Hawaii's Lempa: UM's Brown 'a very creative man'
Hawaii defensive coordinator Kevin Lempa admits it will be a little strange being on the opposite sideline from Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown.
Michigan will play its season opener against Hawaii on Saturday at Michigan Stadium, and it will be a reunion of sorts for Lempa and Brown. The two are both Northeasterners who have known each other for 30 years and coached together for five of those years, at Maryland and most recently Boston College.
Brown was Boston College’s defensive coordinator and Lempa coached the defensive backs for three seasons before returning to Hawaii this season — he had been defensive coordinator at Hawaii from 2000-2002. Brown joined coach Jim Harbaugh’s staff last December.
“Let me tell you, he’s a very creative man,” Lempa said of Brown in a phone interview from Hawaii. “He’s really bright in what he tries to do. He tries to scheme each week and have different patterns of attack. It’s hard to know where he’s coming from, because he changes things to fit the team he’s playing. I learned a lot of techniques and a lot of scheme from being with Don for five years.
“He’s the best defensive coordinator I’ve worked with. He treats the players with respect, but he gets after them. And they know he loves him. His demeanor, the way he goes about his business, I learned a lot from him.”
Lempa, who is in his 43rd year of coaching, has modeled his approach to defense in some respects from his time working with Brown. Brown is called “Dr. Blitz” because of his attacking, all-out blitzing defense.
The Boston College defense yielded the fewest yards last season (254.3 per game) and ranked fifth nationally in scoring defense (15.3 points allowed per game).
Harbaugh has spoken this week about Hawaii’s physical nature. The Rainbow Warriors are coming off a 51-31 loss to Cal in Sydney, Australia, last week. Lempa said the Hawaii defense won’t be a mirror image of Michigan’s, but it will have some elements he picked up from Brown.
“We’ll be similar since we were together for so long,” Lempa said. “As far as the scheme, it’s similar to what Michigan is doing. Not 100 percent but similar.”
Lempa has made a number of coaching stops during his long career. He has been defensive coordinator at Columbia and Central Connecticut State, an assistant at Maryland and a defensive assistant with the San Diego Chargers in the late 1990s.
Being back at Hawaii, he said, is like being home.
“It’s good to be back here,” Lempa said.
He is extremely familiar with this current Hawaii staff under coach Nick Rolovich, who was Hawaii’s quarterback when Lempa was defensive coordinator.
“Our offensive coordinator was the center when I was here, our pass-game coordinator was a receiver when I was here, and the DB coach I coached when I was here before.
“I’m the only old man on the staff,” he said, laughing, before adding that Michigan director of personnel Tony Tuioti, who played at Hawaii, was a graduate assistant under Lempa.
While most have focused on the crazy 46,568 miles Hawaii is flying this season to play seven road games, Lempa said the important story is that the program is being built.
“You never know with Rolo, that’s my saying,” Lempa said. “He’s very innovative. He’s very entertaining. He’s done a great job with the players. We weren’t a team when we got here, and he’s brought the players together. They respect each other. They come from all over the world, and he’s done a great job of bringing them all together.
“It’s a very unique place. We need a lot of work to be done here. We’re going to be recruiting the right kind of player who fits our system and what we’re trying to do. Rolo’s going in the right direction.”