Thursday, January 8, 2015

John Baxter, Wolverine

John Baxter's punt block drill
Former USC special teams coach John Baxter will be coaching the special teams at Michigan. Baxter was out of coaching this past season, but he had been at USC under Lane Kiffin and was Pat Hill's special teams guy at Fresno State from 1987-2009.

Baxter went to high school in Chicago and then went to college in Iowa (at Loras and then Iowa State), so he grew up in the midwest. He started off coaching at Loras in 1981, and he has bounced around since then, like most coaches do. His stops include Iowa State, Arizona, Maryland, Tulane, USC, and Fresno State. At one point or another, he has coached every position except quarterbacks and offensive line. But where he has really made a name for himself is on special teams.

Some of his accomplishments as a special teams coach:

  • Top 15 in blocking kicks since at least 2008
  • Nelson Agholor averaged 19.0 yards/punt return with 2 touchdowns in 2013
  • Marqise Lee was Second Team All-Pac 12 and averaged 28.5 yards/kickoff return with 1 touchdown in 2012
  • Named Special Teams Coordinator of the Year by Football Scoop in 2011
  • Robert Woods was First Team All-Pac 10 with 25.6 yards/return and 1 touchdown in 2010
  • Fresno State scored 3 punt return touchdowns by 3 different players in 2008
  • A.J. Jefferson led the nation with 35.3 yards/return and 2 touchdowns in 2007 at Fresno State
  • Clifton Smith set Fresno State's school record with 5 career punt return touchdowns in 2005
  • Bernard Berrian returned 3 punts for touchdowns and averaged 11.2 yards/return in his career at Fresno State
Baxter spent from 1994-2009 coaching tight ends or wide receivers in addition to his special teams duties, and he was the associate head coach at USC. At 51 years old, he's been around the block and obviously has some respect in coaching circles. He landed an interview to be Colorado State's head coach after Jim McElwain lit out for Florida (Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo got the CSU job instead).

Michigan averaged 6.3 yards per punt return last season, and that includes Ben Gedeon's 32-yard return of a blocked punt for a touchdown; on actual return attempts, the number was more like 4.3 yards/return. The last time a Michigan punt returner scored a touchdown was Martavious Odoms against Purdue in 2008, Rich Rodriguez's first year. Kickoff returns have been largely unproductive, too, with Michigan failing to score a touchdown since Darryl Stonum in 2009. Since Stonum's return in 2009, Baxter's kickoff return unit scored three times, and he didn't even coach in 2014.

The other day I spent a fair amount of time perusing defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin's special teams history (LINK), so he and Baxter should make a good combination. One guy who should be happy about this hire is senior Dennis Norfleet, the incumbent punt/kick returner who has yet to score a touchdown of any kind in his college career. Michigan also really struggled to get the right personnel on the field last season, allowing a Utah punt return for a touchdown with only ten men on the field. A dedicated special teams coordinator might rid the Wolverines of most of those issues.


  1. The more I read about this guy, the more pumped I get.

    I told my youngest son that I was gonna buy Baxter's study program for him. He's somewhat less pumped.

    1. Your kid should be pumped. It's not even Christmas, and you're promising to buy him a gift!

    2. Exactly!!!!!

      You're gonna make a great father, Thunder.

  2. I am VERY glad that we are finally getting an actual special teams coach. We've treated that position like a bastard stepchild for longer than I can remember.

    That being said, I also think there is way too much ruckus over simply hiring coaches. The fanboys over at MGoBlog are having near-constant wet dreams about Harbaugh and his hires. I get that it's a slack time for anything really important, but it's sad that we've had so little to get excited about on the field lately, that people are treating coach hires and recruiting success as ends in themselves, rather than as means to an end, namely winning football games. For myself, I'll wait to get excited until that end is realized.

    1. Can we blame them? Michigan fans have been screwed with mediocre results for so long, and Ohio State is in the national title game. Can't we be a little bit more understanding? It's all we got now.

  3. Finally we might have great and I mean great Special Teams!