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Arizona’s young secondary coach more Venables than venerable

Ryan Walters watches over the secondary in the spring. Photo by Michael Chow/The Arizona Republic

The Arizona Wildcats’ oldest football player, senior receiver Gino Crump, turned 23 last month. The UA’s secondary coach, Ryan Walters, is only 25.

Walters’ potentially troubling age and inexperience has rarely come up this fall, a function of how comfortable head coach Mike Stoops is with his first-year secondary coach and how seemingly well the secondary has carried on despite knee injuries to starters Adam Hall and Jonathan McKnight.

“I’ve been blessed to have a great group of guys,” Walters said. “They make my job fun and make my job easier than I thought it was going to be at this point in time.”

Stoops, a former defensive backs coach of note at Kansas State and Oklahoma, doesn’t see a younger version of himself in Walters. But he quickly came up with another comparison, pointing to a coach he worked with at both schools.

Brent Venables.

Venables, who succeeded Stoops as Oklahoma’s defensive coordinator after the 2003 season, was 25 when he landed his first full-time gig as the linebackers coach at K-State. Venables is still the Sooners’ defensive coordinator.

“They are almost identical,” Stoops said. “They are just way beyond their years with feel and knowledge of the game. Those guys are pretty unique.”

Walters, a former safety at Colorado, was a defensive graduate assistant at Arizona last season, working with secondary coach and co-defensive coordinator Greg Brown. When Brown left after the season for his third stint at Colorado, Stoops said his first instinct was to hire Walters “right off the bat.”

“The calls from all over from people who wanted this job, it was crazy,” Stoops said.

You probably know the rest: In what was widely hailed as a hiring coup, Stoops brought in former UA secondary coach Duane Akina from Texas, then Akina returned to the Longhorns after a few weeks on the job.

Stoops didn’t bother with a coaching search the second time around. The guy he wanted was already in his football offices.

Walters is now in charge of a major college secondary just three years removed from wearing the uniform himself.

“He can relate to everything,” said sophomore safety Marquis Flowers, “even if it not about football.”

Yeah, but the buddy-buddy act only goes so far.

The small gap in age difference doesn’t stop Walters from jumping all over his players for doing the wrong thing in practice.

“Not at all. They’ll tell you,” he said.

“I think the age naturally creates a camaraderie and a bond between us that might not be there had I been older. But I think because of that, because we’re so comfortable with each other, it allows me to jump on them a little harder than normal.

“And they respond to it. They don’t get mad. If anything, they respect it, and they respect the fact that I want them to get better. They know if I get on them, it’s out of a place of love.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the eighth installment of our 24 Hours of Arizona Football Blogging — one post at the top of every hour. Keep checking back at TucsonCitizen.com through Friday at 11 a.m. or follow the entire series with the “24 hours of blogging” tag.

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