VETTEL: Why Can’t Johnny Kick?

There was a time when you could count on a college punter to average at least 42 yards a kick. Right now only two SEC punters reach that number. There was a time when extra points were about as automatic as a broken campaign promise. But lately the point after touchdown has been a source of remarkable drama.

Eric Wilbur has been a very good punter for the Gators, but his average has declined an each of the last two seasons. Wilbur was well on his way to making it three in a row before a strong pair of boots against Kentucky.

In the mid-1990’s Bart Edmiston made 114 consecutive extra point kicks. From 2001 thru 2004 Matt Leach threatened that streak with 104 in a row. Yet this year, Florida’s Chris Hetland has already missed twice and the Gators as a team are a pitiful 13-for-18. Last year was somewhat better with the Gators 40-for-43 but that’s still too many misses.

Alabama knows Florida’s pain and then some. Freshman kicker Leigh made seven of his first nine field goals, but then missed three times against Arkansas with two of them potential game-winners. To add to the misery, Tiffin pushed an extra point wide right in overtime and ‘Bama eventually fell to the Razorbacks 24-23. Clemson lost to Boston College due to missed kicks. And despite disgracefully inept officiating, Oklahoma still would have beaten Oregon if the Sooners don’t get a 44-yarder blocked on the final play.

It’s an epidemic and I’m convinced that it’s hurting the game.

Kickers Get Little Coaching

From my point of view, the biggest single problem in the kicking game is the lack of a kicking coach. For many years the NCAA allowed schools to have a “volunteer” coach who could not recruit and had other restrictions. The coach was paid, but for things like camps and what not, not as a full-time staffer. His job was basically a position to tutor kickers. For the University of Florida, Gator legend Bobby Joe Green performed that role and the Gators had some outstanding special teams as a result. Other schools did the same.

In one of many inane alleged cost-cutting moves, the NCAA eliminated that position quite a few years ago (I believe in the late eighties). The end result of that move is that kickers get very little direct coaching. That is in no way a knock on this or any other Gator coaching staff. It’s just a matter of fact that the lack of a specialized kicking coach affects those players tremendously. The punter is almost the de-facto place kicking coach and the place kicker in turn tries to help the punter. Is this any way to run a candy store? Obviously not!

Time to Add a Coach

The solution is simple. Add a part-time coaching position to football staffs to give these guys (and the snappers and holders) the amount of attention and direction they deserve. It wouldn’t cost much and it would really help those players and thus, the teams they kick for.

College football allows ten full-time coaches on the staff which at first seems like a big number, but upon further review is not enough. The NCAA and its member institutions more and more demand coaches monitor virtually all of their student-athletes’ behavior throughout the year. Yet while the basketball team has four full-time coaches for 13 scholarship players (3.25 players/coach) the football team’s player coach ratio (8.5/1) is more than twice as large. Those numbers would be even more dramatic if you factor in the far greater number of walk-ons for the football team.

I spoke with Urban Meyer about this and he indicated he would favor adding a “kicking coach” position to the staff if it was open and above board. Meyer told me he feels the “volunteer” position was often misused in ways the violated NCAA rules. The Gator Coach agreed that in today’s college football kickers get sort of a short shrift in terms of direct coaching.

Adding a kicking coach would improve college football, and it would be fairer to the guys who take part in that aspect of the game.