After three seasons as special teams coordinator on the sidelines in Baton Rouge, Joe Robinson headed to the east coast to take a job as the defensive line coach with Butch Davis and the North Carolina Tar Heels.
In search of a replacement for an assistant that became widely considered as one of the top special teams minds in college football, Les Miles took his time with the coaching search.
LSU’s spring practice was set to begin on March 11, but Miles didn’t seemed pressed to make a call before the offseason officially began. Each week word broke that he had brought in a new candidate for an interview, but no offer was ever handed out.
In early March, Miles got on the phone line with a 37-year old up-and-comer named Thomas McGaughey, who had entered the coaching ranks as a graduate assistant with Houston in 1998 and spent the past four seasons as an assistant special teams coordinator with the New York Giants.
Miles was in search of not just a special teams mind, but also an assistant that could recruit, a factor that had held Miles back from pulling the trigger with other candidates.
McGaughey fit the bill.
The bonus: the Houston native has ties throughout Texas.
During his two seasons as an assistant with the Cougars in 2003-2004, McGaughey helped reel in future NFL talents such as Kelvin Kolb and Donnie Avery – both Texas born prospects.
During conversations with Miles, McGaughey sold the headman on what he could do on the recruiting trail – starting at home in Houston.
“I have a lot of ties there, because that’s home to me,” he said. “I was a high school coach there for three years and a lot of the high school coaches I had are either head coaches or athletic directors at the districts I am going to be recruiting.
“Going back home to Texas and getting kids won’t be an issue. My wife is from Kilgore, and I have recruited East Texas when I was in Houston. There is a ton of great players to come out of there over the years, and some of them are here (at LSU) now.
“I am just trying to continue that trend. I am going to rekindle those relationships with my friends there. I have kept up with most everyone over the years. I knew I would probably have an opportunity like this, so you have to always keep those doors open.”
Miles liked what he heard from the Giants assistant, and by March 10 – a day before spring ball began – an offer was on the table.
Without hesitation, McGaughey signed on the dotted line.
“It was a no-brainer once it was offered to me,” he said. “This is the NFL of college football. It’s the best in the world. There is no place like the SEC on a Saturday afternoon. It’s a situation any coach would jump at.”
Later that day he packed his bags for Baton Rouge. Given that his special teams unit took the field for spring ball the following morning, the turnaround time from New York to Baton Rouge left no room for rest.
“I got here on a Wednesday, spent all day in an orientation, spent the night with coach Miles, and then the whole next day with him,” McGaughey said. “Then I went into a team meeting and didn’t know anyone’s name. I was coming in fast. I had to learn names on the run and coach them up on the run, but it has been really good.”
McGaughey will have to fill the void left by Josh Jasper at kicker and Derek Helton at punter, jobs that will presumably be handed over to Drew Alleman and Brad Wing, respectively. The task now becomes filling the special teams unit around those legs, then working the team into the return and coverage schemes that McGaughey finds fit.
Thus far, the process hasn’t been rushed.
“Coach Miles has allowed me a lot of time to see the personnel and see how we can develop our schemes and move forward and get the best out of everyone,” he said. “We want to identify guys to get them in different spots that can help us win a National Championship.”
While he is far from finished with his assessment of the talent pool that Miles and Co. have assembled, first impressions blew the former NFL assistant away.
“Being with these guys, they have tremendous athletic ability,” McGaughey said. “Coming from the New York Giants I have been around talented guys, but these guys are ultra-talented.”
Like Robinson, McGaughey will also work alongside defensive line coach Brick Haley. Across three weeks this spring, he often didn’t leave Haley’s side.
“That part of it is new to me,” said McGaughey of coaching the line. “It was something I have always wanted to do, so I jumped at the opportunity when it came.”
Out on the road recruiting for the Tigers during the May evaluation period, McGaughey began his work in Houston before making his way around east Texas.
And while the Tigers have recently shopped the area for everything from quarterbacks to cornerbacks, McGaughey’s mission statement is much more general.
No matter if it’s a four-star signal caller like Texas A&M quarterback commitment Matt Davis or a four-star Sugar Land prospect like wide receiver Bralon Addison, McGaughey has one goal in mind.
“I plan on going down there and finding the best talent, then bringing them home to LSU,” he said.
For those keeping tabs on the recruiting prowess of the LSU coaching staff, let it be known that the Tigers got another good one.