Cullowhee, N.C. - Western Carolina head football coach Mark Speir has announced the addition of former James Madison assistant coach, Tripp Weaver, to his defensive staff as the defensive backs coach and the defensive passing game coordinator.
Weaver has been a part of three-consecutive conference championship seasons over the past three years including a Southern Conference championship at The Citadel and back-to-back Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) championship teams at JMU. He has also been a part of a Dukes’ football program that made consecutive appearances in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) National Championship game, winning the national title in 2016.
An Asheville, N.C., native and graduate of T.C. Roberson High, Weaver got his start in collegiate coaching after two and a half years as a volunteer student assistant at his alma mater, East Carolina, spending two seasons on the sidelines with the Pirates where he worked under current Western Carolina defensive coordinator, John Wiley.
Weaver replaces Blake Gideon, who took a position on the defensive staff of NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) member, Georgia State.
“Adding Tripp Weaver to our coaching staff will be tremendously beneficial for our football program,” said Speir upon completing his coaching staff. “Tripp is a Western North Carolina guy with great ties to the region, but has quickly made a name for himself in the football community with his passion and knowledge of the game. His familiarity with Coach John Wiley will be huge in our defensive staff room. He’s been an integral part of championship-caliber football and we’re excited to have he and his wife, Leigh, join our football family.”
Over the past two seasons at James Madison, Weaver worked as an assistant coach working primarily with the cornerbacks. He was responsible for the punt return unit and served as the program’s recruiting coordinator. During his tenure, Weaver helped JMU return to defensive national prominence, as JMU led the country in 2017 in scoring defense (11.1 points per game), interceptions (31), takeaways (44) and pass efficiency defense (83.12 rating).
JMU’s cornerbacks accounted for 16 of the team’s 31 interceptions in ‘17, as Jimmy Moreland ranked second nationally with eight picks, while Rashad Robinson was third in the FCS with seven. The Dukes produced 69 pass breakups, with the corners coming up with 33 of them. Moreland was one of the country’s best, leading JMU with 14 pass breakups.
In addition to leading the country in four defensive categories, the Dukes also ranked in the top 10 in 14 areas, coming in at third in total defense (252.0), defensive touchdowns (5) and turnover margin (+1.47), fourth in punt-return defense (3.33) and fifth in sacks (3.4). They were also seventh in rushing defense (90.5), eighth in fumble recoveries (13) and 10th in passing defense (161.5), third-down defense (30.1%) and blocked punts (2).
Weaver’s punt return group once again ranked as one of the country’s best, ranking 10th with 13.0 yards per punt return. D’Angelo Amos was second in the FCS with 15.8 yards per return, and John Miller was ninth at 11.7 per return. Both had a punt return for a touchdown, as John Miller had one in the home opener against ETSU and Amos blocked a punt and returned it for the score at Elon.
He coached Robinson to All-America accolades, as the junior was named AFCA First Team All-America, Associated Press Second Team All-American and a Third Team All-American by both STATS and HERO Sports. Both Robinson and Moreland were named First Team All-CAA selections at cornerback, marking the first time in school history that JMU put two corners on an all-conference team in the same season. Miller was also First Team All-CAA punt returner and was voted CAA Special Teams Player of the Year, marking the second year in a row Weaver coached a JMU student-athlete to the award.
In his first season with the Dukes, he helped lead a young, yet experienced defensive backfield to a solid showing as a part of the national championship team. JMU’s defense led the country with 21 interceptions, eight of which came by Weaver’s cornerbacks. The Dukes produced 80 pass breakups as a team over the 15-game season, with 39 coming from the corners.
JMU ranked fifth nationally and second in the Colonial Athletic Association with 30 takeaways, leading to a No. 8 ranking in turnover margin (+1.13). JMU was also seventh in pass efficiency defense (106.88), 26th in third-down defense (34.1%) and 30th in total defense (344.3). JMU allowed nearly 60 fewer yards per game from the 2015 season to 2016 campaign.
The Dukes’ punt return led the country with a CAA-record six returns for a touchdown in 2016. Rashard Davis, the CAA Special Teams Player of the Year, set a conference record with an FCS-best four punt returns for a score, including two during the playoffs. Of the six returns, one was produced on a block punt for a touchdown in the quarterfinals against previously-unbeaten Sam Houston State.
Weaver coached Taylor Reynolds to All-America honors, as the senior became the first JMU corner to earn the distinction since Clint Kent in 2005 and just the third corner dating back to 1994. Reynolds had two of the unit’s eight interceptions and ranked 34th in the FCS and second in the CAA with 1.14 passes defended per contest. He paced all CAA players with 14 pass breakups. Joining Reynolds with two interceptions apiece were Jimmy Moreland, Curtis Oliver and Rashad Robinson. Aside Reynolds’ team-high 14 breakups, Moreland was second for JMU with nine, while Oliver tied for third with seven.
In the national championship game, Oliver came up with a key interception off the foot of a Youngstown State receiver on the opening possession of the second half. That takeaway eventually led to a JMU touchdown, giving the Dukes a 28-7 lead. Earlier in the season, Reynolds corralled an interception in the end zone with 1:22 left to preserve a seven-point lead versus William & Mary.
Prior to making the move to Harrisonburg, Va., and JMU, Weaver spent two seasons at Southern Conference-member, The Citadel (2014-15) on Mike Houston’s staff as the outside linebackers coach.
In 2015, Weaver helped the Bulldogs to their fourth winning season since 1995 with a 9-4 record and a share of the 2015 Southern Conference title. The Citadel boasted a conference-best +117 scoring margin, including a +100 edge during league play. It also defeated Southeastern Conference (SEC) member South Carolina 23-22 in the regular-season finale and advanced to the second round of the FCS playoffs after upsetting ninth-ranked Coastal Carolina. It was also the Bulldogs’ first-ever playoff road win.
The Bulldogs’ defense showed a drastic improvement from 2014 to 2015, giving up nearly seven less points per game and limiting opposing offenses to 86 fewer yards, while tallying 19 more takeaways. The Citadel led the country with a school-record 515 interception return yards and five interceptions for a touchdown. It also led the SoCon and ranked third nationally with 20 interceptions, the third-highest single-season total in program history, and with 31 turnovers forced. The Bulldogs also topped the SoCon passing touchdowns allowed (10), fumble recoveries (11), third-down defense (36.5%) and tackles for loss (6.5). They ranked second in the conference in scoring defense (21.8), total defense (356.2), rushing defense (157.3), and sacks (2.08).
Weaver’s outside linebackers were responsible for 10 turnovers, grabbing five interceptions, forcing three fumbles and recover two more. Joe Crochet was tied for the league lead with two fumble recoveries and was the first Bulldog in 26 years to be named a First Team Academic All-American. Quinlan Washington was voted to the SoCon All-Freshman Team and was a First Team All-SoCon return specialist.
His first unit in 2014 included bandit Rah Muhammad, who was the team’s second-leading tackler (70) as he ranked 15th in the conference in tackles per game (5.8). Crochet was named the team’s defensive MVP after tying for third in the Southern Conference with three forced fumbles and Mark Thomas continued development as an effective pass rusher.
Weaver went to The Citadel from East Carolina, where he was an assistant coach for two seasons (2012-13), working primarily with the defensive secondary. During his time with the Pirates, the team went 18-8, including a 10-win season in 2013 when the Pirates finished the season ranked 24th in the Associated Press poll. He also served as a student assistant before joining the team in a full-time capacity.
In 2012, Weaver coached the safeties and helped mentor ECU defensive MVP Damon Magazu and Godfrey Thompson, both of whom earned All-Conference USA honors. ECU safeties accounted for more interceptions (8) than the Pirates had the year prior (5), helping the squad finish 8-5 overall and 7-1 in conference play to earn an invitation to the R&L Carriers Bowl.
The following season, he transitioned to cornerbacks coach. His unit, led by All-C-USA selection Adonis Armstrong, helped lower the team’s passing defense average by 23 yards while grabbing nine of the squad’s 18 interceptions. The Pirates finished 36th nationally in total defense (368.8), their best ranking in the category since 2008, and they helped spark the program to wins over in-state rivals North Carolina and N.C. State, marking the first time ECU beat both schools in the same season.
A native of Asheville, N.C., Weaver graduated from ECU in 2012. He is also a 2008 graduate of T.C. Roberson High School, which JMU head coach Mike Houston was for 10 years including the last five as the head coach (1996-2005).
Weaver is married to the former Leigh Hatcher of Asheville, N.C.