Cal Poly football added three new coaches to their staff to fill vacancies from off-season coaching departures.
James Jones III and Matt Ta’ufo’ou will coach the defensive line and outside linebackers respectively. Kenneth McMillan will coach the fullbacks and tight ends after serving as a student assistant for the previous five years.
James Jones III
Jones left his defensive coordinator position at Northern Colorado to coach the defensive line for the Mustangs. He replaces Payam Saadat, who left Cal Poly to take a defensive coordinator job at Portland State.
The Northern Colorado defense gave up an average of 35.2 points per game in two years under Jones. In 2017, the Bears finished 10th out of 13 teams in the Big Sky conference for total defense (474.4 yards per game) and 12th in rushing yards allowed per game (248 yards per game).
“[Jones] has been a coordinator against the teams that we need to beat and compete with on a weekly basis,” Cal Poly head coach Tim Walsh said. “We’re looking forward to the thoughts and ideas that he’s going to bring with him.”
Despite the unflattering numbers under his leadership at Northern Colorado, Jones adds a wealth of experience to the staff going into his 22nd season of coaching. In addition, he comes to Cal Poly from within the same conference. His experience and familiarity with Big Sky opponents brings an advantage that would not come with any other new hire.
“He knows what the types of offenses we’re going to see in this conference,” defensive coordinator Josh Brown said. “He’s got a pretty good grasp on what other teams are trying to do to attack us.”
Cal Poly’s young defensive front seems to be a question mark in spring camp after losing six of its seven starters from last year. However, Brown says that having a young, fresh group of players to work with may be helpful for Jones.
“The good thing is, with a new coach, he gets to mold those guys how he wants them,” Brown said. “So instead of having to break habits [the player] has previously been taught, he’s starting from scratch basically, which is good.”
Ta’ufo’ou joins Jones in his effort to mold a fresh defensive front seven. Ta’ufo’ou’s enthusiasm has also impressed Walsh.
“His energy and his positive attitude, I think, [are] going to be infectious and contagious,” Walsh said.
Before his coaching career, Ta’ufo’ou played linebacker for three years at Iowa State. After his playing career, he coached linebackers at College of San Mateo for four years before taking the job at Cal Poly. His time coaching at San Mateo gives the Mustangs a new recruiting connection in northern California.
McMillan served as a student manager for five years under Walsh before receiving his promotion in early April. McMillan’s previous duties included signaling plays and editing hours of game footage for the team’s film session, which often kept him working into the early hours of the morning. Walsh noted that his work ethic and willingness to help makes him deserving of a coaching position.
“Doing the things that he’s done showed that he truly wanted to pursue this,” Walsh said. “He’s learned the game by being around us all the time.”
McMillan’s familiarity with the offense is a strength, according to Walsh. The in-house promotion of McMillan to coach fullbacks and tight ends is an indication that the triple-option offense will be largely unchanged. The Mustangs hope to return to the level of production that ranked them first in the country in rushing.
“I’m trying to get us back to the Cal Poly offense that I know and love,” McMillan said. “Hard-nosed football, grinding the gears and running the ball up the middle, getting it pitched and running the triple the way we do.”
The Mustangs expect to return senior quarterback Khaleel Jenkins and redshirt senior fullback Joe Protheroe, which will help McMillan in his quest to bring back Cal Poly’s rushing dominance.
Cal Poly football started their spring camp earlier this month and will wrap it up with the annual intrasquad spring game scheduled for April 27. Since key players like Jenkins and Protheroe will see limited to no action over spring, the spotlight will likely shift towards evaluating a fresh defense.