Schwartz: From St. Joe to mastermind of Titans `D'

January 15, 2003|By MIKE PRESTON

FOR THE FIRST five years of his coaching career, Tennessee Titans defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz made a combined salary of about $50,000 and drove around in an old, beat-up Subaru that had more than 200,000 miles on it.

"I would get secretaries cigarettes, ride players to the airport," Schwartz said. "It was tough, but gradually I worked my way up, breaking down film for Phil Savage when he was a quality control coach in Cleveland. And then Bill Belichick eventually let me break down the scouting film."

And now Schwartz has the ultimate assignment. As the league's youngest defensive coordinator at 36, he has to find a way to slow the Oakland Raiders' geriatrics corps, better known as receivers Jerry Rice, Tim Brown and quarterback Rich Gannon.

The Raiders averaged 389.8 yards of total offense during the regular season, nearly 280 yards passing. Defending them presents a true dilemma.

Do you want to try stopping Brown and Rice and then have versatile running back Charlie Garner beat you? Or do you try to shut down Garner and then let the Raiders knife through your secondary with those short, boring but effective passes?

"You just try to hold them under 50 points," said Schwartz, a Baltimore native, laughing. "Isn't that what you say up there? Therefore, you have no expectations. And if you achieve that goal, then you can say, `Look, I'm a great coach. Look what I did.' "

Hmmm, sounds like a little shot at the Ravens' boss to me.

But Schwartz has his own problems. Ever since he played high school ball at Mount St. Joe, he wanted to be on a Super Bowl team. He went to The Big Game after the 1999 season as a quality control coach with the Titans, who lost, 23-16, to the St. Louis Rams.

This time, though, things are different. The Titans are just one game away from another Super Bowl appearance, but Schwartz is playing a major part. He has to match wits with Oakland offensive coordinator Marc Trestman.

This seems like a mismatch.

Trestman, 47 , has 15 years of experience in the NFL, six as an offensive coordinator. Schwartz has been a defensive coordinator for two seasons. He coached linebackers in Tennessee before then. Most of his previous time was spent as a quality control coach or a graduate assistant.

But here are two things you need to know about Schwartz: When he went to Mount St. Joe, he got only one B. The rest were A's. He made several academic All-America teams while playing at Georgetown.

Here's the other: He has worked under some of the league's best defensive minds, including Marvin Lewis, Jeff Fisher, Gunther Cunningham and Belichick.

That's pretty impressive stuff.

"There's only three ways to get into coaching in this league," Schwartz said. "Either you get in by being a former player or by moving up after spending time in the college ranks. Belichick got into the league straight out of college, and he has hired a lot of guys like that. He did the same thing for me.

"I don't see myself as young, because I got into the league so young [at 26]," Schwartz said. "I didn't have any problems relating to the players when I became defensive coordinator. There might have been a problem with the transition if I had come from another team, but I was already an assistant here."

Schwartz has his own style, but he has taken a little from each of his teachers. He tries to have Belichick's preparation and organization. He learned the "46" defense from Fisher, and likes the coach's confidence in himself and the players. Lewis taught him how to adapt to personnel as Lewis did in Baltimore, when he applied the 3-4 scheme of the Pittsburgh Steelers to the Ravens' 4-3.

Cunningham, Tennessee's linebackers coach, has taught him toughness and a strong work ethic.

Schwartz has seen a major improvement in the Titans from early in the season, when they started 1-4.

What happened?

"Even in most of the early losses, there were times that we played well, but we just weren't consistent; we weren't careful," Schwartz said. "That's where our identity was formed. It's easy to continue to do the same things when things are going well, but it's hard when things are going badly. Our guys held up."

They also run extremely well. Linebackers Peter Sirmon, Randall Godfrey and Keith Bulluck are extremely active. Right end Jevon Kearse is not the only freak on the defensive line. Albert Haynesworth has an extra gear for a 320-pound tackle.

But like other good Titans defenses in the past, everything revolves around the safeties. Tennessee wasn't the same last season after losing Blaine Bishop and Marcus Robertson, but now the Titans have two studs in strong safety Tank Williams and free safety Lance Schulters.

They are good at disguising coverages. They both can play the run as well as the pass. They both like to hit.

But if Tennessee has a major weakness, it's on the outside, with cornerbacks Andre Dyson and Samari Rolle. They will have problems with Rice and Brown as well as Jerry Porter.

"You have to mix coverages against the Raiders, because if you stay in man-to-man too much, they have too many plays that can kill you," Schwartz said. "If you stay in zone, they've got a lot of plays just for that, too.

"The teams that have beat them had players who rushed for more than 100 yards. You also have to get pressure on them with your front four, because Gannon has such a quick release that negates a lot of blitzes. We've got our work cut out for us."

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