Stanford already had a special teams coordinator in David Shaw‚Äôs first year as head coach, but when Brian Polian left to join Texas A&M‚Äôs staff in 2012, Shaw hired veteran assistant Pete Alamar to coach strictly special teams.
‚ÄúFor me, it‚Äôs all the difference in the world as opposed to most places a special teams coach that coaches another position and the kicker‚Äôs got some kicking guru in another state someplace that he talks to that‚Äôs not on our coaching staff,‚Äù Shaw said. ‚ÄúI never wanted to do that. I wanted our kids to be coached by our coaches and Pete‚Äôs done a great job with that. To me, it makes all the difference and the difference between saying, ‚ÄòHey, a guy missed a kick.‚Äô Well, everybody in the stadium saw that as opposed to, ‚ÄòHis plant leg was too close to the ball. We‚Äôve got to get his plant leg right back to where it‚Äôs supposed to be,‚Äô and a guy who‚Äôs an expert coaching his position.‚Äô‚Äù
The results on special teams this year for No. 6 Stanford have paid off.
Entering the weekend, the Cardinal had blocked two punts ‚Äî tied for second nationally ‚Äî and two kicks, had the nation‚Äôs top kickoff returner in Ty Montgomery, ranked in the top 25 in kickoff and punt coverage and had not had a punt or kick blocked.
‚ÄúWe‚Äôve won a lot of games on field position,‚Äù Shaw said. ‚ÄúWith all these statistics and everybody talking about yardage and how much time they can use and how many plays they can run, the one thing that doesn‚Äôt get talked about a lot is field position. Field position matters.‚Äù
Stanford is one of only 20 teams nationally with a dedicated special teams coordinator who isn‚Äôt also a position coach. Among 123 FBS teams, 98 (79.7 percent) have a special teams coordinator, according to listings in the Football Writers Association of America handbook. Most coach another position such as tight ends. At Stanford, Polian coached the safeties.
Georgia falls into the 20.3 percent that have no special teams coordinator. At Georgia, it‚Äôs a collective effort with six assistant coaches heading up various units.
Head coach Mark Richt has never had a special teams coordinator in his 13 seasons, but he is being asked again ‚Äî whether by reporters or a caller on his radio show ‚Äî about having a special teams coordinator of his own during this season when the Bulldogs have had big blowups on special teams.
‚ÄúEverybody out there is calling for a special teams coach, just too many breakdowns,‚Äù radio host Jeff Dantzler said on the ‚ÄúBulldogs Brunch‚Äù show on WSB in Atlanta the morning after three Georgia special teams mishaps led to 21 points in a 31-27 loss at Vanderbilt.
Those breakdowns include four on punts ‚Äî two punt blocks for touchdowns, a dropped punt snap and a high snap that wasn‚Äôt fielded cleanly.
Add in a turnover on a muffed punt, a kickoff return for a touchdown, a fake field goal for a touchdown and a field goal that never got off after a high snap, and the Bulldogs have had eight disastrous special teams plays in seven games.
‚ÄúThere‚Äôs been a lot of good things happening, quite frankly, but it‚Äôs just been totally overshadowed by some of the big things that have just gone awry,‚Äù Richt said.
Georgia has had a successful onsides kick and fake punt and recovered two muff punts and kicker Marshall Morgan has made 10 of 12 field goals.
Richt has not indicated any future plans to revisit how special teams are coached on his staff.
‚ÄúWhether you have a special teams coordinator or not, you‚Äôve got to field the punt, you‚Äôve got to snap the ball, you‚Äôve got to catch the snap,‚Äù Richt said. ‚ÄúWhat does that have to do with whether you‚Äôve got a special teams coordinator or not?
Georgia‚Äôs coaching staff is divided up this way for special teams: Punt (tight ends coach John Lilly), Punt return/block (running backs coach Bryan McClendon), kickoff coverage (inside linebackers coach Kirk Olivadotti), kickoff returns (receivers coach Tony Ball), field goal block (offensive line coach Will Friend), PAT block (defensive line coach Chris Wilson). Richt has taken on a bigger role with the kickers.
When it came time to assembling a staff at Arkansas State, first-year coach Bryan Harsin wanted a special teams coordinator. He worked at Texas, where the Longhorns didn‚Äôt have a coordinator, and at Boise State, where the Broncos did.
‚ÄúI‚Äôve been a part of it where we‚Äôve had separate coaches coordinate teams and then having just one coordinator with coaches coaching within the schemes,‚Äù Harsin said. ‚ÄúThat to me, it‚Äôs like offense and defense. You have one coordinator and the guys work together on that, so I felt the same way when it came to special teams. I wanted somebody that I knew was very detailed and would spend the time to really study.‚Äù
Georgia is one of four SEC teams without a special teams coordinator. The others are Missouri, Mississippi State and Arkansas.
First-year Razorbacks coach Bret Bielema had a special teams coordinator for one season at Wisconsin in 2011
‚ÄúYou play to the strengths of your staff,‚Äù Bielema said. ‚ÄúThere‚Äôs certain guys that have a background in special teams, some do not.‚Äù
Bielema has several assistants overseeing special teams units and ‚Äúas head coach, I coach on every one of those units, so I‚Äôm involved in the day-to-day gameplan as well as execution and teaching a group on what their coaching techniques are so it‚Äôs a fun way to stay involved.‚Äù
Alabama coach Nick Saban has always had a special teams coordinator.
Tight ends coach Bobby Williams ‚Äúreally does all the background, all the work, all the gameplanning, and then we have a special teams meeting we have four other coaches and me and that are kind of the special teams coaches. We approach it very similar to what you would on offense where you have four or five coaches or defense where you have four coaches.‚Äù
Georgia players made available for interviews back the way things are currently structured for the Bulldogs.
‚ÄúI think we probably spend more time than most other schools do,‚Äù said tight end Arthur Lynch, who is also on the punt team. ‚ÄúI know in terms of meetings, we definitely do, just because I talk to other guys who play elsewhere. ‚Ä¶ It‚Äôs not the schemes, it‚Äôs not the coaches. To me, it‚Äôs everyone putting out an individual effort.‚Äù
Said Kosta Vavlas, a member of the kickoff, kickoff return and punt teams: ‚ÄúThe system we have now works pretty well. ‚Ä¶ When you miss a little assignment, one guy doesn‚Äôt do the one thing, it all crumbles.‚Äù
Bill Snyder, now in his 22nd season coaching Kansas State, divided up special teams duties among assistants for most of his career. Son Sean, named one of three finalists for special teams coordinator of the year last year by FootballScoop, now is in charge.
‚ÄúIt takes a little bit of a load off of some of the other coaches,‚Äù Snyder said. ‚ÄúEven though they‚Äôre involved, they‚Äôre not as actively involved in the organization of it and all the planning that goes along with it. I see both sides.‚Äù