It didn’t take long for Oregon’s newest assistant on the defensive side of the ball to quickly contribute to the fast-paced tempo that epitomizes the Ducks’ style of play. In fact, it is the New York native’s high energy style of coaching that often fuels the defensive line’s pace by utilizing numerous players to provide a rotation that results in fresh legs in the trenches at all times.
Jerry Azzinaro has helped the Ducks to BCS bowls in each of his three years in Eugene, cobbling together productive fronts despite a lack of ideal depth during his first two campaigns.
At Oregon, he has made a habit of molding unrefined athletes into stellar forces in the trenches. A year ago, he was instrumental in the development of Dion Jordan, who emerged to earn first-team all-conference accolades after finishing the year fifth in the league in quarterback sacks. His tutelage also resulted in honorable mention acclaim for Taylor Hart and Terrell Turner.
In 2010, it was converted tight end Brandon Bair who was named a second-team Pac-10 all-conference choice, as did Kenny Rowe. Will Tukuafu was another product of Azzinaro’s mentoring in 2009.
Azzinaro’s group helped UO lead the conference in tackles for loss and turnover margin in 2010, ranking seventh nationally in both categories. Last year the Ducks led the Pac-12 in quarterback sacks (45) to rank fifth in the country, in addition to finishing third in TFLs.
Thanks to his charges, no conference side was better at preventing fourth down conversions in 2010, with opponents succeeding only 22.7 percent of the time - a mark that ranked fourth in the country.
Azzinaro made an immediate impact in 2009 after molding a skeleton crew along the defensive line into a cohesive unit that accounted for better than 63 percent of the quarterback sacks generated by a contingent that led the Pac-10 (36) and tied for 14th in the country.
Faced with the unenviable task of replacing all but one player in the position group with starting experience in his initial year at Oregon, “Coach Az” put together an aggressive fortress that was tops in the Pac-10 against the run in league play (118.6 avg.) and displayed inspiring fortitude in supplying goal-line stands in road wins against UCLA and Washington.
Azzinaro’s charges were also the best in the conference at rushing the passer in 2009. The inspirational mentor coaxed a phenomenal year out of Rowe, who led the league with 11.5 sacks and took home defensive MVP honors from the Rose Bowl.
Hired in February 2009 shortly before Chip Kelly took over head coaching duties, the 30-year coaching veteran’s career includes 10 seasons as a defensive coordinator and one year as a head coach. Most recently, he coached the defensive line at Marshall University in 2008 after serving in the same capacity at the University of New Hampshire in ‘07.
The fiery motivator brings with him the experience as defensive coordinator at Duke (2004-06), the University of Massachusetts (1994, ‘97) and American International College (1987-91) in Springfield, Mass., in addition to serving as head coach at NCAA Division III Western New England College (Springfield, Mass.) in 1986.
His coaching resume includes a stint as defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator at Syracuse from 1999-2003, where his pupils included All-American and NFL All-Pro defensive end Dwight Freeney. As defensive line coach at Boston College (1995-96), Azzinaro tutored four linemen who signed NFL contracts.
The 54-year-old coaching veteran broke into the coaching profession as a graduate assistant at American International College in 1982 while simultaneously serving as head wrestling coach at Hopkins Academy (Hadley, Mass.). He assumed the role as linebackers and running backs coach at Westfield (Mass.) State College in ‘85 before taking over the reins at Western New England College the following year.
After returning to his alma mater for a five-year stint, he began his first tour at Massachusetts in 1992, serving as linebackers coach and recruiting coordinator for two seasons before being elevated to defensive coordinator in ‘94.
He also coached the defensive line at the University of Maine in 1998.
A former linebacker at American International College who led his team in tackles his senior year, Azzinaro received his undergraduate degree in psychology in 1981 and his master’s in educational psychology from there in 1985. Included among his accomplishments was achieving a brown belt in combat judo as well as being crowned a New England Golden Gloves heavyweight novice champion.
He and his wife, Alison Rourke, have a great dane, Zeus.