Most of Corey Batoon’s college football coaching career can be neatly divided into two phases: his Northern Arizona career (11 years), and his career in the South (nine).
You might say he’s begun Phase 3.
Batoon, UH’s new defensive coordinator and safeties coach who arrived in the spring, has had the Rainbow Warriors running his new multiple-set schemes for the past two weeks of training camp, plus the work the Warriors put in during the spring and independently over the summer.
After graduating from Saint Louis School in the mid-80s, Batoon went off to the mainland to play football, first at City College of San Diego, then to Long Beach State (the 49ers dropped football two years after he was done playing). From there, he remained on the mainland to cut his coaching teeth, interspersed with yearly trips home to visit his parents and siblings. His father is Sol Batoon, a fixture in high school athletics.
It’s been a long road; other stops have included Arkansas State, Montana and Saint Mary’s. Along the way, he started his own family.
“It’s amazing to come full circle. It’s always been something that we’ve talked about as a family, being able to come back home,” UH’s Batoon said recently. “And this job is important to the state. I understand what it means to the people. And we’re excited to be back. We were fortunate to kind of raise our kids in two different ares. In Arizona, where we were near family, could get back here quite a bit. And the last (decade), in the South. It was a unique opportunity. I missed the fried chicken.” He laughed. “But it’s good to be back home.
“I haven’t lived back here permanently since ’86. So, a lot of changes, but a lot of the same. But we’d come back every summer. My mom and dad still reside here. Up until recently, all of my brothers were here, and now I just have my youngest brother here on the island. So, it’s always been a destination for us, whether it’s Christmas or summers. Now we get a chance to live it full-time.”
As far as Division I coaching goes, he was about as far away as you could get.
He spent last year at Florida Atlantic University as the safeties/special teams and co-defensive coordinator under Lane Kiffin, in Kiffin’s first season in Boca Raton. Before that, Batoon was at Ole Miss for five years, including a run of four straight bowl game appearances, most notably the 2016 Sugar Bowl.
“It was awesome. Every stop we’ve been at, we’ve tried to take different things,” Batoon said. “Obviously learned a lot from Lane’s system and how he does things. I think him coming from that Alabama background, he brought a lot of that we were able to do. We did some remarkable things. The team, when we got there, had gone through three straight 3-9 seasons. And we were able to come in and be a part of of that turnaround. We were 11-3 last year. So it can be done … — it was a unique situation, the kids really came in, bought in — but it’s amazing what happens when you get some confidence.”
Batoon has tried to instill that at home. It was his idea to install a two-huddle system, something he picked up under Kiffin, for fall camp here, with the thought that it basically doubles the number of repetitions for the large pool of players vying for jobs.
Players in camp have spoken with enthusiasm for the “attacking-style” defense that calls for some flexibility, particularly between the defensive ends and linebackers.
“Scheme-wise, we got our system in place,” Batoon said. “It’s just a matter of finding and fine-tuning personnel. Finding where guys fit into those systems. We have pretty unique and distinct systems. … But yeah, we’re multiple (set), and we always have been, and that’s what we’ll do.
“(The hybrid ends) have to morph into different things based on calls. At times they’re going to be strictly a hand in the dirt, coming after the passer. And times they’ll have to the back. At times they’ll be in a drop. So those guys have a unique skill-set.”
Cornerbacks coach Abe Elimimian, one of a handful of staff holdovers from last season, has enjoyed the competition at his position so far in camp. For his guys, it hasn’t felt like a total overhaul from the Legi Suiaunoa era, he said, in part because the new tactics are coming from a familiar voice.
“Schematically, I think defensively, what this defense will allow (our players) to do is make more plays in the passing game,” Elimimian said. “Coach Batoon’s always talking about tips and overthrows. And you’ve seen that a couple times this spring with guys being able to get their hands on the ball. Now, the biggest thing for us, when the games come, we have to capitalize (on those chances).”