clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Greg Robinson, Cal defensive coordinator candidate

Our look at potential defensive coordinators brings us to the California-raised coach who was a member of Mack Brown's final staff.

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

"Oh baby yoooou. You got what I neeeeed."
"Oh baby yoooou. You got what I neeeeed."
Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Check out previous defensive coordinator profiles on CGB: Todd Orlando (Utah State DC)

After Texas famously fired then-DC Manny Diaz for an atrocious showing against BYU, personnel analyst Greg Robinson led the Longhorns defense for the rest of the 2013 season; Robinson had previous experience as DC in the NFL and the NCAA (and one year as offensive coordinator at UCLA). With Mack Brown's retirement (hahaha I hate you so much Mack Brown) and Charlie Strong's hire, it remains to be seen if Greg Robinson will be retained. Should Cal try to swoop in and steal him away?

Coaching career

19751976 Pacific (Assistant coach)
19771979 Cal State Fullerton (Assistant)
19801981 NC State (Assistant)
19821988 UCLA (DL)
1989 UCLA (OC)
19901993 New York Jets (DL)
1994 New York Jets (DC)
19952000 Denver Broncos (DC)
2004 Texas (co-DC)
20052008 Syracuse (HC)
20092010 Michigan (DC)
2013 Texas (DC)

The first thing I notice is actually a small amount of DC experience at the college level; however, his first run at Texas as co-DC resulted in an 11–1 team that not only went to the Rose Bowl, but won it, which I think all Cal fans are dying for, right?

Ultimately, 36 years of coaching experience (with 14 seasons in the NFL and back-to-back Super Bowl wins with the Broncos) is pretty significant. It doesn't compare to my coaching history, but Robinson's isn't something to dismiss, either.

Defensive scheme

I don't think it's entirely clear what kind of defensive style Robinson prefers. He's a flip-flopper! In his first tenure at Texas, he used the 4-3 like Buh, which has four defensive linemen and three linebackers. However, Robinson also used the 3-4 and the 3-3-5 at Michigan and a "similar scheme" to the 3-3-5 in the 90s with the Jets and the Broncos. These two defensive schemes use only three d-linemen in favor of an extra linebacker or defensive back, respectively, to get some more speed on the field and allow the defense to bring pressure from unexpected players; the speed of these defenses is appealing in the Pac-12 to face off against the propensity of spread offenses. In fact, Rich Rodriguez of the Arizona Wildcats (who was Robinson's boss at Michigan) uses the 3-3-5 as his base defense.

Ultimately, Robinson says he's versatile with his defensive scheme based on situation and personnel, unlike Buh who was only familiar with the 4-3.

"I don't know that I've ever been in a defense where there wasn't areas altered each year to your personnel or to what the offensive world is doing," Robinson said. "You have to do that. You tweak constantly, you do throughout the season because you begin to see what you have more in your talent level and you also say, ‘Hey, this is what we have to do to defend.' That's kind of where I see it."

Regardless of the defensive alignment, there is perhaps one philosophy Robinson employs, which will be familiar to Cal fans. Before the days of ineptitude under Andy Buh, before the days of high-risk and feast-or-famine defense led by General Clancy Pendergast, we had the bend-but-don't-break of Bob Gregory. If you loved those days, then Robinson just might be for you.

[Robinson] took advantage of a lot of talent defensively and employed a bend-but-don't-break strategy that featured a lot of zone blitzes and zone defense, according to former safety/linebacker Drew Kelson, who played for Robinson in 2004.


[His] overall philosophy suggests that he will be much less aggressive and more focused on fundamentals and avoiding giving up big plays.

Recent performance

Robinson had to take over a disastrous defense in 2013 and turn them into something other than a tire fire, which is definitely what we're in need of after our abysmal season and player exodus. Let's check in with our SBN brethren, Burnt Orange Nation:

[D]efensive coordinator Greg Robinson did appear to start putting his mark on the unit in the win over Kansas State -- the defense played hard, flowed to the football aggressively, and for the most part appeared to understand their assignments.

All three of those areas represented enormous improvement over the previous weeks. Robinson has been operating with a more simple scheme that has abandoned most of the Manny Diaz Fire Zones that often resulted in players in the wrong gaps. He's also asked the defensive line to occupy gaps and beat the players in front of them and appears to have emphasized staying in passing lanes to the defensive ends instead of always sprinting so hard up field, which has resulted in a jump in deflected passes.

In other words, Robinson has introduced a modicum of sanity and while the biggest challenges still lie ahead, the Texas defense isn't being actively hamstrung by silly scheming.

Taylor Gaspar of Bleacher Report was also impressed with Robinson's ability to quickly fix the Longhorns defense.

Robinson changed everything within two weeks of being in Austin.

Taking over a team's defense midseason is not an easy job. Taking over a team's defense that was ranked No. 115 nationally in total defense is even tougher. But Robinson did a successful job of turning around the Longhorns struggling unit.

The Texas defense went from allowing an average of 309 rushing yards and 491 total yards against non-conference opponents to allowing 138 yards rushing and 372 total yards per game against Big 12 teams under Robinson.

But the reviews weren't always positive. In particular, Robinson's defense struggled last season against Iowa State.

Few things are more back-breaking for a defense than to give up long third down conversions on quarterback scrambles, but that was exactly what happened to the Texas Longhorns defense numerous times last Thursday against the Iowa State Cyclones.

This is particularly worrisome in the Pac-12, home to mobile quarterbacks like Marcus Mariota and Brett Hundley.

Burnt Orange Nation attributes this poor performance to a failed pass rush that is not only unable to get to the quarterback, but also leaves wide open running lanes with linebackers hopelessly chasing from behind. That doesn't sound familiar at all.

One valuable tool for our assessment of Robinson is a shared opponent: Oregon 2013. In the table below, I've collected Oregon's offensive stats in those two games as well as their season average.

Oregon vs. Cal Oregon vs. Texas Oregon season average
Total offensive yards 381 469 565.8
Yards per play 4.8 6.2 7.1
Rushing yards 264 216 274.4
Yards per rush 5.5 5.1 6.3
Passing yards 117 253 291.4
Yards per pass 4.5 9.7 9.4
Mariota CompAtt 1125 (44%) 1826 (69%) 245386 (63%)
3rd down conversion 28.6% (414) 33.3% (412) 43.8%
4th down conversion 25.0% (1–4) N/A (0–0) TBD
Offensive points 41 16 45.5*
Rushing touchdowns 4 0 3.23
Passing touchdowns 2 1 2.46
Time of possession (min) 29.30 28.16 TBD
Turnovers 3 0 1.38

* Represents total points, including defensive and special teams

Personally, I find it a little difficult to draw any conclusions from the Cal-Oregon game considering the monsoon that struck, significantly hampering the offenses. Compared to Oregon's season average, Robinson's defensive performance did not particularly stand out in any area except for the most important onescoring.

Potential cost

This is a little unclear due to his unique recent history as a football analyst who didn't serve a full year as defensive coordinator.

In 2013, Robinson's salary is listed at a relatively low $250,000, likely for his analyst duties; once-DC Diaz earned $650,000 for the same year. Given Robinson's rich experience, I'd expect him to be looking for something closer to that latter figure.


Robinson didn't exactly light the recruiting world on fire when he was head coach at Syracuse. During his four seasons with the Syracuse Orange, Scout ranked their recruiting class in the 40–50s, which was on par with the two years before Robinson arrived.

This might not be as big of an issue if he were at Cal because of his West Coast roots; on the other hand, it's been years since he worked over here, so who knows if he has maintained those relationships? Who among you knows Robinson's networking skills?!

Final verdict

Robinson does not strike me as an "OMG, we must have him at all costs!" kind of hire. I'm a fan of his defensive versatility and his ability to salvage the Texas defense. Additionally, his NFL experience could be quite valuable and appealing to recruits; however, he didn't seem particularly effective as a recruiter at Syracuse. Most worrisome to me is his lack of experience as a DC at the college level; he spent one season as co-DC at Texas in 2004, two seasons at Michigan, and then his partial season at Texas. It's unknown if his defensive success at the NFL will translate to the college game when he's teaching college student-athletes with restrictions on practice time, busy schedules with classes, and issues with their significant others while just looking for a father figure for a hug.

Golden Bears, what do you think about a Robinson hire? How happy would you be with this hire? Please share your opinions or any insight you may have in the comments section!