Matt Terl, a former writer for Redskins.com, writes this brilliant piece analyzing the positives and shortcomings of Danny Smith, the former Redskins special teams coach who was hired for the same position with the Steelers.
It's probably one of the most comprehensive opinion-laced articles you'll ever read on the topic of special teams, and it's not often you'll come across a piece with four interview subjects and a brilliantly accurate lede discussing a team's former special teams coach (including a glowing endorsement from Redskins linebacker Lorenzo Alexander, who was the NFC's special teams Pro Bowl selection in 2012).
The subject of the piece is Smith, and Terl's evaluation of him in what he perceives to be three different categories in which fans compartmentalized him (and basically every other player, coach, scout, GM and owner in all of sports); "The Best, Terrible, and Somewhere In Between."
As Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said of Smith, he's an outstanding communicator - something required for coaching, managing or teaching at any level in any walk of life. Interestingly, Tomlin pointed out his skill in communication exists in both large groups and individual situations.
Special teams deals with the broadest spectrum of players outside the head coach. You have offensive and defensive players as well as the kickers, holders and long-snappers. It also deals with the most amount of field. Offensive and defensive plays are not always drawn up to cover 60 yards of grass or its cheaper, more durable substitute. All kickoffs are, however, and the special teams coach much account for the coverage of every blade or plastic fiber of that area on every single kick.
Smith's ability to do so was brought into question by some, according to Terl. Many there seem to still hold Steelers kicker Shaun Suisham in ill-regard for missing a 30-yard field goal in a 35-17 loss to Seattle in the playoffs of 2007.
Steelers fans know the pain Suisham can bring, and there is some understandable apprehension to re-unite him with a coach who oversaw him during his lowly days in D.C. - especially when he's coming off arguably the best kicking season in Heinz Field history.
While Redskins fans can gripe about the whipping they took from the Seahawks in their pre-Russell Wilson days, Terl points out (without a trace of sarcasm) the game was lost with Todd Collins under center.
Doesn't seem a stretch to suggest that was more of the problem than Suisham's wind-hindered miss of a chip shot.
Terl lauds Smith as a person, but dispels the myth the media covered for him during his nine years with the team because he was such a great guy. Few seem to doubt Smith's charm and likability, which seem like a convenient scapegoat for haters to pin on the reason he stuck around as long as he did.
The reality is special teams is responsible for just as much cohesion of personnel units as either the offense or the defense, and are ultimately subjected to the failures of one link of that chain. The coach gets loads of blame, and perhaps fairly so, but blaming the coach for a kicker missing a field goal? How does that work?
There is of course an understandable line at which a coach becomes responsible for the overall production of the group; quibbles over minutia on specific plays aside. Depending on which advanced or prehistoric metrics you wish to view to rank and file special teams units around the league, you'll likely come to the conclusion some teams have outstanding special teams, some do not and there are tons of them in the middle.
Smith's units appeared to be on the decline in D.C., and was out of a job, presumably because of that.
One man's trash is another man's treasure, perhaps? The root of coaching is communication, but outside of that, talent trumps everything else. If the Steelers want to improve their special teams groups, it's going to be on Smith to direct them strategically where they need to go, but he can't make them tackle and block.
Can he get them to know where they need to be to do those things? That's the question.