|Other Position:||Defensive Line Coach|
Brian Early is beginning his fifth season as Arkansas State's defensive line coach and his first as the team’s run game coordinator.
Each of his first four seasons at A-State saw the Red Wolves rank among the top 41 teams in the nation in both sacks and tackles for loss, while he also tutored at least two all-conference selections on the defensive line each year. Arkansas State made four straight postseason appearances at the 2015 GoDaddy Bowl, 2015 New Orleans Bowl, 2016 Cure Bowl and 2017 Camellia Bowl, and the Red Wolves won back-to-back Sun Belt Conference titles in 2015 and 2016 with a combined 15-1 record.
He coached Ja’Von Rolland-Jones all four years of his career, tutoring the defensive end who was twice named the Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year and concluded his time at A-State as the NCAA’s second all-time leader in career sacks (43.5) and ranked eighth in tackles for loss (64.5). Also Arkansas State’s and the Sun Belt Conference’s all-time leader in sacks, Rolland-Jones signed a free agent contract with the NFL’s Cincinnati Bengals following the 2017 season.
Most recently, Early’s defensive line helped A-State rank No. 6 in the nation in tackles for loss (8.3 per game) and No. 19 in sacks (2.92 average) in 2017 as he was nominated for the Broyles Award, which is annually issued to the top college football assistant coach in the nation. Those numbers came one year after the Red Wolves led the country in tackles for loss (9.6 per game) and ranked No. 6 in sacks (3.31 average) in 2016.
Including Rolland-Jones as first-team selection, the Red Wolves had four defensive linemen named All-Sun Belt Conference in 2017. Also earning the recognition were Ronheen Bingham (2nd Team, DE), Caleb Caston (Third Team, DE) and Dee Liner (Honorable Mention, DL). In addition to Rolland-Jones signing an NFL free agent contract, Liner also signed with the Kansas City Chiefs.
The 2016 defensive-line production led to A-State placing two defensive ends on the First Team All-Sun Belt Conference squad, including Rolland-Jones as he became just the second defensive player in league history to be named its Player of the Year. Fellow defensive end Chris Odom finished the year with 12.5 sacks and signed a free agent contract with the Atlanta Falcons.
Rolland-Jones and Odom made up the only set of teammates in the nation during 2016 to both rank among top 10 players in the nation in total sacks, as well as the top 20 players in tackles for loss. Early also coached interior defensive lineman Waylon Roberson to an Honorable Mention All-Sun Belt Conference season.
A-State’s 2015 campaign saw three of his players earn all-league recognition as well. Rolland-Jones, who ended 2015 ranked second in the nation in sacks per game among active players, earned first-team recognition to lead the group. Senior defensive end Chris Stone was tabbed second team and senior defensive lineman Robert Mondie was a third-team choice. His defensive linemen helped A-State rank first in the nation in defensive touchdowns (8) and interceptions (26) and second in turnovers gained (34).
Led by Rolland-Jones with a team-high nine sacks, A-State’s 2.4 sacks per game was the 41st highest average in the nation. Additionally, the squad’s 6.8 tackles for loss ranked 38th.
His first season working with the A-State defensive line saw the Red Wolves rank No. 17 in the nation in team sacks (2.85 per game) and No. 36 in team tackles for loss (6.6 per game). Early’s line was responsible for 22.5 of A-State’s 37 sacks that were the most by an A-State team since 2002 and the second most over the last 29 years. The Red Wolves’ front four also accounted for a combined 10 forced and recovered fumbles for a defense that ranked 21st in the nation in turnovers gained and 28th in fumble recoveries. The same group piled up 45.5 tackles for loss, which was over half of the team’s 86 total that were the most since 2011 and tied the program’s third most since gaining FBS status in 1992.
He coached two All-Sun Belt Conference selections in 2014, including second team pick Rolland-Jones and honorable mention choice Stone. Despite playing in just 10 games before suffering a season-ending injury, Rolland-Jones, named a SCOUT second team Freshman All-American, tallied a team-high eight sacks that were the 11th most in school history for a single season, ranked as the fifth most in the Sun Belt Conference and were the 14th most in the nation. He posted a school-record five sacks against Idaho, which also tied the Sun Belt record and the most in the nation for the 2014 season. The redshirt freshman also collected a team-high 12.0 tackles for loss that were the 10th most in the league.
Early’s position group has been the driving force leading to a combined 146 sacks that are the program’s most over any four-year span since moving to FBS status in 1992. The Red Wolves also posted at least 86 tackles for loss each of the last four seasons, achieving the feat for the first time in school history.
With previous coaching stops at Central Arkansas, Arkansas-Monticello and three Arkansas high schools, Early brought deep ties to the state with him. Prior to A-State, he most recently served as the University of Arkansas Defensive Quality Control Coach in 2013. His journey to Arkansas State also included a stop on the coaching staff at Minnesota State-Mankato.
Early has coached or recruited nine All-Americans, five conference players of the year and three NFL Draft picks in his career that spans over 20 years, including 13 at the collegiate level.
Early spent the four years before his time at Arkansas as defensive coordinator at Fayetteville High School, where he helped the Bulldogs to three straight 7A state championship game appearances and back-to-back titles in 2011 and 2012. The 2011 and 2012 Fayetteville teams were ranked in the top 50 nationally by MaxPreps.
His 2012 Fayetteville defense included Brooks Ellis, a two-time Arkansas High School Defensive Player of the Year, and Alex Brignoni, whose 19 career interceptions ranked first all-time in Arkansas history in the state’s largest classification.
Early went to Fayetteville High School after coaching defensive line for four years and linebackers for one year while also serving as special teams co-coordinator at Central Arkansas. In his time with UCA, the Bears won two conference championships in two different classifications, taking the Division II Gulf South crown in 2005 and the FBS Southland Conference title in 2008.
They twice led the conference in scoring defense, and Larry Hart was named the 2008 Southland Conference Defensive Player of the Year. UCA also led the nation in net punting in 2008, and in 2007 All-American Tristan Jackson led the country with an average of 23.6 yards per punt return. Early also coached the two highest-drafted players in UCA history as Hart was a fifth-round pick by Jacksonville in 2010 and Jacob Ford was a sixth round selection by Tennessee in 2007.
During the 2002 and 2003 seasons, Early was the linebackers coach and co-special teams coordinator at Minnesota State-Mankato. He was the defensive coordinator and strength and conditioning coordinator at West Memphis High School in 2001, helping lead the Blue Devils to the state quarterfinals.
In 1999 and 2000, he was the linebackers coach and strength and conditioning coordinator at the University of Arkansas at Monticello. There, he coached Danielle Rollins, who led the nation in total tackles in 1999 and in tackles per game in 2000 and was named the Gulf South’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2000.
Early began his coaching career in 1994 as defensive coordinator and strength and conditioning coordinator at Greenland High School. He helped lead the Pirates to back-to-back conference championships in 1997 & 1998. The '98 team was the first to complete an unblemished regular season and recorded the first playoff win in school history.
Early graduated from the University of Arkansas at Monticello with a bachelor’s degree in physical education and health in 1994 and earned his master’s degree in secondary education from UAM in 2000. He has three daughters (Sydney, Aivery and Camryn), one son (Dre) and is married to Nanci.