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Get To Know Your New Edge Defensive Line Coach: Brian Early

Brian Early carries two titles at Mizzou: edge defensive line coach and “most intimidating dude on the staff”

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 19 Houston at UConn Photo by Williams Paul/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

You all should know by now: it’s impossible to tell if a hire will work until you actually see them do the work.

Blake Baker was an afterthought promotion in the spring of 2022. Hired on to replace the departures of secondary coaches Charlie Harbison and Aaron Fletcher, Baker had been a journeyman defensive coordinator and linebackers coach when he assumed the role of safeties coach, and then coordinator once Steve Wilks left. He then turned around and crafted two of the ten best defenses Missouri has seen since the turn of the millennium.

Kevin Peoples was a guy who had seen success at Tulane in the American conference, then had the lucky circumstance of being on a team with Kalen DeBoer, Kane Wommack, and Michael Penix in the pandemic season of 2020 where his defensive line surprised everyone by leading the league in sacks. The following year his charges regressed to the mean violently, barely eclipsing 15 tackles for loss in a 12-game season, with most of his linemen returning. Of course, he then turned Isaiah McGuire into an NFL Draft pick and will certainly have one, possibly two more drafted this spring.

It’s tough to tell, and resumes only give you so much. But it’s the only thing we have right now so let’s take a look at Brian Early, Missouri’s newest edge defensive line coach.

Coach Early’s Resume

The first thing that popped out to me is that the dude is a seasoned high school football coach, something that Eli Drinkwitz values highly. Think back to Drink’s staff since 2020: Casey Woods, Charlie Harbison, and Aaron Fletcher all had high school coaching in their resumes, and on the current staff Corey Batoon, Curtis Luper, Erik Link, Al Davis, D.J. Smith, and Al Pogue (who was exclusively a high school coach until 2011) all have high school coaching experience, just like Drink does. Being able to teach a the sport, let alone scheme and tactics, requires effective communication and the ability to connect with your players which is a valuable skill even at the college level (and in life, generally).

Second: he also has special teams coordinating experience, another aspect Drink values in his coaches. On the current staff Corey Batoon, Curtis Luper, and Erik Link have experience coaching special teams, as did Blake Baker, Bush Hamdan, Casey Woods, and Aaron Fletcher in the past. Managing a special teams unit involves a lot of “how do we maximize our return with a hodge podge of talents?”, a skill that any coach will have to utilize in their careers.

Lastly, Brian Early is an Arkansas Dude. Early has been a football coach since 1994 which, at this point, is essentially 30 years; 22 of his seasons were spent coaching in the actual state of Arkansas. Furthermore - if we cite Monticello, AR as his home base of operations - Early’s gig at Mizzou is only the third time ever that he’s worked more 200 miles away from home.

Mizzou has made a habit of nabbing highly ranked Arkansas kids and pulling them north; it would stand to reason that Early can only help in that endeavor.

Brian Early’s link to the rest of the staff

Officially one!

  • Early was the defensive line coach at Houston from 2019-2023 while Brandon Jones was the offensive line coach for the Cougars from 2019-2022

He’s had a few near misses with other guys on the staff, though:

  • Early coached at Fayetteville High School from 2009-2012; Al Davis was a volunteer coach at Fayetteville High School in 2013.
  • Additionally, Early was a Quality Control coach for the Razorbacks in 2013 before moving on to Arkansas State while Al Davis was a graduate assistant in Fayetteville from 2014-2016.
  • Early was the defensive line coach at Arkansas State from 2014-2018; Corey Batoon was coaching defensive backs in Jonesboro from 2009-2011 and, of course, Eli Drinkwitz was at ASU from 2012-2013.

Is he good at what he does?

Right, here’s the fun part!

Let’s start with defensive linemen he’s coached in college as their position coach that went on to be drafted in the NFL. Regardless of whether he recruited the talent or coached the talent, it’s a pretty consistent metric that gets graded to every coach across the board so that’s a good start:

William Bradley-King - Arkansas State Defensive End

  • 2021 Draft: 7th Round, 240th Pick
  • 44 solo tackles, 44 assisted tackles, 24 tackles for loss, 14.5 sacks, 2 passes defensed, 5 forced fumbles
  • Transferred to Baylor for the 2020 season, was drafted as a Baylor graduate

Payton Turner - Houston Defensive End

  • 2021 Draft: 1st Round, 28th Pick
  • 68 solo tackles, 46 assisted tackles, 23.5 tackles for loss, 9.5 sacks, 1 interception, 9 passes defensed, 1 forced fumble
  • Was coached by Early for last two years of his Houston career

Logan Hall - Houston Defensive End

  • 2022 Draft: 2nd Round, 33rd Pick
  • 50 solo tackles, 47 assisted tackles, 19.5 tackles for loss, 7 sacks, 1 pass defensed, 1 forced fumble
  • Early became his position coach in his second year on campus

Derek Parish - Houston Defensive End

  • 2023 Draft: 7th Round, 240th Pick
  • 80 solo tackles, 78 assisted tackles, 34.5 tackles for loss, 17.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 1 defensive touchdown
  • Early became his position coach in his sophomore year

So, from the time that he became a defensive line coach in the FBS in 2014 he’s had four players selected in the NFL Draft, none of whom he coached for their entire careers.

He also coached Ja’Von Rolland-Jones, the the second-all-time leader in sacks in the NCAA who signed an Undrafted Free Agent contract with the Cincinnati Bengals in 2017. In total, he’s coached nine 1st Team All-Conference selections and had two additional players sign UDFA contracts once they left his tutelage.

All good stuff there! But what about the effectiveness of his defensive lines?

First of all, Early has almost exclusively coached a 4-man defensive line; if there was any part of you think Corey Batoon might install a 3-man front, I think this hire highly discourages that.

Second, Early’s defensive lines have been very havoc-forward; here’s how his five Houston defensive line graded out in havoc:

  • 2019: 6.0% (33rd in the nation) - 34.5 tackles for loss, 18 sacks, 3 forced fumbles
  • 2020: 4.3% (47th) - 21 tackles for loss, 15 sacks, 2 forced fumbles
  • 2021: 9.2% (8th) - 67 tackles for loss, 32 sacks, 7 forced fumbles
  • 2022: 8.1% (23rd) - 51.5 tackles for loss, 22.5 sacks, 8 forced fumbles
  • 2023: 7.5% (33rd [tied]) - 47 tackles for loss, 23.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles

As a comparison, Mizzou’s 2022 defensive line havoc was at 7.6% and ranked 28th, while Missouri’s 2023 defensive line havoc was at 7.5% and ranked tied for 33rd in the country...with Houston! Wild! Small world, huh?

Conclusion

I think it’s a good hire. Early likes aggressive defenses that get after the quarterback and has set school TFL and sack records at Arkansas State and Houston, so he’s certainly familiar with success and maximizing guys he’s had at previous stops.

The SEC is a different beast and it’ll be very interesting to see what he can do against SEC line with SEC talent.