After finishing the season 3-9 and ranking 123rd out of 128 teams in yards allowed per game, Rice football is making a change. The team has hired Brian Stewart as its new defensive coordinator, replacing retired coordinator Chris Thurmond.
Stewart has previous experience as defensive coordinator for the Dallas Cowboys, the University of Houston and the University of Maryland. He also served as defensive backs coach for the University of Nebraska for the past two years. During his career, Stewart has accumulated over 15 years of coaching experience.
The new defensive coordinator will inherit a unit which struggled mightily throughout the 2016 season. The Owls allowed 505 yards per game, which was sixth-worst in college football. The defense also sacrificed 37.3 points per game, 15th-worst in college football. On the plus side, Rice will only lose two defensive starters to graduation, including senior captain and team tackle leader Alex Lyons.
The Owls’ defensive struggles were well chronicled throughout last season. Rice’s week 10 game against Florida Atlantic University was dubbed “The Pillow Fight of the Century” by ESPN, mocking each team’s struggles on the defensive side of the football. At that point in the season, both ESPN and USA Today ranked Rice as the worst team in the nation. Head coach David Bailiff said he was tired of his team’s difficulties.
“We have to get where we’re playing offense, defense and special teams consistently,” Bailiff said after the Owls’ week seven loss to the University of Texas, San Antonio. “It can’t be one week the offense plays well and the defense doesn’t. The team needs to be more consistent from week to week.”
Many Rice students have questioned why the university decided to retain Bailiff after a dismal 3-9 season. In response, the hiring of Stewart adds a fresh face to the coaching staff.
Stewart’s coaching experience has touched all three levels of football (high school, college, NFL) and he has specialized in defensive backs, special teams and wide receivers, along with coaching the entire defense. Stewart has also worked with current Green Bay Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers and Denver Broncos defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, both well respected at their positions.
In an interview with the Houston Chronicle, Stewart said he is excited about his position under Bailiff.
“Being around [Bailiff], his energy and his love for the program, it shows every time you talk to him," Stewart said. "That energy is awesome to be around. I think [the coaches] are really excited about being there and have been there and shown their loyalty."
Rice Athletics declined to comment on the hiring at this time.