Jesse Minter joined Vanderbilt football as its defensive coordinator in January 2021. (Hustler Communications/Emery Little)
Jesse Minter joined Vanderbilt football as its defensive coordinator in January 2021. (Hustler Communications/Emery Little)

Coordinator Chronicles: Jesse Minter is ready to bring his NFL experience to Vanderbilt’s defense

Minter joined Clark Lea's staff as defensive coordinator after four years with the Baltimore Ravens.

April 21, 2021

Vanderbilt defensive coordinator Jesse Minter always knew he wanted to coach football. Football runs in the family.

Minter’s father, Rick Minter, has coached college football for decades. Rick’s most notable job was as the head coach of Cincinnati, where he made four bowl games in ten seasons. Rick Minter spent 17 seasons as a defensive coordinator at stops including Notre Dame, South Carolina and Kentucky.

The younger Minter followed in his father’s footsteps on the defensive side of the ball after playing wide receiver at the College of Mount Saint Joseph.

He spent a year as an intern at Notre Dame studying under his father, who was the defensive coordinator at the time. He spent the next two years as a defensive graduate assistant at Cincinnati, before he landed his first full-time coaching job as the linebackers coach at Indiana State.

Minter was promoted to defensive coordinator of the Sycamores after just two years, and he turned around the Sycamores’ defense. Over his two seasons as the defensive coordinator, he had 13 players earn spots on the all-conference team.

Minter moved to Atlanta for his next defensive coordinator gig, where he coached at Georgia State for four seasons. The 2016 season, his last with the Panthers, was special for him—because the Minters reunited on the sidelines.

“The most special thing about that was that we had our first daughter in July of that year,” Minter says. “First-time grandparent to be around in this profession where sometimes work is crazy and you don’t have a lot of time. To have my dad there every step of the way as our child was born and those first six months of her life was the most memorable part of that.”

Rick Minter had been a linebackers coach with the Philadelphia Eagles for the previous three years, but when Eagles’ head coach Chip Kelly was fired, the coaching staff had to find new jobs. 

“Ironically, over the years, anytime I’ve had a job opening or a coach available on defense, I’m always talking to my dad first,” the younger Minter says. “A lot of times, it’s like ‘hey, who do you think? What type of guy should I be going after?’ This time it was unique in the sense that he was looking for a job and sort of sparked a conversation.”

After the 2016 season, both Minters found new homes. Jesse became a defensive assistant with the Baltimore Ravens, and Rick was hired as the defensive coordinator of Florida Tech.

“It was a unique opportunity coming straight off being a coordinator for six years,” Minter says of his job with the Ravens. “It was really a chance to step back and see someone else do it and see how another organization does things.”

After three seasons as a defensive assistant, Minter was promoted to defensive backs coach for the 2020 season. He says his four years in the NFL gave him another perspective on how to coach a defense.

“The NFL is a very matchup-driven league,” Minter says. “It’s about affecting the quarterback. It’s about being able to win one-on-one matchups on the outside. It’s about being able to win matchups as the pass rush is created. And so you learn to maximize your better players.”

Minter was itching to get back to the college game to test out what he learned with the Ravens.

“Over the last four years, I’ve had some phone calls, but nothing that I was really willing to look too much into,” Minter said.

But Vanderbilt presented a fascinating opportunity to build a culture from the ground-up.

Upon connecting with new head coach Clark Lea through a mutual friend, Minter was immediately intrigued. And after doing his research on Lea-the-man and Lea-the-scheme, he was hooked.

“I had a lot of people that I knew that just spoke the world of him and the type of guy that he is, the type of program that they knew he would try to build,” Minter says. “It was just the alignment and my belief in him and him telling me his vision for the place that made me want to look into this opportunity.”

Following multiple stints in college football and time with one of the most respected defenses in the NFL, Minter elected to join Lea to rebuild Vanderbilt football in the best conference in college football: the Southeastern Conference (SEC). In addition to serving as Lea’s defensive coordinator, he will coach Vanderbilt’s safeties, a role he is quite familiar with from his time with the Ravens.

Minter will be tasked with revitalizing a Commodore defense that has ranked second-to-last in the SEC in points allowed per game both of the past two seasons. But it’s that building that excites Minter the most. And it’s the potential that he sees in Vanderbilt that makes his new home so attractive.

“It’s ‘Team One’. It sounds cliche-ish but it’s really fun to come in on the ground floor, and build something,” he says. “It’s a place that’s unique in the SEC and I think we can take tremendous advantage of what our niche is and it’s a place that offers a tremendous education and a great city, and a chance to play SEC football.”

With players such as Brendon Harris and Allan George back in the secondary and edge rushers Elijah McAllister and Alex Williams returning from seasons off, Minter will have weapons to utilize. And as he designs the intricacies of his scheme, he will prioritize putting his players in positions to succeed, while keeping one goal in the back of his mind: preparing each and every one for the NFL.

“We’re all trying to get to know each other which is an ongoing process,” Minter says of his new defense. “I just look forward to continuing to build all the relationships with all the guys and help everybody here maximize their ability and maximize their chance to hopefully go to the next level.”

Alongside him in this rebuild will be Lea, who helped construct one of the most dominant defenses in the country in his three years at Notre Dame. With Lea’s ten-plus years in college football and Minter’s passion and experience in the NFL, Vanderbilt’s defense might just strike gold sooner rather than later.

“I think it’s a tremendous blessing to have a head coach that’s been a two-time playoff participant in the last three years at the college level especially [for me] coming from the NFL and not having been around the college game for four years,” Minter says. “I think everything in the program is really well aligned, and I think he and I are well aligned defensively that we’ll enjoy putting a product on the field.”

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