Friday January 10, 2014 Hutzler Back at UF in Search of Familiar Results as Gators Special-Teams Coordinator
Updated: 11:14am, January 10
Updated: 11:14am, January 10
Coleman Hutzler returns to UF as special-teams coordinator after two seasons at New Mexico.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Coleman Hutzler spent a portion of Thursday flipping through pages and studying the recent history of Florida’s special teams.
The Gators have excelled on special teams under former coach Urban Meyer and current head coach Will Muschamp. The Gators have returned a kickoff or punt for a touchdown nine consecutive seasons, tied for the fourth-longest streak in the country. In Muschamp’s 38 games, Florida has blocked 13 kicks.
“There is a proud tradition,’’ Hutzler said. “Special teams have obviously been important here.”
While the Gators dropped to 4-8 in 2013, their special teams fared well in general other than the kicking game, which dropped off considerably following the loss of Caleb Sturgis. The Gators were one of only three teams in the SEC to return a kickoff for a touchdown, and finished second behind LSU at 24.8 yards per kickoff return. Florida’s 10.4-yard punt return average was third in the conference behind Alabama and Auburn.
However, there were fewer game-changing plays than in previous seasons.
It is now Hutzler’s turn to place his stamp on the Gators’ special teams. He returned to UF after two years at New Mexico. Hutzler replaces Jeff Choate, who resigned last month and later joined Chris Petersen’s staff at Washington.
As Florida’s new special-teams coordinator, Hutzler joins Gators defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin – who coached Florida’s special teams prior to last season – for the third time in his career. The two first worked together at Stanford on Jim Harbaugh’s staff, and when Durkin came to Florida in 2010, Hutzler came along in a non-coaching role.
Hutzler left UF after the 2011 season for his first full-time coaching position when former Notre Dame coach Bob Davie took over at New Mexico and hired Hutzler as special-teams coordinator/outside linebackers coach.
Hutzler made an impact.
The Lobos improved from 112th nationally to 25th in net punting and their punt-return defense improved to No. 19 from 106th. Perhaps no one benefited from Hutzler’s work at New Mexico more than kick returner Carlos Wiggins, who ranked fifth in the FBS with an average of 29.6 yards per return. Wiggins was the only FBS player to return three kickoffs for touchdowns last season.
Hutzler wants special teams to continue to play a major role in Florida’s success.
“It’s exciting to be able to come back as special-teams coordinator at a place like this,’’ Hutzler said. “It was a great experience [at New Mexico]. I came into a place that it was really a rebuilding job. I was fortunate to get that opportunity and learned a ton defensively as a coach. We did some good things on special teams and were able to create some big plays.”
Hutzler expects his background with UF’s veteran players and his familiarity with what has worked at UF in recent years on special teams to help in the transition.
There won’t be many surprises for those who played for Durkin.
“We’ll talk a ton about technique and effort. Those two are the foundation of everything we do,’’ Hutzler said. “Obviously, Coach Muschamp puts the emphasis on it from freshman to senior, from starter to scholarship to walk-on to anybody – putting our best guys out there and playing with technique and great effort and making plays.”
Hutzler plans to stress the importance of how special teams need to make a positive impact every game, whether that’s a blocked kick, a big return or winning the field-position battle.
The 29-year-old Hutzler has a rich history in the game. He grew up in Las Vegas and played at Middlebury (Vt.) College from 2002-05. His father, Jeff, is a longtime athletic director and recently retired as head football coach at La Jolla (Calif.) Country Day School following a successful career.
Jeff Hutzler was his son’s coach for three years in high school and played an instrumental role in Coleman’s career path.
“It was probably around eighth-grade that I was drawing X’s and O’s when I probably should have been taking notes,’’ Hutzler said. “For a long time this is what I thought I wanted to do. I didn’t think I would do it on the college level. I thought I would be a high school AD and head coach like my dad. It’s exciting to get to this point.”
As Hutzler climbed the coaching ladder at Stanford, his personal life added a coach – actually, two of them.
Hutzler met his wife Cobey Shoji, the former director of volleyball operations at Stanford. During the couple’s first stop in Gainesville, she was named Class 3A Coach of the Year in 2011 for her work at P.K. Yonge High. Cobey played at UNLV and Michigan and is the daughter of Hawaii volleyball coach Dave Shoji.
Dave Shoji, who in September became the all-time wins leader in NCAA Division I volleyball history, recently announced he is coming back for his 40th season next year. If that is not enough volleyball for Hutzler, his two brother-in-laws – Kawika and Erik Shoji – led Stanford to the 2010 men’s volleyball national title and are candidates for the U.S. Olympic team in 2016.
“We’re half volleyball, half football,” Hutzler said. “We are a family of coaches and teachers.”
The Hutzlers have a 1-year-old son Micah. While much has changed since Hutzler was last at UF, some things remain the same.
“Seeing some of the older players who I had a connection with when they were freshmen has been good,’’ he said. “Not every face is a new face.”
VIDEO -- For an idea of Hutzler's coaching style, here is a YouTube clip from his time at New Mexico: