While all areas of a football team are critical, a lot of the basics come down to special teams. When Utah State head coach Matt Wells was putting his staff together, he kept that in mind.
Dave Ungerer joins the Utah State football program with 26 years of coaching experience and has been a part of five bowl games. During his career, he has coached at such BCS schools as Alabama, California, Oregon State and most recently Washington State.
As the special teams coordinator and running backs coach at Utah State, Ungerer has jumped in wholeheartedly. With spring practice in its final week, he is working to bring his own flair to the program and carry over the success he has seen in the past.
Talk about your first few months on the job:
“It’s been great. These first few months have been awesome. I hit the ground running and didn’t have a lot of lead-up time going into this. Coach (Matt) Wells has been awesome to work with, along with the rest of the staff. They’ve been really accommodating, trying to help me get up to speed as fast as possible. The players have been great, knowing that I came in with just a couple of days to prepare. It’s really been a positive experience. All the support people at the university and the athletic department, as well as the structure of the football program and how its run, has been really neat to see.”
You have worked at several BCS schools during your career. Can you talk about Utah State's coaching staff and how they compare to others you have been around?
“The staffs are very, very similar. There are a lot of really good coaches here who are very diligent to their craft and profession. The tempo that we practice at, the amount of coaching we do both on and off the field is very impressive to watch. The staff just works together. I don’t see any difference here than when I was at Alabama or Cal or any of those other places. This is just as good of a staff as I’ve ever been a part of.”
What has impressed you the most with Utah State football since you were hired?
“The biggest things that hit me are how much the kids love football and how hard they work. There’s such a good focus here on the task at hand. Each and every minute that we’re out there is very productive. Each practice is run so smooth and so fast that we get a lot of work done in a short amount of time. You can’t do that without players that are really focused and coaches that are really organized.”
What are your impressions of Utah State four weeks into spring drills?
“Because I came from Washington State, I compare a lot of what I went through with them to where I am today. I’m very impressed with our caliber of athletes here, their size, their strength and their speed. They’re very comparable to, or better than, what I saw at Washington State. I’m very impressed with the skill level and the size and speed of our players and I think it’s very comparable to the Pac-12.”
As running backs coach, talk about the development of that group and your impressions of Joe Hill:
“The running back group has had a little bit of a difficult spring. We’ve had a lot of guys laid up. There were a couple of players that got hurt before spring and a couple more during spring. Robert Marshall was out prior to spring along with Sharrieff Shah. Then Kelvin (Lee) and Abou (Toure) both got hurt during spring. Joe Hill is having a great spring. He’s got a lot of ability and practices very, very well. He plays extremely hard and is very diligent in his daily work. Joey DeMartino has had a really good spring and has improved a lot. He’s really come on these last four or five practices and is getting a lot better. Those guys have gotten the majority of the work because of the injuries. I expect them to continue along and finish spring really strong, then go into fall camp ready to really do some damage.”
Utah State had two running backs drafted in the NFL last year, and could have a third this year. Do you sense a high standard within the running backs group?
“That’s about as high of a standard as you can get. Three in the last two years is about as good as you can do. I wish I could’ve had the chance to work with those guys (Robert Turbin, Michael Smith, Kerwynn Williams). They’ve set a high bar for this position. I think our guys are trying to push themselves to get to that level. I’ve been really happy with our practices and our work habits and the ability to listen and take coaching. As a group, we’re getting better. We just have to get more guys healthy and that will provide a little more competition. It will also lessen the workload. This is a lot of work for two guys.”
You are also Utah State's special teams coordinator. During your career, you have had great success in that area. What is your secret?
“I don’t know if there’s any secret as far as having success in special teams. I think special teams are kind of the blue-collar core of your football team. The way you play on special teams tells you a lot about who you are as a team. There are a lot of crucial plays that are being made out there. We have a system that we’re implementing this spring that we’re learning. Any time a new coach comes in, there’s a learning curve and we’re getting there. I’ve been really happy with the progress we’ve been making. We’re putting in all the foundational aspects of the punt and kickoff as well as both returns. As we go into camp, we’ll be able to expound upon those things. They have a good foundation from what’s been done here before. They have an appreciation of how important it is and that’s really what it comes down to. When they realize how important special teams are, it makes my job a lot easier. I’m learning the players and trying to fit the right pieces to the puzzle. That puzzle is starting to come together a little more as I get to know them. We’re still moving some guys around and trying to figure that all out, but we have a really good nucleus of kids. I think we’ll have a chance to be a pretty good special teams group.”
What can Aggie fans expect from Utah State's special teams with you as its coordinator?
“First, we’re going to play extremely fast and extremely hard. That’s kind of our mantra. We want to play fast and we want to play physical. We want to make plays. Those are the three things we want to do. We’re still trying to find our play makers after losing some to graduation or new schemes. They come in in all aspects. We want to be really aggressive. We’re going to be intelligently aggressive. We want to be a really good punt-blocking team. Hopefully we’ll be able to do some fakes and that sort of thing. That’s part of our package. We want to be exciting in the return game and make some things happen there. We take a safe approach on special teams, but it’s also an aggressive approach. We get about 25-30 snaps during a game and we want to be as aggressive as we can in those.”
Are there goals or percentages you will put on those different groups throughout the year?
“We definitely want to finish in the top part of our conference in every aspect of coverage or return. It does have a correlation with the success of the team. When we look at the numbers, we don’t look at it as far as accolades. We look at it as efficiency and helping the offense have a short field and the defense have a long field. If we can do that, then we’re part of the team and really helping to set the table for them. If we do that, then some of those other things will come along with it. We want to help the offense and defense be as successful as we can.”
Utah State blocked six kicks last year. Is that something you hope to duplicate in 2013 and beyond?
“Hopefully. That’s a statistic I didn’t know and that’s awesome. We work on it every day in practice, putting in a lot of time and effort. Hopefully we’ll continue along that line and do a little bit better. You never want to stay the same. You want to always try and get a little better. I have been impressed with the effort that we’re giving on that end of special teams.”
Megan Allen writes for Utah State University Athletic Media Relations.