Before Kansas State head coach Ron Prince discussed any schemes, styles or strategies with newly hired special teams coach Jeff Rodgers, the duo reminisced, but not about past jobs or their own coaching mentors. Instead, the new employee and the man he now calls boss talked football, particularly K-State football and, specifically, the special-teams history of the program.
The conversation, though not lengthy, seems to have gotten through to the first-year Wildcat coach, who already realizes that he and the group of players he will coach are now just a small part of a much larger tradition.
"As a coach, you try to go to a place that has a culture for special teams," Rodgers said. "This team understands how important it is. Certainly, they've had a great kicking-game tradition here. We're going to try to build on those things. There are a lot of guys on that wall, Kevin Lockett, David Allen, Yamon Figures ... we're going to try to build on top of them this year and beyond."
Luckily for Rodgers, the foundation of the building he is trying to erect has already been laid for him. K-State had one of the Big 12's most dynamic special-teams units a year ago, as it ranked first or second in four different statistical categories in 2007.
Returning Wildcat wide receiver Deon Murphy led the conference in punt return average, while kicker Brooks Rossman, who will also returns to the unit this fall, ranked first in the league in both total field goals and field-goal kicking percentage. So it's not as if Rodgers, a man with no Division I-A coaching experience, will be trying to pen a rags-to-riches story this fall. The weapons to build a powerful special-forces army are already in place, and a rebuilding project this is not.
"You always want to work for a guy that has a passion for special teams," Rogers said. "The type of athletes that he likes to have on his teams lend well to the kicking game. I'm real excited about it."
Rodgers, who comes to K-State after spending five years with the NFL's San Francisco 49ers as a quality control coach and special teams assistant, now finds himself in what he calls an ideal situation. His journey into his current position was anything but a blind, leisurely stroll.
K-State's recent hire came to Manhattan for a reason, and even if he wasn't completely familiar with the school's tradition before his plane landed in Kansas for his interview, Coach Prince made sure Rodgers was an expert before he left.
After all, NFL coaches don't jet from the America's most lucrative sports league on a whim.
"We spent a lot of time talking about the culture of Kansas State, and big picture things," said Prince of his early conversations with Rodgers and other new coaches. "We talked about where we've been here at Kansas State, and also where we're going."
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