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Ron Zook: Another of Big Mike’s Blunders

It was a foregone conclusion that Ron Zook would not be returning as the Pack’s special teams coach. Still, I’ve seen precious little analysis about this departure. It’s something I think management can learn from – if they are big enough to admit to their mistakes. I’ll let the dissection begin in a moment. Doesn’t Ron Zook remind you a lot of Jerry Van Dyke – who appropriately played an assistant football coach on the sitcom “Coach”? Take a look here

Zook has been in coaching for a long time. Much of it, from 1978 to 1995, has been at the college level: Murray State Cincinnati, Kansas, Tennessee, Virginia Tech, Ohio State, and Florida. He got up to being the associate head coach a couple of times – though that usually means a nicer title in lieu of a nice pay increase. He joined the pros in 1996 as a special teams coach for the Steelers, then became a defensive backs coach at Kansas City for a year, followed by a two-year stint as the Saints’ defensive coordinator. Next, it was back to the campus, from 2002 through 2011, as head coach of Florida and then Illinois.The Packers brought him back to the pros, where he was a special teams coach for five years. Do you see a problem here? .

The only times Zook stayed with the same team as much as five years were at Illinois (2005-11), Florida (1991-95), and Green Bay (2014-18). Anyone who’s done much management hiring should be wary of a guy with 16 jobs (counting job title changes with the same team) in 41 years. Most employers try to hang onto quality employees. Illinois was kind enough to keep him as the head man for seven years – though his conference record was 18-38 and his overall mark was 34-51.

Zook’s Special Teams at Green Bay

Big Mike hired Zook as an assistant ST coach in 2014, then made him the ST “Coordinator” these last four years. How have Zook’s guys done? Special teams are one segment of a team in which you can pretty much quantify their performance via statistics.

Football Outsiders has been issuing NFL Special Team Ratings going back to 1986. Their analysis is overblown and over-complicated, but should still serve our purposes here.
For the year just ended, FO appears to have Green Bay ranked fifth from the bottom in kickoff net yardage, and fourth from last in kick return yardage. They ranked 19th in punting net yardage, and last in punt return yardage. FO had the Packers ST’s in 28th place overall for 2018.
The pattern is pretty consistent throughout Zook’s reign as ST Coordinator. In 2015, the Packers were 16th overall, in 2016, they fell to 21st, and in 2017 they climbed back up to 14th.

The stats merely support the eye test. Lots of muffs on returns and lots of sizable punt and kickoff returns against us, but no long returns by us. Very seldom did you see good blocking walls set up on Green Bay returns, while the Packers’ punt and kick defenses were porous. And of course, oodles of Packers’ penalties on their returns.

The Pack’s punt return average was 6.6, while their opponents averaged 10.3. Our kickoff return average was 21.5, while our opponents averaged 25.6. On the year, Green Bay’s longest kick return was 38 yards; meanwhile, they allowed a 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. The Pack’s best punt return was for 24 yards, while they allowed a 44-yard punt return. I’m not sure how many turnovers, blocked kicks, and so on our special teams had in 2018, though I do recall the Jets game in Jersey two days before Christmas. In that one the Pack gave up a 99-yard return for a TD, lost a fumble on a kickoff return, committed a holding penalty on another kickoff return, and allowed the Jets to get a first down on a fake punt. Then, with a three-point lead and 1:15 left, Zook’s charges allowed a 51-yard return, setting up a tying field goal. That’s a year’s worth of blunders right there.

Conclusions

The Packers’ special teams have been mediocre at best, and awful at worst, during Zook’s entire four-year tenure as ST Coordinator. Across the board, his units have underperformed, with 2018 just being the worst showing in his four years at the top.

 

Image Credit: © Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

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Rob Born

Due to Aaron Rodgers’ reckless ways, I’m officially launching the Campaign for GM Gutekunst to Acquire the Best Available (Veteran) Backup Quarterback – NOW.

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4 Comments

  1. Kato January 24, 2019

    Good analysis. Zook had to go. I never thought highly of him watching a lot of Illinois football. I will say, the bottom of the roster, which makes up the core of your special teams has been questionable. Especially in Ted’s last few years. And also when you are suffering a lot of injuries on defense, guys are getting bumped up the depth charts, and you are signing guys off practice squads to fill out practice squads, you are at a disadvantage. It would be interesting to see of the bottom teams, the injury history there.

  2. PF4L January 24, 2019

    Rob may have missed the opportunity, but we should give Janis the little due credit he deserves.

    I think one of the big reasons special teams “climbed” to 14th in 17, is due to Janis’s play as a gunner.

  3. MJ January 24, 2019

    Very in-depth analysis, thanks, Rob.
    Considering GB used to have a strong offense, ST responsibilities were merely “don’t screw things up”, as that yardage was not a difference maker. If you are the Dolphins, yes, every yard matters, and you can’t settle for mediocre ST play. Ours, however, reached tremendous lows in2018, turning the ball over, falling for fakes, conceding huge returns, and that can cost you in big games, even assuming our offense springs back to life next season. Good thing LF fired him swiftly.

  4. PF4L January 24, 2019

    McCarthy: “Ron..if you can’t improve the special teams unit, i may have to let you go in 5 or 6 years.”