Q&A: With Rusty Tillman

New special teams coach Rusty Tillman has only been on the job two days and hasn't reviewed much film yet, but the veteran NFL assistant knows what he is looking for from his new players.

Mike Tice hired Rusty Tillman, a 20-year NFL coaching veteran, to direct the Vikings' special teams in 2003. Tillman was an assistant coach with the Seattle Seahawks during Tice's 10 years with the team.

From 1979-91, Tillman was an assistant coach with the Seahawks, coaching special teams (1979-82), tight ends and special teams (1983-86), linebackers and special teams (1987-91) and defensive coordinator/linebackers (1992-94). With Seattle, Tillman's special teams led the NFL in punt coverage three times, kickoff coverage twice and once in average punt return. Throughout his coaching career, his special teams squads have given up only one kickoff return for a touchdown in roughly 1,500 kickoffs.

Tillman also served as defensive coordinator for Tampa Bay (1995) and Indianapolis (1998), coached special teams for Oakland (1996-97), and was the head coach for the New York/New Jersey Hitmen of the XFL (2001). Prior to coaching, Tillman spent eight seasons (1970-77) with the Washington Redskins as a linebacker and special teams player. In June 2002, Tillman was named to Washington's 70 Greatest Redskins Team during the team's 70th anniversary celebration.

Q: Describe your style of coaching and what you will bring to this team?
A: Hopefully some enthusiasm. I think if we want to be we can be among the best special teams in football.

Q: What in your mind is the key to success on special teams?
A: You have to have a certain toughness and a willingness to sacrifice your body. You also have to have the proper attitude.

Q: You talked to Mike Tice about this job last year. Why did it feel right this time?
A: I think Mike wanted to move a little bit faster than I was ready to last year. He had to do what he had to do and I went about my business. But I'm a football coach. I've always been a football coach, and I'm glad to be back in it and glad to be part of the Vikings.

Q: How much did you miss being out of coaching this past season?
A: I missed it tremendously. I watched the games on Sundays. I tried selling real estate but didn't enjoy that very much. This is what I do, and I'm very thankful to get the opportunity.

Q: What were weekends like for you? How tough was it to watch the games?
A: Well, (coaching) is something I had done all my life. You watch things on TV and feel like you can make a difference. I thought there was a tremendous amount of big plays on special teams this year. … So, it's going to be exciting to get back into it.

Q: How will you go about preparing for the 2003 season?
A: The first thing I'm doing is evaluating players (from last year). At the same time, I will spend half a day getting ready for the draft, try to find some players out there. You have the (scouting) combine coming up, things like that. I'm going to be looking at a lot of film. That right there is a full-time job. There is a lot to it. To break down a kicking reel takes a half day at least. You've got 16 of those. You also have to meet with the scouts, visit with the prospects …

Q: What do you look for with prospective players because special teams is as much about desire as ability, correct?
A: Historically that is true. One thing you need is people that can run. You have to be able to close that gap. … Guys have to be smart to play special teams. There is a lot of decision-making that goes into special teams that people don't even think about. That ball never bounces the same way twice. There are always situations that come up in a season in a game where you have to use some football sense. You have to have guys on your special teams that can make quick decisions. For example, which way to avoid a blocker. If you don't have a kid that can do that quickly then he's going to slow down, all his mechanics are going to slow down. He's going to be faking too much, he's not going to react. You need guys that can make quick decisions. That's really important on special teams.

Q: What special teams players from the Vikings that you have looked at on film from this season impress you?
A: I haven't look at enough film yet. I just looked at the first game against the Bears last year. Actually, I looked at some preseason film. (Tuesday) was my first day on the job. I haven't really seen enough of it to make the evaluation at this point. You ask me that question in a couple of weeks and I will have the answer.

Q: Have you talked to Mike Tice about Gary Anderson coming back next year as the placekicker?
A: That's a situation we will have to address down the road after I have seen what we have got, what we draft …

Q: Any teams that you watched this season that you look at as a model for special teams?
A: I know what the model looks like. I've been successful coaching special teams for a long time. I really don't need to look to anybody else, although there are some really good special team coaches and special teams out there. But I know what it looks like, and I know what I want and the type of guy I want and so on and so forth.

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