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:
PREDICTION BASED ON FLIMSY EVIDENCE
Looks good to me. Baxter has a terrific track record.
UPSHOT FOR THE REST OF THE STAFF
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:
|OC||Tim Drevno||lock||DC||DJ Durkin||lock|
|QB||Jim Harbaugh||lock||DL||Greg Mattison||lock|
|WR||John Morton||probable||OLB/DE||Roy Manning||probable|
|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.
HIGHLY IMPORTANT UPDATE
Yes, he's a spread punt guy.