Skyhawk Football | Jeff Byrd - Defensive Coordinator
Jeff Byrd is in his fourth season as defensive coordinator at UT Martin.
Last season, Byrd oversaw a defense that often stymied the competition. From the Tennessee Tech game on Oct, 9 through the Austin Peay game on Oct. 25, the Skyhawks held three straight opponents under 17 points for the first time since 2006. Byrd also coached a defense that produced four touchdowns in the final six weeks of the season, including a pair of scores at Murray State on Nov. 1.
In 2014, Byrd coached Tony Bell, who emerged as one of the top linebackers in the nation. Bell earned All-American accolades for the second consecutive season and finished 16th in the final voting for The Sports Network Buck Buchanan Award, annually presented to the best defensive player in the FCS ranks. He completed his highly-decorated career with a school-record 22.5 career sacks while ranking in the top-10 nationally in fumble recoveries (3, sixth) and tackles for loss (21, 10th) in 2014. Bell also earned a tryout with the NFL's Tennessee Titans in May 2015.
In addition to Bell, Byrd coached OVC All-Newcomer linebacker Nick Dance in 2014.
Byrd's defenses were one of the most feared in the OVC in 2013, ranking second in the league in total defense (368.2 yards per game). The vaunting Skyhawk defense conceded just seven points or less in the first half of seven games, including four shutouts going into halftime.
Byrd also oversaw the development of All-Americans Ben Johnson and Bell. Johnson led the OVC in tackles (102) for the second straight year while Bell led the league in sacks (10.5) and tackles for loss (15). That duo earned first team All-OVC honors while DJ Roberts (first team) and J'Vontez Blackmon (second team) also garnered all-conference accolades.
In 2012, Byrd coached a defensive unit that racked up 908 tackles, including 72 tackles for loss and 22 sacks. The Skyhawk defense also accounted for 13 interceptions, 42 pass breakups, 46 quarterback hurries, 15 forced fumbles, 13 fumble recoveries and two blocked kicks.
Individually, Byrd mentored All-OVC first teamers Montori Hughes and Johnson. Hughes became the 12th UT Martin player and first since 1996 to be selected in the NFL Draft (fifth round, 139th overall to the Indianapolis Colts), while Johnson racked up an OVC-high 131 tackles and ranked sixth in the nation with 11.91 tackles per game.
Byrd also presided over All-OVC second teamers Roberts and Thad Williams in his debut season at UT Martin.
Before UT Martin, Byrd coached linebackers and served as the defensive coordinator since from 2009-11 at Arkansas Tech. In his two seasons at Tech, Byrd's defenses ranked in the Top 25 nationally against the run each year as the 2010 team finished ninth in D-II against the run. They allowed just 86.4 yards per game and in 2009, Tech finished 21st nationally in rushing defense as they allowed 102.8 yards rushing per contest.
In addition, Byrd coached seven all-conference, one all-regional performer and one NFL free agent signee at Arkansas Tech.
Byrd went to Tech after spending four seasons (2005-08) at Southern Arkansas as its defensive coordinator. While at SAU, Byrd coached 13 All-Gulf South Conference performers and helped the Muleriders defense finished the 2008 season ranked 18th nationally in rushing defense (96.8 yards/game).
Before his tenure at SAU, Byrd spent two seasons (2003-04) as the defensive coordinator at Northwest Mississippi Community College in Senatobia, Miss. In 2004, Byrd's defense at Northwest Mississippi allowed only 212 yards of offense per game and allowed 15.1 points per contest, while his 2003 defense ranked fourth nationally in NJCAA in rushing defense (71.6 yards/game), 14th in total defense (237.2 yards/game) and 27th in passing defense (165.6 yards/game).
In addition to his coaching stints at SAU and Northwest Mississippi, Byrd also spent three seasons (2000-02) as an offensive line coach at Mars Hill College in North Carolina, including serving as the school's co-offensive coordinator in 2002. He began his collegiate coaching career as a graduate assistant at Delta State in 2000 and before that served as the head coach, principal and athletic director at Bayou Academy in Cleveland, Miss., in 1999 and spent four seasons (1994-98) as a varsity football assistant coach at Washington High School in Greenville, Miss.
As a high school student-athlete at Southaven (Miss.) High School, Byrd was a three-year letterwinner in both baseball and football. After high school, Byrd lettered for three seasons as a center at Southern Miss and was a member of the Golden Eagles’ 1988 Independence Bowl championship team.
Byrd earned his bachelor’s degree from Southern Miss in 1989 and earned his master's degree in education from Delta State University in 2005. He has one son, Scott, and two daughters, Kris and Mary Katelyn.
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