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Football: How Ragin’ Cajuns’ Patrick Toney grew wiser in 2020 ‘“ and elevated a defense

Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, April 3, 2021

Ragin’ Cajuns assistant Patrick Toney spent 2020 working as a defensive coordinator for the first time in his career.

He was just 30 years old at the time, but he was older and wiser by season’s end. 

“I remember when he first started he wasn’t as comfortable,” defensive lineman Tayland Humphrey said.

“But now it’s just like he’s embraced the role and he’s just calling plays easily, and he’s just putting everybody in a position to succeed.”

Humphrey isn’t the only one noticing.

“As we went on through the season, and teams started playing, and he got more film on the team,” safety Percy Butler said, “I feel like he came with a better plan each game.

“He’s on the sideline calling exactly what play they’re about to run, calling out formations and everything. … He really was helping us way more.”

Toney, who has switched from safeties coach to outside linebackers coach in 2021, prides himself on that.

“That’s why I have a job,” he said shortly after spring practice opened in March.

The one he coveted.

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Toney kept a notebook

In his native California, Toney was offensive coordinator at La Costa Canyon High School and defensive line coach at Fallbrook. He coached receivers Palomar, a junior college.

Later, during stints coaching safeties or defensive backs at Southeastern Louisiana, Sam Houston State and Texas-Arlington, Toney could see himself as a defensive coordinator.

“It’s a job I’ve always wanted,” he said, “so I’ve always kind of prepared as if I was.

“I actually kept a notebook of ‘Hey, this is what you should do if you ever become the coordinator.’ ”

Hundreds of pages full of tips and tidbits guide him now.

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“You have to have some sort of competitive advantage,” Toney said. “I wasn’t a great player, you know?

“I … volunteered at Southeastern Louisiana for (then-coach) Ron Roberts and lived in the fieldhouse. That’s how I got into college football.

“So I’ve always thought, in order for me to maintain it and stay in this profession, I’ve got to outwork people, I’ve got to watch more film than people, I’ve got to be on top of it.”

There’s another reason: 

“I just love football, man. … If I’m not doing it for work I’m doing it for pleasure,” Toney said.

“That’s what my fiancé can’t figure out: why I’m at home watching the Green Bay Packers defense on Sunday. Well, it’s a hobby and it is my profession.”

Cajuns defense thrived

The preparation has paid off.

UL allowed 22 points per game last season, 31st fewest in the country.

The Cajuns (10-1) had the Sun Belt Conference’s top pass defense, ranking sixth nationally. Their 16 interceptions tied for third among all FBS programs.

The success was just what Cajuns coach Billy Napier envisioned when Roberts  left for Baylor in 2019 and Toney, who came to UL in 2018, succeeded him.

“After being here for two years … I think he had a good understanding of what we could teach better, what we could organize better,” Napier said.

“He had a good understanding of our year-round plan. … And I think he did a good job of delegating with the staff – giving people ownership, being really efficient.”

Moreover, Toney connected with Cajun players in all defensive position groups.

“He teaches and explains well,” Napier said.

“They understand the why. They know the concept, how it works together. And I think we’re trending in the right direction on defense as a result of that.”

As the season went on, Toney said he got better at having “a consistent, repeatable process week in and week out.”

The message was unified.

“Doing little things better – that is his philosophy,” defensive lineman Zi’Yon Hill said.

“Not showing the blitz too early. Or as simple as disguising coverage better. Or being a little bit more patient in your gap. It was the little things like that that as the year (went) on he preached up on.”

From one UL game to the next, the appreciation for Toney grew.

“I feel like he’s one of the best in the nation,” Hill said.

“Very intelligent. And he always asks for our input on things – whether we like it or not. So, I love the way he does things.”

Which is precisely what Toney sought when Napier promoted him.

“I don’t want to let him down or let our team down,” Toney said, “so I’m gonna be prepared, I’ll promise you that.”