Who is your 12th man on the Football Team? My vote is the Special Teams Coach/Kicking Coach!

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With apologies to the Texas A&M Aggies and their “The 12th Man” stadium (which is where this term started from way back in 1922 and the first 12th man- E. King Gill) my vote for the 12th man in football is the Special Teams coach/kicking coach and here’s why.

As we approach this upcoming football season, crazy football fans dressed in their favorite attires and marked-up faces and bodies will enter High School, College and Professional stadiums many believing they are the true 12th man on the football field!

They approach this game very serious and yes many offer their guidance and direction in pre- and post game coaching recommendation as it relates to the game. Stadiums all across the country pride themselves on being that 12th man in hopes of chilling the opposing players to their bones (and yes to try and freeze the kicker) when they come into such great names as The Swamp, Death Valley, The Big House, and yes my favorite place- The House that Rockne Built- with Touchdown Jesus having the best seat in the house!

So, with my apologies to all of the fans and stadiums’ mentioned above my vote for the 12 man goes to the Special Teams Coach/kicking coach who usually has double/triple duty during the game and many times is overlooked outside of his own coaching staff. As this blog will focus mostly on the “special” teams coach at the local level, I also believe it is extremely important to give a real shout out to the National Kicking/Punting and Long snappers coaches who work tirelessly on trying to develop our son’s talents, because many times the local high school does not have an experienced coach to work with them! They are a real part of the successful one/two combination of the 12th man!

As a former player and coach I can personally state that many times the Special Teams coaching position and the special teams units are overlooked as to where we fall in the total mix of a game. For instance in high school football- the special teams are usually “practiced” towards the end of the day- and mainly due to how the opposing team does or does not do their special teams-and to paraphrase Chuck Knoll (the great Pittsburgh Steelers Head coach) I don’t waste time on the other team, I worry about my team.

In college some of the better teams who are consistently ranked in the Top 25 –all have Special Teams as well who are ranked in this same category. For instance this past year’s teams’ such as Oregon, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Virginia Tech, and Florida State had tremendous Special Teams who were equally recognized for their play on special teams. So is there a correlation to these two?-Or more importantly does the head coach and his staff see the real value here? I think so, and as a coach, and dad of a kicker, when we are looking at college programs this is a critical piece to do some research on, as to how they approach the game.

And you know why? Because for the most part they as a coaching staff and their players are viewed as “specialists” and for the most part are called on in real “special situations”, that many times change the dynamics of a game.

For instance- a well placed “coffin corner” (for those of us older then 40) or “directional kick” (I like this better than a “pooch” kick-since the word “pooch” in the dictionary is slang for a dog- and no where should any self-respecting punter in football be kicking a “dog” and besides it does not sound right-maybe we should have “pooch throws” and “pooch runs” as well then and see how long that lasts) placing our opponents back towards their own end zone- instead of punting the ball into the end zone with a fresh start out on the 20 yard line, changes the offensive play calling signals. As they say, it does not take a rocket scientist to figure that one out, but many in the stands don’t see these dynamics until a turnover happens, and the punter is now getting high fives on the sidelines (or at least a nice “atta boy”).

How about a critical field goal right before half time to lift the spirits of a team that might have been struggling and just looking for a “special” little lift! Conversely, a blocked punt/field goal has the same effect for the opposing team and their “special teams” (just ask Frank Beamer from Virginia Tech), or even on the really “rare” occasions where the sun has beaten down on the head coach’s brain who decides in a tie or close game to put up a “Hail Mary” pass into the end zone instead of going for the short almost sure kick, has turned some members of the marching band to even go “Huh?”

Cases in point; just ask Coach Charlie Weis during the Notre Dame/Navy game just a few short years ago (2007) when instead of going for 24 yard field goal on a 4th and 8 tried (and failed), causing the game to go into triple overtime; which then Notre Dame lost. (Hmm, do you think I have recovered from that one yet?)

Also, a very well timed on-sides kick masterfully done by the members of the special team, or a critical kick-off sailing 60, 65, or 70 yards (depending on high school, college or professional) and making a team march 80 yards for a score (not including a field goal) has changed many a late night contest from cheers to horror in just more than a couple of seconds!

Here’s some additional “stats” for all you stats lovers out there. Since 2007, when the NCAA decided to move the kick-off back to the 30 yard line, kickoff specialists have kicked 32,936 times- and out of all those kick-offs only 281 were returned for touchdowns (or 1 out of every 117 kick-offs) whereby 78.9 per cent have been returned. How about Punts you asked? Ok, teams punted 28,857, with 279 being returned for touchdowns (1 out of every 103 times) or only 38.9 per cent (so for all you coaches who don’t think “hang time” is important-you might want to reconsider based on these numbers).

Lastly, I want to tie the above statistics’ into some other sports that also have “specialists” that might be bit more meaningful for the head coaches and special team coaches who don’t believe that they need the best players on the field during those “special” times.

For instance in ice hockey, there are specialists who might come on for a man advantage scoring opportunity- and as we all know there are “penalty killing players” on the opposing team. In baseball we have “pinch hitters/runners and “closers” and utility men, and in basketball during a tight game there are “specialists” who come in on ball sides of the ball to ensure the outcome of the game in either one’s favor, and certainly in soccer- players in a tight match that could possible go to “penalty kicks” (PK’s) are brought on the “pitch” to ensure they are the ones taking the PK’s at those “special moments”. If there is one thing I know about from asking these coaches in these various “special” situations is that they practice these situations a lot- during the week and even more so in post season play.

So for all you Special Team coaches and athletes here’s my salute to you who as the 12th man on the field who truly “get it” and consciously spend the time during the week going over your special teams unit, assessing your talents and being able to have them shine on the football field during those “special situations”.

Coach Nolan

4 Comments to “Who is your 12th man on the Football Team? My vote is the Special Teams Coach/Kicking Coach!”

  • Marc,
    As usual you nailed it! Thanks for ALL the help you have given my son (Dallas) on and off the field.


  • Greetings! Quite useful suggestions on this informative article! It’s the small adjustments that make the most important alterations. Many thanks a good deal for sharing!

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  • Coach Nolan, as a former head football coach who had a great amount of success on the high school level (3 Indiana State Championships and a 75-12 overall record), I fully understand the importance of the kicking game as an integral part of the overall team success. One of my kickers, Chuck Male, earned a scholarship at the University of Notre Dame and was a big part of their success on their special teams on one of the ‘storied’ programs in all of collegiate athletics.

    I fully support your program and am honored to be on your ‘board of directors’……just let me know what I can do to help – I am solidly in your corner.

    Yours in Football,

    Mike Hecklinski