Hutzler a hands-on special teams coach

Florida special teams coordinator Coleman Hutzler takes questions from reporters during his introductory press conference at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Monday.

Doug Finger / Staff photographer
Published: Friday, January 17, 2014 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 17, 2014 at 5:48 p.m.

Coming off a humbling 4-8 season, Florida's dysfunctional offense isn't the only aspect of the Gators' game that needs to be fixed. So do some aspects of special teams.

While most of the blame for last fall's disaster has fallen on the massive number of injuries and an inept offense, the almost stunning lack of production on the usually reliable UF special teams also contributed to the program's first losing season since 1979.

While new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper has stepped into the more high-profile job of fixing the Florida offense, the task of rejuvenating the special teams belongs to 29-year-old Coleman Hutzler, the Gators' new special teams coordinator and outside linebackers coach.

“Coleman Hutzler is a guy that was with our staff the first year (2011), understands and knows our special teams system, how we teach it, our teaching progression,” UF coach Will Muschamp said. “He'll implement it very well.

“He did a fantastic job of improving New Mexico's special teams units. Our units have been outstanding as far as the coverage aspects and the return aspects, but we certainly struggled this past year with our specialists and I think he can help us some there.”

Hutzler, who spent the past two seasons at New Mexico in the same dual role, inherits Florida special teams units that were, well, not up to UF's high standards in 2013.

Three different kickers made only 12 of 22 field goal attempts, including a 4-for-12 effort by Austin Hardin, and punter Kyle Christy, a Ray Guy Award finalist in 2012, opened the season in a mysterious slump that led to him getting benched midway through the year.

Also, the Gators blocked only one kick (a punt against Miami) after blocking six the previous season, and had only one touchdown in the return game (a kickoff by Solomon Patton against Missouri).

So, like Roper, Hutzler has some work to do, especially with the kickers — Christy and Hardin, in particular.

“We need to rebuild some confidence, obviously,” Hutzler said. “That's in my message to the guys throughout these meetings that I've had with them. We need to get back to work, get things cleaned up and get our confidence back.”

Hutzler said he's already had a chance to talk with Christy about his plight last season and how he can bounce back. Christy lost his job to true freshman Johnny Townsend after the sixth game of the season.

“We talked about just being consistent in what got him to the level that he had (in 2012), getting back to that work ethic, getting back that confidence,” Hutzler said. “For whatever reason, he got away from those things.

“We have to get him back to that level and compete with Johnny Townsend.”

Confidence and technique also were an issue with Hardin last season. His longest field goal was only 33 yards and he was 0-for-6 from 40 yards or longer. The other kickers, Brad Phillips and Frankie Velez, combined to make eight out of 10, but UF had only one field goal of 40 yards or longer.

It was quite a step down from Caleb Sturgis.

“Those guys need to have confidence in their ability and go out and put it on the field,” Hutzler said. “All you can go off of is the numbers from last year. Obviously, they were not the standard we expect. It starts with rebuilding confidence and working your butt off.

“Austin's confidence obviously needs rebuilding. The first thing I said to him was, 'I wasn't here (in 2013), I can't speak on what you went through.' But the bottom line is he's back and ready to work and excited about the opportunity to go out and make it right.”

Hutzler is familiar with a number of UF's special teams players (and the Gators special teams schemes), having been on the UF staff in 2010-11 and working closely with then-special teams coordinator D.J. Durkin in an off-the-field capacity.

Now, he's the hands-on guy for the special teams.

“I had two great years (at New Mexico) where I was able to get on the field and work with the players and be able to run everything. It was valuable experience,” Hutzler said. “I'm excited to get back here and do the same.

“The support of Coach Muschamp is great. At some places, they talk about (special teams) being important but don't necessarily practice it or appreciate it. Special teams obviously had had a great role in the success of this program. We look to continue that.”

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