DOug Belk is already one of the most respected and well-known defensive coordinators in college football. He is the highest paid assistant coach in the history of the University of Houston. But also, in some ways, he’s still a defensive backs coach at heart.
That’s how Belk, still just 34, began his coaching career at Division II Valdosta State. It’s the position he worked with in Alabama under Nick Saban, himself a former secondary coach. Saban doesn’t always like to dwell on things, but get him to talk about cover technique and he’ll go on for 45 minutes. Defensive back coaches are often of a different breed.
So it’s perhaps no surprise that Belk personally makes sure UH’s secondary is ready. This is clearly one of the biggest question marks hanging over a Houston team coming off a 12-win season, a consensus Top 25 team. Perhaps the the biggest interrogation point.
And Belk launches this challenge.
“Obviously, the production we lost in this position is well rated,” Belk says when I ask him about high school. “So it’s a challenge for guys like Art (Green) and Alex (Hogan) who played big roles for us last year to increase their production and get into starting roles.
“And we play a lot of guys in the secondary. I take great pride in being an excellent teacher, so this is a challenge for me as well.
How Belk teaches UH’s secondary — especially cornerbacks — will go a long way in determining the Cougars’ ultimate fortunes. Houston sends Hasaan Hypolite and Gervarrius Owens back to safety. But Marcus Jones and Damarion Williams, the difference making cornerbacks on this 12-win team, are both in the NFL. The electrifying Jones already looks like one of Bill Belichick’s early favorites.
These are absences that are impossible to miss.
This puts pressure on the return of Green, Hogan and Jayce Rogers. Redshirt freshman Mike Welch, junior college transfer Moses Alexander and junior Garrison Vaughn will also be heavily in the mix.
“We have to prepare these guys,” Bell said. “A big indication for us of the quality of our performance this year is whether we can replace some of the production on the corner.”
The Doug Belk Experience
Doug Belk makes it his mission, his challenge too. The rising star of college football coaching goes to great lengths to ensure that a defensive room that has lost vital voices is still as energetic.
“I’m going to make sure these guys are ready to go,” Belk swears. “They have to prove they can play at a high level. A lot of the talk around the building is about the impact of Marcus Jones and Damarion Williams when it comes to the game.
“But their impact in the dressing room was just as big in terms of running this room, challenging guys and playing at a high level. We’re not trying to reinvent these guys. . . I’m just trying to develop a new identity.
Making it look equally imposing – without Jones and Williams – is the challenge.
“To be honest with you, we really aren’t shooting as well as last year,” Hasaan Hypolite said. “We try to be better. Being like Top 6, stuff like that, a lot of people would love that.
“But we use it to fuel the fire. We want to get him to the Top 3 now. Let’s be Top 3, Top 2 now. Let’s see how far we can go. That’s the kind of energy we have in this building.
Having Hypolite, who gave one of UH’s most impactful halftime speeches last season, is a step forward in building that identity. But in an increasingly successful game, there is no substitute for covering corners that can make plays.
Doug Belk knows he has to make sure Houston has some of these guys. This push will start with Art Green and Alex Hogan.
“The art has come a long way since he’s been here,” Belk says. “He’s a great football player. The expectation is high for him. Alex came from Texas Tech and he was able to help us in different ways last year. He has great playing ability.”
“I take great pride in being a great teacher – so it’s a challenge for me too.” — Doug Belk, HU defensive coordinator
Belk must also construct the belief. Jones and Williams never doubted their own abilities, superior skills and willpower. Now Belk is trying to foster that in a new group. Coaches don’t often put things on their own in such a neat and unequivocal way.
Again, Doug Belk never took the usual route.
“It’s about creating the mentality that we have to be good on the outside,” Belk said.
Spoken like a man who wants all the smoke. Doug Belk isn’t afraid of the biggest question mark hovering around his defense. Instead, he almost eagerly goes about it. It is also his personal challenge.