This morning I was at the Westin Hotel and ran into Bill Polian (President Colts) and Ozzie Newsome (GM & VP Ravens). I was talking to the both of them about the Free Agent Combine I am working to put together for April 6th in Scottsdale, Arizona when all of a sudden NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell came walking around the corner.
This was a first for me, as I had never met the Commissioner before. It wasn't Andy Worhal's 15 minutes of fame...but it was 5 minutes of talking time with the NFL Commissioner.
I thought this was better.
So there I was with two General Managers and the Commissioner, and I must say I was a little nervous. I've known Bill and Ozzie through the years but I had never met an NFL Commissioner. I was a little nervous.
After I was introduced, I listened as the Commissioner talked with Bill and Ozzie about NFL issues. As Bill and Ozzie left to go to their NFL competition meetings, the Commissioner started heading off to one of the NFL Suites. As he was leaving, I asked him if I could get 5 minutes of his time to discuss some concerns I had about the future of kicking specialists.
I must say that Roger Goodell is a class act. He said yes and then listened to my short presentation about the concerns I had regarding kicking specialists.
The first thing I discussed with him was my concern that punters and snappers in America are becoming a dying breed. Why? Because it seems their 'window of opportunity' to get signed to an NFL roster is shrinking.
If they punt or snap in college and then don't make it into the NFL soon after they graduate, what else can they do?
There is no NFL Europe anymore, so they can't continue to be an active player, working on their game and waiting for their opportunity from there.
The Arena 1 league, which gave kickers a place to play, compete and develop here in the U.S., has disappeared as well. At least for now.
I told the Commissioner it was interesting the 'window' seemed to be shrinking only for American players and not Australian or European players. Those players can play rugby or Australian rules football well into their 20's while waiting for a chance to sign on to the NFL. American players really don't have that opportunity.
The second concern I shared with the Commissioner was what I saw as the 'declining' quality of some of kicking specialists being signed to various NFL teams lately. This because kicking specialists were being required to fulfill dual rolls. In other words, I thought some NFL teams were trading 'quality' for 'quantity' when it came to their kicking specialists.
I explained that because of the limited spots available to teams, the first rosters spots that seem to be cut back are those of the kicking specialists. I told the Commissioner that a number of NFL Special Teams Coaches have shared this concern with me as well while discussing how they needed to find a player who could punt and kickoff, or kickoff and kick field goals, or punt and kick field goals.
I told the Commissioner, that having been in the NFL for 13 years as a Special Teams Coach, I know the NFL has always stood for excellence. However, it was my opinion that some of the rules and various situations created by the NFL are now affecting the quality of the kicking specialist.
I said I believed the quality in training camps is being watered down due to these rules. That teams were settling for mediocrity when it came to the role of the kicking specialist. I said it was my opinion that some of the better kickers, punters and snappers were not being signed to NFL rosters because they could not handle the two roles teams were now requiring of them.
And therefore, the NFL's 'standard of excellence' was being compromised.
Lastly, I mentioned to him there seems to be a trend for NFL teams to just 'recycle' veteran punters and kickers regardless their performance. It seemed to me, that many NFL teams just want a player with experience. Not necessarily the 'best' player. Again, my thought is the NFL's 'standard of excellence' was being compromised.
Last year, in the middle of the season, the Saints gave Garrett Hartley - a kicker I had worked with who recently graduated from U. of Oklahoma - his chance. The results? He ended his season 14 for 14! I'm not sure how many more 'experienced' players had that record.
But, enough was enough. The Commissioner had been very generous with his time so I ended my conversation on that issue.
He was a class act who listened to me and said he appreciated my comments. He said I brought up some good points that he would think about.
As he left I found myself thinking, "I was actually a 'voice' for the Kicking Game & Kicking Specialists". Something I care about very much.
Not many people get the chance to express their opinions to the NFL Commissioner, and have him actually take the time to listen.
As I said, it's always great being at the NFL Combine. I'd take this 5 minutes with Commissioner Goodell over 15 minutes of fame anytime!
Stay Tuned for More of Coach Zauner's Blog from the NFL Combine!