Baxter’s Bomb Squad

Michigan’s coaching staff has a decidedly NFL feel to it with seven coaches that either played or coached in the professional ranks. It should come as no surprise then that the division of duties will also the based on the pro model. As such new Michigan assistant John Baxter will coordinate all special teams, and he will introduce fans and opponents alike to a unit he calls “the Bomb Squad.”

Sam Webb:  You have a unique role her at Michigan.  It has been a while since we’ve seen a special team coordinator.  Give us an idea of just what a huge advantage that is because clearly Jim Harbaugh thinks so.  Your track record as a special team guy speaks for yourself.  You’ve had big times performances over the course of your career.

Coach Baxter:  “The fact of the matter is that structurally you have one or two ways you can do it.  You can take each phase of special teams or the kicking game and you can divide it up and have a different coach, coach each one of them or you can coordinate the effort.  It just made sense over the years to coordinate the effort.  Now the bottom line is that we’re all going to coach it together, but I don’t want to go to military for you (laughter), but one of the things that they believe at West Point is unity of command.  So all our coaches will coach this altogether, but what will happen is there will be one voice in that room as far as presenting the scouting report, presenting the opponent, presenting the plan and then we’ll all go out on the field and do it together.  When you coach it that way, you see the reciprocal of punt coverage is punt return, the reciprocal of punt protection is punt block.  The reciprocal of kickoff coverage is kickoff return.  So rather than coach it by team, you’re coaching it conceptually, so if we’re teaching punt coverage, we’re also teaching punt return.  We’re teaching both sides all the time.  In other words, the iron sharpens iron.  So every special teams meeting is a team meeting and we’ll build it that way.”

Sam Webb:  Are you a spread punt guy?

Coach Baxter:  “You’ll have to tell me what spread punt means to you. If you go back the 1980s when we had two guards, two tackles, two ends, two up backs and a personnel protector, that was tight punt.  Then the NFL went and put those two gunners out there and that was always known as spread punting.  Now you see these people who have gone to a bigger split with the guard, the tackle and end with the shield back there, I’m that guy with some twists.”

Sam Webb:  You just made Michigan fans all over town drive off the road because they’re praising, ‘oh my god, I can't believe it’s happening’ because they’ve been crying for it for so long.

Coach Baxter:  “We’re just going to call that the ‘Michigan Bomb squad (laughter).  Here’s why we call it ‘the bomb squad’, because the guy standing down there at the other end is a threat to go off and in no way, shape or form are we going to mess with any explosives.  We’re going to go down there and diffuse the bomb that’s what we do and that’s actually what it’s called.”

Sam Webb:  Following you on Twitter, one of the great things that you do is you really kind of give us a photo log of what’s going on inside Schembechler and one of the great pictures you Tweeted was when Jim Harbaugh, Jack Harbaugh and Jay Harbaugh all are in the room watching film.  First, take us through that experience and then second (talk about) the process for evaluation.  There are some coaches that don’t watch a ton of film when it comes to recruiting, they rely on their coaches to do it, it looks like Jim Harbaugh is one of those coaches that’s going to be watching a lot of film himself.

Coach Baxter:  “Why not, it’s out there.  This is an evaluation game.  I can tell you one thing, we’ve had a chance as coaches to meet each others families and wives, and I can tell you something about the wives and husbands on this staff.  The husbands are obviously good recruiters but the wives are bad evaluators (laughter).  Why you would choose people like us that do this for a living, I will never know.  My wife is a coaches kid, so my father-in-law was a head coach at Utah for 15 years.  We watch a lot of film, but if anyone follows me on Twitter @coachjohnbaxter, you probably see my sarcastic nature come through and maybe wit, but I go walking in the room and there’s Jim, Jack and Jay, I was about to go take my seat and I was like, ‘Whoa! Wait a second.  How often do you walk into a room and there are three generations of the same family doing anything?’  I just thought that was a unique moment and so I just snapped the picture and put it out there.  So things like that, but just funny things that hit my brain, it’s what I do.”

Sam Webb:  Tell us about Andrew David, his leg and how he fits into the picture.  Give us your breakdown of Andrew.

Coach Baxter:  “I was actually pleasantly surprised to come here because I honestly say I had nothing to do with it.  Coach Mattison is the guy who targeted Andrew and cultivated a relationship with him and did really a great, great job with that.  So when I got here, he was like, hey Coach Baxter, we’ve got this kicker coming on a visit and all this kind of stuff and I said, oh who is it.  He said Andrew David and I said, oh I know who Andrew David is, I’ve been following this country.  Number one, every great guy who plays that position is a great athlete, which he is.  He doesn’t just kick a ball.  He’s a fantastic baseball player and those types of things.  Number two, he’s been really well trained.  He’s beyond his years as far as his fundamental development.  Number three, he really has some rare power and technique and balance for his age.  It’s one thing to find a kid in Colorado that hits a 58 yard field goal.  I had a kicker at Fresno State that beat Utah State with a 58 yard field goal and in the time out, I said listen son, we’re at 6000 feet and the winds at your back, just give it a nice easy ride.  When you hit that at Massilion, Ohio that’s a bomb (laughter).  He’s an explosive player that’s a great athlete and really a great person.  Really, our recruiting visit was us getting to know each other, but I’ll tell you something, if people understand Andrew David and any kid that signed in this class, basically they choose to come to Michigan off the reputation of Jim Harbaugh and the established reputation of the University of Michigan because they really didn’t know us.  They’re coming on a leap of faith and that’s saying something about these guys.  We’ve talked all the way through this recruiting process that we’re going to under promise and over deliver.  We will fulfill the promises that they hope they’ve made.  I promise we will.”

Sam Webb:  Are you going to be recruiting an area?  What part of the country are they going to put you in?  Have you guys determined that thing yet?

Coach Baxter:  “It’s to be determined.  The bottom line is recruiting especially at a high profile place like Michigan, easily the winningest programs of all time and certainly one of the top ten jobs in the country.  The first thing you’ve got to do in recruiting is you’ve got to build a wall around the state.  Nobody gets out of the state that we want without a fight.  So that’s number one and then number two, you’ve got to look at the second ring that lands in the pond, the second ring that goes out, that 250 miles radius and we’ve got to look at that and then from there you’ve got to go around the country and cherry pick.  You’ve got to be able to go, ‘okay, what can we not get here in our established area and what do we have to go get?’  At that point, it’s going to be a staff effort.  So we’ll go out in the country by areas and we’ll screen and we’ll bring back names, but recruiting today because of the internet and because of the ease of travel and because of how easy it is to communicate, the idea of just an area recruiter that just goes to that area and recruits just those players is kind of an old tired idea.  We’re going to do whatever we’ve got to do to get a kid to Michigan.”


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