Nevada football has been busy reloading the coaching staff since the season ended a few short weeks ago. With so many new faces on the staff, here’s a rundown of what you should know about each new hire.
Brian Ward – Defensive Coordinator
Brian Ward replaces Jeff Casteel as the new defensive coordinator. Casteel and Nevada parted ways last December at the end of the regular season. Nevada plans to run multiple defensive fronts with Ward, drifting away from the 3-3-5 defense used under Casteel.
Ward was previously the defensive coordinator at Syracuse from 2016 to 2019. He was previously a nominee for the Broyles Award, the nation’s highest award for the top assistant coach. His defense fueled Syracuse’s 10-3 campaign in 2018.
In that same season, Syracuse’s defense accumulated 43 total sacks, ranking seventh nationally and setting a new school record. The program ranked in the top five nationally in turnovers gained, interceptions and fumbles recovered and in the top ten in sacks per game and third-down defense.
The defense even saw improvement from 2016-17 under Ward, surrendering 6.4 fewer points, 57.1 fewer yards and 28.3 fewer rushing yards than they did in 2016. Syracuse ranked 69 spots better in third-down defense than they did in 2016, ranking No. 13 in the country.
He previously was the defensive backs coach for North Dakota State in 2010, the defensive coordinator/linebackers coach at Drake in 2011, Western Illinois from 2012-14 and Bowling Green in 2015. He was Bowling Green’s interim head coach for its bowl game versus Georgia State that season.
Additionally, Ward served as the head coach at McPherson College from 2007-09, his alma mater. He sported a 17-14 record in three seasons, leading the program to the playoffs for the first time in school history in 2009. For his effort, he earned himself the 2009 College Fanz National Coach of the Year.
Bill Best – Offensive Line Coach
Bill Best becomes the eighth offensive line coach for the Wolf Pack in the last 12 seasons, replacing Angus McClure. McClure, who spent the last two seasons with the Wolf Pack, was hired by California for the same position last month.
Best spent the last two seasons at Rice as the tight ends coach after spending four seasons as the offensive line coach and run-game coordinator for Stephen F. Austin.
In his first three seasons with SFA, the offense finished Top-25 in the FCS rankings in total offense.
In his first season with the Lumberjacks, they ranked No. 28 nation in rushing offense—accumulating 207.4 yards per game on the ground—and No. 9 in rushing touchdowns with 38. In 2015, SFA ranked No. 22 in the nation in rushing with 207.9 yards per game.
Best inherits a Wolf Pack ground game that totaled 115.6 rushing yards per contest on 3.4 yards per carry. Both of these are among the bottom-10 teams in the country and the program’s worst mark since 2000-01. According to Pro Football Focus, Nevada’s offensive line ranked No. 123 out of 130 teams, allowing the 14th most pressures and owning the fourth-worst run game in the country.
On the bright side, Nevada returns all five of its starting linemen, including tackles Nate Brown and Miles Beach. Best has coached 11 professional offensive linemen in his coaching career.
Prior to SFA, he spent two seasons at Central Arkansas from 2012-13 and was the offensive coordinator at West Texas A&M from 2006-11. He began his collegiate coaching career at Ranger College in 2004.
Thomas Sheffield – Special Teams Coordinator
Thomas Sheffield replaces Tommy Perry, who spent the last three seasons as the special teams coordinator for the Wolf Pack. Perry was hired by Texas-San Antonio for the same position last month.
Sheffield spent the last three seasons with Arkansas-Pine Bluff as the special teams coordinator, tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator.
In his first season at UAPB, the team had the third-best net punting rating and the eighth-best punt return defense in the entire FCS, setting new school records.
In Sheffield’s last two seasons with the Golden Lions, the punt unit finished No. 33 and No. 86 respectively in net punting. Jamie Gillian earned All-SWAC honors as both a punter and a kicker. He converted 68.9 percent of his field-goal tries on 29 attempts, also finishing No. 13 in the nation in net punting. Gillian joined the Cleveland Browns as an undrafted free agent, finishing Top-10 in the NFL with 46.2 yards per punt.
Previously, Sheffield worked at North Texas as an offensive graduate assistant, focusing on special teams. He worked with Perry while he was at North Texas. The Mean Green finished ranked 53 in the nation in net punting in 2015.
Sheffield inherits a special teams group that ranked at No. 85 nationally last season. The Pack finished at No. 125 in 2017 a No. 88 in 2018.
Nevada returns placekicker Brandon Talton, but loses punter Quinton Conaway to graduation. Talton hit 84 percent of his field goals, including two game-winners—one being his season-long 56-yard field goal versus Purdue as time expired. Talton earned second-team All-Mountain West honorees after his freshman campaign.
Freddie Banks – Defensive Backs Coach
Freddie Banks gets brought in as the defensive backs coach after spending the last two seasons with Stephen F. Austin at the same position. He was also the recruiting coordinator for the Lumberjacks.
Stephen F. Austin finished second in the Southland Conference—No. 57 nationally—in pass efficiency defense last season. The Lumberjacks finished T-66 in the nation with 11 interceptions and No. 107 in pass defense, allowing 262.4 yards per game. In 2018, they surrendered 228.9 yards per game through the air, finishing second in the conference and No. 82 nationally.
Banks spent three seasons at Midwestern State prior to being at SFA. Banks was the defensive backs coach and recruiting coordinator.
In 2015, Banks’ first season, the Mustangs ranked second in the conference in passing defense—surrendering 201.9 yards per game. They finished No. 104 in pass efficiency and totaled 11 interceptions over the course of the season.
Midwestern State went 26-6 in Banks’ tenure, including back-to-back Division-II playoff appearances in 2016 and 2017.
Banks, a cornerback in college, played for Ward at North Dakota State when Ward coached the defensive backs.
Ronnie Wheat – Safeties Coach
Ronnie Wheat spent seven seasons as the lead defensive analyst with LSU—including this year’s national championship team—under coordinator David Aranda.
Wheat helped work with Aranda, who is replacing Matt Rhule as the head coach at Baylor, with the linebacking corps.
He was previously a graduate assistant/recruiting coordinator for five seasons at Millsaps, his alma mater.
Matt Hanifan can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @SagebrushSports.