After four years of Jerry Azzinaro, the Bruins have made a change at defensive coordinator heading into 2022.
UCLA football hired Bill McGovern to replace Azzinaro earlier in the offseason, announcing his addition back in mid-February. McGovern’s most recent job was as the Chicago Bears’ linebackers coach, but he has spent time with Nebraska, the New York Giants, the Philadelphia Eagles and Boston College over the last 20-plus years.
McGovern sat down for a 1-on-1 conversation with All Bruins publisher and managing editor Sam Connon on Monday to discuss his past, what attracted him to UCLA and what he expects for the 2022 season.
Sam Connon: You’ve spent most of the past decade in the NFL – what do you think that kind of NFL mindset and prestige can do for this team?
Bill McGovern: I think for the players – I think you bring up a good term there – it’s the NFL mindset. I’ve kind of mentioned to a couple people that people always want to know, what’s the difference between college and the NFL? The talent level isn’t what it is, there’s talented guys in college, and there’s talented guys in the NFL. But like you mentioned, the NFL mindset, I think is a good way to put it. The guys that have success in the NFL have a different mindset that they’re willing to prepare, they’re willing to work hard, willing to give effort all the time and they kind of put away the distractions. And that’s one of the things hopefully we can help bring here, to the defense on this side of the ball. It’s just kind of get that mindset that, you know, how can we get better each and every day?
SC: Based on offseason workouts and any film or statistical analysis you’ve done, what are the biggest strengths and weaknesses of the defense?
BM: What I loved about it, what really excited me about it was the way these guys ran to the ball. They played with energy, they played passion. I’m excited about that. Chip was talking to me about it, that was something that jumped out at me, that was one of the things that – besides this being a phenomenal school – but also being able to come here and work with a group of guys that are that excited to be on field every time. That’s fun and that’s exciting for me. The rest of it, I think as we get out on the field in the spring, Sam, that’s going to be the time where we get a better evaluation of what they can and can’t do and we’ll find out a little bit more. It’s one of those things, you can watch tape, I don’t know all their techniques and fundamentals they were using. They played hard, they played aggressive, there were some really good plays the way the defense played last year. But until we get out on field and get with them … as you know, in the college game, everybody kind of grows and matures at a little bit of a different age. And all of a sudden, they can gain confidence, and all of a sudden it just happens for them. All the sudden, they’re a lot more confident out on the field, they’re bigger, stronger, faster, they understand the defense, whatever it may be. I think that’s important and we’re going to have some young guys hopefully develop here as we go.
SC: You’ve done a lot of your work with linebackers at your past few stops and spent time coaching All-Americans Mark Herzlich and Luke Kuechly– what do you think of the linebackers you’ll be working with at UCLA?
BM: You know, we’re excited to work with guys at all three levels, in the back end, the linebackers and the D-line. There’s talent at all three levels and I think that’s the key for us as coaches on the defensive side, is that we get the most out of them. That they understand that, ‘Hey, this is a chance for me to show what I can do.’ The big thing, I think, like you mentioned before, we can develop our mindset. In terms of our preparation, it’s going to be outstanding, our effort is going to be outstanding and our execution is going to be outstanding. That’s going to give us a real good chance.
SC: Ken Norton Jr. came in as a linebackers coach right after you joined the staff – do you have a relationship with him and how do you expect to work with him and the other defensive assistants?
BM: All these guys, to me, that was one of the things. I know Don Pellum, he just left obviously. Looking at the staff when I talked with Chip about the job, that’s what excited me. You had a bunch of coaches who were quality, there were guys that have outstanding resumes. Their resumes speak for themselves, so I was excited to work with that. And Don, I would have loved to have the chance to work with too, but he left and we were really fortunate to get somebody to come here who we’re excited about. And that’s what we’ve been doing the last couple of weeks, Sam. We basically have been meeting together and kind of going over the playbook and listening to each other’s ideas. Everybody in America can explain cover 2, cover 3, man-to-man, fires, all that stuff. But it’s the techniques and the fundamentals that you teach within it and having this kind of wealth of knowledge with all the guys with the time that they’ve spent coaching. I think that’s been a real benefit for us in terms of how we’ve been sounding it off one another saying ‘Hey, that maybe that works better. Let’s try it that way.’ You know, different things in that sense. That’s one of the things I’m really excited about with defensive staff is the knowledge that they bring into the meeting rooms every day.
SC: What’s your experience running the 4-2-5 and do you expect to retain it as a base formation?
BM: Oh yeah. Like you said, everybody’s kind of running, basically, a 3-4, a 4-3, a 4-2-5 and then they run a 3-3 stack. Those are really your primary things, and you go down the goal line and you go to 6-2, and all those things. We want to be multiple on defense. Without giving a competitive edge away, Sam, to me it’s we want to be able to do different things that are going to hopefully create issues for the guys on offense. And that’s one of the things we’re excited about in being multiple. But I think, really Sam, when you look at it, we owe, as a staff, we’ve got to continue to grow and learn. And what I mean by that is this: Being out here this spring – and even into the preseason – with our guys, learning what our guys can and can’t do. And those are the things that we want to try to find out here in the spring. You can watch tape all you want, but till you actually get out there and start working with them, then you really start getting some of your answers.
SC: How has the college game changed since you were at Boston College 10 years ago?
BM: Oh, that’s a real good question. In a sense, this is the biggest thing. When you’re up in the NFL, during the season, you’re watching pro football. When you get done, you’re watching college football, because you’re evaluating players. You’re watching the defense, and you’re seeing the offense. The biggest thing is – and I’m not telling you anything you don’t know – you’re seeing the development of the quarterback run game that’s really come to college football. The pass game, it’s all trickled down. The NFL spread out, everybody’s running RPOs, everybody’s running the quick games, all different things. And they’ve got the vertical routes, the mesh routes, all different things. But the quarterback run game probably has been the biggest advancement in terms of the college game on offense. So it’s one of those things watching that, again, you’re looking at what you guys can and can’t do, what you can take away. That’s what the spring’s about. We have to evaluate what we can do and what we’re good at. And then for us, as coaches as we get into the season, we’ve got to evaluate each week ‘Okay, what do they do well and how can we affect that?’
SC: Can you talk about your relationship with Chip Kelly, both going back to when you were together on the Eagles and how you reconnected as this UCLA job opened up?
BM: Chip and I played against each other. I was at Holy Cross, he was at UNH, but we didn’t know each other. Then we got in both get into coaching and then kind of realized, hey, he was at UNH when I when I was playing against them and all that stuff. But the big way you get to know guys, bouncing around the small schools when we first started out, was basically the recruiting trails and then also the high school camps. You work all day in the camp, he was on the offensive side, I was on the defensive side. But basically, then at nights after camps, we ended up talking about Xs and Os and we spent a couple hours there, just kind of everybody exchanging ideas and getting to know things, hearing what they’re doing, what they liked, what they didn’t like. That that was an exciting time where you got to know that, but you also got to recognize people. Like okay, this guy knows what he’s talking about, this guy’s pretty smart, that can cause us a problem. So it was fun to do that. And then over time, when I was at BC, he was up at UNH for a while and he was a fixture at our camp. He was about as much of a guy who was a member of our staff because coach Dana Bible knew him. He basically ran the quarterbacks in the camps, so it was pretty special. But in terms of those guys, though, going forward, he gave me the opportunity at the Eagles, which I can’t thank him enough for. And then ever since, we obviously were touch before, and not that we call every day, not that we call every week or anything like that, but we stayed in touch here and there, and then this opportunity came up and I couldn’t tell you how excited I am for it.
SC: Most of your experience is on the East Coast, similarly to Chip’s situation before he went out to Oregon – how do you expect to adjust to SoCal and the West Coast, whether that’s lifestyle, recruiting circles or elsewhere?
BM: Lifestyle, the only thing is getting used to nice weather. Being from the East Coast, in the offseason – during the season, your lifestyle is pretty much the same. You’re in the office and you’re out of your office at night, you go to bed, you get to the game and then hopefully win it and you do it again the next week. But then after that, it’s getting to know your opponents, getting to know the recruiting area and all that. Basically, hey listen, UCLA has so much to offer. Bill McGovern, they’re not going to put my picture on the magazine. They didn’t come here because of this guy. But the school that UCLA is is special. I’ve told a couple kids that we’re talking to now that you don’t make a decision to go to UCLA for the next four or five years, it’s a 40 or 50-year decision because it’s going to it’s going to carry , it’s going to take care of you that long. When you decide to go to school like UCLA, that’s the kind of reputation – the academics, everything that it brings to you – it can afford you. It’s not a four or five years, it’s a 40 or 50-year decision. I think it’s that special.
SC: Is that something Chip filled you in on during the interview or integration process, or is that something you knew about UCLA’s reputation before?
BM: Oh, you knew about it. When I was at Boston College, even back then, you always looked at all the other top schools across the country. Obviously UCLA was the No. 1 public institution in America, so to me, it was kind of a no-brainer in terms of when you’re talking to a kid. It’s one of those things, coming from the NFL – the NFL stands for “Not For Long.” The average career there is 2.7 or 2.8 years, I believe it is. I could be wrong, but II think I’m fairly accurate. And that’s one of those things – football will come to an end for everybody, at some point, it always does. But what UCLA can give you and provide for you going forward, that’s why I keep saying it’s a 40 or 50-year decision.
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