Hello: John Baxter, Special Teams

Submitted by Brian on January 7th, 2015 at 7:24 PM


247 is reporting that Michigan is about to hire John Baxter to be their special teams coordinator, and Baxter tweeted something out today that sounds like he's about to be hired somewhere.

While Baxter's name doesn't sound even a little like a law firm, he's got a ton of experience. He's 52 and started coaching in 1981, and he's had special teams in his title since 1986. From 1997 to 2009 he was a mainstay of Pat Hill's Fresno State tenure as a special teams coordinator and, depending on the year, either the TE or WR coach. His record there was excellent:

During his time, Fresno State blocked 84 kicks and punts (including a national-best 49 from 2002 through 2009) and scored 39 special teams touchdowns (with 3 safeties). The Bulldogs topped the nation in fewest punt return yards allowed in 2004 and 2005. A.J. Jefferson led the nation in kickoff returns in 2007. Clifton Smith's 189 punt return yards with 2 touchdowns against Weber State in 2005 were Fresno State game records, while his 5 career scoring punt returns also was a school mark. Six of Baxter's Bulldog kickers and punters earned All-Western Athletic Conference first team honors.

In 2010 USC hired him away to be their special teams coordinator; he would later add TE responsibilities. The results were similarly excellent:

USC was second in blocked punts and fourth in blocked kicks during the 2013 season.

The success in 2013 was hardly an anomaly, either, as Baxter had earned the 2011 FootballScoop.com Special Teams Coordinator of the Year award after overseeing a group that produced seven blocked kicks for the second consecutive year. During those two seasons, USC also managed a punt return for a touchdown, two kickoff returns for touchdowns, two converted fake punts, a converted fake field goal, and six two-point conversions.

He's also held an associate head coach title since arriving at Fresno.

Baxter received "rave reviews" and players' parents asked Steve Sarkisian to keep him on but Sarkisian preferred to import guys from his Washington staff. That didn't go so well for Sarkisian, as USC ended up tenth or worse in the Pac 12 in kickoff coverage, punting, and KO returns—punt returns were middling.

Baxter didn't coach last year after he was a casualty of the Steve Sarkisian transition, but he was seemingly sought after. He interviewed for the Colorado State head job and was high on Texas's list after Charlie Strong axed their WR and TE coach,


Baxter is also noted for his Academic Gameplan, which evidently works miracles:

When I went (to Fresno State), we were ranked 112 out of 112 in graduation rate – dead last in the country. I started doing it there, and that's about the time I realized it had nothing to do with football; it just had to do with students. I published it in '99. And I've just continued to do it ever since.

When I (first) went there, there was an average student who shouldn't have been average named Lane Kiffin going through it. I wouldn't say underperforming. But then again I would, for his intelligence level. He had back-to-back over-3.0 semesters and did great.

Michigan did good work in that department under Hoke and Baxter will help continue that.


Here's Baxter talking:


Looks good to me. Baxter has a terrific track record.


There's a Football Scoop report that Jimmie Dougherty is also going to be hired that may or may not be true. Given their record on Michigan events I'm going to wait until someone reputable confirms that before repeating it in earnest.

I did make a mistake on the Guessochart this afternoon, as I only listed eight assistants. Michigan does have room for both Morton and Dougherty in some configuration. I'd be a bit surprised if they added guys who were effectively both WR coaches isntead of adding another defensive assistant or give Drevno some aid on the OL, but as it stands there's not much chatter about other guys. The current guess:

OFFENSE COACH confidence DEFENSE COACH confidence
OC Tim Drevno lock DC DJ Durkin lock
QB Jim Harbaugh lock DL Greg Mattison lock
RB Ty Wheatley probable LB Durkin lock
WR John Morton probable OLB/DE Roy Manning probable
OL Drevno lock DB Greg Jackson lock
TE Jimmie Dougherty probable ST John Baxter lock

Steve Lorenz is reporting that all of this is just about done($), FWIW, with Jackson "confirmed" and Manning "very likely."

UPDATE: Webb($) and Lorenz are both reporting Jackson is done. Updated him.


Yes, he's a spread punt guy.


Mr. Yost

January 7th, 2015 at 7:49 PM ^

It's an administrative position.

The position would ultimately be the department head over all S&C coaches for the University or he/she would report to Director (or Assistant/Associate AD) for Strength & Conditioning.

Usually the football guy is the head guy (over the entire department) because he makes the most.

Some schools also have a football guy and then a head strength coach that supervises the other strength coaches...and the football coach and the head strength coach are somewhat "co" in their role.

Mr. Yost

January 7th, 2015 at 8:21 PM ^

...is pretty common. I'm not sure if Michigan does it. Regardless, it's an administrative position rather than a football position - even though the position ultimately is decided by the head football coach and that's "really" the boss.

What's common at football schools is...

Head Football Strength Coach...he/she supervises 2-3 assistant coaches

Head "everything else" Strength Coach...he/she is responsible for men's basketball...he/she supervises the other assistant coaches that handle the other sports.

I'd be interested to know how Michigan sets up their staff.


January 7th, 2015 at 9:25 PM ^

Sorry if this wasn't what you were unsure about, but that's what I gathered from your post.  Most FBS schools have a head S&C coach for football-only and another one men's basketball-only.  Each of these coaches only coach that one sport year round and no others.  In addition, they often have multiple assistant strength coaches, graduate assistants, and/or interns that are undergraduate students or recent college grads looking to get experience in the industry. 


Then there is a head "olympic sports" S&C coach.  These coaches will also have their own set of assistant coaches, graduate assistants, and interns.  These coaches basically coach everything not football and men's basketball.  Often one coach will handle 2-3 sports, then the assistants will do the same, and the GA/intern will get 1-2.  All hands are on board for the more priority sports, which varies school to school.  At some places that could be hockey, others it may be baseball, etc.  Other titles you'll see are performance director or something similar. 


At Division 1 non-FBS schools, your head S&C coach coaches everything including football, men's basketball, and all oher sports.  These schools typically have the same set up in terms of assistants, graduate assistants, and interns, they just have less money, fewer resources, and often fewer coaches.  But, almost everywhere you go, if they have football, the head coach is in charge of football and all hands are on deck for football because they are the largest team numbers wise and often the most important to the school.  Then, as you go down in Divisions you simply get fewer and fewer number of coaches. 


FWIW I have either interned, been a graduate assistant, or assistant S&C coach at Division 2 Southern CT State University, Division 2 California University of PA, Division I Quinnipiac University (no football), and the University of Maine (FCS).


January 7th, 2015 at 11:25 PM ^

You mention "all hands are on board for the more priority sports" and then mention hockey, but does the prestige from there on depend on the success of the team? As in, would gymnastics, swimming and softball at Michigan be seen as more prestigious than the remaining mens team sports and WBB, or is it more of a sport by sport perception than a case by case basis depending on team succes?


January 8th, 2015 at 7:34 AM ^

I think it depends more on how important that sport is to the athletics program versus the success of the team.  After a quick look at UM's S&C coach responsibilities, all sports not football fall under Favre's watch (athough he doesn't directly coach them all) and even men's basketball doesn't seem to get any more priority than field hockey, at least as far as coach assignments go (although I don't see an assignment for hockey so I wonder if they have thier own coach).  Obviously I'm not there and don't see if the other assistants, GAs, or interns are working men's basketball and not field hockey.  But, a friend of mine was a GA there last year so I could ask him. 


In general, softball or swimming/diving is unlikely to get much priority anywhere regardless of how successful those teams are.  They typically just get one coach for their workouts.  At Quinnipiac they prioritize hockey and basketball.  Hockey and basketball have their own field house, called the TD Bank Sports Center with seperate locker rooms, weight rooms, and arenas, similarly to the way football has Schembechler Hall.  The head S&C coach only directly handles basketball and hockey (although the oversees all sports).  All the other sports workout in the fitness center that the students have access to.  The head, the assistant, and all of the interns are there for workkout sessions for basketball and hockey.  And, I'd guess the hockey and basketball coaches get paid a lot more than the other sport coaches, but that's a guess.  By contrast, an intern at QU typically handles golf or womens rugby by themselves.  And, teh assistant coach coaches everything not basketball or hockey, but still chips in for those sports. 


Every school is a little different.  At the University of Maine all hands are on deck for football.  So, football will have 3-4 coaches working with that one team.  Also hockey has their own coach.  But, the assistant coach will handle womens soccer by himself.  It just depends on how they prioritize the programs sports teams.  I'd guess this comes from either the AD, performance director, or head S&C coach and likely varies school to school.  But, it probalby doesn't have much to do with actual team success.


January 7th, 2015 at 7:36 PM ^

. . . Getting better & better,

This has been so much fun to watch what can be accomplished when a True national search is conducted properly.


January 7th, 2015 at 7:37 PM ^

Always loved watching Va Tech play, with plenty of envy.

Also LSU, with Mathieu. Time to unleash Jabrill

Things are about to get different around here

Mr. Yost

January 7th, 2015 at 7:38 PM ^

may as well repeat, but really only two predictions left on this staff.

co-OC (run) Tim Drevno co-DC DJ Durkin
co-OC (pass) Jimmie Dougherty co-DC Greg Mattison
QB Jim Harbaugh DT Greg Mattison
RB Tyrone Wheatley DE/OLB Roy Manning
WR John Morton ILB DJ Durkin
OL Tim Drevno DB Greg Jackson
TE Jimmie Dougherty ST John Baxter


co-OC (run) Tim Drevno co-DC DJ Durkin
co-OC (pass) Jimmie Dougherty co-DC Greg Mattison
QB Jim Harbaugh DL Greg Mattison
RB Tyrone Wheatley LB DJ Durkin
WR John Morton CB Roy Manning
OL Tim Drevno S Greg Jackson
TE Jimmie Dougherty ST John Baxter


Mr. Yost

January 7th, 2015 at 8:02 PM ^

We basically have 2 DCs and 3 OCs + 1 OC in training (Wheatley).

That is a very STRONG staff.

Have to think Drevno will have a significant relationship with the TEs as well in terms of blocking. Dougherty and Morton seem like the pair to assist in the recieving game.

Defensively Manning can stay at the CB spot and learn from 2 DCs and an awesome DB coach in Jackson or he can slide into a more natural OLB/DE role. Either way is a win.

We've got a staff full of all-stars. Some of the very best in the business.

Mr. Yost

January 7th, 2015 at 8:14 PM ^

Nussmeier - Solid
Jackson - Over the hill / relied on reputation
Hecklinski - Underrated / very solid
Ferrigno - Meh / shakes fist
Funk - Rolls eyes
Mattison - One of the best
Smith - Average
Manning - Young / potential star / learning
Mallory - Meh / one of the good ol boys

Very appreciative of their hardwork, all great men, but of the group...and I said this a year ago, I'd only take 4 of the 9 (Nuss, Heck, GMatt and Manning), maybe 5 (Smith).

That's awful when you look at it as a whole.

Now I don't know a ton about this staff, but it's easy to say we're as good or better at every single spot. IMO, Hecklinski vs. Morton is the only question and Morton seems VERY good, I just thought Heck was a lot better than he got credit for.

This staff at least on paper, whew...it's something to get excited about. We may not have them all together for long once we find success, but this is a more than solid group.

STW P. Brabbs

January 8th, 2015 at 11:44 AM ^

You must really put a lot of stock into his time at Washington, I guess.

Results-based charting: Nuss was a goddamn tire fire.

(And I know most Nuss fans like to suggest that Hoke must have been telling him what plays to call, but there isn't really a shred of evidence to support that. Hoke had many flaws, but micromanaging never seemed to be one of them. Nor 'knowing anything about offense,' really.)


January 7th, 2015 at 7:43 PM ^

This is good but aside from "Harbaugh!!" and "This is Michigan fergodsakes" (because that is USC) it is an interesting switch for Baxter for what appears to be a lateral move.


January 7th, 2015 at 7:44 PM ^

If he can spring Norfleet free for a penalty-free TD return, it'll be worth it.

Seriously, when's the last time a Wolverine has taken one to the house? Breaston? Woodson? Desmond?