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Connections helped bring OL coach Kyle DeVan to Arizona

Photo by Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

When Joe Gilbert left for a job with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in January, Kevin Sumlin suddenly had a major hole to fill on the Arizona Wildcats coaching staff.

Gilbert’s work with a young-and-injury-plagued offensive line was nothing short of phenomenal, as that unit helped J.J. Taylor earned All-America status while the Wildcats led the Pac-12 in rushing for the third straight season.

Three weeks later Sumlin had found his replacement for Gilbert in Ball State OL coach Kyle DeVan. While he was a virtual unknown to almost everyone in Tucson, he wasn’t to Sumlin and other members of his staff like offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone.

In fact, DeVan’s connections to the Wildcats go all the way back to when he picked Oregon State to play college football.

“When I signed my letter of intent with Oregon State he was on that staff back in, this would have been 2003,” DeVan said of Mazzone. “Never played for him, but then fast forward five years later, I was with the (New York) Jets and he was on the coaching staff. I had known him a little bit, nothing more than I could just say hello … but I had some friends that had worked with him, and that kind of got my foot in the door.”

Also helping DeVan’s cause was his relationship with the Polian family during his time playing for the Indianapolis Colts. That includes Dennis Polian, Arizona’s associate athletic director for football.

“I know the whole family,” DeVan said. “They’ve been good to me.”

An NFL offensive lineman from 2008-12, the 34-year-old DeVan was at Ball State for three years before coming to Arizona. He also spent time as a graduate assistant at Oregon State and with the New Orleans Saints, all experiences that helped him develop a coaching style that’s equal parts intensity, support and determination.

“I like to show things,” DeVan said. “Until my body breaks down and I’m over the hill, I want to be out there demonstrating. I’m intense. I’m yelling and screaming but I’m also pumping these guys up. I don’t want to just be a yeller, but I also don’t want to just be a positive person all the time. O-linemen can take the hard coaching.

DeVan said he adjusts his approach to how his linemen are behaving each day. If they’re laid back, he’s in their face. If they’re intensely focused, he hangs back and lets them do their thing.

“Everything I do is just to make sure I grab their attention,” he said. “When a running back breaks big runs, I love celebrating, I’m going to sprint up and down the sideline. If these guys aren’t celebrating and sprinting then we’ve got a problem.”

Donovan Laie, who started every game on the line in 2018 as a true freshman, said he and his teammates can relate well to DeVan because he understands how to talk to them.

“He’s all about energy,” Laie said. “I’m excited to come to practice. Him teaching us all the ways that he’s learned, I feel like it’s helping us to develop into a better player.”

DeVan said he likes the makeup of the linemen he has at his disposal, including junior college transfers Josh Donovan and Paiton Fears as well as Laie and fellow returning starters Cody Creason and Josh McCauley.

“They’re all hungry and they want to work every day,” he said.

DeVan said his experience with zone rushing from the NFL—“I wasn’t running the power schemes in the NFL, I was too small”—should mesh well with Mazzone’s system. He said he will make suggestions on how to maximize the run game’s potential without trying to change the offense.

“I’m not here to change the way we run the ball, I’m here to add to it,” DeVan said. “I’m here to make our offense better. When you’re the No. 1 rushing offense in the league the last (three) years, I don’t want to mess that up.”