSU among other stops. He also served as defensive coordinator at Baylor from 1999-2001.
He arrived with instant credibility.
Last season, the Longhorns led the Big 12 sacks and tackles for loss, ranking in the top 20 nationally in both categories.
During Haley’s six seasons at LSU before going to Texas, the Tigers had 10 defensive linemen drafted into the NFL, including first-round picks Michael Brockers and Barkevious Mingo.
“He doesn’t have to tell you how good he is,” second-year Mizzou coach Barry Odom said. “People realize that pretty quick and realize he knows what he’s talking about. … He will have that group playing at a very high level.”
Haley, who also is expected to be an asset on the recruiting trail with his deep ties in Texas and throughout the Southeast, believes more than a quarter-century of high-level coaching experience has prepared to shepherd D-Line Zou.
“We built that same history at LSU,” Haley said. “That’s nothing new for me, but I do respect the fact that this place has been phenomenal at that position.”
Of course, the challenge of perpetuating D-Line Zou wasn’t the only draw for Haley, who had plenty of suitors after Charlie Strong was fired at Texas.
Haley and his wife, Tina, have three children — including the middle child A.J., a high-functioning autistic teenager.
MU’s Thompson Center for Autism — arguably the top autism research center in the Midwest — was a draw for Haley’s family.
“We are excited about that, and that was really a game changer for me and my family,” he said.
Haley — the Tigers’ fourth defensive-line coach in barely two years after D-Line Zou architect Craig Kuligowski, Chris Wilson and Jackie Shipp — has become an advocate for Autism Speaks and plays host to an annual benefit golf tournament, Brick Road to Success, to raise money and awareness for autism.
“It teaches you a lot of patience as a coach and as a person,” Haley said of the lessons learned since A.J. was diagnosed at age 8. “It’s testing at times, but it’s so loving. They are the true meaning of what the world should be about.”
Perhaps A.J. also deserves some credit for his father’s gregarious nature — at least away from the practice field, where his voice often booms loudest during position drills.
“I don’t want to embarrass Brick, but he has — more than anybody I’ve ever seen and worked with on a staff with — worked harder to develop relationships with everybody on the roster quicker than I’ve ever seen before,” Odom said. “That’s a testament to what kind of guy he is. … You watch him in the dining hall, you watch before workouts as he passes through the weight room, he talks to everybody. It’s awesome.”
There will be a lot of new faces along the defensive line for the annual Black & Gold Spring Game, which kicks off at 1 p.m. Saturday at Memorial Stadium on the SEC Network, but confidence in Haley already is high.
“We’re adjusting pretty well to him,” junior defensive tackle Terry Beckner Jr. said. “He’s a great dude and a great coach. He’s very enthusiastic … and wants everything to be full-go. … It translates to the field.”