When Rich Rodriguez puts together a coaching staff, he likes to have a little bit of everything. He wants a few bad cops and a few good ones.
Forgive him if he’s still trying to figure out which side Matt Caponi is on.
“We have all kinds of different personalities,” Rodriguez said. “Some guys are louder, some guys are quieter, and some guys are probably louder than you’d think — and that’s Matt. Matt will get after them a little bit.”
Caponi, Arizona’s first-year safeties coach, calls it “hidden aggression.”
“I don’t say much around the office,” Caponi, 30, said. “I speak when I’m spoken to. But I like to get after these guys a little bit on the field. It’s my way of letting them know what I expect from them every day. I like things to be perfect.
“I don’t like any miscues on the defensive side of the ball, especially from our group, so I guess I’m a little sneaky.”
Caponi, in his first season as a full-time Division I assistant, took over the safeties group from Tony Gibson — a coach with 13 years of Division I experience. Gibson bolted for West Virginia after last season.
Rodriguez waited several months to fill the spot but after signing day decided to promote Caponi from graduate assistant to safeties coach.
The early returns have been solid.
Caponi is mainly responsible for the “spur” and “bandit” positions on defense, and they’ve both been productive through three games. Tra’Mayne Bondurant patrols the “spur” spot and leads the team with three interceptions and three pass breakups. He’s tied for the lead in tackles with 19 and also has a sack to his credit.
Jared Tevis has 14 tackles and a sack out of the “bandit” position.
“I feel like Coach Gibson was a little more relaxed, but Coach Caponi has learned a lot from him, and he’s now implemented a lot of his own techniques,” Tevis said. “He’s on us a little more than Coach Gibson. He’s relaxed for the most part, but if you press his buttons the right way or mess up something we’ve gone over a lot, he can snap on you.
“For a lot of us, that’s necessary, and we need that, so we like it.”
The Star chatted with Caponi — who worked for five years at Division III Washington and Jefferson College in Pennsylvania — about the season, becoming a full-time assistant and his personnel.
On how the safeties and defense have fared through three games: “They’ve played all right. They’ve shown some glimpses; we’re still not putting together a full four quarters, and we’re giving up too many big plays. We did an OK job the first two games getting off the field on third down, but not so much against UTSA. We have to get some guys that will do what we’re supposed to do to get off the field. There are still some things we need to clean up technique-wise and effort-wise, it’s still not there 100 percent every play. So it’s getting better, but we still have a long ways to go.”
On Bondurant’s strong start: “He has a knack for making some plays because he puts himself around the ball. That’s something he’s done a good job of the last couple of years. It’s helped a little more that as a defense we’ve played a lot less plays through the first three games than we did last year. The guys are a little bit fresher and playing less snaps a game. I think that helps Tra’Mayne a lot. We have to clean some things up with him technique-wise and get him to give effort every play.”
On the adjustment from graduate assistant to assistant coach: “I can get a little more involved in the game-planning and help with adjustments and do things of that sort on game day. Last year, it was a lot of charting plays, and I hardly got to watch what was going on because I was concentrating on getting stuff ready for halftime. It’s a little bit more fun getting to see the game and make the corrections.”
On if he got a chance to appreciate being an assistant after the first game: “It’s not just the first game. When I wake up every day, I think about being blessed with this opportunity that Coach (Rodriguez) has given me, and I just try to make the most of it. I come into work and do my job and bust my butt and do whatever Coach Rodriguez and Coach (Jeff) Casteel need me to do. I’m trying to work as hard as I can to prove that Coach made the right decision with me.”