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Arizona football: Calvin Magee coaching tight ends will benefit Wildcats

With a “new” coach in place, maybe it’s time to take the tight ends seriously

Calvin Magee runs a drill with the Arizona running backs and tight ends
Jason Bartel

For years, we’re heard about how the Arizona Wildcats will actually utilize tight ends in the offense.

And for years, it’s never come to fruition.

But after an offseason of assistants leaving and new ones coming in, maybe Arizona has the right guy coaching the group...and he’s been there all along.

Co-offensive coordinator and running backs coach Calvin Magee took on the tight ends when Charlie Ragle left for Cal, and when the dust settled, Magee still had both groups under his watch at the end of spring ball.

“It’s a lot of fun,” he said about having both groups in his meeting room. “There’s a lot of crossover with some of the fundamentals. Assignments are assignments — naturally I know those — so it’s going good because you can split the time with what you do with the running backs and them because it’s all relative.”

“Our meeting now is a full meeting,” senior running back Zach Green continued. “Our meeting used to be a half meeting because there’s not that much stuff you can coach the running backs on, but now it’s a full lesson. We’re learning about what the tight ends do in their position, and it helps us out when we get into positions where the tight ends are because we’ll know what to do.”

“It’s actually kind of cool,” junior tight end Trevor Wood added about the new meeting room situation. “We gotta know what the backs are doing, and the back has to know what we’re doing, so to put us both in the same meeting room is a good situation because we can both see what each other has to do. So I think it’s helping us click and get us to connect more.”

Combining the running backs and tight ends in the meeting room is one thing, but doing it on the practice field is another thing entirely. But Magee is the right guy to manage that.

“While the backs are doing one drill to work on footwork, the tight ends are doing the same drills on their footwork to block and approaching blocks,” Magee explained. “So I tie it all together and they do it simultaneously right there in front of me so I can see it.”

If anything, this actually makes Magee’s practices more focused than they were before.

“I used to peek across the field to see if they was doing it right,” coach said about the tight ends. “So now I don’t have to worry about that because they’re right there with me.”

Why was he looking over at the tight ends while serving as just the running backs coach? Well, Magee played tight end at Southern from 1981-1984 and also with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 1985-89, then became the TEs coach at South Florida in 1996 before transitioning into a running backs coach since then.

“It feels great, I’m excited about it,” Magee said of making his return to the position two decades later. “It’s right in my strike zone. In fact, my first two years as a tight end and H-back, I was in the running backs meeting room, so a lot of that tied into each other anyway.”

“I always like to tell them that a lot of this stuff that I’m trying to teach ‘em and coach ‘em, I didn’t read it in a book,” continued Magee. “I actually played, so I’m not trying to tell ‘em anything that I just read in a manual. A lot of these things are mistakes that I made when I played, so it’s from my own experiences that I can help them understand it.”

“Coach Magee played the position in the league, so he can teach us more of the technical stuff,” Wood added.

“My pad level,” Wood explained of what the technical thing is that Magee has harped on the most in the spring. “Coach Magee’s always getting on me for it and I think that’s something that I’m really trying to focus on. When you play low you’re always ready, so it’s a big thing I can see myself that I’m trying to focus on and when I do do it, I see changes, and when I slip up and I’m high, I can feel it.”

So there’s already a level of understanding among the players that Ragle could never provide, since he played running back in his college days, and came up through the high school ranks as a defensive coordinator.

So maybe that’s what was missing from the tight ends; someone who actually knows and played the position. It’s also changed some of the things that the group focuses on during and between practices.

“Extra attention to fundamentals and attention to why,” Magee explained of what he’s been trying to instill in this group of guys. “Why they need to be able to run their routes with some speed but with precision and how to set edges on guys in their routes. I think the attention to detail is the most important thing I think they’re picking up right now and not just plays.”

“They were learning their plays, but how to get to the plays is one thing, and when I studied all their film that’s the first thing I noticed. The fundamentals just weren’t where they should’ve been.”

“I agree with that,” Wood said about the view of learning the plays and not how to get to them. “(Magee) is breaking it down and then building us up, which I love because I think previously we were learning the plays, but now we’re learning all the techniques and exactly how they should be done.”

“It’s just setting us up to be in a better situation.”

Grooming Young Coaches

I think you could easily make the argument that in the Rich Rodriguez era, Magee has been the most successful assistant coach. Arizona has never had a problem at running back, and can develop them with ease under Magee.

But now that those running backs are learning their position and the tight end position, maybe there will be some future coaches coming out of this group.

“It’s always been the goal, but with somebody in that room not paying close attention, those guys may have tuned some of that out,” Magee said about teaching the running backs the entire offense. “But now that more detail is going into the throw game and where they should be and how they should get there and why they should get there, I think everybody is listening and paying attention.”

“It’s just learning about the offense as a whole,” Green added. “Coach Magee always uses the meetings as like an internship pretty much, so if you want to go into the coaching world after, you’re gonna have to know everybody’s plays on the ball.”

“I agree,” Wood tacked on about learning the entire offense now as opposed to just his position. “I think it gives you another perspective because if you’re sitting in your meeting room, you don’t necessarily know what his rules are and everything like that, so maybe if you’re watching a play you think he messed up, but it’s not because you’re learning that’s exactly what he was supposed to do but something else wasn’t open. You definitely get a whole view of what’s going on.”

So are one of these guys looking at potentially going into coaching? Yep.

“It’s probably a thing after I’m done with football,” said Green. “We’ll see how this year goes and hopefully I have a really good season and make it to the NFL, and after the NFL if I want to do coaching, I’d love to come back and do some coaching. That would be great.”