If this offseason has been marked by anything in the coaching staff, it is in significantly upgrading areas where the Tide lagged the last few years. First, at corner, where Alabama had lost its ball hawking reputation. And, as we discussed last week, the Tide was in need of consistency on special teams.
To settle the corners, Nick Saban turned to former Broyles Award finalist, Travaris Robinson. And, the second impact hire is our subject today: another Broyles Award finalist, Coleman Hutzler.
Some of the similarities to Robinson are striking. Both were coaches on Muschamp’s South Carolina staff — and aside from defensive line, both coached the two Gamecocks two best units. Hutzler, like Robinson, has deep SEC ties, spending 7 season in Columbia, a few in Gainesville, and most recently at Ole Miss. Like Robinson, Hutzler also has major college defensive coordinator experience, being the Co-DC on Tom Herman’s Texas staff. Like Robinson, Hutzler is young — just 37. Like Robinson he also specializes in recruiting talent on defense, particularly linebacker. He’s reeled in nine blue-chippers in his career to-date...which ain’t too shabby for a special teams guy. That should not be a surprise, though. Hutzler also has coached both ILB and edge linebackers.
So, it may seem hard to pinpoint any single area that Hutzler excels at. Like Robinson, he is a young coach with remarkable versatility that can recruit and that has seen demonstrable results everywhere he’s been. Though, it would be fair to say he’s a return-man and kicking game specialist.
He began his career as an assistant under Urban Meyer (but don’t let that scare you away — he was Dan Quinn’s guy), and then took over the reins of BC’s special teams and LBC:
Hutzler spent the 2015 season as the special teams coordinator and outside linebackers coach at Boston College. During his year in Chestnut Hill, Hutzler was part of a staff that produced the nation’s stingiest defense, as the Eagles allowed just 254.3 yards per game and 24.1 percent of third down conversions and were second in rushing defense at 82.8 yards per contest. Freshman Michael Walker ranked in the top 10 in the nation in kick return average. BC also blocked three punts on the year.
From there, he went to South Carolina, where he had his best success. As a Gamecock, he coached Deebo Samuel to All-American returner status with 4 TDs netted. His teams were inside the Top 10 in KR average three times, and inside the Top 30 every year. The Gamecocks punting improved demonstrably, moving up from 44th when he took the job, to finishing 10th in average — and USC led the SEC two years in a row. He mentored USCe PK Parker White, improving him to an 83% kicker and an all-SEC selection. And his units blocked a fair amount of kicks and XPA — 11 in 5 seasons.
Every area of South Carolina’s special teams improved. At Texas, he had a similar improvement for a bad team: Boosting per-punt average by almost 2 yards, and placekicking improved from 72% to 77%. In the return game, Texas jumped all the way to No. 6 in the nation in KR average, logging almost 29 YPA, and led the B12 in that category
At Ole Miss, Huztler again improved another squad’s special teams units across the board. The Rebels went from 63rd in PR average to 18th, improving by an insane 4.3 YPA. His kick return team added a full 2 YPA, and moved to No. 24 in the nation. Punting was changed to a more directional / hang-time approach — one that Saban favors — and yet Ole Miss was still able to net over 44 YPA. But more importantly, Brown went from forcing a touchback on 46% of his punts, to forcing one on 68% of his tries, while still keeping the distance respectable.
Interestingly, Coach Hutzler also changed the kickoff philosophy to one that mirrors Saban’s approach, preferring to have the ball placed right at the end zone rather than through the back of it — let your elite speed work for you. And the result is that Ole Miss went from opponents beginning possessions at the 33.7 yard line in 2020 to taking 29.8 in 2021.
On return coverage, the Rebels were fantastic. By moving to an approach that put more air under punts, the Rebels allowed just one explosive return all season (21 yards). On kick coverage, Ole Miss was even better — it allowed no returns over 10 yards all season.
In all, it is a beautiful fit for Nick Saban’s philosophy, and one that ticks off all the areas in which Alabama has been the flakiest of late, but which still maintains those things that the Tide does well: Preventing returns, hang-time punting that still gets distance, improved kick and punt returning.
When you can add all that alongside SEC recruiting experience and defensive coaching chops, you’ve found the right man for the job.
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