Photo by Nebraska Communications

Ruud Stays True To Nebraska Roots

By Brian Rosenthal

How true is Barrett Ruud to his Nebraska roots?

The Lincoln native began his Husker football career in 2001, at which point Ruud got his first cell phone. He left in 2004 as Nebraska’s all-time leading tackler, embarked on an NFL career that employed him in Florida, Tennessee, Louisiana and Texas, and never once ditched his 402 area code number.

Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean Ruud had planned to someday return to Nebraska as an assistant football coach.

“Well, I sold my house in July, so I didn’t think it would happen this soon,” Ruud said, laughing as he sat back in his chair in his new office at North Stadium.

“I don’t know. Honestly, I really didn’t. Obviously, it was always kind of in the back of my mind when I first got into coaching, like, ‘Wow, it’d be great if I was linebackers coach at Nebraska one day.’ Once you get going, though, you don’t really think that way. You kind of get consumed in what you’re doing.

“But once we had some success at UCF and this became a possibility, then you did start thinking about it a little bit.”

Ruud will coach inside linebackers for new head coach Scott Frost. It’s the same job he held under Frost at UCF, except, ‘I didn’t get paid to do it,” Ruud quipped.

His official title was defensive quality control administrator. Ruud followed Frost to Lincoln along with the rest of the UCF staff in early December, and his new position became official Tuesday, the first day FBS football programs could allow a 10th full-time assistant coach for the first time.

Ruud (No. 38 above) played eight seasons in the NFL, including six with Tampa Bay. Toward the end of his career, some coaches queried Ruud on his interest in coaching. He wasn’t certain, until realizing being 30 years old and retired wasn’t really a good thing.

Plus, he missed the game of football.

“I had kind of reached out to Scott the year prior (to retiring), honestly just asking if he thought I should get into coaching,” Ruud said. “It wasn’t like I was necessarily looking for a job with him. When he was at Oregon I was like, ‘You think I should get into this?’ just kind of looking for advice.”

Ruud then ended up helping on Nebraska’s staff under former coach Bo Pelini, a move that pleased Frost. He and Ruud stayed in touch, and when Frost took his first head coaching job at UCF, Ruud reached out to him.

“It was really good timing for me,” Ruud said.

That wasn’t the first time Ruud and Frost had spent time together on the same football team.

In 2002, at the end of Ruud’s sophomore season at Nebraska, Frost was in Lincoln working out, looking to resume his NFL career. Instead, he got a head start on his coaching career.

Nebraska coach Frank Solich had fired three defensive assistants, including coordinator Craig Bohl, and needed help preparing the Blackshirts for an Independence Bowl game against Mississippi.

“We just needed some bodies to help us out,” Ruud said. “Scott just volunteered his services for the bowl game. I do remember that pretty well. I do remember the same personality he has now – laid back but very smart, very intelligent when it came to football.

“He was coaching DBs back then, he was helping the secondary. And he would give me a couple of tips on coverage and stuff like that. You could tell he knew what he was talking about. At the same time, I don’t think he knew he wanted to be a coach at that time, either. I think he was just literally looking to kill time and helped his alma mater during a bowl game.”

Ask Frost, and he’ll tell you he’s a defensive coach at heart, Ruud said.

“He’s like an offensive guru now so I think that’s ship’s sailed, but he really has a passion for defense, especially tackling,” Ruud said. “He likes teaching tackling and he has the whole team do that.”

Ruud expects more of that from Frost in Lincoln, although he said that will likely be the extent of Frost’s input for defensive coordinator Erik Chinander.

“Coach Frost likes talking not only getting off blocks,” Ruud said, “but receivers and DBs, he runs that drill -- block, get off blocks – it’s like the new version of the Oklahoma drill. It’s out in space, but guys are striking each other, getting off blocks.”

Ruud said his coaching philosophy, and that of the Nebraska staff, is simply putting players into a position to succeed. Of utmost importance is finding out where each player fits with his abilities.

“We’re a fundamental defense at heart,” Ruud said. “We’re not a schemer defense. We’re going to win with fundamentals. Teach concepts, and teach guys how to play. I think that’s the key. It’s not an Xs and Os things. It’s about, can you see what you’re supposed to see? Can you play with your proper keys? Can you get off blocks, and can you make tackles? That’s really what it’s about. However you want to do that Xs and Os wise, isn’t as important as can players go and execute and get the job done?”

The entire Nebraska team and staff will meet together Thursday, although Ruud has met everyone in his position group. He likes their personalities and attitudes but isn’t likely to watch film on them.

Perhaps a clean slate is good for both player and coach.

“I don’t know what was being told before,” Ruud said. “The way it is strength and conditioning wise, usually when you go and watch a few workouts, you can tell who can move, who can’t move, and then you start meeting with guys in the offseason, you can tell how they learn, who’s got great communication skills. Usually just by being around guys in the offseason, you can plug them in a little bit, I think better than even watching previous year’s tape.

“Coaching transitions can be tough, but all of them seem to be in a good place. They are excited about it, eager to get started.”

Reach Brian at brosenthal@huskers.com or follow him on Twitter @GBRosenthal.

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