By Michael Haag | Sports Editor
No matter how much Baylor football’s new defensive coordinator and safeties coach Matt Powledge barks out his “relentless effort” mindset during spring practices, Powledge might be the most relentless among everyone on the field.
After all, he couldn’t stay away from Waco for long, as he came back to take the defensive coordinator role under head coach Dave Aranda. Powledge was a member of Aranda’s staff in 2020 and 2021 as the safeties and special teams coach. He spent the 2022 season in Eugene, Ore., in the co-defensive coordinator role at the University of Oregon.
But Oregon couldn’t keep Powledge from Baylor, where he said he belongs. That relentlessness brought him back to Waco.
“I tell people all the time, whether it’s family members, whether it’s recruits [or] whether it’s our players, I mean, this place is special,” Powledge said. “And you don’t realize it until you’re immersed in it and you really feel it. There’s not another place where you can get an elite education like here. You can grow in faith [and] obviously compete for championships.”
The Huntsville native was officially named Baylor’s defensive coordinator on Dec. 29, 2022, about a week after the Bears’ 30-15 loss to the United States Air Force Academy in the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl. Aranda served as the placeholder defensive coordinator in that postseason game since he fired Ron Roberts on Dec. 2, 2022.
Redshirt junior safety AJ McCarty said it’s good to have Powledge back and that “it’s the exact same Coach Pow [Powledge].”
“He never changed,” McCarty said. “I like Coach Pow just because the energy he brings is unique. He has all these different slogans and things that he says that you really don’t hear too much, so it’s really cool having him back.”
Powledge helped the Ducks roll to a 10-win season, including a 7-2 mark in Pac-12 Conference play. Oregon secured three top-15 wins and the Holiday Bowl title with Powledge on its staff last season.
Under his tutelage, the Ducks ranked No. 8 in the nation in interceptions, No. 24 in red-zone defense and No. 33 in rushing defense going into the Holiday Bowl. Oregon defensive back Bennet Williams earned All-Pac-12 honorable mention honors in 2022 while playing at both the safety and star position, which are coached by Powledge at Baylor.
Powledge said the biggest thing he learned from his one year with the Ducks was that he got to see how things are “done a different way … at a place that’s done it at a high level.”
The Huntsville High School graduate was no stranger to success as part of the Bears’ 2021 coaching staff, though. That team won a program record of 12 games and brought home a Big 12 championship along with a Sugar Bowl trophy.
Powledge also led an impressive safety group that featured 2021 Thorpe Award finalist and Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, Jalen Pitre, who was selected by the Houston Texans in the second round of the 2022 NFL Draft.
That program familiarity is what reassured McCarty and other defensive players on the roster. McCarty said Powledge’s energy is contagious and that it’s had a tremendous impact on team morale.
“With Coach Roberts, he was really [focused on] X’s and O’s, and he was really strict, but he never really had just that energy that he brought to the team,” McCarty said. “With Coach Pow, the bar has been raised 10 times. I feel like in meetings and stuff, everybody’s more locked in, paying attention, and able to take it out to the field.”
Seventh-year senior safety Bryson Jackson added Powledge’s youth plays a huge role, since those player and coach relationships are easier to come by for the student-athletes.
“When it comes with being a younger coach like that, that brings energy,” Jackson said. “What happens with that is that gets everybody locked in and gets everybody focused. He’s able to relate to us a lot.”
Just about every member of the defensive personnel that has been pulled for post-practice media availabilities so far has raved about Powledge’s energy on the field. Powledge said his high energy on the gridiron allows him to instill that “relentless effort” mantra.
“I think for us as coaches, it’s really hard if you don’t bring energy to get guys to play with relentless effort,” Powledge said. “It’s easy for me because I’m passionate about it and I love it so much. The best part of my day is when we hit the grass. Sometimes there will be a lot of things on your mind, but once you get out there, if you can be like what you’re getting the players to do and just be 100 miles an hour, you’re going to like the results.”