Coordinators can only improve UGA’s special teams play

ATHENS — All right, Georgia fans, you’ve gotten what you wanted. The Bulldogs not only have added a special teams coordinator to the staff but they now have two. Assistants John Lilly and Mike Ekeler were named co-special teams coordinators by coach Mark Richt on Tuesday.

Now we’ll just have to wait to see if that makes any difference.

The Bulldogs last season were among the worst teams in the country team in special teams play. Some of it was quantifiable statistically and some of it wasn’t.

For instance, there is not an official NCAA statistic for “special teams disasters,” as I called them, but if there was UGA most certainly would have been among the worst offenders in the nation for them. I define a special teams “disaster” or “catastrophe” as a play in which the opponent scores (ie: kickoff return or blocked kick), gains a turnover or gets a resulting major field-position advantage as a result.

Teams try to avoid having even one of those happen all season. The Bulldogs had nine special teams catastrophes: a kickoff return for TD, two punt blocks, two muffed punts, a fake field goal for TD, two mishandled punt snaps and one mishandled field goal hold. Wrap your head around that for a second.

As for quantifiable NCAA stats, the Bulldogs were 108th out of 123 FBS teams in blocked punts allowed, 122nd in punt returns (2.96 ypr) and 66nd in kickoff return defense (21.41 ypr). They were pretty decent when it came to the actual kicking of the ball. They were 20th in net punting and Marshall Morgan was named first team All-SEC after making 22-of-24 field goal attempts (.917).

My email box filled up the past two seasons with fans calling for Richt to employ a full-time special teams coordinator to help rectify the problems. I’ve always been skeptical about that being the answer for a couple of reasons. One, while the majority of teams in the country have a designated “special teams coordinator” or “coach” on the staff, not all of them are great on special teams. Two, Georgia’s setup essentially made Lilly the de facto special teams coordinator. He coordinated meetings, broke down video and met regularly with Georgia’s kickers, punters, snappers and holders. Three, no one person can handle all facets of coaching special teams. There are six different special teams units that are utilized in each game. Hence, all teams employ multiple coaches to assist with special teams, with one coach overseeing each dedicated unit.

In this case, Richt is dividing the coordination duties between Lilly and Ekeler, with Lilly handling the offensive special teams units (kickoff return, punt return, extra point/field goal), and Ekeler handling those that would be considered a defensive unit (kickoff, punt, and extra point/field goal block).

I still contend that naming a special teams coordinator is more a matter of semantics than anything. Running backs coach Bryan McClendon was also named recruiting coordinator on Tuesday. Never mind that the Bulldogs just inked the nation’s No. 8-ranked class without anyone holding the title.

Nevertheless, Richt talked up the move in UGA’s release on the coaches receiving the new titles Tuesday:

“This restructuring I believe will give us the best chance to win from a recruiting and special teams standpoint. Our recruiting effort will be strengthened and our special teams will be improved as well.”

Again, we’ll see how it works out next season.

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