AUSTIN, Texas -- Seven games into the 2012 season, Texas thought it needed a shift in its coaching assignments.
The kickoff coverage team, heralded in the first two weeks of the season for its stellar play, had gone stagnant in the eyes of the coaches. So to shore up what was considered a weak link with five games remaining, Texas coach Mack Brown shifted defensive coordinator Manny Diaz and defensive backs coach Duane Akina to kick coverage duties.
Things got worse. Texas went from allowing 20.8 yards per return to 26.7 yards per return. Throw out the first two games against Wyoming and New Mexico in which Texas only allowed 12.6 yards per return against overmatched opponents and the numbers are only slightly better -- 23.9 yards per return allowed prior to the change as opposed to 26.7 after the switch.
But there will not be another switch made prior to the 2013 season. Brown said he expects Diaz and Akina to take care of kick coverage. Although he does expect the results to be better. That was part of the reason why Brown brought in his former player Everett Withers to take a look at Texas’ special teams and point out a few things. Withers, who played for Brown at Appalachian State and coach defensive backs at Texas from 1998-2000, is now co-defensive coordinator at Ohio State.
"We've had really good visits with some consultants on the NFL level about our kicking game and we have had -- we’ve broken every phase down to a point even if we return the ball past the 40-yard line on kickoff returns, we scored 86 percent of the time, Brown said. "So it tells you, we get a good kickoff return, we're going to score. So we are breaking each one of those downs."
The goal is to try and find out where the breakdowns have been -- in scheme, personnel or both. The scheme and angles are pretty easy to spot on film. Texas can pore over its rights and wrongs in both coverage and returns and show players where they should have been and how to get there.
But there is another aspect Texas has been attacking when it comes to its coverage and return teams -- does it have the right personnel on the field?
That’s where newly hired director of player personnel Patrick Suddes comes into play. During the second half of spring, Texas was able to have Suddes on the sideline, assessing special teams personnel.
"Patrick was able to watch the scrimmage and stand out there and compare some of our personnel to Alabama ... it's also good to have some outside eyes on what you're doing," Brown said.
It’s not that Texas doesn’t have the personnel. The Longhorns, even in these few down years, have managed to bring in top recruiting classes. So the players are there. Texas just has to figure out which players fit in the right places.
It has to figure out the same thing for coaches. To that end, Brown has tinkered with the special teams coaches this offseason. With Major Applewhite’s move to playcaller, Brown has relieved him of his special teams duties.
Darrell Wyatt, co-offensive coordinator, and running backs coach Larry Porter are both candidates for kickoff return. Wyatt will work with Diaz on punt coverage. Akina, who has been very successful with the punt and kick block units, is a lock to stay in that position. And, it appears at least, that Akina and Diaz will stay on kickoff coverage.
But if Texas stays ranked No. 81 nationally in kickoff coverage defense -- where it finished last season -- the Longhorns might decide once again they need a midseason shift in coaching assignments.