Cincinnati's football program is no stranger to change. The Bearcats are on their third coach since the 2009 season, as both Brian Kelly (Notre Dame) and Butch Jones (Tennessee) accepted jobs elsewhere. The school weathered the Big East's transition into becoming the American Athletic Conference. And athletic director Whit Babcock is off to Virginia Tech; he has since been replaced by former Colorado AD Mike Bohn.
In January, Cincy started integrating a new defensive co-coordinator. The Bearcats brought in former UConn defensive coordinator Hank Hughes to improve a unit that was good but not great in 2013. SI.com talked with Hughes about his new gig and what he's seeing out of the Bearcats this spring.
SI: How's the new job treating you?
Hank Hughes: Cincinnati is treating me great. I'm excited to be here. We're working on going back to fundamentals, getting assignments and alignments and executing. We're putting everything together when we come into team periods and executing as a unit. Really that's been our focus. Everybody's got the chance to show what they can do. Everybody has an opportunity to get plenty of reps out here.
SI: How has the transition been coming from UConn [where Hughes spent 13 seasons] and back to Cincinnati [where Hughes was the defensive line coach in 1993]?
HH: We love it here. This is my wife's home. Our family's excited to be here, she has a lot of family here. I've lived here before. This is where I met my wife, and this is where I got married, so there's a personal touch to it as well. I'm excited about being with the coaches and players I'm with and the university and what they have to offer.
SI: What about the Cincinnati job did you find most appealing?
HH: I thought it was an opportunity, number one, to work with a great university and a great head football coach in coach [Tommy] Tuberville. To work at a program that's winning as many games as most anybody in the country has done over the last 10 years or so.
SI: Conference realignment has changed things a bit, but you're familiar with most programs in the league. Does that give you a little different perspective than, say, someone moving from the Big 12 to the AAC?
HH: You know what, we're going to play a great schedule and play against great football teams at the highest level of football that there is. I know there's a huge challenge ahead of us in this conference. I've worked at a couple of the universities here, but people change and systems change, so I don't know how much that helps outside of knowing where the locker room is.
SI: You've had some time to assess your personnel. What do you see out of your defense so far?
HH: I don't know that there's any big surprise. I think we're just working to get better fundamentally. I think we have good team speed. I think we have a great group of kids. They're hard workers. We're just trying to be diligent and focus on one day at a time, one rep at a time, one play at a time.
SI: Are there any guys, either early enrollees or transfers, who have particularly impressed you?
HH: It's still a little bit early to assess. We'll have a whole other group coming in the fall. We have the rest of the spring left and through preseason before we'll really know where our personnel is. Obviously, we've got some guys who have been here, are back here and have a history here and have shown what they can do already. We just have to get those guys going as well.
SI: What's your approach when you're coaching defense? What's your philosophy? HH: We want to attack people and be aggressive. Our philosophy is prevent them from scoring and minimize the number of points they put on the board. We've got to do a good job of that, whatever it is. Systems change from week to week. What you have to stop may depend on whether the team is a good run team, a good pass team, whether they're a spread offense or they're packing it in or whatever. We have to be good at matching tempos nowadays in football. You have to be multiple and be able to adapt to what the offenses are attacking with.