Why Dave Toub deserves a head coaching job
After the Chiefs ended their season by defeating the Chargers 19-7, Chiefs punter Dustin Colquitt approached his special teams coordinator, Dave Toub.
“Don’t be going anywhere on me,” Colquitt told him.
His concern was understandable. Toub, who orchestrated the Bears’ record-breaking special teams and turned one of the worst special teams units into one of the best with the Chiefs, should be a desirable head coaching candidate.
“He would be phenomenal,” said Chiefs head coach Andy Reid.
With almost all of the head coaching vacancies filled, however, his ascendance to that position seems very unlikely this year.
Rumors floated that the Bears were going to hire Chiefs director of player personnel Chris Ballard, a scout with connections to both Chicago and Kansas City, as general manager and that Ballard would choose Toub as head coach. The Bears ended up hiring Ryan Pace as GM, who subsequently picked John Fox.
A likely reason Toub, 52, was not more seriously considered for other openings is that a special teams coordinator is not perceived to be as significant a position or as adequate a preparation as offensive or defensive coordinator.
But John Harbaugh, one of the NFL’s best head coaches, served as an NFL special teams coordinator for nine years (and defensive backs coach for just one) before landing in Baltimore.
From 2001-03 Toub coached special teams under Harbaugh with Reid’s Eagles, and Reid made sure to bring Toub along when he came to Kansas City.
And Toub’s experience goes beyond special teams. Like with Harbaugh, while with the Eagles, he had defensive duties — serving as assistant defensive line coach.
Drafted in the ninth round of the 1986 NFL Draft by Philadelphia, the former offensive lineman coached defensive line at Missouri from 1989-2000 while also serving as a strength coach there and at UTEP.
After special teams practices — traditionally shorter than those of the rest of the team —Toub would carefully observe the other positions groups on the Bears.
“He spent his time wisely, learning the rest of the game and trying to learn as much as he could outside of special teams,” said Patrick Mannelly, the Bears’ long snapper under Toub from 2004-12.
But a special teams coordinator — in and of itself — actually provides unique training to run a team. They have to deal with more players and personalities than any other assistant. And because of the constant roster churn, they have to regularly deal with the position coaches and the pro personnel department.
“They make great head coaches because they’re coaching 44 guys pretty much on special teams,” Colquitt said, “so they have everybody’s ear.”
Colquitt and the rest of the Chiefs special teams experienced an immediate upgrade under Toub.
• In 2012, the year before Toub came to Kansas City, the Chiefs had no punt or kickoff returns for touchdowns — while allowing two — and ranked 24th in average kick return and next to last in kickoff return yardage allowed.
• In 2013 Toub came aboard and inserted Dexter McCluster as punt returner. As part of his only Pro Bowl season, McCluster returned two punts for touchdowns and tied or set new franchise records for punt return yards and punt return touchdowns in a season.
Led by new kickoff returner Quintin Demps, the Chiefs also had two kickoff returns for touchdowns and ranked first in kickoff return average.
• In 2014 McCluster and Demps were signed away as free agents, and Toub had to use two different players — De’Anthony Thomas on punts and Knile Davis on kicks — as the main returners.
Despite the roster turnover, the Chiefs ranked first in both kickoff and punt return yardage while scoring on a punt and a kickoff and allowing no touchdowns.
An obvious hire in Kansas City after his exemplary work in Chicago, Toub guided five different Bears players to eight Pro Bowl berths, including Johnny Knox (2009), Brendon Ayanbadejo (2006-07), Robbie Gould (2006), Corey Graham (2011) and — most notably — Devin Hester’s three selections (2006-07 and 2010).
During Toub’s tenure, Chicago had an NFL-high 22 kick return touchdowns compiled by six different players, and he helped Hester develop into the NFL’s all-time leader in kick return touchdowns by adeptly breaking down the other teams’ coverage unit.
For example, because the Vikings typically covered the whole field, keeping everyone wide, Toub would instruct Hester to return it up the gut against Minnesota.
“He knows how to get the best out of his players,” Mannelly said.
His football acumen was at the root of one of this year’s best plays. During a punt return against the Seahawks, Tavon Austin set up on the left like he would catch the sailing punt, and his Rams blockers drifted to that side. But the punt actually went to the right, and Stedman Bailey ran it back 90 yards for the touchdown.
That copied Toub’s design from a 2011 game against the Packers. Tim Masthay’s punts regularly went to the left. Knowing Hester would be the focal point of the Packers coverage unit, Toub had Hester on the other side and feign catching a punt while Knox lined up on the left. Uncovered, Knox caught the punt and returned it for a touchdown, though a dubious holding penalty nullified the play.
“Dave Toub’s schemes were exceptional,” Mannelly said
A gifted coach, perhaps Toub can follow the footsteps of another bright mind — his former boss and current Ravens head coach — and guide his own team.
“Put him in that John Harbaugh category,” Reid said. “Dave would be very good.”
Follow Jeff on Twitter: @JFedotin
Jeff Fedotin has written for Packers.com, Pro Football Weekly, ESPN The Magazine, the Lawrence (Kan.) Journal-World and Rivals.com. After graduating from Northwestern University, he interned for the Buffalo Bills. During his football playing days at Pembroke Hill (Mo.) School, Fedotin was known for his bad knees and even worse blocking.