Rod Wright interviewed with East Carolina coach Scottie Montgomery and new defensive coordinator David Blackwell before he was hired from Sam Houston State, where he had worked with defensive linemen.
The former Miami Dolphin will have the same position responsibilities at ECU.
Wright, 33, has quickly developed respect for the maturity and organization of Montgomery, five years his senior, and he’s looking forward to joining forces with Blackwell after being on the opposite sidelines twice in the FCS playoffs when the former Pirate was defensive coordinator at Jacksonville State.
“We’re 1-1,” Wright said of his record with Blackwell on Wednesday while recruiting in Virginia Beach.
Montgomery has NFL experience as a player and assistant.
Wright talked about the value of relating to players from the standpoint of having been in the game at its highest level.
“When it comes to college football players, there’s not one that you’ll find in the locker room that does not want to play on Sundays or at least have the opportunity to try,” Wright said. “That’s kind of my motivation that I’ll throw out to my players, especially as a defensive line coach.
“To play defensive line on this level, you’ve got to be a big guy — either you’re long and can move or you’re a little smaller but you move really fast. … With my guys, what I do is use what I’ve learned and the experience of the NFL and put it to them as a goal to reach to a certain standard. With the knowledge I’ve gained, having played in the NFL, and also recently doing some of those internships, is teach them the tools that they are using on Sundays and use them on offensive linemen that we’re going to play against on Saturdays.
“I always felt that if stuff works on Sundays, then it’s definitely going to work on Saturday. The guys get a goal to aim for and a level of play. They watch these guys all the time and that’s who they look up to. I tell them, ‘Hey, if you want to be Von Miller (Denver Broncos) or if you want to be J.J. Watt (Houston Texans), these guys are working hard. This is the type of level you have to play at every day to perfect your craft.’ They normally respond pretty well to that.”
Highlight of NFL experience
Wright made All-America as a defensive tackle at Texas before he was drafted by the Miami Dolphins.
“My biggest year was ’07,” Wright said. “I had an injury and battled back. I was able to earn a starting spot. My starting spot actually came in front of my hometown, Houston.
“We didn’t win the game (19-22, Oct. 7). We actually lost on a last-second field goal (57-yarder by Kris Brown). . . . My first NFL start was in Houston. I was very excited. My family was there and I actually played pretty well. From there on, I pretty much started the rest of the year before I got hurt again with my other shoulder. I would say that was probably the highlight, starting in front of my hometown.”
Wright had 28 tackles, 10 assists and 1.5 sacks in 13 games with Miami. He started nine games. Wright finished his playing career with the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the Canadian Football League and the Dallas Vigilantes of the Arena Football League.
Thoughts on Super Bowl
Wright and the world will be watching as the New England Patriots meet the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LII on Sunday evening in Minneapolis.
“Wow, obviously, it’s hard to bet against those Patriots,” Wright said. “One of my best friends is a die-hard Patriots fan, but most people that you hang around do not want the Patriots to win on Sunday. . . . I think it’s going to be a good game. If the Eagles play the way they did versus Minnesota (38-7 win at Lincoln Financial Field in Philly), those guys will definitely win that game. They have an outstanding defense. They’re explosive on offense and I think Nick Foles (Philadelphia quarterback) really found himself in that last game. He was amazing.
“But it’s hard to bet against the Patriots. Tom Brady (quarterback), the best to ever do it. It looks like Gronk (New England tight end Rob Gronkowski) will be back. They’ve just been there before, and after last year, if they go down three scores, you’re still not going to count them out. I think it’s going to be an outstanding game.”
Brady was playing for the Patriots when Wright was playing the Dolphins in 2007.
“That was the year that they went 16-0 (regular season),” Wright said.
New England finished 18-1, losing the Super Bowl, 17-14, to the New York Giants.
“That’s something of a rivalry between New England and Miami,” Wright said. “At the time, it wasn’t even close. We beat them in ’08, but they, obviously, are the elite team in the NFL.”
In 2007, the Patriots topped the Dolphins 49-28 on Oct. 21 in Miami and won, 28-7, at home, on Dec. 23. The Dolphins beat New England 38-13 in Miami in week three of the 2008 season.
Miami beat the defending Super Bowl champs 27-20 this season in a Monday night game on Dec. 11 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens.
“The Dolphins always get up,” Wright said. “You know when you’re playing New England.”
Two factors will get emphasis
Wright was named ECU’s D-Line coach three days before Christmas and is looking forward to the start of spring practice later this month.
Effort and fundamentals are factors he believes in.
“You can have good effort without technique and something is wrong,” Wright said. “I can come off the ball hard and be as high as the sky and I’m going to get knocked back. But I can come off low and not be going hard and still get thrown back because I’m soft.
“So those are two things, especially from the D-Line, that have to be done. Those are the two main things I’m looking for. That’s something that we’re going to have pride in. . . . That’s going to be our foundation. That’s going to have to be what we can rely on and express throughout the defense. If the big guys are running to the ball, everyone else will run, too.”
Wright was Freshman of the Year in the Big 12 and things got even better during the course of his college career.
“Yes, I am a Longhorn,” Wright said. “I was there from ’02 to ’05. I played in the historic Texas vs. USC national championship game. That was my senior year. Mack [Brown] was my coach. I went back and started my coaching career with them. I definitely owe a lot of love and respect for my man, Mack, and his wife, Sally.”
In the national championship game, Texas, ranked No. 2 coming in, topped No. 1 Southern California, 41-38, before 93,986 in the Rose Bowl.
Longhorns quarterback Vince Young ran for the winning touchdown with 19 seconds remaining.
Wright has been through the entire process that produces success in college football after earning Parade All-America honors at Alief Hastings High School in Houston.
“It allows me to relate to my guys,” Wright said. “It wasn’t too long ago that I was getting phone calls from recruiters and going on official visits, then coming in as a true freshman and playing on Saturdays. I still remember those days like it was yesterday. . . . To be able to go out on top as a senior — my very last memory is walking out of the Rose Bowl with a championship. You can’t write that story any better.
“I know what these guys go through. I know what it’s like to be a rock star on Saturday, playing in front of the entire nation and then Monday morning, walking to class like a normal student. I know that’s stressful. I know that’s something that mentally wears on a guy, but it’s also a privilege. It’s also something that we signed up for and we’ve got to be able to go deliver on it.”
Wright earned his degree in education from Texas and plans to actively encourage his position players to take advantage of their academic opportunities in order to prepare for life after football.
He has memories of reaching the pinnacle in the sport he now coaches.
“It was an incredible experience to be able to come together as young men … and reach the ultimate goal. … It’s something that bonds you with those guys. I always have love and respect for my guys no matter what they’re doing. … We always have that we accomplished the ultimate goal together. It will never be done again they way that we did it with those group of guys, my Texas guys.”