By JOEL COLEMAN
Just a few short months ago, Peter Sirmon, Terrell Buckley, Maurice Linguist and Brian Baker were scattered around the country.
Sirmon was on the West Coast, coaching linebackers at Southern Cal. Buckley was guiding the cornerbacks at Louisville. Linguist was the defensive passing game coordinator at Iowa State and Baker was an assistant at a high school in Texas.
An unusual series of events has since brought the four men together in Starkville. In the offseason, Mississippi State lost its entire defensive coaching staff. Enter Sirmon, Buckley, Linguist and Baker to try and keep MSU’s success of recent years rolling.
“I think for everybody that just working together (for the first time), there is no pre-disposed anything, so they can work very well together,” State head coach Dan Mullen said of his new-look defensive staff. “I think for the players, it’s a little refreshing because they know, ‘Hey, I’ve got a chance to prove to these guys what I can do.’ I think for the staff and them working together, they’re all new and all together. I think it allows them to kind of bond together a little bit better as a whole.”
Each man has brought an impressive resume to Starkville. Sirmon, the man who leads this gang of newcomers as defensive coordinator, is a former college and NFL linebacker with nearly a decade of coaching experience.
Buckley, MSU’s cornerbacks coach, won a Super Bowl after a collegiate career that saw him claim the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation’s top defensive back. He, too has been in coaching for nearly 10 years. Linguist, who’ll guide the safeties, has been coaching college football since 2007.
Baker, State’s defensive line coach, spent 19 years coaching in the the NFL.
“Everybody has a football background,” Buckley said. “We’ve played ball. The challenge was the language building. Usually, if you leave and switch schools, a (defensive coordinator) is already there. Your language that you just left is gone. Peter allowed us to bring it and have some input, which is very, very rare. When you get around somebody like that, it’s special.”
Sirmon, Buckley, Linguist and Baker have quickly developed a bond. Sirmon may be the guy at the head of the defensive table, but each man feels like they have a say.
In his career, Baker has dealt with a wide array of personalities. Baker indicates Sirmon has been as easy to work with as anyone he’s ever been around.
“Peter has done a great job understanding that everybody has different experiences in that room and we come from different places and been involved with different systems,” Baker said. “So everybody has something different to bring to the table and Peter is very receptive and really demanding on it. He asks opinions on it all the time and considers everything we talk about.
“When you do that, whether we go with the way one guy wants to go or not, because you know you are being heard, you leave the room unified. You say, ‘Okay we bounced this around and this is the way we feel is best for our defense within our system’. If coordinators continue to do that whether it is him or someone else, you have a cohesive defensive staff or offensive staff.”
The relationships have even carried over away from the field and meeting rooms. Recently, MSU’s coaching staff went on a retreat. Sirmon, Buckley and Linguist hit the golf course together. That time allowed the men to scratch their itch for competition while continuing to learn and appreciate one another.
“Staff-wise, you don’t really get a lot of that,” Buckley said.
Closeness doesn’t automatically equate to victories. Each of the new defensive coaches understand that. Still, when it comes to meshing together four separate personalities in such a short period of time, it appears as though things couldn’t be going any better.
The group will finally start being put to the test when MSU opens up its schedule on Sept. 3. Buckley is making no promises, but he enters things with confidence based on how things have gone since he and his three new friends came together.
“It’s a great working environment and a great atmosphere,” Buckley said. “I’ll let you know at the end of the year (if it’s successful), but it’s a very, very good situation.”