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Q&A with new Washington defensive coordinator Ed Donatell

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Ed Donatell was not afraid to take, perhaps, the toughest job in Pac-10 coaching this season.

For one, he joined Tyrone Willingham's staff at Washington. As everyone knows, Willingham is decidedly on the hot seat and probably needs to lead the Huskies to a bowl game to retain his job for a fifth season.

Second, Donatell takes over the Pac-10's worst defense from 2007 -- statistically the worst in the history of the program.

Third, only six starters return from that unit, including only one with significant experience on the defensive line.

And, finally, beleaguered Husky fans love defense. They've been suffering for a while now watching various lineups flub around on the field with the memory of Don James' stingy units still fresh in many boosters' memories.

Donatell, who did get the security of a two-year contract worth $334,000 annually, brings a fresh perspective. He spent 12 of the past 13 seasons in the NFL and coordinated defenses for the Green Bay Packers (2000-2003) and Atlanta Falcons (2004-2006). Over the years, he's coached with Pete Carroll, Bruce Coslet, Mike Shanahan and Mike Sherman.

He said he likes attacking defenses, and Huskies fans surely would love to duplicate his 2004 Falcons unit that led the NFC in sacks.

How did you end up at Washington?

Ed Donatell: In a nutshell, with the Atlanta Falcons, it was my seventh year as a NFL defensive coordinator. When [Falcons coach Jim Mora] was let go, I wanted to remain a coordinator and did not get that done. So I went and worked with the Jets as a senior assistant. I looked at [NFL] coordinator positions and didn't get one last year. So I just kept moving along and this Washington thing came up. I knew it was a storied university with a great tradition and I've always believed teams that won in the past can win again. And the reputation of Tyrone Willingham and the people on the staff, it seemed like a good match for me to join up with them. I wanted to continue as a guy leading defenses.

Did you pause over the fact that Coach Willingham is under a lot of pressure to win this season?

ED: Not really at all. That's the world I live in. College has a lot of parity like the NFL, so there are always a lot of coaches on hot seats. That really isn't the issue. You've got to look at where they are as programs and who the person is you're joining up with. Tyrone has a long, genuine track record of molding young men and getting things done. I see it as me kind of moving on with the process they started and maybe being able to enhance it some.

After spring practices, did you see differences coaching college players and NFL players?

ED: I get asked that question a lot. I kind of worked my way through it. I came to the analysis that we're still just setting goals, just like we were. The kids have less experience, no question, but they are young and eager. And it still comes down to people will follow you if they feel like you have information that will help them. That's the same at any level -- you have to hold their interest. I'm just about solving problems, working with groups and seeing how far you can take them.

How did you evaluate your personnel? Did you look at a lot of film from 2007, or did you cast that aside and start fresh in the spring?

ED: I watched all the tapes and made observations, one, about the Pac-10 and, two, about our talent, and, three, the alignment we were in. Speaking on the Pac-10 -- and I've been watching college football because I've been evaluating players the whole time I was in the NFL -- but the Pac-10 is by far the most like pro football. A lot of that is because of the quarterbacks. You're going to see those special guys come out like a Carson Palmer every couple of years, but they also just churn out the Kellen Clemenses and Derek Andersons every year. It's more pro style. It's all spread out. These are well-coached football teams.

How about after spring practice with your players, did you see some improvement during the couple of weeks that you had with them?

ED: We've been a part of start-up situations through the years. Really, you want to make sure your teaching is going along, but you only want to teach what they can handle. Obviously you need a certain amount to play ball games, but we're obviously always evaluating our learners. Communication is something that is a non-compromising belief of ours. We're going to be a group that talks. When you do that, you're more efficient. And you kind of coach off mistakes.

Who stood out for you during the spring?

ED: The guys at every level. I think more who are the leaders. Guys like [DE] Daniel Te'o-Nesheim. [LB] Donald Butler had a good spring. Going into the second row and there's a lot of new faces, and we're looking for guys to emerge as leaders. [SS] Victor Aiyewa gave us some impacting hits. It was fun to see some of the young corners to get a shot of what's going on. We were going through some stages in spring practice but now we're going into camp with some objectives to get done so we can get ready for Pac-10 play.

How would you sum up your defensive philosophy, what can people expect to see out of your schemes?

ED: Attacking style. I like to think players make plays. It's one-gap primarily but we changed some two-gap in there, too. We'd like to attack the football with high energy.

How much can a defense improve in one year? What should fans expect?

ED: Shoot, we have high goals and intentions. We intend to be significantly better. Our intention is to have a lot more fun on Saturdays. Play with energy and raise the trust. A lot of this is competition. I want guys to compete, strive and try to make each other better. How many things can you compete for? I want there to be something up for stakes at all times.