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Tigers hire new defensive coordinator




Second-year Fort Hays State University football coach Chris Brown has known Cooper Harris for many years. The duo played together at Pittsburg State University, and helped the Gorillas reach the NCAA Division II national championship game. Then, Brown and Harris worked together at Washburn University for nine years and helped turn around the Ichabod program.

Last year, Brown, the former Washburn defensive coordinator, took over at Fort Hays. He asked Harris to join him on the Tiger staff. However, Harris and his wife, Summer, had just had a baby, Piper. Plus, Summer, from Oakley, had a good job as Washburn's marketing/tickets coordinator.

Harris took over Brown's former position as defensive coordinator and helped Washburn win its first Division II playoff game in school history.

"Last year was a hard time," Brown said.

On Jan. 24, former FHSU defensive coordinator Dion Meneley was arrested on one count of driving under the influence and going the wrong way on a one-way street, according to a police report. Meneley later resigned and is now an assistant coach at Hutchinson Community College.

"Things that we ask our kids to do, I kind of hold coaches the same way," Brown said. "We just got to be careful. I told him, I thought this was the best thing for us to go in a different direction and Dion and I have been friends for a long time and he kind of felt the same way."

Brown went to Harris again. This time, the two friends reunited when Harris decided to become Fort Hays' new defensive coordinator, a move FHSU announced Friday morning. Harris is expected to be in Hays before spring football starts April 2. The spring game is scheduled for April 28.

"We are just pretty good friends and we always talk about how we would like to get back to coaching together sometime," Brown said. "The opportunity arose and I went and talked to him a little bit about it."

Harris becomes the sixth defensive coordinator in the last five seasons with the Tigers. Brown expects Harris to stay long-term and provide continuity for a defense that hasn't ranked in the top half of the MIAA in scoring defense or total defense since 2008.

"This year it is a little bit easier," Brown said. "The baby has grown up a little bit. They have gone through a year of having a child and going through the job situation and they just kind of decided this is what is best for them and their family. It's a good fit for them."

In 2008, Shawn Mennenga led the Tigers to the MIAA's second-best total defense (319.5 yards allowed per game) and seventh-best scoring defense (26.8 points allowed per game) in the conference. The next year, Kyle Nystrom led the Tigers to last-place finishes in total defense (458.5) and scoring defense (36.5). The 402 points allowed set a school record.

In 2010, Greg Bryant took over as defensive coordinator and Fort Hays finished eighth in scoring defense (32.0) and seventh in total defense (382.5). Last year, FHSU first hired Chris Rose, a high school coach from Midwest City, Okla., to be the defensive coordinator. But things fell through in the spring, and Meneley was promoted to defensive coordinator. The Tigers finished ninth in both scoring defense (34.7) and total defense (472.5) with Meneley.

Fort Hays permitted a school record 70 points in a road loss to Northwest Missouri State University.

Last year, Washburn's defense finished fifth in the conference in scoring defense (25.2) and total defense (379.7) under Harris. As well, the Ichabods were 17th in the nation in turnover margin and set a school record with nine sacks versus Truman State (Mo.) University. Harris will run a 4-2-5, the same defense Fort Hays used last fall and Brown ran at Washburn.

"He is very similar," Brown said. "The thing with Cooper, we think a lot alike. Everything we do is alike. Having him on my staff is a guy that I can really trust. He is going to run the defense very well and do a very good job for us.

"We are just very, very similar," Brown added. "Even when we coached together at Washburn for (nine) years, we sit in the meeting room and we just kind of looked at each other and knew exactly what we wanted to get done. When you have got a situation like that, it makes it pretty easy for you."

The Tigers now have three coaches with recent ties to Washburn on staff. Zach Watkins, a former Washburn All-American under Brown and Harris, was the Tigers' inside linebackers coach last year.

"Same fundamentals, does everything the exact same way, it makes things a little bit easier on our staff, plus with Watkins, he has been coached by us and he knows exactly what we want and how we do things," Brown said. "It's going to be a pretty good defensive staff for us."

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