For Elwyn “Rip” Rowan, football is the name of the game.
In a way, he can also thank the game for his name.
UW’s first-year defensive line coach was named after his grandfather — who, according to his biography in the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame, earned the nickname due to his ability to rip through defensive lines as a running back at Memphis’ Central High School in the early 1940s. The original “Rip” played college football at both LSU and Army, served eight years as a second lieutenant, then earned acclaim as the color commentator for Ole Miss football. Bob Rowan — the original Rip’s son, and the second Rip’s father — played at the University of Texas as well.
“Even on my mom’s side, her dad was a coach, and he was a scout in the NFL when I was 10, 11, 12,” Rowan told local media last week. “So I remember we’d go to NFL games, we’d sit in the very top row, and he’d have his binoculars out. Me and my brother would just be sitting there like, ‘Granddad, we can’t see anything. Can we sit a little closer?’
“So it’s always been football with my family. It really has.”
But to climb the coaching ladder, a name is not enough. Through graduate-assistant stints at Southern Miss and Florida Atlantic, Rowan — a former defensive lineman and linebacker at Austin Peay State — developed an immaculate reputation. Tony Pecoraro, Rowan’s defensive coordinator at both Southern Miss and FAU, told The Times that “he would do stuff before you even asked him to do it. He’s a go-getter. He loves the game of football.”
He also loves to learn.
Which is where Monte Kiffin comes in.
At Florida Atlantic in 2017 and 2018, Rip — who was also raised in a family of teachers — worked under head coach Lane Kiffin and his father, legendary NFL defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin. Through more than five decades in coaching, Monte — father of both Lane and the Cover 2 defense — established himself as a tremendous teacher.
And that knowledge was passed to players and green graduate assistants alike.
“When I was a GA at Florida Atlantic I was still green when it comes to the game,” Rowan said. “When the coaches would go on the road, (Monte Kiffin) would sit with me in the meeting room and just make me get up there and talk football. Just talking football was the biggest thing. Because as a GA, your first couple years you’re scared to death. When somebody’s like, ‘Hey, get up here and draw me this, or explain to me that,’ let alone it being a Hall of Fame coach, (that’s huge).
“Man, I still talk to him every week, and he’s asking me how it’s going and making sure I’m teaching the right things. That was invaluable. Really all the Kiffins were really good to me, and I wouldn’t be here without them.”
That last part is literally true. Because, when UW had an opening for a defensive quality-control coach in 2019, Monte Kiffin suggested that Jimmy Lake — his former assistant defensive-backs coach with the Tampa Bay Bucs — consider hiring Rip Rowan.
Which is how a Southern boy from Marietta, Georgia, finally made his way west.
“I’d been in the southeast my whole life,” he said. “I kind of bounced around to different places. I’d never been west of Oklahoma before I came out here. I drove out here, and once you hit Colorado and get into the mountains you’re kind of just like, ‘Holy cow. Where am I?’ I’m going 30 mph on the freeway, just looking around.
“So it’s been great, man. It’s beautiful out here. I remember when I came up for my interview it was very similar to a day like this — just not a cloud in sight, mountains and water everywhere. I love the South, don’t get me wrong. But it doesn’t even compare.”
And yet, college football transcends regions or conferences or coasts. For two years, Rowan served as a quality-control coach — scouting opponents, helping players with film sessions and occasionally leading defensive-line meetings as well. Former UW outside linebacker Joe Tryon said Rowan “was someone I could trust. I didn’t feel like I had to be super professional with him, even though he was doing his job at the highest level. It just really clicked.”
So much so that, when defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski accepted the same job at Texas this offseason and co-defensive coordinator Ikaika Malloe shifted positions from the D-line to outside linebackers, Lake knew who he wanted to talk to next.
“He’s high-energy, smart, knows technique inside and out, loves football, hard-working,” Lake said. “He did a tremendous job for us as a quality-control coach for the last couple years, and I had my eyes on him. If we ever had an opening on the defensive front, he would be a guy that we’d interview.”
So Rowan interviewed. And, during a run on Lake Union on a Friday afternoon, he received a call from Lake and learned he’d been promoted to defensive-line coach.
The latest Elwyn “Rip” Rowan nearly fell to his knees.
“I was speechless,” Rowan said. “I was holding back tears. It was awesome. It was an unreal experience.
“It’s really hard (to get this kind of job). It’s all about timing and being at the right place at the right time. It seems like every coach you work for tells you they want to promote you and, ‘Hey, you’re the next guy.’ I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that. But I’m so grateful for coach Lake for actually following through and giving me my opportunity.”
Now, all he needs to do is elevate a UW defensive line that allowed 161.3 rushing yards per game and 4.5 yards per carry in four games last fall, falling short of the standard set by Danny Shelton and Vita Vea and Greg Gaines and Levi Onwuzurike and so many more. He needs to maximize the considerable talent of Tuli Letuligasenoa, Sam “Taki” Taimani, Faatui Tuitele, Jacob Bandes and others. He needs to show why Lake elevated a 29-year-old assistant with zero experience as a full-time position coach.
“I’m like a kid on Christmas morning every day, man,” said a giddy Rowan, with a purple gaiter wrapped around his neck. “Now I can kind of put my spin on the guys and I get to go out every day and coach ’em.”
Added Tryon: “He’ll do amazing. He’s just a relatable dude. He’s not phony in any way. Everything about him is genuine.”
Through football, Rowan continues to represent his family.
Only now, he gets to do it with a slightly better view.