Texas Tech was really good last football season at kicking field goals and returning kickoffs. The other elements of special teams were not so hot.
Now Darrin Chiaverini’s sole focus is tightening up the Red Raiders in that department. Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury hired Chiaverini, 36, in January to be special teams coach, the first time since 2009 the Red Raiders have had a full-time assistant with that task alone.
“I think what’s good about having one voice is that nothing gets lost in translation,” Chiaverini said. “The verbiage is going to be consistent. We’re going to speak the same language every single day and it’s going to be coming from me as far as the way I run my meetings.”
At many schools, special teams coaching is a group effort. That’s how it’s been at Tech for the last four years. Former head coach Tommy Tuberville said he coached the special teams, but delegated a lot of it to graduate assistants Ty Linder and Kevin Oliver.
Last season, Trey Haverty had the titles of safeties coach and special teams coordinator, but that, too, was a little misleading.
“We split it up, basically,” Kingsbury said. “Trey had the title, but it was a group effort and I just felt like it became secondary for everybody. So I wanted one face and one person that that’s all he thinks about day in and day out and that’s all he works with is special teams, and I think we needed that emphasis.”
Kingsbury says he perceived a difference right away.
“I thought it was fine last year, but I felt like the emphasis wasn’t there,” he said, “and the players didn’t focus on it like we needed to. You could see a different focus this spring.”
Chiaverini twice beat the Red Raiders in the 1990s as a Colorado wide receiver. Now he’s charged with making them a lot better in certain areas.
Tech’s special teams ran the gamut of success — or lack thereof — in 2013. Kicker Ryan Bustin knocked home 23 field goals, and the Red Raiders ranked 16th out of 123 FBS teams in kickoff-return average.
But the Red Raiders had headaches fielding punts and covering punts and kickoffs. They ranked 101st in punt coverage, letting Baylor’s Levi Norwood return one for a touchdown, and 74th in kickoff coverage, letting Iowa State’s Jarvis West break one for a TD. Not to mention suffering misadventures on the punt-return unit.
It’s Chiaverini’s job to put a stop to all that.
“I think we have some really good players, no question about it,” he said. “It’s just details, stuff we can clean up detail-wise, and that’s why I’m here. I’m here to make sure we’re sound in the kicking game and we give ourselves an advantage on Saturdays.”
He has a lot of insight and ideas, at least, having carved out a four-year NFL career largely as a special-teams guy and having coached special teams the last five years. One of Chiaverini’s influences is Frank Gansz Jr., a long-time special-teams coach with a stellar reputation. Chiaverini worked under him in 2009 at UCLA.
Chiaverini came to Tech after four years at Riverside (Calif.) City College, the school from which the Red Raiders have signed Will Smith, Bruce Jones, Sadale Foster and new left tackle Dominique Robertson.
One of his best friends is David Raih, a Green Bay Packers staffer who was at Tech last year. That connection and having come down to Lubbock for a Tech camp last year put Chiaverini on the Red Raiders’ radar.
“He had a bunch of great recommendations from big-time coaches,” Kingsbury said. “He’s been great so far and great recruiting.”
Now Chiaverini will try to make the Red Raiders’ kicking game solid across the board. If he does, he might start to develop a reputation of his own.
Which is fine with Chiaverini, even if he did make his mark in college as a wide receiver.
“I still love doing offensive football,” he said, “but I really take a lot of pride in special teams. You get a chance to talk to the whole team — probably the only on besides the head coach that gets to talk to the whole team, because you’re coaching offensive and defensive players on special teams. So I really enjoy it and love doing it.”
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