BETHLEHEM, Pa. – Lehigh head coach Andy Coen has announced several updates to the Mountain Hawks’ defensive coaching staff. Defensive line coach Donnie Roberts and secondary coach Gerard Wilcher have been promoted and will serve as co-defensive coordinators for the 2012 season, while former outside linebackers coach Matt Sanders returns to the Lehigh staff to coach the inside linebackers.
The restructuring was necessitated by the departure of six-year defensive coordinator Dave Kotulski to become the inside linebackers coach at Stanford.
“We’ve seen our defense develop schematically over the last four seasons,” said Coen, who enters his seventh season. “Our staff does a great job putting kids in the right position. We’ve developed a multiplicity to our defense that I didn’t want to lose. Donnie and Gerard, from working with Dave had a lot of input in getting our scheme to where it is today.
Coen continued, "It was hard to distinguish just one of those guys. I wanted to be able to reward both those guys for doing a great job over the last six years we’ve been here. They work very well together on a day-to-day basis and I’m sure they will here. That’s why I made them co-coordinators.”
Roberts is entering his seventh season as the Mountain Hawks’ defensive line coach as part of his second stint on the Lehigh staff. Over the last six seasons, Roberts has mentored 13 All-Patriot League selections and three All-Americans.
Last season all three of Lehigh’s starting defensive linemen (Ben Flizack, Sajjad Chagani and Andrew Knapp) earned all-league honors, as the Mountain Hawks boasted a rush defense that ranked in the top 12 nationally. Lehigh also led the Patriot League in sacks for the third straight season. During the 2009 season Roberts was instrumental in the Lehigh defense leading the nation in sacks with 39 and ranking 12th in the country in tackles-for-loss with 83. Roberts added the title of Assistant Head Coach in 2008, as he assists Coen in a number of administrative areas.
Wilcher is going into his ninth season as coach of Lehigh’s secondary. This will be Wilcher’s second stint as defensive coordinator as he previously held the title in 2005, a year in which the Mountain Hawks led the Patriot League in rush defense, sacks and interceptions. With his prior experience as a coordinator, Wilcher will handle the defensive play calling responsibilities on game day.
After losing four All-Patriot League performers from the secondary to graduation following Lehigh’s Patriot League Championship season in 2010, Wilcher helped develop a younger group of defensive backs into a unit that continued to get better as the 2011 season progressed. Cornerback Bryan Andrews and safety Billy O’Brien earned All-Patriot League distinction in 2011, giving Wilcher’s secondary six all-league selections and one All-American (Jarard Cribbs) over the last two seasons.
“Both Donnie and Gerard connect very well with our student-athletes and really care about developing our kids on the field and off,” Coen said. “That’s a key for all coaches who have had success at Lehigh. You need to be unselfish and always willing to put the kid’s best interest at heart and these guys do that, in addition to both being outstanding teachers.”
Sanders returns to Lehigh following two years away from the coaching profession. He previously served as Lehigh’s outside linebackers coach for the 2008 and 2009 seasons, where he mentored Matt Cohen into an All-America performer and 2009 Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year. He also saw the development of outside linebackers Fred Mihal, Colin Newton and Tanner Rivas, who were all key contributors of Lehigh’s back-to-back Patriot League Championship teams.
“When I made the decision to restructure the staff, Matt was one of the first people that came to mind,” Coen explained. “He did an outstanding job at Lehigh and proved to be a real good fit during his two years here. He really embraced our guys as student-athletes and helped them develop. Matt has a tremendous amount of energy; he has a very good football mind and is truly passionate about the game of football. I am happy to have him back on the staff.”
Sanders originally came to Lehigh following a stint as a graduate assistant at his alma mater, the University of Louisville. During his time in that role Sanders was responsible for a number of duties including opponent game breakdown and scouting reports, film review with players, coaching the fullbacks on the kick-off return unit, running the scout special teams unit, and recruiting. Prior to that, Sanders was a student assistant coach with the Cardinals.
A Louisville native, Sanders graduated from the University of Louisville in 2006 with a degree in accounting. He then went onto earn his MBA from Louisville in 2007 also completed a second master’s degree in Human Resource Education. While an undergrad, Sanders was a two year letterwinner on the Cardinals football team, playing at middle linebacker and on special teams. He was a member of the 2004 Conference USA and Liberty Bowl Champions. Sanders career was cut short due to injury however, and he then assumed the role of student assistant coach in 2007.
“Matt did a great job relating with our players and brought the intensity of major college football here with him, having played and coached at that level,” Coen said. “He left here to pursue some other options outside of coaching, but has been anxiously anticipating an opportunity to come back to college football. I have no doubt he’ll do an outstanding job.”
Lehigh will begin its spring practice segment on Friday. The Mountain Hawks will open the 2012 season against Monmouth at Goodman Stadium on Saturday, September 1.