Sometimes I sit around all day and wonder what I'm gonna write, and then the world goes "oh fine, here you go." According to everybody, UVA finally got around to filling some of its self-made coaching staff gaps tonight, or at least, someone figured it out and told everyone tonight. It would appear the coaching staff is acutely aware of the need to drastically repair the special teams, which is nice because special teams is why this team is not practicing for a bowl game right now. How can we tell? They went out and hired a real special teams coach: Jeff Banks, formerly of UTEP. That staff is scattering a bit with the retirement of Mike Price, and UVA is the beneficiary. Now we'll have a special teams coach with a position attached to his duties, instead of the other way round. Banks will coach the running backs as well. At UTEP he also had the title of "punters coach" but whatever, when you're the special teams coach you're coaching the punters so that's like giving Vincent Brown the adjunct title of "middle linebackers coach" in addition to what he already does.
I took the liberty of distilling a few stats from the last six years to see what kind of a special teams upgrade we'd be getting. Banks has been on Price's staff since he was hired in 2004, so why only the last six years? Because that's how far back the cfbstats website goes, and you get much further back than that and wasn't it, like, Ron Prince coaching special teams? I don't even remember. And it isn't exactly relevant. Six years gives us Groh's last three, plus three years of London with Anthony Poindexter's disastrous tenure, and that's good enough.
UVA - 6.4 ypr; avg. rank 90th
UTEP - 10.8 ypr; avg. rank 45th
UVA - 20.5 ypr; avg. rank 78th
UTEP - 22.7 ypr; avg. rank 46th
Opponents' punt returns:
UVA - 8.6 ypr; avg. rank 62nd
UTEP - 8.8 ypr; avg. rank 66th
Opponents' kick returns:
UVA - 22.0 ypr; avg. rank 70th
UTEP - 23.0 ypr; avg. rank 83rd
Again, those are cumulative averages from 2007-2012. This year, of course, was an unmitigated disaster in all respects; in the one area where UVA held a clear advantage over UTEP in the past six years (opponents' kick returns) this last one was totally putrid. We ranked 123rd out of 124 and were one of only three teams to allow three returns of 90 yards or more.
So, what conclusions can we reliably draw? Probably none, as usual, but as usual, we'll try anyway.
-- First, the bad. UTEP's kick coverage has been kind of junky, actually. This was the first year in the past six that their kick coverage was in the top half of the country. It's not like ours has been awesome either, but it's generally outperformed UTEP's, and that's even with the pile of donkey feces that our kick coverage was this season.
-- Punt coverage slightly outperformed UTEP's, as well. But the difference has been slight, aided somewhat by a really nice year in 2008, for whatever reason that was. (UVA ranked 16th.) And of course, it went in the tank this year along with the rest of the units.
-- However. All other things being equal, I argue this: coverage units rely more on athleticism and speed than return units do, and return units rely more on scheme and blocking technique than coverage units do. The one is never to the exclusion of the other, but coverage units try to create chaos and unpredictability while return units must try and get everything working just right. Entropy and the odds favor coverage units, and therefore coverage favors athleticism over scheme. And in the areas where scheme and coaching dominate, Banks's UTEP units killed ours. Especially in punt returning. In four of the last six years, UTEP averaged double-digit yardage on a punt return, which is a tremendously difficult thing to do as only about one-quarter to one-third of the nation's teams do that each year. Their average of 4.4 yards more per return than our results is equally astounding. The results from the past few years suggest that of all the special teams things Poindexter did badly, punt returns were the worst.
-- The results from the past few years, in fact, suggest that Poindexter really didn't have a clue what he was doing in this area. Coverage units muddled along on the athleticism that London recruited, except for this year when they bombed spectacularly. Return units bumblefucked around the field. Groh's special teams were generally better, but not always.
-- In two of the past three years, Banks had top-ten kick return units, and was 35th in 2012. And that was with three different returners. I checked.
One hopes, at the very least, that proper coaching combined with the better athletes that UVA can recruit will bring our special teams to some middling kind of level in 2013. To be honest, that's all I've wanted for a while. The last two years have been excruciating whenever they were on the field. Banks comes highly recommended by most opinions I've seen, however.
Conspiracy theorists will point to the Washington State connection; that is, Jon Oliver's old stomping grounds. Banks was there at the same time Oliver was. Yes, in a role that will be a help in his future tutelage of Alec Vozenilek. I'm more than inclined to believe the WSU connection here is a pure coincidence; anyone who thinks this bears too many Oliver fingerprints should be reminded that if he were surrounding himself with trusted Wazzu lieutenants they wouldn't be coaching special teams and running backs.
I have not, by the way, included any running backs analysis in this post, and that's on purpose since I don't think there's any statistical way to evaluate a running backs coach. They don't do much. RB is not a technique-heavy position and there aren't many of them on the roster, so if I couldn't get my way and have the head coach run special teams for the accountability message, this is the way to go. There isn't much to distract Banks from the special teams.
The coaching turnover now looks like this so far:
HC: Mike London --> London
OC: Bill Lazor --> Lazor
DC: Jim Reid --> ???
QB: Bill Lazor --> Lazor
WR: Bill Lazor --> Marques Hagans**
RB: Mike Faragalli --> Jeff Banks
TE: Shawn Moore --> ???
OL: Scott Wachenheim --> Wachenheim
DL: Jeff Hanson --> ???
LB: Vincent Brown --> Brown
CB: Chip West --> West
S: Anthony Poindexter --> Poindexter
ST: Anthony Poindexter --> Jeff Banks
RC: Jeff Hanson --> ???
Assuming Hagans is announced as the other offensive addition to the staff, and he's been out and about on the recruiting trail so this seems like a foregone conclusion, he'll almost certainly get the WRs now that RB has been filled. Whether he gets the TEs or whether they get assigned back to Wachenheim is a tossup. By my calculation, and I could easily be wrong but the arrows don't point that way, there are two more coaches to hire: DC and DL. And does it seem odd we went special teams coach hunting before hiring a defensive coordinator? Yes. Could it mean that we've picked one but maybe he's coaching somewhere, like maybe in the Music City Bowl, and can't be announced til that's over with? That would be nice.