Desperation or improvement?
That's the question Texas A&M football fans have to be asking themselves after Aggies coach Mike Sherman rebuilt his coaching staff after only two seasons. After the Aggies finished 6-7 in 2009, dropping Sherman's record to 10-15 in two seasons in College Station, he completely overhauled his staff. All but one defensive assistant was replaced, and former Louisville coach Steve Kragthorpe was hired to coach wide receivers.
There's really no way to sugarcoat it: If Texas A&M's defense and special teams are as bad as they were in each of the past two seasons, Sherman will be the coach looking for a job in 2011.
The A&M defense can't possibly be any worse, after it finished 106th among FBS teams in pass defense (254.7 yards per game), 105th in total defense (426.3 yards) and scoring defense (33.5 points per game) and 90th in rushing defense (171.6 yards).
After the Aggies allowed 30 points or more in nine games last season, defensive coordinator Joe Kines retired. Defensive line coach Buddy Wyatt left for Kansas and defensive backs coach Van Malone departed for Tulsa.
Sherman is betting that former Air Force defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter can shore up his defense quickly. DeRuyter runs an aggressive 3-4 scheme, which helped the Falcons lead the country in turnover margin (plus-1.69 turnovers per game) and finish fifth in passing defense (154.3 yards per game), 10th in scoring defense (15.7 points) and 11th in total defense (288.3 yards) in '09.
The good news for DeRuyter? The Aggies will bring back 10 defensive starters, including pass-rushing specialist Von Miller. DeRuyter's chore is to make the Aggies more aggressive and disciplined.
Sherman hired former Texas A&M All-American Dat Nguyen as inside linebackers coach, which is a very smart move. Bringing back one of the school's most-decorated players is always a public relations coup with alumni and fans. The fact that Nguyen worked the past three seasons as an assistant linebackers coach with the Dallas Cowboys shows he's more than just a big name, too.
Sherman lured Purdue defensive line coach Terrell Williams to College Station and hired Nick Toth as his team's outside linebackers coach. Toth worked last season as defensive backs and special teams coach at The Citadel. Toth played and coached under DeRuyter at Ohio and is well-versed in coaching the 3-4 scheme.
Toth also will be asked to help fix Texas A&M's special-teams woes. Last season, the Aggies finished 104th in net punting (32.9 yards), 98th in kickoff return defense (23.1 yards) and 49th in kickoff returns (22.3 yards).
The special-teams miscues were never more evident than during Texas A&M's 44-20 loss to Georgia in the Independence Bowl. The Aggies allowed a kickoff return for a touchdown, had a field goal and punt blocked and snapped the ball over the punter's head.
Kragthorpe, who was fired after compiling a 15-21 record in three seasons at Louisville, replaces former A&M wide receivers coach Nolan Cromwell, who left for the same position with the NFL's St. Louis Rams. Kragthorpe previously worked as offensive coordinator at A&M from 1998-2000, helping lead the Aggies to their lone Big 12 title in 1998.
With Big 12 powers like Oklahoma and Texas having to replace several star players, and programs such as Kansas and Texas Tech undergoing major renovations, the Aggies might be well positioned to move up the league's ladder this coming season.
If they don't, Sherman's job might be on the line.