Payam Saadat joined the Vikings as defensive coordinator in January 2018 and had a dramatic effect on the team’s fortunes during the 2018.
Coming off a season in which PSU’s defense ranked last in the Big Sky Conference, Saadat’s “flex” defense brought great results. In Big Sky play, PSU dropped its points allowed by 16.4 points and yards allowed by 124.9 per game. The Vikings also forced more turnovers (13), and came up with more tackles for loss (44) and while nearly quadrupling the number of sacks (18) in the eight league games. PSU held five of eight Big Sky opponents to 20 points or less - the most since the 2006 Viking football team pulled off the feat six times.
In all, the Vikings forced 18 turnovers, had 65 tackles for loss and 21 sacks in 11 games - all significant improvements over 2017.
Saadat will have eight starters and 21 letterwinners returning on his defense in 2019.
Saadat, a veteran of collegiate coaching in the western United States, came to PSU after coaching most recently at Cal Poly. Saadat was the defensive line coach the past two seasons for the Mustangs. He had three coaching stints at Cal Poly over the years, and has been a defensive coordinator at three schools, including Cal Poly. He was the DC for the Mustangs from 2006-08, followed by five years as the defensive coordinator at Army (2009-13), then two years at Central Washington (2014-15).
“Payam has been known in the profession as being a player’s coach and a great teacher,” Viking Head Coach Bruce Barnum said. “I am excited to watch him implement a new-look defense for the upcoming season.”
“When I was (offensive coordinator) at Idaho State, he was the defensive coordinator at Cal Poly and he had the most difficult defense we went up against. He brings a unique system of putting pressure on the quarterback and stopping the run.”
Saadat was at Cal Poly in 1996-97, 2004-08 and 2016-17. Among the players Saadat coached at Cal Poly during his second stint were three consecutive Buck Buchanan Award winners — linebacker Jordan Beck in 2004, defensive end Chris Gocong in 2005 and linebacker Kyle Shotwell in 2006. In addition, lineman Chris White was a two-time All-American.
The Cal Poly defense in 2004 ranked first nationally in rushing defense, allowing opponents just 84.3 yards rushing per game. The defense was ninth nationally in scoring defense, giving up 16.6 points per game. The 2004 defensive unit set school records with 50 quarterback sacks (first nationally) and 25 interceptions (second nationally).
In 2005 Cal Poly increased its school record for sacks to 62 and was first in the nation in that department as well as No. 14 in rushing defense, 13th in scoring defense and 22nd in total defense.
In 2006, the Mustangs were sixth in total defense (248.27) and were ranked in the top 20 in five other defensive categories.
Cal Poly earned three conference titles and twice qualified for the FCS playoffs during Saadat's second coaching stint with the Mustangs.
In 2009, Saadat went with Head Coach Rich Ellerson from Cal Poly to Army. Saadat's influence over the Army defense was felt immediately when he arrived at West Point. The Black Knights finished the year ranked 16th in the nation in total defense, 35th in scoring defense and third in pass defense.
In 2010, the Black Knights again stood among the nation's leaders, ranking 29th in total defense and third in the country in turnover margin. Army's 30 takeaways tied for the 12th most in the nation. The Black Knights held four of their 2010 opponents to 21 points or less, including the program's first shutout since 2005, and qualified for the Armed Forces Bowl, the academy's first bowl game in 14 years, defeating SMU 16-14.
In his two seasons at Central Washington, Saadat coached six first-team all-conference players, including one defensive lineman of the year, and one All-American. The Wildcats were 12-9 during Saadat's two campaigns and, in 2014, the Wildcats were ranked in the top 10 in four defensive categories.
A 1994 Washington State graduate, Saadat was in charge of the inside linebackers at Cal Poly in 1996 and 1997, returned to Cal Poly as a linebackers assistant for the 2004 season, was promoted in 2005 to full-time assistant coach and became defensive coordinator in March 2006.
From 1998-2003, Saadat was an assistant at Western Washington, coaching the defensive line and linebackers and serving as special teams coordinator. He also was recruiting coordinator and an assistant strength and conditioning coach. The Vikings qualified for the 1999 NCAA Division II playoffs and Saadat coached two All-Americans on special teams and was named American Football Monthly special teams coordinator of the year in 2002.
Born in Baltimore, Saadat is a 1990 graduate of Saint Monica High School in Santa Monica, and earned his bachelor's degree in biology at Washington State in 1994. During his first coaching job at Cal Poly, he earned his master's degree in kinesiology in 1998.
Saadat was a linebacker for the Cougars and played in the 1992 Copper Bowl and the 1994 Alamo Bowl. As a senior, Saadat earned Washington State team awards for courage, inspiration and strength. He was the first Cougar to win all three awards in the same year.
Saadat, 46, coached the Washington State inside linebackers during his redshirt season in 1993 and coached the same position at Santa Monica College in 1995.
Saadat, a certified strength and conditioning coach for 10 years (1998-2008), was a participant in both the 1998 World Disabled Championships in Birmingham, England and the 1999 National Disabled Championships in Fairfax, Virginia. He was invited to represent Team USA in the 2000 Paralympic Games in Sydney, Australia, in the shot put.
SAFETIES / RECRUITING COORDINATOR
Now in his 10th season at Portland State, John Ely begins his fifth year coaching safeties. Ely is also in charge of travel for the Portland State program. He previously coached special teams and running backs.
Head Coach Bruce Barnum transitioned Ely back to defense in 2015 where he has spent the majority of nearly three-decade career. That transition was met with great success. Ely played a primary role in elevating the play of safety Patrick Onwuasor, who went from no honors in 2014 to first team All-Big Sky Conference, consensus All-American and second in National Defensive Player of the Year balloting in 2015. Onwuasor now plays for the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens.
He also led Walter Santiago to honorable mention All-Big Sky honors. In addition, in 2015 the Viking defense doubled the number of turnovers forced (14 to 28), allowed 90 fewer passing yards per game, and cut nearly 12 points per game allowed.
In 2016, he had to make adjustments with his players as Onwuasor graduated and Santiago’s career ended early due to injury.
His 2018 group will feature veterans Artuz Manning and Braxton Winterton as well as no less than four young redshirts ready to play.
Ely had great success working with Viking running backs in recent seasons. PSU rushed for more than 2,000 yards in each season he coached the position.
The Vikings rushed for exactly 2,500 yards in 2014 with big contributions from Steven Long, Shaquille Richard and Nate Tago.
DJ Adams rushed for 1,600 yards (fourth-best in school history) in 2013 while leading a Viking running game to school records of 3,330 yards, 36 touchdowns and 6.0 yards per carry in 2013.
Portland State’s rushing average of 277.7 yards per game that season marked the third time in four seasons that the Viking program had established a new record. It also ranked third-best in the nation.
In 2012, PSU averaged 216.5 rushing yards per game and, though the yardage was down from a then-school-record 247.8 yards per game in 2011, the Vikings carried the ball 90 fewer times and thus had a higher yard-per-carry average (5.3 to 5.0).
Ely’s first year as running backs coach in 2011 was challenged by player injuries. But the remarkable production from his backs couldn’t have been better. His star, Cory McCaffrey, went from leading the nation in rushing (731 yards in five games) to out for the season with a torn achilles. And, though Willie Griffin and Shaquille Richard also battled injuries, he had them ready when needed. Richard rushed for 90 yards in his first career start at TCU. Griffin went for 84 yards in his first start at Eastern Washington. Even Denzel Davis, who moved over from cornerback on game week because of numerous injuries, rushed for 76 yards in a primary role in the season finale.
In the end, it was about production. And Ely got it from a group of running backs as the Viking team set a then-school record for rushing yards (2,726 yards) in 2011.
Prior to coaching running backs at PSU, Ely spent his first year working as special teams coordinator. He coached two of the most talented specialists in the Big Sky Conference in 2010 in kicker Zach Brown and punter Thomas Duyndam.
Brown went on to hold virtually every kicking record at PSU and was a consensus first team All-American in 2011. Duyndam had the third-best punting average in school history and ranked 11th in the nation at 42.6 yards per punt in 2010.
A long-time coach in the Pacific Northwest, Ely came to Portland State after two years as the defensive coordinator at Southern Oregon. He served two stints at Western Washington University, the latest from 1999 through 2005 as the Defensive Coordinator. WWU was 43-29 during that span and conference champions four times. The Vikings also reached the NCAA II Playoffs in 1999. Ely’s other stint at Western Washington was 1989-91.
Ely was linebackers coach, then defensive coordinator at Idaho State in 1997-98. He worked with PSU Offensive Coordinator Bruce Barnum while at ISU.
Ely also spent three years at San Diego State and two years at Washington State. While at WSU, the Cougars went to the Copper Bowl under the leadership of quarterback Drew Bledsoe.
A linebacker at Western Washington from 1985-87, Ely was named Special Teams Most Valuable Player twice. He has a degree from WWU in Physical Education.
Colin Fry begins his third season coaching cornerbacks at Portland State.
He will have the luxury of working with an experienced group as three seniors with significant starting experience - Deon Crayon, Maxwell Howell and Montre Brown - all return.
Fry will have a pair of freshmen signees to develop for the future at the position.
In 2017, Fry led Donovan Olumba, a walk-on, to honorable mention All-Big Sky honors. Olumba went on to sign a free agent contract with the Dallas Cowboys.
Fry, formerly at California Berkeley, spent four seasons as a graduate assistant for defense with the Golden Bears. Fry coached the nickel and dime packages for the Cal defense, while assisting with the secondary and linebackers. Fry also specialized in recruiting defensive players.
Prior to his time at Cal, Fry was a defensive assistant at Nevada from 2010-13. There, he assisted with the coaching of the secondary, broke down game film, assisted with recruiting and was part of the 2010 WAC Champion Nevada squad.
In 2009, Fry was an assistant coach at Elsinore High School, working with the linebackers and the receivers. His team was the 2009 Sunbelt champions.
He was an assistant coach at Temecula Preparatory in 2008, coaching quarterbacks and defensive backs, while also assisting with fundraising.
Fry received his bachelor’s degree in general studies from Nevada in 2011 and his master’s degree in public health from Cal in 2015.
Adam Khosroabadi is in his third season as a student assistant at Portland State, working on the defensive side of the football.
Khosroabadi assists with opponent scouting, film breakdown and skill work with the team.
Prior to coming to Portland State, Khosroabadi spent time working with the Taft High School football team in Los Angeles. He moved over to coach linebackers at LA Pierce Junior College from 2014-16.
Originally from Los Angeles, he served in the United States Marine Corps from 2003-07. Khosroabadi is working toward a degree in Applied Health and Fitness at Portland State.