Chip Kelly, a coach known for his commitment to efficiency, didn’t consider hiring a dedicated special teams coordinator upon his arrival at UCLA even though the NCAA granted teams an extra staff member before this season.
Kelly said it wouldn’t be the best use of that coach’s time during the portions of practice not involving special teams.
“They’d have to take a vacation, get a lawn chair out there for them, have them sit down and not do anything,” Kelly said Monday.
Apparently nearly half of the Pac-12 Conference believes in leisure time.
Five conference schools have dedicated special teams coordinators as part of their coaching staffs, including USC’s John Baxter. Also among the schools that have made special teams a singular focus is Oregon, which scored three touchdowns as a result of UCLA’s special teams breakdowns Saturday during the Bruins’ 42-21 loss.
UCLA fumbled a punt return, gave up a touchdown on a punt return and failed to stop a fake field goal on the way to falling behind by three touchdowns. There was also a failed onside kick, a botched field goal after kicker J.J. Molson ran onto the field late and a false start that pushed another Molson field-goal attempt back five yards, only for it to fall a few yards short of the crossbar.
The two bungled field-goal opportunities cost the Bruins six points, adding up to a 27-point swing when combined with the three touchdowns they gave up on special teams.
“You can’t give up 27 points to a team,” Kelly said. “We believe those are all us; that’s self-inflicted wounds, that’s not anything that anybody else did, that’s what we did, so we have to correct that if we expect to win games in this league.”
UCLA’s special teams primarily fall under the direction of Roy Manning, the special teams coordinator who also coaches the outside linebackers. Manning had no experience coaching special teams before this season, having worked with outside linebackers, cornerbacks, running backs and offensive line at his previous coaching stops.
Manning, however, is not a one-man operation with the Bruins’ special teams. Running backs coach DeShaun Foster helps with the punt returners; defensive backs coach Paul Rhoads works with the gunners on punt coverage; tight ends coach Derek Sage helps with blocking and release technique on punt coverage and punt returns; and offensive line coach Justin Frye assists with field goals.
“Coach Manning is the head of it all and I think he does a great job,” punter Stefan Flintoft said. “I’ve been very impressed with him all year. His focus on it and what he emphasizes and his drills and whatnot, I just feel like they translate over very well.
“Obviously, this past game is not the best example of it, but that’s not all him. You can’t just blame one person, especially a coach, so we just have to go out and remember our training, turn your mind off, let your body do what it knows how to do. I think we got away from that this weekend as players and we’ll clean that up this week and next week will be much better.”
Kelly said Molson running onto the field late was a communication issue because the Bruins never had any intention of going for it on fourth and 10. The coach said he replaced Adarius Pickett with Theo Howard after Pickett dropped his second punt in as many weeks because “maybe it’s just a little bit of a slump, you’re thinking a little bit too much about everything.” Pickett was back working with the group of punt returners in practice Monday.
Spending more practice time on special teams is not the answer to the Bruins’ problems, Kelly said.
“It’s got nothing to do with that,” Kelly said. “It’s got to do with attention to detail and doing the little things.”