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O-Zone Conversation: Tosh Lupoi

Alabama's defensive coordinator Tosh Lupoi runs plays with his team during an NCAA college football practice on Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2018, in Miami Shores, Fla. The Tide is also on its third defensive coordinator in three years as Tosh Lupoi was promoted after last season to replace Jeremy Pruitt, who is now Tennessee’s head coach. Pruitt got the job when Kirby Smart left to lead Georgia in 2016. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
Alabama's defensive coordinator Tosh Lupoi runs plays with his team during an NCAA college football practice on Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2018, in Miami Shores, Fla. The Tide is also on its third defensive coordinator in three years as Tosh Lupoi was promoted after last season to replace Jeremy Pruitt, who is now Tennessee’s head coach. Pruitt got the job when Kirby Smart left to lead Georgia in 2016. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

JACKSONVILLE – Tosh Lupoi's excitement is evident.

"It's an amazing opportunity," the Jaguars' first-year defensive line coach said of working for Head Coach Urban Meyer and being part of the franchise's new direction. "I think that feeling is just in the entire facility … like a tsunami."

A 13-year coaching veteran who played collegiately at California-Berkeley, Lupoi spent 2019 as the defensive line coach of the Cleveland Browns before spending this past season as the run-game coordinator/defensive line coach with the Atlanta Falcons. He spent five seasons before that with Alabama, one of college football's top programs, and served under Head Coach Nick Saban as co-defensive coordinator in 2016-2017 and defensive coordinator in 2018.

"I don't know what 'school' I'm from, really," he said of his approach to coaching. "I'm from the school of film."

Lupoi this week joined senior writer John Oehser for the O-Zone Conversation, discussing those topics and more. Here's the conversation, which has been edited and condensed:

Question: Why the Jaguars? Why now?

Answer: It's amazing opportunity with Coach Meyer, just the overall excitement of knowing the potential and what we can do and build for the future. It's something I really believed in after doing a lot of thorough research on the roster, Coach Meyer's history and the staff he's put together.

Q: How did this happen? Any past connection with Meyer?

A: I didn't have a path with the head football coach. I was well-aware of his reputation and it was something that piqued my interest after I spent five seasons with Alabama and Coach Saban. It wasn't something I necessarily knew, but I just thought there might be some similarities there with structure and organization. It was something I wanted to investigate and see if that was the case. Once we started to have some contact, I was hoping to be a part of it.

Q: You mentioned possibility similarities between Meyer and Saban, the two most successful college football coaches of this generation. Have you seen any?

A: I've seen both similarities and differences. It's just exciting to really start to pursue the culture with Coach Meyer and learn about him and his beliefs – and do my best to instill the principles and values of what he wants to get done here.

Q: You're working with defensive coordinator Joe Cullen, a dynamic personality who is well-respected among players and coaches in the NFL. How has that been so far?

A: Joe Cullen has an awesome reputation in the National Football League. I knew of him coming up as a coach in the college field. I actually attempted hire Joe Cullen as our defensive line coach when I was the defensive coordinator at Alabama. He was somebody I knew knew ball well and shared some similar thoughts and philosophies of how to play in the front seven. He's just somebody that I respected as a ball coach. I've never worked with Joe, but he was somebody I knew of and heard of who was just like myself – just constantly trying to improve craft. I would always pursue people such as [former Atlanta Falcons Head Coach and current Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator] Dan Quinn, [longtime college and NFL defensive line coach] Pete Jenkins, [longtime college and NFL defensive line coach] Mike Waufle … guys in our profession who are storied coaches up front. Joe was one of those guys. He would always be someone I would always try to pursue – whether it be at the [NFL Scouting] Combine or something along those lines – where I could get with him and exchange some thoughts and talk some ball.

Q: Joe obviously is well-known as a pass-rushing coach. Are you from the same "school" of thought? Is your pass-rush coaching philosophy easily describable?

A: My strongest mentor of the game is film. I've been really fortunate to be around a lot of great coaches. At the end of the day, I'm going to attempt to challenge myself and investigate film – both from studying individuals and coming up with collective thoughts based off that – along with tons of mentorship along the way. At the end of the day, I'm always trying to challenge myself and improve how we rush the passer based off evidence from Sunday's film.

Q: Who's your biggest influence … in coaching or out of coaching? Anybody who's a big reason why you're here …

A: A major name that comes to mind would be my grandfather, Anthony Lupoi. That's not necessarily in football. That's just drive in life, work ethic and just his approach to everyday. He worked his life up from the ground up and pursued the American dream. He always played a major role in my entire childhood and whole life. A big desire of mine is attempting to follow in his footsteps.

Q: Two-and-a-half months into this, what are your thoughts in general on your group, and how excited are you to start working with these players?

A: I'm extremely excited to get with them. This is a period of very limited opportunity [to work with players] right now, so I'll be able to assess that in the near future. I'm fired up about Phase One [of the offseason program] to start up – whenever that exact date's gonna be – and to start this mission with them. I'm just really excited about attacking. I see a lot of ways we can improve – just kind of start off individually and try to implement to the best of my ability the culture that coach wants put in place. We're going to put that at the forefront of everything before we really go into detail and attack what can we do individually to collectively become the best defensive linemen we can be.

Q: I want to ask a couple of players new to the team – and therefore new to the fans. First … defensive tackle Malcom Brown, who was acquired in a trade with New Orleans last month. What about him did you like?

A: He's a steady, road-grading, physical interior D lineman. He uses his hands well and plays with a great base. He attacks. He strikes. He finishes at various positions as an interior player – a zero, a shade, a three-technique. Love the fact that he brings us some leadership qualities. I think we can't value that enough – the fact that he has won two Super Bowls [with the New England Patriots] and he's accomplished some things that we all want to do. I don't think that can never be overvalued.

Q: Same question about defensive lineman Roy Robertson-Harris …

A: Roy has just tremendous potential … the length, the ability to bend, flexibility. You see flashes where he can generate power – being a tall, long individual yet displaying that power. He has some flashes that just absolutely fire you up and excite you and you know they're there. I'm really excited to go attack the process with him, and I think he has the potential to have an absolute big-time future.

Q: How important is versatility and flexibility in your defensive front?

A: It certainly increases your value as an individual. It increases your value as a defensive line when you have a versatile group. You can absolutely be effective when you do have individuals that can master their roles, but especially in a time and age right now with the presence of COVID[-19] you know it really increases the value of an individual if he can play multiple positions and has proven to do so. We all experienced in the National Football League last year where it might be midweek where COVID happens and because of the tracer response, you might be down three players. That's while coaching on a video screen how to play the game of football. When that hits, I think it's extremely important when you do have a guy with versatility that can play multiple positions and have the faith that he can get specific jobs done at different places.

Q: You're not new to the NFL, so you understand the offseason schedule. But how much of a feeling around the staff is there right now of just wanting the offseason program to begin so you can finally start working with the players?

A: You just see, from everybody, the excitement and the overall vibe. You walk in the door and it's rocking from the blasting music of the weight room. It appears to be open at all hours of the day and night. I don't know if they actually close. We tend to get in pretty early in the morning and that thing's blasting and we leave at night and it's blasting. You walk through the hallway and it feels like it should on a new staff – the new feel, the new vibe of the new Jaguars. Everyone seems to be all in. It has been really neat to see – the overall vibe and energy. To be part of it is really exciting.

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