Last month, Stanford hired Duane Akina to take over its secondary. The highly regarded defensive mind has coached defensive backs under Dick Tomey at Arizona and at Texas. He has produced 28 NFL players. Akina's first practice on The Farm was Monday. He spoke at length about his philosophy, history, and decision to head West. Audio is available below, as is the entire transcript of the interview with Akina.
Q: What lured you here [to Stanford]?
Duane Akina: I was actually thinking about sitting out for a year [after leaving the Texas staff]. I've worked with a couple of guys on the [Stanford] staff. It was just really interesting when I first talked to them philosophically. Because this game is still about the people that you're lining up with.
I've admired Stanford from afar over the years. I've had great respect for the staff, for what they've done, the coaching, the players, how they've played. [Whenever we played Pac-12 teams at Texas], the first kind of film I'd pull out to watch was Stanford. Stanford versus Oregon, Stanford versus Oregon State... I really liked how they played.
When I had a chance to come down here and meet with the coaches, I met coach Shaw. We had never met. But I had heard such great things about him. I just felt like this was something that was good. It's closer to Hawaii (home). It's a great program. Getting back West was appealing to me.
This is a great football conference. When I was here in '87 (as the defensive backs coach under Dick Tomey at Arizona), I can just remember all those quarterbacks: Troy Aikman was at UCLA, Rodney Peete was at USC, Chris Chandler was at Washington, Timm Rosenbach was at Washington State, Bill Musgrave was at Oregon, Erik Wilhelm was at OSU, Troy Taylor was at Cal, Paul Justin was at Arizona State, and Stanford had a quarterback just about every year. Obviously, they made an impression on me since I remember 30 years later. It's a great football conference that attracts great offensive personnel, that attracts great offensive coaches. This gives you a chance defensively to run a bunch of NFL-type concepts. It's exciting for fans and it's exciting to recruit to. Players enjoy playing in this conference.
Stanford has such a great reputation academically. I believe they've cracked a code. They take that competitive spirit in the classroom and they've brought it to the grass. I've walked this campus. It's beautiful... and this weather. Just a lot of things [lured me here], you can get such a great education and play this high level of football... It's just exciting.
Q: Dallas Lloyd and Kodi Whitfield are both new to your DB position group. How difficult is it to make that transition and how are they doing so far?
Duane Akina: I've been on the grass only one day, but I have had a chance to watch them through spring break (on film). The first seven days, I've been very impressed with them. I've had a lot of success in past years with high school quarterbacks moving over, starting with Chuck Cecil at Arizona, working all the way through to Adrian Phillips this year, who had a great year for me (at Texas). You know, you see the game from the other side of the fence. There's some anticipation there. [Dallas Lloyd] is a big athlete that can run. I think there's tremendous upside.
Kodi's got great hands. I think playing the ball in the air has become a really big evaluation for NFL players, and for myself, because the ball is in the air so much. There's opportunity to make plays. He has shown that ability. He has loose hips. I just think he needs reps. It's not an "add water, instant football player" position. It takes time to develop, and I think he's got a bright future.
Q: You were at Arizona from 1987-2000, so that overlapped with David Shaw's time as a wide receiver at Stanford. Do you remember coaching against Stanford with Shaw on the Cardinal team?
Duane Akina: Yes, I do. Those were great teams. We had some great teams at Arizona too, so those were hard fought football games. Yeah, we remember all those games. In fact, when I was in the team room (at Stanford), I looked up there and I saw all the names on the wall. I saw all the receivers, from Kenny Margerum to Troy Walters. I saw all the receivers I either played against when I was at the University of Washington in the 1970s, or those I coached against (when at Arizona): Ed McCaffrey and all of those. There have been tremendous wide receivers that have come out of Stanford. We really used to enjoy those games when I was in Tucson.
Q: You mentioned you knew some members of the Stanford staff. Which ones did you know, and how important were they in drawing you to come?
Duane Akina: I've known [defensive line coach] Randy Hart for a long time. I got to Arizona in '87, and Randy got to Washington in '88 or around that time. I was there for 14 years. I had the chance to work with [special teams coach] Pete Alamar (in Arizona from 1995-1999). I'd been in a room with Pete. I trusted his opinion when he was talking about the [Stanford] people. That was the start of it all. Just that comfort level being with guys.
[New Cardinal inside linebackers coach] Peter Hansen played for us at Arizona. Still one of the greatest plays ever, when he blocked that field goal up at Washington. When he got on the bus heading to the game, he had just made the travel team that Friday. He came up and made the game-winning play.
I also had a chance to talk to [defensive coordinator] Lance Anderson prior to coming in. I could tell over the phone that there were no egos involved. We were just in this to go win some games and help these kids down the road become better fathers and better husbands who will be part of the community... along with winning some football games.
It was confirmed when I came in and we sat and talked football a bit, and I listened to philosophy. After, I told my wife "these guys have made it tough on us because this sounds very appealing." The fact that coach Shaw was sensitive to my family situation and all really spoke a lot about him. So the people started it, Stanford sells itself, and the opportunity to be involved in an outstanding football program was terrific.
Q: I've heard that physicality is one of the primary fundamentals you preach from the secondary. You said you've admired Stanford from afar. Would you say that's something their defensive backs have done well?
Duane Akina: They've done a nice job across the board and with that mentality. You're right, that's something I visited with everybody today, about my philosophies on that.
I think when they talk about you as a football player, you just want people to check all the boxes. If they just call you a cover guy, that's not what we want. We want to be a defensive back. Which means when we line up on the tight end, we can take on a fullback or a guard. If we're out there on a big wide receiver, we can line up there. If they've got us in the slot -- Wes Welker -- we can match that. We understand splits. Just check all the boxes. So when you leave here, you're armed and ready.
Because as I say to my players, you're a double major: You've come for your academic major, but you've also come here to major in defensive back play. Because you can make a living doing this. I've seen guys make a living doing this. My job is that when they leave here, they've reached their potential as a player. That means they're physical, they're tough, they're smart, they can cover, they're good teammates, they can understand the locker room and how to be a good teammate, they can deflect attention to teammates. All of the above.
David Lombardi is the Stanford Insider for The Bootleg. Check him out at www.davidlombardisports.com and follow him on Twitter @DavidMLombardi.
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