Missouri and tight ends have always had a special, if inconsistent, relationship. Kellen Winslow got the party started in 1975, revolutionizing the way the position was played in the NFL, but also impacting the college level as well, hauling in 71 catches for 1,089 yards and 10 touchdowns in four years. Winslow was the Tigers’ first consensus All-American since Roger Wehrli in 1968, and after John Clay received the honor in 1986, the next consensus All-American was fellow tight end Martin Rucker in 2007. Rucker played nearly every game in his four-year career, amassing 203 receptions, 2,175 yards, and 18 touchdowns. His batterymate in ‘06 and ‘07 was yes, another tight end, Chase Coffman, who was yet another consensus All-American in 2008. Coffman outdid Rucker’s production in every stat, winning the Mackey trophy his senior year with career stats of 247 catches, 2,659 yards, and 30 touchdowns. Finally, the parade of tight end All-American phenoms ended with Michael Egnew’s 2010 honor, who finished his four-year career with 147 receptions, 1,332 yards, and 8 touchdowns.
Missouri has had 13 consensus All-Americans and nearly a third have been from the tight end position. But the positive impact of the tight end does not necessarily rely on trophies or All-American status. One could argue that Joe Jon Finley, Missouri’s tight end coach from 2016-2018, trotted out the best tight end group in a decade during his tenure. Between the leaping catches of Kendall Blanton, the touchdown machine of Albert Okwuegbunam, and the devastating bulldozer named Daniel Parker, Jr. the 2018 tight end platoon was a dangerous weapon that could hurt you in every way possible. And, of course, once Coach Finley left for Texas A&M at the conclusion of the 2018 season, the fearsome tight end tandem turned into a proverbial pumpkin, with less than half the targets and much less impact in the blocking game.
So...hello, Casey Woods! Here’s what you have: one senior tight end on the verge of a breakthrough last year before injury hit, one battle-hardened junior and another with few snaps to his name, and two sophomores who have much buzz about them but very little to show for it. What are you going to do? What would you like to do? I could continue this faux interview or we could take a look at his history to grasp some insight into what Coach Woods has done in the past in an attempt to predict the future... yeah, let’s do that.
Compared to Coach Luper’s esteemed coaching history, Coach Woods coaching history is an easy read. GA -> QC -> G5 position coach -> P5 director of personnel -> P5 tight ends coach is a linear progression, one that most of us probably feel is typical but can be rarer than you expect. Like most of the coaches we’ve discussed previously, Coach Woods’ bio cites the illustrious Auburn years and the championships won there, but my eye is mostly on his UAB tenure. If you haven’t heard, the UAB football program was shut down for mostly political, as well as some financial reasons and the rebirth in 2017 by Bill Clark and his staff was beautiful and miraculous. The program lost its key contributors, many of whom starred on other teams during the Blazers’ death year, so they had to rebuild the roster from scratch and Coach Woods was the lead architect in that rebuild. Once again, while being on staff of programs does count for experience, for our purposes I want to focus on what he did while he was a position coach at the FBS level so we’ll be focusing on two stops: Arkansas State in 2012 and then his years at UAB. But first:
Casey Woods’ Link to the rest of the staff:
- Quality Control coach at Auburn with Eli Drinkwitz and Erik Link, while Curtis Luper was running backs coach
- Wide Receivers coach at Arkansas State while Drinkwitz was running backs coach
- Director of Player Personnel at Auburn while Link was an analyst and Charlie Harbison was Co-Defensive Coordinator/Safeties coach
Is he good at what he does?
I wrote in the piece on Coach Luper that recruiting is the most important thing for a college football team to do so if you can staff your roster with elite recruiters you can afford to be less than good at the tactical or development portion. When we look at the players Coach Woods is in charge of, keep that piece in mind. However, if you take another look at the offensive numbers in his coaching history, you’ll see that the best offense he’s been a part of in his FBS coaching tenure is Arkansas State’s 42nd best unit. UAB was a defensive driven team that relied on the run a lot so don’t freak out on the production of the tight ends in the passing game, okay?
Arkansas State Offense 2012 - 42nd - Wide Receivers/Recruiting Coordinator
- Passing - 34th
- Passing Success Rate - 17th
- Passing Explosiveness - 37th
- J.D. McKissic (FR) - 126 targets/103 catches (81.7%)/1,022 yards/8.1 ypt
- Josh Jarboe (SR) - 80 targets/50 catches (62.5%)/570 yards/7.1 ypt
- 5-year Recruiting - 84th
Woods’ first, and so far only, receiver coaching gig benefited from the unique bounciness of J.D. McKissic, whose praises I sung in the Bush Hamdan profile. There wasn’t much else outside the freshman phenom, but Ryan Alpin was an incredibly efficient passer who knew that McKissic was money and kept depositing the ball to the main threat. You’ll see this trend as we go through the years, but Woods tends to get paired up with run-heavy offenses. One year isn’t much to show off one’s imprint on a unit and McKissic was a unique talent that thrived no matter who his position coach was. However, take a look at the 5-year recruiting ranking of 84th; here are the classes that made up the 5-year sample:
- 2008 - 105th
- 2009 - 111th
- 2010 - 94th
- 2011 - 118th
- 2012 - 64th (<- Woods joins the staff here)
HMMMM. That’s some good ‘crootin’. And at a Sun Belt school, to boot. Regardless of the production of the position he coached, I’m a huge fan of the hustle on the recruiting trail.
2016 UAB Offense - [no ranking] - Tight Ends/Recruiting Coordinator
This was the first year that UAB had to build their staff up and hit the recruiting trail after they rose from the dead. Head Coach Bill Clark had no full time staff and just a few graduate assistants that stuck around so he promoted those that had stayed, plucked some guys from his previous job, Jacksonville State, and looked for some younger coaches who were hungry to prove themselves. The Blazers had only 13 players that stuck with the program even after it was killed so the NCAA allowed UAB to recruit two years worth of guys (50) in the 2017 class. They focused on JUCO players who had to play immediately and sprinkled in some high school guys to make sure the class management wasn’t skewed heavily in two-year players. Coach Woods was immediately placed in charge of managing the Blazer’s roster and focusing the recruiting efforts throughout the 2016 season.
2017 UAB Offense - 117th - Tight Ends/Recruiting Coordinator
- Passing - 110th
- Passing Success Rate - 75th
- Passing Explosiveness - 113th
- Hayden Pittman (FR) - 9 targets/9 catches (100%)/119 yards/13.2 ypt
- Logan Scott (JR) - 9 targets/4 catches (44.4%)/51 yards/5.7 ypt
- “5-year” Recruiting - 121st
2017 was the first time the Blazers took the field in over two years and even with over 40 juniors starting on a team with very little depth, experience, or offensive acumen, they still won 8 games. The offense was completely predicated on the 81st-ranked rushing attack. It was an efficiency-focused attack that had no explosive plays but was able to grind 3-yards down field at a time. If the defense lapsed and it turned into a track meet, UAB wasn’t winning but they were able to control the game in almost every matchup and slow it to a crawl. The tight end reception numbers, as I previously stated, stink but they were used mostly to clear a path for the young Spencer Brown and the Blazer ground game.
That “5-year” recruiting by the way? It ranks 121st while not having a 2015 or 2016 class to speak of. So even while not recruiting for two years they were still better than 9 (!) other schools.
2018 UAB Offense - 104th - Tight Ends/Recruiting Coordinator
- Passing - 19th
- Passing Success Rate - 68th
- Passing Explosiveness - 45th
- Donnie Lee (SR) - 24 targets/15 catches (62.5%)/115 yards/4.8 ypt
- Hayden Pittman (SO) - 11 targets/8 catches (72.7%)/66 yards/6.0 ypt
- 5-year Recruiting - 91st
UAB in 2018 won 11 games and a division title behind an excellent defense and a ground-oriented offense. The passing game was really good but rarely used; the receivers were all seniors that relied on busting short hitches and screens for big yardage. The tight ends, again, were not targeted all that often but were mostly used as blockers for the running backs.
Look at that recruiting! The 2013 class drops out of the 5-year sample so we’re only looking at 2014-2018, three of those years in which UAB was not a program, and Woods still has them recruiting at the 91st level, better than 39 other teams! For a middling C-USA team with no real history!
2019 UAB Offense - 118th - Tight Ends/Recruiting Coordinator
- Passing - 18th
- Passing Success Rate - 65th
- Passing Explosiveness - 10th
- Hayden Pittman (JR) - 26 targets/21 catches (80.8%)/166 yards/6.4 ypt
- Thair Blakes (SR) - 10 targets/7 catches (70%)/67 yards/6.7 ypt
- 5-year Recruiting - 74th
Last year’s UAB squad lost their starting quarterback, three receivers, leading tight end, three offensive linemen, all starting defensive linemen, 3 of 5 linebackers, and most of the secondary and regressed...from 11 wins to 9, and still damn near won their division. The passing game was again excellent but rarely used; they ran on standard downs and were able to be keep within the chains and essentially used the passing game for explosive plays (10th in the country!). The tight ends were not part of that explosive passing game, however, as the leading receiving tight end once again barely edged over 150 yards.
With three years now contributing to the 5-year recruiting window, UAB was recruiting better than almost half the teams in FBS. I hope you all can appreciate how rare that is for a G5 team with no success at all in its history is able to to recruit at the same level as Toledo, Houston, and kansas (lol).
Here’s the TL;DR:
- 4 years experience coaching tight ends and leading recruiting efforts
- Been on staff of two elite Auburn teams
- Worked with Drinkwitz before
- Recruited at a high level with a terrible mid-major program
- No P5 coaching experience
- Tight ends he’s coached have not been dynamic play makers in the passing game
I would love for Missouri to have Scales/Christopherson/DPJ/Swinson turn into a Rucker or Coffman-esque tight end because the #TightEndPassingGame was a key component of some of my favorite Missouri offenses. But that’s not necessary to have in order to field an excellent offense so that’s mostly me being stylistically selfish. I will also point out that recruiting coordinators tend to also double as tight end or safety coaches. Why? Because a unit as specialized and small as that can afford to not have as great of a position coach while said coach is also in charge of the program’s recruiting efforts. So if Casey Woods’ charges in the tight end room end up being, essentially, a sixth offensive lineman while Missouri’s recruiting efforts climb into the mid 30s or even the 20s (!) I would be totally okay with that.