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Allen Lessels' UNH Notebook: Hard work paid off for UNH coaches
They worked together for three years with Stetson, then went their separate ways, but always stayed in touch and had great respect for the job the other was doing.
"If I was going to go back into college coaching I wanted to work for somebody I knew and that I trusted and I wanted to go to a good football program in a good league," Lyons said.
The reunion is working out quite well.
McDonnell has been the constant in Durham and has his team back in the FCS playoffs for a best-in-the-nation 10th straight year.
With Lyons as defensive coordinator and the innovative Ryan Carty - a quarterback and captain at Delaware in his senior year in 2006 - in his second year as offensive coordinator, UNH had already made a bit of playoff history going into Saturday night's quarterfinal game at Southeastern Louisiana.
Best of all, UNH, long known for its explosive offense, revamped its defense in the offseason and entered the tournament playing perhaps the best on that side of the ball it has played in any of its playoff seasons.
This year's trip to the quarterfinals had plenty of bumps, too, and, given the adversity UNH has dealt with along the way, may well represent McDonnell's best coaching job to date.
UNH fell to 1-3 for the season and all of a sudden McDonnell and his staff had more to worry about than making the playoffs again.
McDonnell gives a lot of credit to the players, and especially the seniors led by Seamus O'Neill, the left tackle out of Manchester Central, running back Chris Setian and defensive back Manny Asam, for getting the team together and assuring the run of playoff seasons continued.
Lyons credits the seniors, the rest of the players and McDonnell, too.
They held onto the ball on offense. Their young defenders got a better grasp of and embraced a defense that changed up some coverage assignments, made things a little simpler overall and called for a more aggressive style.
"You look at it and these guys were 1-3 and now we're one of eight teams left playing in the country," Lyons said. "That's a helluva turnaround. I think it's a combination. I think Sean deserves a lot of credit, as do the players."
Lyons and his guys on the defensive staff, Jon Shelton with the defensive ends, Chris Van Horn with defensive tackles, Art Link with linebackers and Scott James with safeties, deserve their share.
McDonnell, completing his 15th season, oversees it all.