The acquisition of Ted Ginn was a boon for the 49ers’ pitiful punt-return unit.
Now, will the hiring of special teams coordinator Brad Seely be a boon for the already productive Ginn?
Ginn brought respectability to a punt-return unit that ranked last in the NFL in 2009, averaging 4.4 yards per return (the lowest in the league since 2004). Ginn’s 13.4-yard average ranked third in the NFL and his 78-yard punt return for a touchdown on Dec. 26 at St. Louis was San Francisco’s first since 2005.
Perhaps the most telling stat: Ginn had four punt returns of at least 20 yards after the Niners didn’t manage one 20-yard return in 2009.
As brilliant as Ginn was on punts, he was equally as ordinary on kickoffs. He averaged 21.1 yards on 47 returns, a figure that ranked 30th among the NFL’s 36 players with at least 20 returns. It was also below the 23.0-yard average Ginn had in his first three seasons in Miami.
Enter Seely, a two-time Special Teams Coach of the Year whose units in Cleveland this past season ranked third in the NFL according to statistics compiled by Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News (the Niners ranked 17th). Seely’s special teams units ranked first in the league in 2009 when the 5-11 Browns ranked 32nd in the NFL in total offense and 31st in total defense. Seely’s special teams have ranked among the NFL’s top-five on six occasions since 1990 according to Gosselin’s statistics, which are considered the industry standard.
Seely has coached three Pro-Bowl returners during his 22-year career: Cleveland’s Josh Cribbs, Carolina’s Michael Bates and Indianapolis’ Clarence Verdin. How much credit can Seely take for that trio’s success?
By one measure, it appears Seely was quite influential. Cribbs (still active), Bates and Verdin have 26 combined seasons in the NFL and only 10 of those years were spent with Seely. Still, six of their combined nine Pro Bowl appearances and both of their first-team All-Pro honors came with Seely as special-teams coach.
Here’s a look at the threesome’s production, with and without Seely:
JOSH CRIBBS, CLEVELAND
With Seely (2009-10): 96 returns, 2,356 yards, 3 TDs, 24.5 yards per return
Without Seely (2005-08): 209 returns, 5,507 yards, 5 TDs, 26.3 yards per return
With Seely (2009-10): 58 returns, 620 yards, 1 TD, 10.7 yards per return
Without Seely (2005-08): 65 returns, 689 yards, 1 TD, 10.6 yards per return
Pro Bowls: 2007, 2009
First-team All-Pro: 2009
Second-team All-Pro: 2007
The Seely effect: Cribbs, the kick returner on the 2000s NFL All-Decade team, has been consistently brilliant. In 2009, he had arguably the best season of his career, earning his only first-team All-Pro honors, setting a franchise record with four returns for touchdowns and posting the fourth-most combined return yards (1,994) in NFL history (his 2,214 yards in 2007 rank second all-time). Cribbs averaged a career-worst 20.4 yards on kickoff returns this past season. After he dislocated four toes (ouch) in a game against the Jets on Nov. 14, he averaged 19.7 yards on his final 19 kickoff returns.
MICHAEL BATES, CAROLINA
With Seely (1996-98): 139 returns, 3,759 yards, 2 TDs, 27.0 yards per return
Without Seely (1993-95, 1999-03): 234 returns, 5,351 yards, 3 TDs, 22.9 yards per return
Pro Bowls: 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000
First-team All-Pro: 1996
Second-team All-Pro: 1997
The Seely effect: Bates went to Pro Bowls in each of his three seasons with Seely and became the first player in 35 years to lead the league in kick return average in consecutive seasons (1996-97). Bates, who only returned 10 punts during his career, spent his first three seasons (1993-95) with Seattle and Cleveland and averaged 19.8 yards on 65 kickoff returns. Then in 1996, his first season with Seely, he averaged a career-high 30.2 yards on 33 returns.
CLARENCE VERDIN, INDIANAPOLIS
With Seely (1989-93): 162 returns, 3,275 yards, 1 TD, 20.2 yards per return
Without Seely (1986-88, 1994): 75 returns, 1,665 yards, 0 TDs, 22.2 yards per return
With Seely (1989-93): 133 returns, 1,298 yards, 3 TDs, 9.8 yards per return
Without Seely (1986-88, 1994): 45 returns, 352 yards, 1 TD, 7.8 yards per return
Pro Bowls: 1990, 1992
First-team All-Pro: None
Second-team All-Pro: None
The Seely effect: Verdin went to his only two Pro Bowls under Seely although his kickoff-return average was higher without him. Verdin led the NFL in punt-return average in 1990 (12.8) and ranked second in 1989 (12.9).