The Book On Special-Teams Candidates

As the Vikings search for a replacement for former special-teams coach Gary Zauner, here is the book on three candidates that have been mentioned so far.

While new head coach Mike Tice contemplates whom to hire for the all-important offensive coordinator position, one of the other key openings on his staff is that of special teams coach, having let Gary Zauner go.

To this point there have been three names suggested. Here's a little background on each:

Bruce Read — Currently available, having been a member of Mike Riley's staff in San Diego the past three seasons.

"Bruce has an enthusiasm and love for football that spreads to the players and other coaches," Riley said. "He's an exciting guy whose teams have had tremendous success blocking and returning kicks. Nothing turns a game around like big plays on special teams, and Bruce's units thrive on that."

During his tenure with the Chargers, Read coached Pro Bowl punter Darren Bennett, and his coverage units enabled Bennett to always be among the leaders in net punting average, as well.

According to statistics compiled annually by the Dallas Morning News, the Chargers' special teams units showed the greatest improvement in the NFL in 1999, Read's first year as San Diego's special teams coach. After an overall ranking of 21st in the NFL in 19 combined special-teams categories in 1998, the Chargers jumped 15 spots to sixth under Read in 1999.

This past season, Ronney Jenkins was one of the league's top kickoff returners under Read's tutelage.

Read has spent the past 17 seasons coaching special teams. Before joining the Chargers, he spent the previous two seasons (1997-98) as the special teams coach for Riley's Oregon State Beavers. Under Read's direction, Oregon State's special teams were responsible for 15 blocked kicks, including seven punts and eight field goals or PATs. Oregon State's special teams also returned two kickoffs and one punt for touchdowns.

Read coached at the University of Montana for 12 seasons (1985-96), including 10 seasons as special teams coach. He also worked with the defensive secondary in 1996. He originally joined the Montana staff as a part-time assistant for his father, Don Read, in 1985.

During Read's tenure as special teams coach at Montana, the Grizzlies broke 20 special-teams records and 11 individual special-teams marks. His Montana teams blocked 27 punts and 22 PATs or field goals. Montana had at least one blocked punt in each of his 10 seasons. Montana won three Big Sky championships (1993, 1995 and 1996) and won the NCAA Division 1-AA National Championship in 1995. Montana had a record of 96-36 in Read's last 10 seasons.

Before going to Montana, Read spent four seasons (1981-84) at Portland State, where he was a part-time assistant from 1983-84 and a graduate assistant from 1981-82. From 1980-81, Read served as a volunteer coach at the Oregon Institute of Technology.

Read was born January 26, 1962 in Santa Rosa, California. He earned three letters and garnered honorable mention all-state honors as a punter and wide receiver at Henley High School in Klamath Falls, Ore. As a senior, he had the best punting average in the state.

Read attended the Oregon Institute of Technology, where he joined his father's coaching staff as a volunteer assistant during his freshman year. He studied at O.I.T. from 1981-82 before finishing his college education at Portland State. He earned a bachelor's degree in social science from Portland State in 1986.

Joe DeCamillis — A member of Dan Reeves' staff in Atlanta, DeCamillis came into the league being hired by Reeves and has essentially followed Reeves wherever he's been. His availability and interest would appear to be very dependent on Reeves' future with the Falcons. At this point, it looks like Reeves will stay, so in all likelihood, so will DeCamillis.

DeCamillis broke into the league as a defensive quality control/assistant special teams coach with the Broncos from 1988-92. When Reeves went to the Giants (1993-96), DeCamillis became his special teams coach. When Reeves moved on to Atlanta (1997-present), DeCamillis continued as his special teams coach.

Considered one of the best special teams coaches in the league, DeCamillis has had the Falcons at the top of several NFL categories. His troops scored four return touchdowns in 2000, led by rookie Darrick Vaughn's three kickoff return scores of 100, 96 and 88 yards. In the process, Vaughn led the NFL and broke the club record with his 27.7 kickoff return average. His punt return unit in 1999 had only 26 punts returned for 119 yards, which was the lowest in the NFL and the 10th-lowest in the league since 1978. His 1998 unit surrendered only 112 punt return yards, the seventh-lowest in the NFL in a single season since 1978. In 1996 with the Giants, his special teams led the NFL with 32 punts downed inside the 20-yard line and the punt return unit was ranked sixth in the NFL (11.4 average) with two touchdowns scored.

DeCamillis was born June 29, 1965 in Arvada, Colo. He spent a year as an assistant at Wyoming in 1988 before joining Reeves in the pro ranks.

Russ Purnell — Currently on Brian Billick's staff with the Baltimore Ravens, Purnell coached Tice and the special teams when Tice was a player with the Seattle Seahawks. Purnell is reportedly on the hotseat with Billick in Baltimore, and Zauner has already been rumored to be replacing him there once their season concludes.

Billick hasn't been happy with Purnell the past two seasons, as the coverage and return teams have faltered under his watch. Jermaine Lewis hasn't been as effective as a punt returner as he was under former coach Scott O'Brien, who went to Carolina when Ted Marchibroda was fired. The coverage teams also slipped.

Purnell, a 16-year NFL coaching veteran, is in his third season as the Ravens' special teams coach. Last year, place-kicker Matt Stover made his first Pro Bowl and led NFL kickers with 35 field goals and 135 points. Punter Kyle Richardson has led the NFL in punts-inside-the-20 each of the last two seasons (35 in 2000 and an NFL record 39 in 1999). The Ravens also led the league in 2000 with a 15.8-yard punt return average, and Jermaine Lewis led the NFL with a 16.1-yard punt return average on 36 returns, the highest for a player with at least 30 punt returns in a season in NFL history. Lewis, who scored two touchdowns on punt returns against the Jets on Dec. 24, 2000 also raced 84 yards for a score on a kickoff return in Super Bowl XXXV to ice Baltimore's 34-7 win over the Giants.

Purnell's special teams were ranked fourth overall in 2000, according to The Dallas Morning News, in an annual ranking by writer Rick Gosselin. The rankings take into account several different statistical categories.

However, this season the Baltimore special teams have been a sore spot, especially complicated by problems with injuries to their deep snapper and protection problems for their punter.

Purnell spent four seasons with the Tennessee Oilers (1995-98) after spending nine seasons (1986-94) with the Seattle Seahawks. With the Seahawks, Purnell was the tight ends/assistant special teams' coach in 1987, before taking over the special teams and tight ends in 1992 as a member of Chuck Knox's staff.

Purnell entered the collegiate coaching ranks in 1970 as a graduate assistant at his alma mater, Whittier College. He coached for four seasons at USC as special teams and tight ends' coach before joining the Seahawks as offensive special assignments' coach in 1986. He was promoted to special teams/tight ends coach in 1992.

Purnell played at Orange Coast J.C. and transferred to Whittier College. He started his coaching career at Corona del Mar H.S. in 1972 and then coached at Edison High from 1973-81, before joining John Robinson's staff at USC.

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