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Despite heat surrounding special teams, Crosby keeps his cool -- and his job

Discussion in 'Chargers Fan Forum' started by Johnny Lightning, Oct 16, 2010.

  1. Johnny Lightning

    Johnny Lightning Go Bolts

    Feb 7, 2006

    By Tim Sullivan
    Friday, October 15, 2010 at 11:22 p.m.

    Steve Crosby has played the bad cop. He has tried being the fire-breathing football coach, the kind of veins-bulging bully who teaches by torment, and he has concluded that it is counterproductive.
    “I’ve never had any success coaching guys and trying to get them to understand by coming in and being belligerent,” the Chargers’ beleaguered special teams coach said Friday afternoon. “I don’t think it works. It’s like being a schoolteacher going in and cussing the class out every day because you had a bad day. That ain’t going to help them kids out.”
    Though he appears to be adrift in an unusually turbulent sea of troubles, bedeviled by appalling breakdowns in kick coverage and punt protection, Crosby has so far been able to keep both his job and his sanity. The Chargers have lost three games against lesser teams, and largely because of lapses in Crosby’s department, but despite the occasional gameday meltdown, the 60-year-old coach remains relatively mellow even as the heat rises around him.
    If Norv Turner has acquired a Teflon coating in the eyes of Chargers’ management, Crosby’s chemical composition appears to be asbestos.
    “He’s not the type to be yelling and throwing things,” punter Mike Scifres said. “He tells us what we need to know, what we need to do, and we go on the practice field and those are the things he works on.
    “That’s how it’s been since I’ve been here. You don’t stay in this business that long changing what you do every day, changing your mentality, changing the way you teach. And he hasn’t. Eight years now, with me, he’s gone about it the same way. Meetings are exactly the same, (as is) his attitude in meetings. That’s important for us as players, to know that it’s not rattling him.”
    Now in his 33rd NFL season, Crosby has seen too much to suddenly grow skittish. His pro football résumé includes three years as a player, two stints as a scout, position coaching for linebackers, tight ends, running backs and quarterbacks, two years of offensive coordinating and three separate stints as a special teams coach.
    He has worked for both Don Shula and Bill Belichick, served two tours under Marty Schottenheimer , and is the only Chargers coach whose job description has not changed since 2002. If Turner erred on the side of flippancy when he said it was “silly” to discuss replacing Crosby after another special teams meltdown Sunday in Oakland, his underlying logic was logical. If you’re going to scapegoat a special teams coach in midseason, as the Miami Dolphins have done, it ought to be a matter of competence rather than a symbolic sacrifice to appease angry fans.
    “A lot of times, stuff like that is knee-jerk,” Crosby said. “Something happens and the world blows up and all of a sudden now somebody’s got to pay. That’s not what it’s about. You can either do the job or you can’t.
    “I’d be the first to tell you if I didn’t think I could do the job, I wouldn’t be here. You wouldn’t have to fire my *** ’cause I’d quit. I’d retire. It ain’t about that. It’s about getting ahold of these players, coaching the hell out of them, trying to get them better to understand what you need to get done, and get them to get it done on the field — not in practice, but on the field during the game. That’s what it’s about.”
    On that score, Crosby’s special teams have ranged from better than average to exemplary for most of his games with the Chargers. If what we’ve seen over the last five weeks has been woeful, and it has, the primary blame would seem to be transitional (where have you gone, Kassim Osgood?) rather than tutoring.
    “There are multiple things going on,” Crosby said. “We’ve had a lot of changes in personnel. We’ve had injuries to people who have played here over the last three or four years, core special teams guy. Because of injuries to starting players, we’ve had to plug (special teams regulars) in as starters and it’s taken away from what they do for us in the kicking game. We’ve had to plug in young guys, inexperienced guys, in some spots and they’re not quite ready to be there …
    “The tough part is you’ve got to get ready for a game and at the same time you’ve got to accelerate (the training of inexperienced players). And that’s not an easy task. And that’s what we’re faced with. … It’s just a big-*** challenge.”
    Crosby was standing in a breezeway between the Chargers’ dressing room and the buses lined up to take the team to the airport for Sunday’s game in St. Louis. He was responding to multiple interview requests all at once, and as matter-of-factly as if he were pumping gas or checking out at the supermarket. Where Norv Turner’s default setting is defensiveness, Crosby’s is direct nonchalance.
    “The bad thing about the kicking game is that when something happens bad, everybody in the world sees it,” he said. “And it just takes one guy to mess something up, and be in the wrong spot and the wrong place and you have a bad play. Or you have one guy that makes a mental error, and you have a bad play. There are five mental errors a play on offense and defense that nobody ever sees, but it doesn’t affect the play.”
    With two punts blocked, two kickoffs returned for touchdowns and porous punt coverage in their three road losses, the Chargers’ mental errors have been as chronic as Homer Simpson’s. Having regulars log extra shifts on the kicking teams and making rapid-fire roster moves has heightened the sense of urgency, but it has yet to result in results. Short on practice time for some of his newer additions, Crosby tried to compensate with video simulation.
    “Didn’t work,” he said, succinctly.
    Asked to choose an adjective to assess his mood, Crosby settled on “disappointing.”
    “But on the other hand,” he added, quickly, “I don’t have Alzheimer’s and I ain’t forgotten how to coach, either.”
  2. Johnny Lightning

    Johnny Lightning Go Bolts

    Feb 7, 2006
    No easy fix for Chargers' special teams


    By Bill Williamson

    It was a Tuesday afternoon during the NFL season.

    Instead of game planning and trying new ways to bust the wedge and to protect his punter, Gary Zauner was about to take a swim at his Arizona home. Asked if he desired to become a special-teams coach in the NFL again, Zauner, 59, didn’t hesitate.

    “No, because I don’t want to be asked questions about why my special teams are bad,” said Zauner, who now owns his own special teams consulting firm, which specializes in working with kicking specialists. After 13 years as an NFL special teams coach, Zauner clearly had enough of the pressure of coaching the unappreciated third phase of the game.

    Zauner feels for his friend Steve Crosby, the special teams coach of the San Diego Chargers. Known as one of the better special teams coaches in the NFL, Crosby is under scrutiny because his once air-tight unit has been disastrous through the first five games.

    San Diego (2-3) could easily be 5-0 if it weren’t for its dreadful special teams. In San Diego’s three losses this season, the special teams have surrendered 30 points. The Chargers have lost the three games by a combined 22 points.

    San Diego has allowed a 94-yard punt return for a touchdown at Kansas City, two kickoff returns for touchdowns at Seattle and two blocked punts at Oakland in less than five minutes, which resulted in a touchdown and a safety. Football Outsiders believes the Chargers are on their way to having perhaps the worst overall special-teams unit in the history of the NFL.

    “It’s every phase of the special teams in San Diego,” said Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. “It is killing a good team. It’s a brutal way to lose. It’s so repetitive. It’s just a massive problem for an otherwise really good team.”

    San Diego coach Norv Turner scoffed at talk that Crosby would be fired earlier this week when he responded to a question about the assistant’s job security by saying: “Don’t be silly.” Miami coach Tony Sparano didn’t have the same patience after Week 4 when he fired John Bonamego following the Dolphins’ special-teams miscues that directly led to 21 points for New England in the spotlight of "Monday Night Football."

    “I’ve been there before,” Zauner said. "When I had good players on special teams, I was a good special teams coach. When I had bad special-teams players, I was a bad special-teams coach … Steve Crosby is a fine special-teams coach. He’s one of the best. He’s the not the problem.”

    So, what is the problem in San Diego?

    “It’s probably several little things,” Zauner said.

    How can the problems be fixed?

    “It’s not that easy,” Zauner said.

    Added Scouts Inc.’s Gary Horton when asked how the Chargers can turn around their fortunes on special teams: “I wish I knew the answer. It’s just baffling.”

    Zauner said there are no quick fixes for broken special teams during the season, just some Band-Aid solutions. Zauner said the Chargers can kick to the corners of the field to try to cut down on long returns and ask punter Mike Scifres to try to punt with a better hang time but not worry about punting as long as he usually does. To guard against blocked punts, perhaps the team could put starting offensive linemen on the line. Zauner said putting more starters on the coverage teams can help too.

    “It really comes down to personnel,” Zauner said. “You either have good special-teams players or not.”

    The Chargers are missing two key players and it is clearly making a huge difference. Coverage ace Kassim Osgood signed with Jacksonville as a free agent because he wanted a chance to play receiver, which wasn’t an option in San Diego. The team doesn’t have the coverage aptitude it had with Osgood, even though San Diego kept 28 defensive players on the original 53-man roster in an attempt to load up on quality special-teams coverage players. Often, the best special-teams players are backup linebackers and defensive backs.

    In addition to the Osgood departure, San Diego is playing without long-snapper David Binn for the first time since 1993. Binn is known as one of the best snappers in NFL history. He was lost for the season at Kansas City with a hamstring injury he suffered while trying to make a play on rookie Dexter McCluster’s team-record punt return.

    In the next two weeks, two of Binn’s replacements, James Dearth and Ryan Neill, were lost for the season with injuries. The team is on its fifth snapper of the season after going 17 seasons with only one. Ethan Albright was released this week in favor of rookie Mike Windt. Zauner believes the loss of Binn and subsequent flux at snapper have created obvious timing issues.

    Scifres has had three punts blocked in the past four games. He had one punt blocked in six previous NFL seasons. There haven’t been any blatant issues in the place-kicking game.

    “They miss Binn and Osgood,” Zauner said. “Those are big losses and the Chargers are feeling it. ... Those are hard players to replace.”

    Still, Horton said there are more issues. He studied film of the two blocked punts against Oakland and saw clear trouble.

    “On one of the [blocked punts], the guy came in unblocked,” Horton said. “Something is going on there. I know they work on it and they watch film, but something is not working there. I don’t know the answer, but it has to be fixed. They have to fix it.”

    The special-teams trouble in San Diego could sink the team, and there are no sure solutions. Perhaps that’s why Zauner would rather swim during football season.

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