The Arizona Wildcats’ new special teams coach is Jeremy Springer, who served as a quality control special teams/tight ends assistant under Kevin Sumlin at Texas A&M the last three years.
Springer, in his first full-time coaching position, has a lot of work ahead of him. The Wildcats ranked 111st in college football in special teams efficiency — the average value generated per possession by a team’s non-offensive and non-defensive units — in 2017.
Texas A&M ranked 37th.
We got our first chance to talk to Springer since he was hired in January. Here’s what he had to say.
Jeremy Springer talked all about Arizona Football’s special teams todayPosted by AZ Desert Swarm on Wednesday, March 28, 2018
On a scale of 1-10, how important are special teams to Kevin Sumlin?
A 10-plus, I would say. Since I’ve been with him the last three years, the reason we were successful at A&M is because we had importance on it. It’s something that Jeff Banks and him, they built a culture there and that culture stood there. That culture was playing special teams to an excellence, to a standard, and that’s what we’re trying to build here.
How do you get that message across?
Be consistent with your energy, your passion, your technique, and coming to work everyday and be consistent with it. If you’re not consistent with it, players are going to see you right away. And you gotta show them examples. You gotta show them how it’s done. … You’re constantly trying to prove what special teams look like and what championship special teams look like.
Last year, special teams was really bad for Arizona. Kevin Sumlin said he wasn’t really focusing on last year in terms of the evaluation process. Are you kinda like that or do you look back?
Zero evaluation of last year. Last year was a different system, this year is our system and the way we do things. I’m going to evaluate us off that, it’s totally different techniques.
It’s like on Powerpoint and all of a sudden they change the Powerpoint on you, or change to Excel, it’s totally different. So you can’t judge it off Powerpoint, can you? No, you can’t. So that’s how I have to do special teams. It’s a totally new system, a totally new way of thinking, way of reading things, so zero evaluation from last year.
What did you learn in your 2-3 years at Texas A&M?
Energy. Everyday you’ve gotta bring something to the table. I love my life. I come to work everyday and this is what I wear (an Arizona shirt). I coach kids from Chicago, from Louisiana, from California, and we try to build a championship program. So, to me, it’s easy to come to work. There’s a lot of people that wish they were in my shoes, and I know that, so I don’t take it for granted. Those kind of things — seeing that culture at A&M and seeing how it was built there — advanced me and helped me com here and try to do the same thing here, only know I’m adding my own spice it, because now I’m running it.
What are the first things you’ve tried to instill?
First things first, have a lot of passion and energy. You’re going to hear me say it a lot. I want guys to come out there and have fun with it, right? I don’t want that stagnant group where people are quiet and don’t want to be here. No, I want to make it fun for them. Because you know what, my guys don’t come here to play special teams. Let’s just be honest. They come to play offense and defense. Maybe they were the best player in their high school, or playing running back only. They come here, they gotta make a role for themselves. So, I try to make it fun, try to make them involved a little bit more. And I do that through my presentations and my actions everyday. I want to make it fun for the guys and make them enjoy playing special teams and build that culture.
What is an example of something you do to make it fun out there on special teams?
I make them into teams. So we do a lot of competition where I’m going to have teams up, and it’s a competition, so whoever wins that day is going to get something in the meeting the next day. There’s a prize at the end of it. Just like when you win, you win a championship, you get a prize at the end. So, put them in teams... and matchups, the same kind of match-ups body-type-wise and see who’s going to win.
What’s the prize?
The next day I might come in with a box of Snickers or something like that. Or maybe a t-shirt that I got, or something like that. I really try to make them have fun with it. It’s all about having fun.
How do you coach kickers and punters when you, yourself, were not a kicker or punter?
That’s an acquired learning type of deal. So, obviously yes, I played linebacker in college — zero experience. But then my experiences coaching-wise, you need to develop those qualities, right? So not everybody starts out as a quarterbacks coach or not everyone starts as a linebackers coach. They gotta develop the qualities over time. And it’s my profession, so I’m doing everything I can to learn. I’m nowhere where I need to be right now, but I promise you, as time goes on, I’m going to get better and better.
Do you consult anybody else?
Yeah. So, people in the profession, over time... during spring recruiting, I’m going to go out and meet some guys that are my mentors or people that I really trust in teaching me how to get better in that position coach.
So, you where a quarterback your senior year of high school right? ... And came to UTEP and started out as a quarterback... how did you go from quarterback to linebacker?
At the time, there was a guy named Trevor Vittatoe who was way better than I was. And, I was behind him and I knew I wasn’t going to have the opportunity to play till my senior year. And one day I went up to Mike Price after the season and was like ‘Let me switch to linebacker.’ My twin plays linebacker at Kansas. I made the switch, gained 30 pounds. And you know what, it just worked out for me. It was one of those things, I wanted to play so bad, so I was going to make it happen.
Do you see yourself coaching a specific position after special teams, and not looking too far ahead, but do you feel like you want to specialize in a position?
You know, I like where I’m at right now. Whatever happens in the future... obviously the end goal is to be head coach one day and that’s where I want to be at. But right now, I love where I’m at. ... Wherever Coach Sumlin wants me to coach I’m going to do it. Hey, special teams, linebackers, quarterbacks, I’ll do it all. Just tell me what to do, Coach and I got you.
How would you describe yourself as a player at UTEP?
Very passionate about the game. I think I was a hard worker, very studious guy. I was very limited athletically, so I had to make up for that, watching film and knowing where exactly I have to be because, I’m a little stiff here in the hips, you know...
Where do you guys stand as far as giving scholarships to kickers, punters, long snappers?
That’s a thing that people don’t understand the numbers involved in a depth chart. You can’t just give out scholarships. You might have a cap on scholarships. So right now obviously it’s spring time. Numbers are going to be changing. Guys are going to get hurt, get medically DQ’s stuff like that, so you have a scholarship open up. So right now we’re not in a place to to say, ‘hey, we’ve got one scholarship for a specialist, one scholarship for a guy’. We just now that by the time summer ends, we’ll know where we’re at.
In general, do you think it’s important to bring in that caliber of player at those positions?
Oh, no question. The reason we were successful at A&M was because of what Jeff Banks and Kevin Sumlin did, but also because we scholarshipped guys. And you gotta bring in scholarship players because you want the best of the best. I don’t care how good your scheme is, if you don’t have a good quarterback you’re not going to be very good. Same thing with punts and kickoffs. You can have the best scheme in the world, but if your punter or kicker doesn’t punt it in the place you need it, well then you’re screwed plain and simple. You need high-caliber guys and scholarship guys, in my opinion.
Lucas Havrisik made a really big impression last year ... what have you seen out of him?
I love that kid. He works hard, he’s quiet, but he’s very confident. He’s a quiet, confident kid. He doesn’t mess up in the classroom, he’s a great character kid, he comes to everything on time. He doesn’t say much, but he’s got a special leg and he’s going to do special things for us in the near future.
I know it’s really early, but do you have any idea what roles he and Josh (Pollack) will have next year?
They’re going to have to battle in fall camp. We’re going to battle that in fall camp. Now, Lucas is my kickoff guy. He’s going to be my kickoff guy until something else happens. ... But in terms of field goal kicking, I’ve told those guys that fall camp, it’s a real matchup and we’re going to be self-scouted and the winner at the end of fall camp is going to kick field goals.
Punters the same way?
Same way. Even though I’ve got someone coming in (Cal transfer Dylan Klumph), I even told Dylan this, you’re coming in to compete. Don’t take it for granted that you’re just going to come in and day one you’re starting. I tell Jake (Glatting) this. Hey, don’t worry that I’m bringing a guy in. Day one I told you I’m bringing guys in because I want more competition.
What are you working on with the punters?
I’m just continuing to work on fundamentals. Their drop, their steps, where their hips are going after they kick the ball, where their drop is when they kick the ball, are they kicking with the side of their foot, is the ball inside when they’re kicking it. And then overall operation — some people look at the punting and they’re like, ‘it’s the punter’s fault.’ It’s the operation, too. Where’s the snap being snapped at? So I’m working with my long snappers. Were the guards blocking, is everything schemed up right? (The punters) have to feel comfortable back there as well. They can’t feel pressure that everytime I kick the ball, there’s people in my face.”
Are Josh and Lucas punting?
No, it’s just Matt (Aragon) and Jake (Glatting). That’s it.
(Long snapper) Nick Reinhardt missed almost the entire season last year, is he back?
He’s back. He’s building back in. He had an ACL (tear), and I like where he’s at right now. And I like our depth right now at long snapper.
As a special teams coach, you kind of deal with everybody. Who on the team has jumped out to you on the team in these first six practices?
I’m going to start first with offense. Offensively, the guys who really took my eye are (Gary) Brightwell, he’s been really good. (Nathan) Tilford. Cedric (Pederson) has done a really good job for me. And (Thomas) Reid. Those four guys have really jumped out. Even Casteel.
Defensively, I like (Jace) Whittaker a lot. Whittaker’s done a really good job for me. Xavier Bell, Demetrius Flanningan-Fowles, Jarrius Wallace. Whittaker, if I didn’t say his name yet. I love that guy.
You said it twice.
That shows how much he’s impressed me from an energy (perspective). Lorenzo Burns.
We’re talking on special teams, right?
Oh yeah. In my system everyone’s going to play. You can expect to see starters out there because in order to win games in this conference, you’ve got to have real guys out there, in my opinion. Belknap’s another guy that’s really stepped in. Lee (Anderson)’s done a good job for us so far.
How have you liked hitting the road and recruiting?
It’s been good, man. I recruit Texas so it’s good to go back home. Obviously that’s where I’m from, born and raised. It’s a different world. Obviously I’m not used to that since it’s my first time being a full-time coach. I only did about two weeks of it in January and I was looking for a specialist. Now it’s the real deal come April and May. I’m excited to get on the road and help this university expand a little bit and also just start spreading the energy about it.
Do you have the whole state?
I have Houston and Austin, really central Texas.
Do you have any territories besides that?
Anywhere there’s a specialist.
How do you sell Texas kids on Arizona?
First off, you’ve got to sell the university and the qualities about it. Then I’ve got to get them out here. Once they get out here and they see the energy around the town, that it’s a small city but everything’s built around this university. It’s not Houston or different cities where you’ve got the city and then it’s the university. It’s the university here. You’re real. You’re real all about it. The mountains, if you’re a Texas boy you come see these mountains and the weather, you’ll definitely love it. But just getting them out here first and showing them what kind of staff we have, too. This staff we have, there’s zero egos whatsoever. It’s just guys that you want to be around. Guys who make you better, but at the same time, treat you good as well.