As a result, out went Bob Casullo after four seasons and in comes special teams guru Joe Avezzano, a 13 year NFL coaching veteran and three-time Special Teams Coach of the Year honoree. His units consistently finished near the top of league rankings in all four major kicking game categories - punt return average, kickoff return average, punt coverage and kickoff coverage - while having a penchant for making big plays, blocking 23 kicks and returning 18 punts and kickoffs for touchdowns.
The Oakland Raiders boast an outstanding tandem of kicker Sebastian Janikowski and punter Shane Lechler along with Phillip Buchanon returning punts and possibly Doug Gabriel returning kickoffs. The coverage units were a different story, ranking near the bottom in defending both kickoffs and punts.
Under Avezzano, the Raiders have been spending as much as 45 minutes on special teams per practice session. In fact, Avezzano has been breaking down literally every detail.
"I think with free agency and salary cap, that has effected rosters in many ways," Avezzano said. "There's so much turnover every year. Most of the turnover is on the bottom part of your roster. In the kicking game, there's not as much carryover from year-to-year as you would like in terms of personnel. You have to basically go back and teach fundamentals and teach basics every year. Every year can become an interesting situation."
Casullo coached the Raiders special teams for four seasons. Oakland's special teams units were solid in 2000, inconsistent in 2001-2002 and horrible in 2003. Last in year training camp, the Raiders spent roughly 10 minutes on special teams.
"I wouldn't say it's more simple but we're going through it step by step," Gabriel said. "It's more of a pace now. I'm not going to say it was the coaches. Bob was great. It was more trying to get everyone to understand what they were doing. Bob was trying to put a lot into a short period of time."
Avezzano is easily the most fiery coach on the Raiders staff. He is barking whether in praise or criticism.
"I tend to be a little emotional out there," Avezzano said in a not-so-shocking revelation. "That's the way I do things and guys adjust to that. I also adjust to them. There are some guys that I would never raise my voice to. There's some guys that I will. In general, I'm very active and emotional about what I do. It's very important to me. I try to translate that to the players and have them place the same importance when we are in our drills."
Avezzano and first-year Raiders head coach Norv Turner coached together with the Cowboys from 1991-93 where they helped Dallas win back-to-back Super Bowls following the '92 and '93 seasons. Avezzano's units also assisted the Cowboys in earning another Super Bowl following the 1995 season.
When asked if Avezzano has always been this expressive, Turner quipped, "You'd have to ask his wife. He's a high energy guy. Just don't ask him to sing any country music."
Turner continued: "He brings expertise because he has done it for a lot of years. He has a great command, a great presence and he knows how to stress things."
The Raiders emphasis on the 3-4 defense could directly benefit Avezzano's special teams.
"We will have seven or eight linebackers available as opposed to, in my whole career, I've only been around a 4-3, where you have five or six linebackers," Avezzano said. "There's a difference and that can be beneficial to coverage units. I don't think that what we will do this year is going to make anybody stand up and say, ‘Gee, that's really creative. It looks really inventive.' There's not very much that's new in this game. It's about being fundamentally sound, which Norv will do, and our guys realizing the importance that we're placing on the kicking game."