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USF defense feeds off new coordinator's energy

TAMPA — To merely observe Tom Allen at work, hollering G-rated admonitions and high-fiving and flitting from one point on USF's practice field to another, might induce fatigue.

"He's gonna bring the energy out of you, every play," sophomore safety Devin Abraham said.

Be it a full-padded workout or Friday walk-through, USF's perpetually hoarse and high-strung defensive coordinator exhibits and elicits zeal, he just doesn't consume it. In a profession where caffeine and profane syllables tend to be abused, the only swearing you'll get from Allen involves coffee and energy drinks.

He pretty much swears them off. "I think because I'm such a high-energy guy, those things make my heart race," the 45-year-old married dad of three said. "I do like Mountain Dew."

Hence the emotional fizz the Bulls brandished in Friday's 24-17 loss to Memphis, when they held the Tigers to fewer than half their previous scoring average (53.8).

In the wake of a listless performance at Maryland that sickened Allen, the Bulls frequently harassed Tigers quarterback Paxton Lynch and mostly held firm when Memphis had short fields. Allen still is kicking himself for not ordering more pressure on a couple of critical plays, but he loved the effort his guys gave him.

Every day, every rep, he tries to reciprocate. It's the way young Tommy Allen, third of Tom and Janet Allen's four kids, learned how to do it at the foot of his dad back in New Castle, Ind.

"If you want your kids to play that way, you'd better coach that way, period," Allen said. "And there's days when you're tired, I get that. But we've got to push through."

Four games into the season, few can debate that the Bulls defense has been, well, reinvigorated. In his first season as a Division I-A coordinator, Allen has infused zest — not to mention a pretty sound pass rush — into a previously beleaguered unit.

"He's always got that juice," Bulls coach Willie Taggart said. "He's always fired up, and it's hard to be around him and not have it."

Despite some costly missed communications and tackles, the Bulls enter Saturday's homecoming game against Syracuse ranked third in the American Athletic Conference in total defense (364.8 yards per game) and 36th nationally against the run (131 ypg).

And while they're still trying to piece together a complete game (like their offensive counterparts), they did hold Florida State and Memphis to a combined 14 first-half points.

The scheme employed in those games — a 4-2-5 — arrived with Allen from Ole Miss, where he spent the previous three seasons as linebackers coach and special teams coordinator.

The passion arrived from a bit farther north. The elder Tom Allen coached football at New Castle High, home to the world's largest prep basketball gym (and UCLA basketball coach Steve Alford's alma mater). Tommy was his tagalong, a fixture both at practices and in the home office where his dad meticulously studied film on an old-school projector.

"I'd always want to be in there with him watching it," said Allen, who eventually played for his dad.

"That's what it was, just his work ethic. And if you're gonna coach defense, you've got to watch film and film and film. He was just such a detail guy, and … those are the things he really taught me: how to work and pay attention to the details of film study."

While an obsession with film study hardly makes Allen a rarity in his line of work, his tame vernacular might. The guy with the Gruden-esque fire possesses a Dungy-esque tongue.

"I've never heard a curse word out of his mouth," said ESPN recruiting analyst Derek Tyson, who first played for Allen at now-defunct Temple Heights Christian School.

"That's not how I motivate, that's not how I talk," said Allen, a Christian who attended what is now known as Maranatha Baptist University in Wisconsin. "And I don't push it on other people, but I will say this: I've never felt like that motivated anybody. I feel like love motivates."

This, more than the zeal or zone blitzes, is at the essence of Allen's philosophy. Coaching "from the heart to the heart" is his mantra. Proving that his concern transcends mere words is his aspiration. Takes time, though. Allen has been on the job all of 10 months.

"But I'm telling you, when they call you at 2 in the morning, and you're there for 'em, that changes," he said.

"I tell 'em, 'I want you to feel like you can call me any time about anything, and I'll come get you. I'll come help you get out of a bad situation, and we'll do that.' To me, that's just the way it has to be. And it's happened, it's happened here."

That's when the indefatigable gene really comes in handy.

"I think the one thing our guys love about it and what I love about him is that he's genuine," Taggart said. "He's straightforward, and you're going to know that he cares."

Contact Joey Knight at [email protected] Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.

USF defense feeds off new coordinator's energy 10/07/15 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 7, 2015 9:53pm]
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