Dave Toub left behind one hell of a footprint when he departed Chicago to join Andy Reid’s staff with the Kansas City Chiefs. And now, Joe DeCamillis, who will also serve as the Bears’ assistant head coach, is left to either fill that footprint in or stamp out his own.
Toub came to Chicago in 2004 along with Lovie Smith and proceeded to take a unit ranked 12th and 27th during his first two seasons, respectively, to a unit ranked third in the NFL on average over a period of seven years, notching first place in four of those seven seasons.
All rankings used here, by the way, come according to Football Outsiders, a vastly respected source for special teams ratings.
DeCamillis comes to Chicago with a highly-touted reputation, similar to Toub’s, but with nowhere near equivalent production on the field. In point of fact, DeCamillis hasn’t produced a special teams unit ranked above 14th in the NFL through his last seven seasons.
From 2006-2012, DeCamillis’ units have an average ranking of 19th between three teams—the Atlanta Falcons, the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Dallas Cowboys. Three different teams, each with a different set of players, between seven seasons, all with average-at-best results.
Reputation? You bet. Resume? I’m not as sure.
DeCamillis’ 25 years as a persistent NFL special teams coach (Broncos ‘88-‘92, Giants ‘93-‘96, Falcons ‘97-‘06, Jaguars ‘07-‘08 and Cowboys ‘09-‘12) certainly says something about what head coaches think of his ability, and he certainly enjoyed moderate success with the Giants and Falcons during each of those stints, but never anywhere near the consistent success as Toub.
Comparing the two (Toub and DeCamillis) directly is inherently unfair, given the fact that each had a different set of players to work with. Any researcher will tell you good data is only derived by eliminating variables and replicating conditions. The best way to accurately compare two coaches would be to give them the same roster to work with. Obviously, we can’t do that.
And the reason I bring it up is because unfair or not, Toub is still what we will use to measure DeCamillis’ success here in Chicago. That’s just the way this thing works. But there are still things one can point to, apart from direct comparison to Toub, that merit consideration when pre-evaluating the hire of DeCamillis.
Just last season, in Week-2 (one game) against the Seattle Seahawks, the Cowboys’ special teams unit fumbled twice, turned the ball over on a blocked punt which was then returned for a touchdown, and—perhaps the greatest indictment of all on the coach—got called for a 12-men on the field penalty.
Just last season, in Week-6 against the Baltimore Ravens, the Cowboys’ special teams unit allowed Jacoby Jones to tie an NFL record with a 108-yard kickoff return. And at that point in the season, Dallas had been allowing 26.5 yards per kickoff return.
And yet, DeCamillis does command respect among players. And football guys, coaches and analysts alike, have raved about his ability to lead a group of men—a quality both Phil Emery and Marc Trestman have made references to this offseason when describing not DeCamillis specifically, but what makes for a good coach.
In 2009, the Cowboys’ practice facility literally collapsed during a micro-burst storm. In the wreckage, DeCamillis suffered a broken neck. According to Josh Sanchez, editor at Fansided.com and colleague of mine, the players in Dallas rallied around DeCamillis, who was in just his first year as their coach.
It’s certainly hard to quantify what “rallying around” a coach actually means, but the reality is that while the Cowboys’ ST unit never ranked above 14th under DeCamillis, the only season they were 14th was the year DeCamillis suffered the broken neck in May, battling his way back onto the sidelines for the start of the season.
That, no doubt, made an impression on players, and the Cowboys started that season ranking second in punt return average, boasting a League-leading 17 touchbacks, with an average opponent starting field position at the 21.6.
Former Chicago Bears’ wide receiver (and drug dealer, mind you) Sam Hurd, who was a special teams standout for the Cowboys under DeCamillis told Dallas Fort Worth’s WFFA, “He doesn't get in your face. He never disrespects you in any way, and he makes sure you’re on top of your game.”
Clarence Hill who covers the Cowboys for the Star-Telegram told me of DeCamillis, “He’s a very hard worker, and he holds players accountable. He’s the most vitriolic coach on the Cowboys staff.”
Dallas fullback Deon Anderson backed Hill’s statement up when he said, “[DeCamillis] is a little psycho and I like that. I try to break it down a little bit. There is no other way to say it, Coach “D” is out there, and we like that.”
While DeCamillis’ resume may on the surface appear discouraging, players play for him; that is irrefutable. And as I’ve already stated, the players get the job done on the field. Has DeCamillis been devoid of quality special teamers since 2005? I don’t know. Are we spoiled in Chicago because of what Toub and his players were able to do? Probably.
Regardless, DeCamillis will be scrutinized if his group fails to live up to his predecessor’s. He has those enormous shoes to fill. Hopefully he has the players in place to help him do it.