Feb. 24, 2003
TUCSON - University of Arizona defensive coordinator Larry Mac Duff has accepted a position with newly hired coach Dennis Erickson of the San Francisco 49ers and will leave the program after more than a dozen years working with Wildcat defenders.
Mac Duff, 54, joins the 49ers staff as special teams coordinator, the same position he held for the New York Giants from 1997-2000 in between two stints with the UA program.
"It's a tremendous professional opportunity," Mac Duff said today. "They called and it just happened. It's a difficult decision, especially because the future is bright here at Arizona," he said.
Mac Duff joined coach John Mackovic's Arizona program in spring 2001 and served as coordinator and linebacker coach the past two seasons, plus worked with strong safeties in 2002 as the staff evolved the double eagle-flex system it's used since 1992. He came to Arizona from Hawaii with Dick Tomey in 1987 and was the defensive coordinator through the 1996 season before moving to the professional ranks in New York.
Mac Duff and then line coach Rich Ellerson switched the UA's 50 defense during the 1992 season and created a pressure, gap-control system which brought the program acclaim as "Desert Swarm" during the 1990s.
"Larry was such a key player in our entire program," Mackovic said of Mac Duff's departure. "We want to find someone like him who can provide that leadership.
"It's a great situation and opportunity for him. He's considered the smartest and best special teams coach in the country, and now he's working for one of the five best sports organizations in the nation," Mackovic said.
"It puts us in a tight squeeze for the start of spring ball," which UA has scheduled to commence in 12 days. "We'll do everything possible to (hire a coordinator) and stay on target for March 8," Mackovic said. "'m looking for the best coach possible and will work as quickly as I can without making a hasty decision."
Whether he might consider changing UA's defensive scheme with a new hire, Mackovic said, "We've already been undergoing change the past year. The most important thing is to find the right person to put into a leadership position, someone who can work with the coaches and players and bring good ideas to the table."
Mac Duff's defenses led the nationa in scoring defense in 1992 and 1993, led the nation in rushing defense with a Pac-10 record low of 30.1 yards per game in 1993, was No. 2 nationally in total defense both those years, No. 2 in rushing defense and in the top 10 overall in 1994 and No. 7 in total defense in 1995.
With New York, Mac Duff helped the Giants lead the NFL in field goal defense for two years, lead the NFC in punt returns for a season, rate No. 2 in blocked kicks for a year and had the club's best kickoff return average in its past quarter-century.
Profile Arizona defensive players he worked with include 1989 first-round NFL picks Anthony Smith and Chris Singleton, Jim Thorpe Award winner Darryll Lewis in 1993, Outland Trophy and Nagurski Award winner Rob Waldrop in 1993, Lombardi Award finalist and NCAA sack champion Tedy Bruschi in 1994 and 1995. Five Wildcats became Pacific-10 Conference Defensive Player of the Year during his tenure including Chuck Cecil in 1987, Dana Wells in 1988, Lewis in 1990, Waldrop in 1993 and Bruschi in 1995. Sean Harris and Brandon Sanders were two-time all-league performers on Mac Duff's Arizona defenses and later made it in the NFL.
Arizona is set to begin spring practice Saturday, March 8, with a session at 8 a.m. The program is allowed 15 practices, set to conclude Saturday, April 12, with the annual Red-Blue Spring Game.