Towson coach Rob Ambrose was having a conversation with his agent this spring and asked if he knew anyone interested in joining his staff to work with the defensive line.
Ambrose's agent, Dennis Cordell, mentioned a very familiar name — former Denver Broncos lineman Rubin Carter, who had spent the past 23 years coaching on the pro and college levels, including as a head coach at Florida A&M.
"My eyes popped open," Ambrose recalled. "I thought 'No way' [would he come to Towson]. My agent said, 'He's available and more importantly, his wife is from East Baltimore.'"
It also didn't hurt that Carter's most recent boss, former New Mexico coach and current Maryland offensive coordinator Mike Locksley, played with Ambrose at Towson and remains one of Ambrose's closest friends in the business.
Carter first met Ambrose when he was an assistant at Temple and Ambrose was working for Randy Edsall at Connecticut.
"The first thing that attracted me was knowing Coach Ambrose, knowing the type of person he is, his character and his work ethic, how meticulous that he is about wanting to do things right and wanting to build the program," Carter said. "The second thing was the program itself, where Towson is [located], having just won a [Colonial Athletic Association] championship. It's an up-and-coming program."
A few days after contacting Carter, Ambrose added him to his staff and fulfilled a promise he had made to his defensive linemen.
"I had told them that when I got them a coach, I would get them a good one," Ambrose said. "When they started Googling his name, there was a lot of 'Oh my.' They know who he is, and they know what he did."
Ambrose's decision to hire Carter, who played in two Super Bowls with the Broncos in a 12-year NFL career and was a member of the famed "Orange Crush" defense, was similar to moves made at the state's two Football Bowl Subdivision programs earlier this year.
Maryland hired former University of Houston assistant Brian Stewart, a former Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator, as its defensive coordinator. Navy added Shaun Nua, a graduate assistant at Brigham Young who earned a Super Bowl ring as a rookie defensive lineman with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2006, to assist defensive line coach Dale Pehrson.
In College Park, Stewart replaces former defensive coordinator Todd Bradford, who was fired after last year's 2-10 disaster that many attributed to the collapse of the defense in many games. While the Terps teetered last Saturday against Temple, they held on for a 36-27 victory that gave Maryland a 2-0 record heading into this week's home game against Connecticut.
Stewart said that he hasn't changed the way he coaches in college from the way he coached in the NFL.
"I've always taught at an eighth-grade level and brought them up to speed," Stewart said. "If you start there, you get to see them grow and pick up things. If you coach assuming that they know everything, that's when you pick up problems. The older guys might look at you like, 'I know that,' but they buy in, they do it and they say, 'he wants to get me better.'"
Joe Vellano, Maryland's all-ACC defensive tackle, said that having someone with Stewart's background certainly helps to spread the message.
"He's been at the top level and a majority of the guys are trying to get there, to strive there," Vellano said before the season began. "He's seen the best, worked with those guys and his tips work at the next level. I think the way he motivates works well, guys have responded really good to that."
The impact Carter and Nua have had so far is not as clear — or as successful.
Towson's defense found itself trying to defend short fields throughout a 41-21 loss at Kent State on Sept. 1, and the Tigers hope to have better working conditions when they face William and Mary on Saturday at Johnny Unitas Stadium.
Navy's defensive line had problems throughout a 50-10 blowout loss against Notre Dame on Sept. 1 in Dublin, Ireland. The Midshipmen play at Penn State on Saturday. Nua knows that he is working with a different level of athlete than at BYU and in the NFL.
"I learned when I was a BYU that you have to adjust, these are kids, these are not professional athletes," said Nua, who at 6 foot 5 dwarfs most of the Navy linemen he is coaching. "You have to push them a different way. They've got to be pushed, they've got to be told certain things. In the NFL, they know what to do. You want to bring them what you learned, scheme-wise or technique-wise."
Nua said that Navy's lack of mountainous linemen doesn't matter.
"Coach Pehrson says that it's not the size, it's the leverage," said Nua, who was attracted to Navy because of a similar family background to Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo. "They're small guys in the NFL, too. They might be different in size and skill, but it's still football."
Nua, who gave his Super Bowl ring to his father, said he doesn't care whether Navy's players know of his NFL background.
Senior defensive end Wes Henderson, who grew up in Pittsburgh rooting for the Steelers and had heard Nua's name before, said that he doesn't see a big difference in what Nua is telling them from what he has heard in the past, but "when you look at his size and the fact that he was a good player, you can tell he knows what he's talking about."
Towson senior Frank Beltre, who was an all-CAA defensive end last season and a preseason All-American this year, admitted that he didn't know that much before researching Carter on the Internet.
But Beltre said the defensive line has been "soaking up" what Carter has to say much in the way the offensive line did last year when former Tigers star Jermon Bushrod, now a Pro Bowl tackle for the New Orleans Saints, came to practice in the spring to help during the NFL lockout.
"When he teaches us technique, we try to emulate it and build on it," Beltre said. "We know that it's going to work because he did it for 12 years at least."
Carter said the biggest difference in coaching in the NFL and on the college level is the age and maturity of the athletes.
"You're not only teaching the ABC's of football, but you're also teaching about the discipline that it takes to be a student athlete, to pay attention to detail and make sure they are not just successful on the football field, but in the classroom, " Carter said. "You're trying to teach them more than just about X's and O's. You're trying to teach them about life."
Ambrose doesn't look at Carter as a former NFL player and assistant (with the Broncos, New York Jets and Washington Redskins) who has spent much of his coaching career in college, including a stint at Maryland under Ron Vanderlinden.
"I consider him a damn good football coach," Ambrose said. "There are intricacies that are picked up or used or left at the NFL level that can be used to some degree at this level, and some can't. … The fact that he had extensive experience and success at both levels makes it a perfect combination."