UL defensive coordinator Patrick Toney never claimed to be a genius.

In fact, he wouldn’t want to be even if he could.

“My mom used to always tell me is the problem with knowing everything is you can never learn anything new,” said the 31-year-old Toney, who is entering his second season as the boss of the Cajuns’ defense.

So yes, Toney’s on a constant search for every little edge to make his defense as good as it can be.

“That’s what I love about him,” UL coach Billy Napier said. “He’s always learning. He and I, we work well together, because we’re always trying to tinker and improve what we do and try to position the team for success.”

Napier, only 42 himself, is convinced Toney’s relentless pursuit of perfection will one day lead to many in the football world labeling him a genius.

“He’s fun to work with now,” Napier said. “I love coming to work every day knowing we’ve got one of the bright, young, up-and-coming football minds in our building. I think we’re all going to be telling stories about ole ‘PT’ one day.

“He’s exceptional. We’re certainly proud to have him.”

Some get into coaching, because they had fabulous athletic careers and they want to share that wisdom.

Toney’s path to be a defensive coordinator for the No. 23-ranked Cajuns was a different one.

His constant passion to acquire more knowledge about the sport he loves is what drives Toney’s success.

“I think that’s why I have a job,” Toney said. “You have to have some sort of competitive advantage. I wasn’t a great player. That wasn’t how I got into football. I went volunteer at Southeastern Louisiana and lived in the field house. That’s how I got into college football.

“I’ve always thought that for me to maintain it and stay in this profession, I’ve got to outwork people, I’ve got to watch more film than people, I’ve got to be on top of it.”

It also helps that he loves the game … perhaps even addicted to it.

In short, he’s a football junkie.

“I don’t really have hobbies,” Toney revealed. “If I’m not doing it for work, I’m doing it for pleasure. That’s what my (wife) can’t figure out, why am I home watching the Green Bay Packers defense on Sunday? It’s a hobby, and it’s my profession.

“I just love the game.”

Junior linebacker Lorenzo McCaskill recently discovered first hand that Toney’s passion hasn’t waned.

“He works hard, really hard,” McCaskill said during August camp. “He told me yesterday he spent the last two nights in the facility in his office. That just tells you how dedicated he is to us as a defense and to us as a team. He spent the night on an air mattress for the last two nights.”

Not only does Toney work har, but apparently he works smart as well.

“That’s one thing about coach Toney,” McCaskill said. “He’s consistent. He’s the same guy. He’s one of the most prepared people I’ve ever met besides coach Napier.”

The other driving force behind Toney’s obsession with the game is a combination of loyalty, appreciation and commitment.

“I appreciate coach Napier giving me this opportunity,” Toney said. “It’s what I always wanted and I don’t want to let him down or our team down, so I’m going to be prepared. I promise you that.”

Before coming to UL as a safeties coach from Texas-San Antonio, Toney coached secondaries at Southeastern and Sam Houston State.

But all the while he wanted to be a defensive coordinator.

“It’s a job I always wanted, so I’ve always kind of prepared as if I was,” Toney said. “The saying says, ‘You dress for the job you want, not the one you have.’

“In my mind, I was always preparing. I actually kept a notebook of ‘Hey, this is what you should do if you ever became the coordinator.’ ... Hundreds of pages over my career.”

All of that preparation has paid off. In his first season as UL’s defensive coordinator, the Cajuns ranked 33rd nationally in scoring defense and in total defense. The defense’s 16 interceptions were the third most in the nation.

Don’t even consider the possibility of Toney being satisfied, though.

“We did do a much better job obviously in the secondary of intercepting the football,” Toney said. “So we’ve taken a step there, right? We need to catapult, because if you look at it, we dropped nine more. That’s nine more we could have added to the kitty.”

And there’s plenty more where that came from. He’s clearly trained his players to not be satisfied.

“We can’t get bored,” McCaskill said. “We’ve been in the system and we’re going over the same plays, but we can’t get bored, ‘Oh, I know this.’ We’ve got to try to get better at any little technique and any little small details.

“It’ll be in the small details for us to come out and be the best defense in the country or come out and be a laughingstock with everybody saying how good they could have been.”

With recruiting trips limited in the spring because of COVID protocols, Toney used that time to review film in search of any way him, his coaches and his players can improve.

Some might have been bored. Toney was relishing the opportunity.

“So taking the next step is just playing with more precision and taking the ball away better,” Toney said. “On top of that, situational football is something we’re big on here. We need to play better on third down for sure and part of that is creating more negative plays on first and second down to get people in more third-and-longs.

“That’s something we’re definitely focusing on. When we do get people in third-and-long, we rush the passer well and our secondary covers well, so it’s usually good for us.”

That steady search for perfection, though, isn’t all about new innovative ways to teaching defense.

Toney’s old-school work ethic in leading a modern defense also includes old-school beliefs as well.

“You can never underestimate or discredit the fundamentals of playing football,” Toney insisted. “At the end of the day, it’s going to come down to the corner covering the receiver with the proper technique or it’s going to come down to the post safety making a tackle in the middle of the field with the proper technique.”

That extra time of evaluation also allowed Toney to upgrade his coordinator duties.

“You just have to learn how you’re going to prepare to call the game,” he said. “That’s really the biggest part of the job. There’s a lot of hats you have to wear, but you have to prepare your mind to be in the best possible state to call the game in pressure situations.”

He even made the decision to move from his comfort zone of safeties to coaching outside linebackers this season.

Naturally, it was a carefully calculated move.

“Now I’m getting multiple players at different positions feedback every day because I’m watching more of the big picture, not so much through a straw of just DB play, so it’s been a positive for sure,” he said.

It’s the kind of thing today’s young coordinators with big-picture approaches do.

“Always trying to find that inch to improve our game, so we can play better in the fall.”

Email Kevin Foote at kfoote@theadvocate.com.