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There's something special about special teams coaches


To become a special team, sometimes it's best to turn to special teams.

The Giants hired Joe Judge as their next head coach after the 38-year-old spent the past decade coaching that phase of the game. He did so for the winningest teams of the era in the NFL and college ranks – the New England Patriots and the Alabama Crimson Tide – but casual fans might not think coaching special teams is, well, special.

But hold on. Where would the Giants be without special teams? Scott Norwood's wide right field goal attempt led to a Super Bowl title over Buffalo. Lawrence Tynes kicked the Giants into two more Super Bowls, the second of which Jacquian Williams set up with a forced fumble on a punt return. In between were miles of those hidden yards that Bill Parcells spoke so much about.

The Giants hired Judge, who also assumed wide receiver coaching duties in his last season in New England, to run it all – offense, defense and special teams. Upon becoming the 19th head coach in franchise history, he joined a small, distinguished circle of leading men who cut their teeth on special teams.

John Harbaugh is the most recent example. Before becoming the Ravens' head coach in 2008, Harbaugh started his NFL coaching career as the Eagles' special teams coordinator. In 1998, then-head coach Ray Rhodes hired Harbaugh, who quickly established a reputation as one of the NFL's top special teams coaches. Subsequently, he was one of four assistants retained by Andy Reid in 1999.

"Did we take a chance by hiring John?" Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti stated in the team's media guide. "My belief is that you have to be willing to do things the masses don't, or you'll never separate yourself from the masses."

Harbaugh, who was voted the 2001 NFL Special Teams Coach of the Year by his peers while he worked in Philadelphia, has led Baltimore to a playoff berth in eight of his 12 seasons, including a Super Bowl victory in 2012.

Harbaugh is currently 35th on the all-time wins list with 118 in the regular season. Just above him are Mike Ditka and Dick Vermeil at 33rd and 34th, respectively. Ditka coached special teams and receivers for Tom Landry's Cowboys from 1973-1981, and Vermeil started off on the Rams' special teams staff in 1969.

That same year, Hall of Fame coach Marv Levy began his pro coaching career as kicking teams coach for the Eagles. He then joined George Allen, another future Hall of Famer, as his special teams coach for the Rams in 1970.

Last but certainly not least on this list is Bill Belichick, who mentored Judge for eight seasons in New England. Belichick began his coaching career as a staff assistant with the Baltimore Colts in 1975. In 1976, he joined Rick Forzano's staff with the Detroit Lions as an assistant special teams coach. The following year, he was given his first positional coaching assignment as the Lions tight ends and receivers coach. In 1978, Denver Broncos coach Red Miller hired Belichick as the assistant special teams coach and assistant to defensive coordinator Joe Collier. Belichick then spent 12 seasons with the Giants, first as a defensive assistant and special teams coach. The rest is history.

Now, Judge will try to write his own special story.

"Joe has done an outstanding job," Belichick said. "He's an excellent coach. He understands the game well, works extremely hard and is a very good teacher of fundamentals. Joe picks up concepts and coaching points quickly. He is an exceptional leader and one of the best coaches I have been around. He has been responsible for coaching units comprised of nearly every player on the roster. That requires an ability to handle many moving parts, make constant adjustments and immediate decisions."


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