John Baxter’s unexpected return should revamp and refocus USC football’s struggling special teams unit in 2016.
Now that USC’s 2016 coaching staff is complete, it’s time to evaluate each hire from the quality of the coach to the context of the appointment.
This is the fifth in a series diving deeper into the decision-making behind and the consequences of each hire.
Here’s a look at how Baxter’s hiring grades out:
John Baxter | Special Teams Coordinator / Tight Ends
Replacing: Johnny Nansen / Marques TuiasosopoPros: Dedicated coordinatorCons: Less position coaches
USC ranked 91st in ESPN’s special teams efficiency rating and 65th in FEI’s similar measure for 2015. Though Johnny Nansen’s split role as running backs coach and special teams coordinator did not hurt the Trojans noticeably in 2014, this year the drop off in special teams play was clearly a problem.
In 2015 USC allowed a greater average on punt and kick off returns than they achieved on their own returns. They were also among the worst teams in the Pac-12 at limiting opponent punt returns.
Different coaches have different philosophies on whether or not a dedicated special teams coordinator is necessary, but when coach available is of John Baxter’s proven quality, it makes the decision to bring one on that much easier.
Baxter has a track record of excellence as a special teams coach. At Fresno State he created a unit which led the nation in blocked kicks from 2002 through 2009.
The Trojans blocked more kicks in Baxter’s first season on the job in 2010 than they have in two seasons without him. In fact, USC blocked 24 kicks in the four seasons Baxter was in place at an average of six blocks per season. At that rate, USC would be tied for second in the nation in blocked kicks this season.
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During his first stint at USC, Baxter’s units also ranked in the top ten of ESPN’s efficiency ratings three of four years.
At Michigan, the Wolverine’s special teams unit showed vast improvement in one season under Baxter, who took them from 96th in special team efficiency to 12th.
If nothing else, USC can expect a boost to special teams just by having a special teams coordinator who demands more time be spent on the practice field working on coverage and returns. Baxter will also be able to take a more hands on approach with specialists.
The trade off is that the Trojans will no longer have a dedicated tight ends coach, though Baxter has plenty of experience coaching the position as well.
Grade: A. Baxter’s results have been consistent everywhere he has been, making him one of the biggest no-brainers for Clay Helton to re-sign if he wants special teams to be a point of emphasis.
- Tee Martin, Offensive Coordinator
- Neil Callaway, Offensive Line
- Tyson Helton, Quarterbacks
- Tommie Robinson, Running Backs
- Clancy Pendergast, Defensive Coordinator
- Ronnie Bradford, Defensive Backs
What say you Trojan fans? How do you grade USC’s hiring of John Baxter as special teams coordinator? Vote in the poll and sound off in the comments below.
How would you grade the John Baxter hire?