OMAHA — Barrett Ruud has seen a lot and experienced a lot in the years since he left Nebraska as one of the most decorated linebackers in school history.
After he racked up 432 tackles, most ever by a Blackshirt, he was picked in the second round of the NFL Draft. He played eight seasons in the NFL, the first six with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Four years after his playing days ended, he found himself working as a defensive quality control coach at Central Florida for Scott Frost, the man who returned to school at Nebraska when Ruud was in a Lincoln middle school and quarterbacked the Huskers to a national championship.
“I went to every game he played as a quarterback,” Ruud recalled Wednesday night. “I saw two losses overall, zero losses at home and a national title, so I thought he did pretty well.”
In terms of knock-your-socks-off moments, though, Ruud just experienced one recently, when he first returned to NU this winter as part of Frost’s Husker coaching staff.
“This is no joke, this is what was really cool — when I went into my meeting room and I had a picture of me playing in my meeting room,” Ruud said with a smile while chatting with a small group of reporters at the Outland Trophy banquet. “That was cool. I liked that.”
There are two meeting rooms in the football facilities designated for the linebacking groups. One for Ruud, the inside linebackers coach, and one for Jovan Dewitt, who coaches outsides.
Dewitt didn’t have much of a choice.
“I should at least be able to call dibs on that meeting room,” said Ruud, who’s been tapped for this role since Frost was hired but only officially became a full-time assistant Tuesday. “So I said, ‘I get to grab this room because my picture’s in it.’”
Joking aside, the Lincoln Southeast grad is about as modest as it gets.
Take, for instance, his response when asked how he convinced a player like Butler (Kansas) Community College linebacker Will Honas to come to NU. After all, Honas is considered one of the best junior-college linebackers in the 2018 class and had his pick of Big Ten West programs or many others. Despite just a couple of weeks to work with, Honas signed with the Huskers on Dec. 21 and is already enrolled and on campus.
Butler coach Tim Schaffner told the Journal Star last month that Ruud played an integral role. Ruud wasn’t about to pound his chest.
“For me, it’s not really a sell, it’s just what I know,” he said. “I’ve walked the exact same steps he’s about to walk in. So it really isn’t a sales pitch. It’s pretty genuine. I don’t know if I could be more genuine than to tell people to go to my alma mater at Nebraska.
“It’s a great thrill and I couldn’t be more excited (to be back),” Ruud said.
Ruud also lauded defensive coordinator Erik Chinander. In two years of working under Chinander in Orlando, Ruud said he’s developed a healthy respect for the 38-year-old, who has several years working with Frost at UCF and Oregon.
“He came up the hard route,” Ruud said. “He’s had to coach at junior colleges, I-AAs, been a (graduate assistant), got to work with the Philadelphia Eagles. He’s been at every level and he’s succeeded at every level. He does a great job of combining not only strong beliefs and convictions in what he believes in in football and defense, but he’s also always looking at ways to get better.
“One thing he does a great job of, too, is he really enjoys the aspect of college football and not only coaching football but helping kids grow up. He does a really good job of that and it’s pretty cool to see. He takes a lot of pride in hopefully changing boys into men.”
In Lincoln, they’ll be installing the same defense that held nine of 12 opponents to 23 points or fewer and forced 29 turnovers before taking the ball away from Auburn three times and holding the Tigers to 90 rushing yards on 44 attempts in the Jan. 1 Peach Bowl.
A central tenet: play fast.
“Fast means you know what you’re doing, know what you’re supposed to look at,” Ruud explained. “It means reacting instantaneously and it means your training is taking over. Hopefully in this game you build a bunch of habits and it’s our job to make sure you build the right habits.”
That building, though, isn’t about rote memorization. That’s stale and doesn’t stick when the going gets tough.
“When people don’t pick it up fast, usually that means there’s not a lot of rules, but a lot of memorization,” Ruud said. “You can be multiple or complex on defense if you give players the same rules and same guidelines and principles to follow. That’s kind of what we’re trying to do is, we try to build habits, build fundamentals and kind of give those guys rules to fall back on when teams do start going fast, they know exactly what to do and how to react to it.”
The building starts right now. NU hosts another big group of recruits this weekend as the dead period ends and then Ruud and the rest will be on the road extensively between now and Feb. 7. In the meantime, the players already here will be going through winter conditioning.
Everything will be new. New workout regimen, new schedule, new teammates, new coaches. When the inside linebackers gather to watch film or crack open the playbook, though, they’ll know who’s watching.
Barrett Ruud: On your wall and in your meeting room.