Three new additions to the Arizona State coaching staff were introduced on a Zoom call Wednesday. Each member outlined their goals for their respective position groups and why they chose to join forces with Herm Edwards.
Chris Claiborne, the former quality control analyst at USC, will be ASU’s linebacker’s coach. Mike Cavanaugh will assume the role of Dave Christensen, who retired following the 2020 season, as offensive line coach.
Furthermore, Adam Breneman is no stranger to the Sun Devils, having served as a graduate assistant in the program in 2020. He was promoted to tight ends coach last month.
For Claiborne, the decision to come to ASU was an easy one. He played with defensive coordinator Antonio Pierce in the NFL on the New York Giants and later coached with him at Long Beach Poly High School in California.
Although Claiborne played college football at USC, earning first-team All-American honors and the Dick Butkus Award in 1998, he did not hesitate to leave his alma mater for a spot on Edwards’ staff.
“When I stepped in the building to do the interview, the other coaches made me feel welcome so when it came down to deciding between leaving USC and coming here, it wasn’t hard,” Claiborne said. “The coaching staff, they just made me feel so welcome just on the interview. I can only imagine spending time over the next couple of months with them and how it will be.”
The competition between ASU and USC is growing in the Pac-12 South as the Sun Devils strive to establish themselves as conference championship contenders.
Claiborne’s history adds more fuel and history to the matchup, but he said it doesn’t affect his mentality moving forward and he is focused on bigger goals for the program.
“I’ve been there and I’ve been a part of it, but at the end of the day I’m looking forward to what I got to be able to do here with the group of linebackers that I have,” Claiborne said. “It’s not personal, it’s straight business.”
Claiborne was excited about coaching the talent in ASU’s linebacker corps. He was familiar with each member’s skills, having coached Jermayne Lole at Poly and Merlin Robertson during 7-on-7s while in Long Beach.
He also coached against Darien Butler when the former three-star recruit played for Narbonne High School.
Claiborne aims to continue fostering excellence in the position group.
“First of all, we have to make sure we keep the culture right,” Claiborne stressed. “Those guys are the leaders not only on the field but off the field, so that’s going to be the first thing that I continue to push on them. AP has done a great job of developing those guys but there’s just going to be a few tweaks that I’m going to add to it. Our coaching style might be the same to them or it might be a little different but at the end of the day, it’s is getting them to be more consistent and as productive as possible within the defense.”
That Pac-12 competition is what drew Mike Cavanaugh to ASU, who spent 10 years at Oregon State as a member of Mike Riley’s staff. Those Pac-12 roots inspired him to return after a three-year stint at Syracuse.
“Coaching in this conference, that was one of the things that really intrigued me to get back here,” Cavanaugh said. “I got a lot of great friends out here and week-in and week-out, it’s pretty tough competition. It’ll be fun.”
For Cavanaugh, his approach to coaching offensive linemen can be summed up in two words.
“Toughness and technique,” Cavanaugh said. “We want to be real physical in the room and establish the run game, protect the quarterback when we’re throwing it. Toughness and technique, I pride myself in it. We’re going to work hard on all our technique, and we’re going to get after it.”
Cavanaugh also emphasized the importance of communication between offensive linemen to increase cohesiveness within the group, something he hopes to achieve through extending his relationships with the players outside of practice, albeit with safety in mind.
“I’m going to coach my guys hard and I’m going to love them hard, and I’d also like to do a lot of things when we’re able after this crazy pandemic,” Cavanaugh said. “I normally have the guys over to my house so they can hang out with my wife and I and eat, feed them good.”
Cavanaugh may be a new face to ASU’s players, but his 35 years of experience coaching the position (including two years professionally with the San Diego Chargers) means little should surprise him. With that being said, he isn’t going to let game film from previous seasons entirely dictate the starters on his offensive line.
“It’s a new day and you,” Claiborne said. “It’s like the old Missouri license plate, ‘Show Me.’ They’re going to have every chance to show me what they’re all about every day.”
Adam Breneman has a similar mindset to the tight end position and said he is excited to work with his guys during spring practices. With a number of options on the roster, Breneman is comfortable with the number of bodies filling his room and their various skillsets.
“It’s a talented group. I think you got depth in the group now. We’re returning Curtis Hodges, who had a really good season for us last year and a guy physically who has all the talent in the world and can be a really successful player. I think he has a shot to play in the National Football League if he can put it all together.
“We’re returning John Stivers, who provides depth for us. We brought in Jalin Conyers, who we’re super excited about. Obviously, we announced his signing today. He transferred from Oklahoma and has got a ton of talent. We’re excited about being able to play him. Then you got some young guys like Jake Ray and Ryan Morgan. Case Hatch at the fullback position. We’ve got some depth and I’m excited to work with those guys this spring and kind of see who emerges as the top-two tight ends in the group.”
Breneman said wants ASU’s tight ends to become fluent in all aspect of the position to maximize offensive coordinator Zak Hill’s flexibility with his personnel packages.
“Hopefully, we see them develop as true tight ends who can do anything all over the field,” Breneman said. “One of the things that I hang up in our tight end room is the word ‘versatile.’ At tight end, you’re judged on your receiving ability, your blocking ability, you got to be smart, you got to be able to pass protect, you got to do a lot of different things. Jalin Conyers, who’s really comfortable catching the ball and running routes, is not really comfortable playing at the line of scrimmage and blocking and doing all those kinds of things.
“My goal would be for all of them, Curtis, Jalin, the young guys Jake Ray and Ryan Morgan, John Stivers, who’s played a lot of football but still needs to grow to develop into a true every-down tight end. We want guys you don’t have to take off the field when you throw the ball, guys that can be real versatile tight ends. That’s going to be my goal for the spring.”