LSU special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey came to the Tigers after 11 seasons working in the NFL, so it shouldn’t be surprising that he would bring a “professional” approach to his new job.
“He always talks about being professional and being consistent,” senior snapper Joey Crappell said. “He doesn’t (just) mean kickers kicking a ball, punters punting, snappers snapping. He’s talking about every block, every play, everything in general when it comes to special teams, and that’s everything from footwork to hand placement.”
Head coach Les Miles hired McGaughey, who had been assistant special teams coordinator for the New York Giants for the past four seasons, to replace Joe Robinson, who left after last season to take a coaching position at North Carolina.
“The thing that I’m going to try and bring to this team is being technically and fundamentally sound in everything that we do,” McGaughey said. “Schematically we want to be sound, and I try and preach that to those guys every day in our meetings. We want to stretch that field, horizontally and vertically. The speed that we have in the return game and the ability to directional punt and directional kick — those are some things that we’re going to try and hang our hat on.”
After coaching more advanced players in the NFL, McGaughey now sees player development as a much bigger part of his job.
“Most of the guys, by the time they get to the NFL they all know how to block, they all know how to tackle, they all know how to defeat blocks,” McGaughey said. “You just need to brush up their technique.
“A lot of these guys were stars in high school as freshmen and they haven’t run down on a kickoff since junior high or since they were freshmen or they haven’t covered a punt because they were all stars in high school. So you’ve got to really teach them the nuts and bolts of coverage, the nuts and bolts of protection, and all the fundamentals and techniques that go along with special teams.”
Crappell said McGaughey, who joined LSU in time for spring practice, has given him tips on little things that have helped him.
“Being in the NFL for eight years (as a coach) he’s able to bring things to this university that in five years I never even heard of,” Crappell said. “He has really helped this team evolve special teams-wise and he brought lot of focus to techniques and certain drills that will help us get the upper hand in games. It goes into very small detail that we never knew in the past.”
The size of college rosters gives McGaughey more options than he had in the NFL.
“In the NFL you only have 45 guys to choose from on gameday,” McGaughey said. “Here you’ve got 75 for a road game and for a home game you’ve got as many as you want. You definitely have a bigger pool of guys to pick from. It helps you to create a core of your special teams guys and it’s a little easier to do it.”
Defensive back Tyrann Mathieu is a prime candidate to be one of those core guys.
“I’m on every special team except field goal and PAT,” Mathieu said, “so I’m going to be out there a lot.”
Miles said Mathieu will be the Tigers’ punt returner, and Mathieu said he envisions taking on a prominent specials teams role similar to the one Patrick Peterson had last season.
“(McGaughey) definitely has an expertise in special teams,” Mathieu said. “I’m ready to step into that special teams role. I think coach McGee definitely has a plan for me this year. Like I told him, I want to be the best returner. I want to be the best in the country. I just want to do that for him.”
McGaughey said he won’t shy away from using key offensive and defensive players such as Mathieu on special teams, though LSU will have to be judicious in how it utilizes its personnel.
“Obviously we’re not going to try and kill them,” McGaughey said, “but we want the best players out on the field to give us the best chance on gameday. Our goal is to win every phase, so it’s not just offense and defense. It’s special teams also. So the same players you use on offense and defense, it only makes sense to use those same players on special teams and it will be a mixture of backup guys and young guys, but we’re definitely going to put our best players on the field.
“We’ll have a good mixture of the old and the new, and we’ll definitely have some speed out there. We’ve got a lot of speed and these guys are hard-working kids and great kids. You can give them whatever you want and they’ll give it back to you, so it’s a beautiful thing to be able to do, to be able to coach, and it’s fun to coach these guys. They work so hard and they don’t ever complain and that’s a good attribute to have.”