Back in October, this correspondent suggested Paul Johnson and Georgia Tech would be wise to hire a full-time special teams coordinator. Being Paul Johnson, he wadded up the advice and hurled it toward yonder trashcan.
The whole thing is ridiculous. Guys calling for special teams coordinators don’t have any idea. You know how many teams in the ACC, SEC, Big 12 and Big Ten have special teams coordinators that don’t coach another position?
Six. You know who it is in our league? Boston College – which is helping them a lot – and N.C. State. And the Big Ten, it’s Purdue. In the Big 12, it’s Kansas State. I think it’s coach [Bill] Snyder’s son. Most staffs are set up the same as ours.
Coach Charles Kelly is quote-unquote the special teams coordinator, which means he collects and puts things together for the book. He has the punt team [and] punt return team. Other coaches are assigned areas of special teams. It’s been that way everywhere I’ve ever coached for 32 years. Sometimes, you’re better than others. It’s like Coach Kelly. I asked him today: Are you coaching the punt team any different than you did with [2007 second-team All-American punter] Durant Brooks? “No, coaching ‘em the same.”
Update: Georgia Tech lost the Sun Bowl to Utah in overtime after missing three field goals, yielding a 68-yard kickoff return (that didn’t hurt) and a 31-yard punt return (that engineered the Utes’ tying touchdown).
If you’re keeping score, that made two losses, Miami being the first, traceable to failures by Tech’s special teams. Yes, the defense yielded two late touchdowns to Utah, and no, Johnson’s offense couldn’t make a first down when one first down might have sealed the deal, but the offense gained 448 yards and the D held the Utes to 339 (and that’s counting overtime). Those units weren’t awful. Yet again, special teams were.
The only category pertaining to special teams at which Tech excelled this season was punt return defense. (Right up until its final punt of the year, anyway.) It entered the Sun Bowl ranked 50th nationally in kickoff return defense, 55th in net punting, 63rd in punt returns, 109th in kickoff returns. It finished 11 of 18 on field goals and didn’t make one longer than 41 yards. It had two blocked. It managed eight touchbacks on 80 kickoffs.
This wasn’t it just been a seasonal aberration. An incisive October post from Coaches By The Numbers illustrated the difference between the special teams of other prominent coaches — Nick Saban, Bob Stoops, Frank Beamer and especially Les Miles — and Johnson’s. And that difference, it would appear, translates to a game or two a year. At the highest level of college football, that’s a major gap.
Tech finished 8-5. Flip the two games undone by special teams – of Miami’s three touchdowns, two came on a muffed punt and after a long kickoff runback near the end of the first half — and Georgia Tech would have been 10-3. That’s Top 25 territory, probably Top 15.
OK, and now you’re saying: Saban and Stoops and Beamer don’t have designated special teams coordinators, either. Neither do they employ Johnson’s stylized offense, which doesn’t keep him from doing it. (And please note that LSU, which is unbeaten in large measure because of its special teams, does have a designated coordinator.)
Me, I’d suggest Tech take one of its two offensive line coaches and make that position a special teams coordinator. (Don’t coaches — some coaches, anyway — say that special teams are one-third of football? Should that one-third be allocated piecemeal?) But that’s just me, and I’m guessing PJ would say I’m being ridiculous again.
By Mark Bradley