DCTF Q&A: How Trey Haverty went from All-American receiver to SMU defensive back guru

Trey Haverty is known for his time as an All-American receiver at Texas Tech in the early 2000s. Fifteen years later, though, he’s leading the safeties at SMU in the midst of the greatest revitalization on the Hilltop since the Pony Express. 

Haverty sat down with Texas Football at the Lone Star Coaching Clinic in College Station for a Q+A session. We discussed a variety of topics including switching from offense to defense, what he learned as a defensive coach from playing in the air raid and why SMU was able to take a big step in 2019. 

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Texas Football: You were a standout receiver at Texas Tech – how did you get involved on the defensive side of the ball? 

Trey Haverty: “I got done playing in 2004, but I knew I wasn’t good enough to go to the NFL like Wes Welker and those guys. So I went home, coached at Midlothian and tried to save some money. And then John Parchman, the old Midland Lee coach, came out of retirement to take the Cisco Junior College job. Sonny Dykes – my head coach now, was the receivers coach – called me because I was trying to get into college coaching after I finally realized this is going to be my dream passion. I went out to Cisco and an assistant got me hooked up with TCU as a grad assistant. 

“Gary Patterson’s defensive grad assistant took a high school job in the middle of the summer right before the season. I wanted to be a head coach so I wanted to learn defense and obviously Gary Patterson is one of the best defensive minds in the game, so I went to go learn and fell in love with it. Now it’s different because you look at all my old teammates at Tech – Lincoln Riley, Eric Morris, Kliff Kingsbury – you start going through those guys and they’ve gotten jobs faster but everybody’s path is different. But that’s how it kind of came about.” 

TF: How did playing in Mike Leach’s air raid – perhaps the innovative offense of our time – prepare you to be a defensive coach? 

TH: “I think it’s the flip side. I think it helps in the grand scheme of being a better coach. Granted, our business unfortunately is such that you have to go and self promote yourself and say how great you are to move up. The other flipside is that some of the other guys that I played with that moved up are head coaches because sometimes it’s a knock that you played receiver and now you’re coaching safeties. 

“I think it’s helped me personally, but a lot of my buddies joke around and say if you had stayed on offense, you’d be a head coach by now or something like that like Kliff, Eric and Lincoln, a few others. They all deserve it, great coaches. From the outside, people might not see it, but the personal confidence of when you do get a chance, you’re ready because you have been on both sides. 

“I heard Belichick talk a couple of years ago when I was at Texas, he was working out D’Onta Foreman. He said in the offseason, he makes coaches go learn the other side. I think it does help you get out of your comfort zone and forces you to learn. This is how they’re teaching this and that’s why we do this. This is how we’re tipping them off because they’re looking for this indicator. I think it can help. 

“Does [coaching defense] fast-track you in the state, especially with social media? I think we’re seeing at the high school level, a lot of guys are coming in now and they don’t want to pay their dues as a junior high coach. They want to be a varsity coach or coordinator right away. At our level, you see a lot of guys don’t want to be up until 3 am breaking down film being a grad assistant. But it helps.”

TF: Why did SMU’s defense have such a large rise in disruptive plays from year one to year two? 

TH: “I think it’s probably a combination of everything. When you come together year one, there’s so many nuances and new stuff – staff getting to know each other, because not everyone came from the same staff, getting to know what you have, offseason program, teaching it. Everybody would agree with this: we were probably a little faster to 10 wins than we thought. I laugh because now there are expectations, which we all want. I think it was just a combination of everything, the continuity of keeping coaches and players knowing. Bringing in a class of guys that you got to handpick for this system.

“I think that’s the neatest thing that kind of helped us, Chad Morris recruited a lot of great young men and they opened their hearts for us. That definitely helps. A lot of time year one, you have a lot of guys fighting the establishment and we never had really had any of that. We had great kids and they worked from the get-go.”

TF: What did you learn from being a defensive coordinator at two of your previous stops (Millsaps and Lamar)? 

TH: “Just experiences of everything. Sometimes to have a personal belief in something, you have to go through it. You’re going to mess stuff up. You’ve got to learn from experiences. Especially in this day and age and playing receiver for the air raid, you just realize that belief is don’t give up the big play. Earlier in my career, it probably would have been yelling at a guy for giving up a 6-yard hitch route. The alternative is now you get them so worried about that that they give up a 60-yard pass and get run past. 

“I think when you are a coordinator, it’s still 11-on-11 and you have to know what everyone is doing different than when you’re a position coach. Sometimes you just get caught up or don’t know what a 3-tech is getting told because you’re just worried about my corner. You see the whole picture and see what’s realistic. Is it realistic to expect this guy to do this? I think you learn more at the end of the day. You keep learning and evolving, or trying to.”

TF: Sonny Dykes has put together a young staff with a variety of coaches under 40. What is that dynamic like? 

TH: “I think it’s good and bad, I think you need a mix. We talk about experiences. I don’t want to speak for Coach Dykes, but I think his personal experiences of being at Louisiana Tech, Cal on top of his other places have led him to what he believes now. I think you do need a mix. I think you can’t have all recruiters because one thing Coach Dykes talks about is we gotta develop these guys. Recruiting, we look for tough kids who want to play the game – we all want them long and pretty, don’t get me wrong – but I think his experience is you want a mix. You also don’t want all old guys who can’t relate to the kids. It’s a fine line. 

“Coach Dykes is a great guy to work for. We all respect the hell out of him because he’s a great guy to work for. Biggest deal in this business is we neglect our families. You and I can work together for 10 years and I spend more time with you than my kids, but in 10 years you and I don’t talk but my kids grew up without a dad. I think it’s important to guys our age with young kids. He’s big on family and means it, which helps us.”

TF: What did the young guys in the safety room learn from Rodney Clemons? 

TH: “Rodney was the one – I’ll brag about him like I have to a bunch of NFL scouts lately about him he would never missed practice. Sometimes these guys get some stardom and they’ll start saying they’re sore Tuesday but will play Saturday, Rodney never did that. That’s a great example for those young guys to show him why. The NFL guys show up here and see that. If you can’t hold up during a 12-week season in college, how are you going to hold up 16 weeks in the NFL, plus preseason and you’re playing special teams? 

“That’s the thing with Rodney, he led by example. He was sore because he played physical, but he never looked to get out of stuff. Plus, he’s got a little moxie to him. He’s the best dancer on the team, stuff like that, the sort of things kids gravitate to. But he deserves everything he’s getting. We’re pulling for him at the Combine. The guys in the safety room really looked up to him.” 

TF: With several top defensive backs from your roster off to the NFL, what are your expectations of your unit? 

TH: “Just the young guys we’ve recruited, it’s their chance. I was talking with our guys the other day and a lot of people are going to point to experience – rightfully so – but now it’s just a new challenge. But that’s also the fun part of coaching. When you have a guy like Rodney [Clemons] who was a senior, it’s a different mentality than when you have a bunch of freshmen back there who aren’t as experienced. But it’s also fun because you brought those guys in for a reason and now they get a chance to go show it. 

“One thing in our room is we always try to be real. Not everyone is going to start but let’s be honest. There’s not going to be politics. As long as you’re authentic, your kids will respect that. If I’m a walk-on and you’re treating me different than you are this big star guy, there’s resentment. As long as there’s honesty and everyone is treated the same, that’s what they want. Luckily, Rodney set the tone. We have a good room that pulls for each other.”

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