Louisville football offensive coordinator Dwayne Ledford makes impact
Let’s learn a little more about Louisville’s new offensive line coach and offensive coordinator.
Dominique Yates, Louisville Courier Journal
Garrett Bradbury always looked forward to Thursday nights during football season. That meant offensive line dinners at the Ledford household.
Dwayne Ledford, then the offensive line coach at N.C. State, invited his players over every week with one rule – no phones. He wanted conversation. The players obliged.
They watched Thursday Night Football together, played with Ledford’s kids, Hudson and Jordan, and ate what Bradbury called the best chocolate chip cookies ever, made by Ledford’s wife, Meredith. Current N.C. State offensive lineman Justin Witt confirmed Bradbury’s review of Meredith’s homemade cookies.
Bradbury, a former center for the Wolfpack and the No. 18 pick in the 2019 NFL Draft by the Minnesota Vikings, remembers the wins and losses from his career, but when he reflects on it more, those dinners come to mind.
“A lot of the time when you go over a coach’s house to eat you think it’s just to eat and then you get out of there,” he said. “We would hang out there for two to three hours.”
There was a reason for that.
Dating back to his time at Gardner Webb in 2011 when he often took his players to dinner, Ledford, now the offensive coordinator and offensive line coach at Louisville, has understood the importance of team bonding. A team can’t win without talent on the field, but Ledford believes the relationship between players is equally important, especially on the offensive line.
“You have to be in sync and you have to know each other inside and out,” Ledford said. “They have their own language. They know each other’s moves and when they are expecting anything. It’s unique.”
It’s the principle upon which Ledford built his career specializing as an assistant coach. Now with added responsibility as a coordinator, the philosophy still holds true.
It’s why he got into coaching and if you talk to those around him, his passion for his players is what has made him successful everywhere he’s gone. The running-through-a-wall cliche’ applies.
“I don’t know about two walls, but yeah one,” Bradbury, who would babysit for Ledford as well, said with a laugh.
Putting in the work
Before Ledford made his living coaching offensive linemen, he was a defensive end at East Carolina. Entering his senior year, he was asked to switch positions.
He was surprised but trusted his coaches.
He made the switch but the transition wasn’t simple.
As a defensive end he was accustomed to coming off the line of scrimmage and sprinting at the opponent in front of him.
He kept that aggressive mindset, but had to work on getting into a wide base quickly.
Attempting to perfect the form, he repeatedly practiced his first step in his dorm room mirror. Unprompted, Ledford stood up during a recent interview with a reporter to demonstrate his routine.
He broke off the line, dipped into his stance and took his step with his hands up ready for contact.
“Being an offensive lineman, you have to learn how to do everything with a wide base,” Ledford said moving around in his office. “Why is that? How can I do that? My hands being inside and being tight. A lot of that stuff is the fundamentals and if you don’t have those you will get exposed.”
That routine, perfecting his technique at every opportunity, carried over to the NFL, where he had an eight-year career and played for five teams.
Why did he work on his fundamentals so often, especially in random places that weren’t the football facility? Ledford wanted to squeeze out as many NFL years as he could.
“I was always a guy that was going to do everything he could. I wanted to make sure that when I looked myself in the mirror, I did everything I could to stay in the NFL as long as I could,” he said.
As he walks through the form today, he does so with an enthusiasm that would make you think he’s still a college senior looking into his mirror or an NFL player trying to make it. There’s no drop off in his determination just because he’s fresh off another promotion.
“In my mind when I was going to go get something, I was going to go get it done,” he said. “That’s been something for me my whole career to when I was player and a coach trying to get established.”
Making the Satterfield connection
Ledford’s first full-time job was at Tennessee State. It wasn’t glamorous.
He slept on an air mattress in an apartment that was more like a dorm right on campus. His wife Meredith lived in Raleigh, where the couple had planted roots, so the two saw each other just once that year.
“I was just trying to make it,” Ledford said.
He made the move to Gardner Webb after one year and soon after learned of an opening at Appalachian State.
The Mountaineers jumped into the national scene after beating Michigan in Ann Arbor in 2007, but to North Carolina natives, the program was already highly regarded.
Ledford wanted a chance to interview, but head coach Jerry Moore and then-offensive coordinator Scott Satterfield didn’t know him. Ledford set out to meet them at the annual coaches convention in San Antonio, but initially never spotted the pair. He even contemplated leaving on a morning flight after the letdown.
Instead, Ledford went to the airport early and paced every gate in the San Antonio airport trying to get a glimpse of the two Mountaineer coaches.
At the last gate, he found Moore, sat down and introduced himself.
“That was awkward because he didn’t even know who I was,” Ledford said. “I just tried to give him a quick overview of myself and what I was trying to get done. I think I made an impression.”
Ledford got his interview.
Gardner Webb didn’t have the film capabilities that teams do now, so he did not have a drill tape to take. But Moore wanted to see his drills on the field. Dressed in the sweats that Moore asked him to come to the interview in, Ledford went through his workouts for the coaches.
“I still remember that, just soaking wet, trying to go through and explain it and make a good impression,” Ledford said.
After a few more interviews he was offered the job, thus beginning his relationship with Satterfield.
“He wanted that job bad,” Satterfield said with a laugh. “He was like, ‘I’ll do anything to get this job.’ But at the same time, he said he would never ask his players to do anything he didn’t do. He proved that.”
Now the two are so close that Ledford referred to Satterfield as a brother. A call to Ledford at N.C. State was a must when Satterfield took the job at Louisville.
“I know what he can do with offensive lines and that’s one position where we have to have a lot of improvement,” Satterfield said.
Hitting 1,000 yards
Ledford has worked himself into a respected offensive line coach and his success at N.C. State is a big reason why.
The Wolfpack were amid a 13-year drought without a 1,000-yard rusher, the longest in the country, when Ledford arrived in 2016. Immediately he took note and changed things.
“He came in and the only thing that mattered was going to work. We loved our old offensive line coach, but when he came in everything was just ramped up a lot,” Bradbury said. “His biggest thing is speed off the ball, toughness and finish. He hates having to coach effort and things you can control.”
Along with bringing his determination and experience as a player and coach, Ledford injected off-the-field focus.
“He brought our room very close like I don’t think that position room had seen in a really long time,” Bradbury said. “We cared for each other and we could see he cared for us. All of that together was the reason we had such a good offensive line.”
N.C. State wasn’t without talent, though. Bradbury won the Rimington Trophy, awarded to the country’s best center, but there was also Tyler Jones, a first-team All-ACC honoree a year ago who is now playing for the New York Jets. Guard Terronne Prescod was an All-ACC honorable mention, as well.
The Wolfpack had a 1,000-yard rusher in each of Ledford’s seasons. The Cardinals have a 1,000-yard drought of their own.
The last running back to reach that milestone was Bilal Powell in 2010.
“I talk to our backs about it all the time. I love reading the stuff about us not having a 1,000-yard back for a long time now,’ Ledford said. “To me in the offensive line room there has to be a certain demeanor about it. To me running the football is just an attitude that the room has to have. You can’t do any of that until your relationships are right with the kids.”
Along with producing more yards on the ground, Louisville will need better quarterback protection. It allowed 43 sacks last year. N.C. State allowed just 11 sacks, fifth in the country.
Ledford said he’s seen the offensive line grasp the system he is preaching.
But his responsibilities go further than just that group. Though Satterfield will do the play-calling on game day, Ledford is responsible for the entire offense.
“It’s the scripting, the stuff you wouldn’t normally be in charge of and trying to now make sure you have all of that done,” he said. “With it, though, if you think you know it all you can’t learn anything. If you aren’t learning anything you aren’t growing. I’m embracing this to continue to learn and grow.”
Making a difference
When Bradbury had his draft party, he invited not only Ledford but Meredith as well. She was confused why she got invited. Ledford wasn’t.
During those Thursday dinners they were like family.
Ledford is establishing those kinds of relationships at Louisville. He took a handful of players go-cart racing earlier in the month and plans to have the team over a few more times this summer, before hosting his weekly dinners again.
Thursday night is still the plan.
Those nights could easily be a date night for Ledford and Meredith, a family night to relax with the kids or a chance to study more film and put in more hours. But Ledford didn’t get into coaching for the paycheck alone.
“My wife and I want to make a difference in some of these kids. I want to make sure that they have a home away from home,” Ledford said. “Once our relationship gets going we will have guys who will stop by and just hangout. That’s when you have some special moments.”
His whole life he’s not only been determined to reach his goals, but also impact the players he coaches. It just so happens the two go hand in hand.