When he worked as a Washington State assistant football coach, Jody Sears spent a lot of time seeking talented players in Northern California.
For someone who grew up in the open spaces of eastern Washington, places such as Sacramento, San Francisco and San Jose were a real eye opener.
“I recruited this area for four years, and I loved it,” Sears said. “I remember calling my wife, and saying, we can live in Northern California.”
It took a few years, but Sears and his family have finally arrived.
He’s Sacramento State’s new defensive coordinator after spending the previous two seasons in Ogden, Utah, where he coached at Weber State, a Big Sky Conference rival of the Hornets.
Sears initially was hired as the Wildcats’ defensive coordinator in the spring of 2012 but got his first head coaching gig a few weeks later when John L. Smith abruptly resigned – before coaching a game – to take over at Arkansas (Smith is now at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colo.).
Sears was fired after two seasons as the Wildcats went 4-19 overall and 3-13 in conference.
While Sears would have liked to have more time to try to turn around Weber State, he’ll have a chance to help the Hornets improve a defense that was one of the weakest in the Big Sky last season.
Sac State finished a disappointing 5-7 overall and 4-4 in conference play that included a one-sided loss to rival UC Davis in the Causeway Classic.
Although he was a wide receiver at Washington State, Sears has spent most of his coaching career on the defensive side. He worked three years as a graduate assistant at Iowa State before becoming the defensive coordinator at St. Ambrose College in Davenport, Iowa, in 1998. He spent two years coaching cornerbacks and the defensive line at Army before returning to his home state to coach at Eastern Washington in 2000.
Three years later, he became the Eagles’ defensive coordinator, before moving on to Washington State for four seasons, including three as co-defensive coordinator.
“We’re excited to have Jody here,” said Sac State coach Marshall Sperbeck. “He brings some head coaching experience and has been a defensive coordinator in the conference. More than anything, he brings experience to our program.”
Sears, 46, isn’t promising any miracles for a defense that must replace five starters, including first-team all-conference linebacker Todd Davis, who ranked fifth nationally in tackles among Football Championship Subdivision players.
There isn’t likely to be any major changes in defensive schemes, despite rumors the Hornets will shift from playing two linebackers and five defensive backs to three and four in their basic package.
“I don’t see any radical changes,” Sperbeck said. “I think coach Sears is trying to get a feel for what we can do, what we’re good at and what he is comfortable with. With just 15 (spring) practices, it’s a feeling-out process for everybody.”
Sears says how well the defense plays will be less about X’s and O’s and more about players buying in.
“I’ve told the guys whether it’s me, Vince Lombardi or Bear Bryant, until you start playing for each other, it’s not going to matter what blitz you draw up or front you want. If you are not committed – not willing to sacrifice for each other – it’s not going to matter what I write on the board.”
Junior Darnell Sankey, who will move from defensive end to linebacker, says Sears has simplified the defense without dumbing it down while emphasizing fundamentals.
“Coach Sears is very energetic, upbeat and outgoing,” said Sankey, all-conference honorable mention last season. “He’s always getting us fired up for the day, even in the film room. When we’re down, he’s there to pat us on the back and pick us back up.”
Sears admits it’s easy to stay upbeat coaching the sport he loves and doing it where the sun often shines.
“The weather here is awesome,” Sears said after a late Friday afternoon spring practice that offered a mix of rain, clouds and bright sunlight. “I can’t believe I’m wearing a long-sleeve shirt. I feel soft. I was here in January walking around in a short-sleeve shirt and thinking the whole time, ‘This is awesome.’ ”
Sears and his wife, Molly, and their four children, ages 8 to 13, already have settled in Sacramento. He also has an adult son, Weston.
“We’re a little non-traditional with the way we do things, so we home-school our children,” Sears said. “We move an average of every three or four years, so we do it for that reason. It provides stability. Still, it’s hard for them because they established some good friendships in Ogden. Thank goodness for Facebook, Twitter and the Internet.”
Moving also was made easier because he’s good friends with Carl Wulff Jr., who lives in Woodland.
Carl is the brother of Paul Wulff, the former Davis High standout and 49ers assistant who is the offensive coordinator for South Florida. Paul Wulff and Sears were Washington State teammates, and Sears worked for Wulff when he was the coach at Eastern Washington and Washington State.
“I talk to Wulffie once a week,” Sears said. “I know he was really ticked when I got fired. But he was really happy when I got to come to Northern California.”
Call The Bee’s Bill Paterson, (916) 326-5506.