One of the constants of Oregon’s football program remains its special team’s production thanks to Tom Osborne, who is in ninth consecutive year as the program’s special teams coordinator and tight ends coach.
Since returning to the Ducks prior to the 2007 season, Osborne has quickly restored the levels of productivity and energy of his areas to that prior to his six-year hiatus.
The 34-year collegiate coaching veteran has encountered success throughout his career, tutoring special teams units which have led the conference on no fewer than 13 occasions and have ranked among the top 15 in the country a minimum of 18 times in the past 21 years.
It didn’t take long for “Coach Oz” to make his presence felt, lifting Oregon’s units on special teams out of the bottom ranks of the Pac-10 statistical standings in the first year of his return.
Throughout his career, the Washington native has been instrumental in the development of 17 All-Americans, 18 first-team all-conference standouts and 16 second-team all-league honorees. He was one of three finalists for the FootballScoop Special Teams Coordinator of the Year award in 2010 and was honored as the national Special Teams Coordinator of the Year in 2003.
Yet his role tutoring tight ends has not taken a back seat, as evidenced by CBSSports.com naming him one of the top five tight end coaches in the country heading into the 2008 season.
Osborne has coached three first-team all-conference tight ends at Oregon over the past eight seasons, including 2014 honoree Pharaoh Brown. He also oversaw the development of 2009 first-team all-league tight end Ed Dickson, who became Oregon’s all-time leader in receptions (124) and yards (1,557) at the position prior to his selection in the third round of the 2010 NFL Draft. Osborne followed that up by tutoring tight end David Paulson into becoming a first-team all-conference choice in his first year as Dickson’s successor.
As a sophomore, Dickson was the team’s second-leading receiver with 43 receptions, 453 yards and three touchdowns. He improved his productivity as a junior with 508 receiving yards, while he accumulated 42 catches for 551 yards and six TDs in his final year.
Paulson led the Ducks with a 14.1 yards-per-catch average among teammates who posted 10 or more catches in 2011.
Under Osborne, the Ducks’ special teams success has been a constant. A year ago, Oregon ranked 12th in the country in punt returns, averaging 12.5 yards per runback. In 2013 Oregon led the Pac-12 and was ninth in the country in punt coverage (3.25 avg.) and ranked second in the conference (19th nationally) in punt returns (12.4). In addition, no other school in the league returned both kickoffs and punts for touchdowns as did only 16 other FBS schools in the nation.
In 2012, Oregon led the Pac-12 in fewest punt return yards allowed (8th nationally, 3.24-yard avg.) and punt returns (12th, 13.5-yard avg.). In 2011, Oregon led the nation in punting (41.5 avg.) and also finished 11th in the country in kickoff returns (24.9 avg.) - with De’Anthony Thomas ranking 10th individually (27.3 avg.) - while the Ducks were 25th nationally in kickoff return coverage.
In the first season following his return, the Ducks placed second in the conference in kickoff returns (23.96 avg., 14th nationally), fourth in kickoff coverage (42.9 net avg.) and ranked fifth in net punting (36.69 avg.). Andiel Brown led the Pac-10 in punt returns (10.41 avg.) and Jonathan Stewart was third in kick returns (26.70 avg.).
In 2009, Oregon finished 10th nationally in kickoff returns (24.9 avg.), and 2010 saw significant performances by nearly every phase of special teams play. The Ducks finished second in the nation in punt returns (16.98 avg.) and ranked 12th in the country in kickoff coverage (19.28 avg.). Individually, Cliff Harris rated second in the country in punt returns (18.83 avg.), while Jackson Rice improved his punting average from 40.5 yards per kick to 42.28 from his freshman year to the next. The ‘10 punt return team produced five touchdowns, including four by Harris.
Before returning to Eugene for a second stint, Osborne had spent six seasons as the assistant head coach, special teams coordinator and tight ends coach at Arizona State, after coordinating Oregon’s special teams and tutoring its tight ends from 1995 through 2000. During his tenure with the Sun Devils, Osborne’s units blocked 11 punts.
Osborne was named the Division IA National Special Teams Coordinator of the Year by American Football Coaches Monthly Magazine following the 2003 season.
His Sun Devils led the Pac-10 in kickoff coverage (16th nationally) in 2004 and ranked No. 2 in the country in kickoff returns in 2006. ASU also ranked among the top 27 in the nation in net punting four of his six seasons.
At ASU, Zach Miller earned first-team All-America honors in 2006 after catching 50 passes for 484 yards and four touchdowns. Over three seasons, ASU’s all-time receptions leader at the position caught more passes (144) than any other tight end in the country while his yardage (1,512) was second nationally during that span.
Under Osborne’s supervision, Oregon’s special teams play during his first tour of duty was arguably the best in the Pac-10, if not the country. The Ducks ranked either first or second in the Pac-10 in kickoff coverage each of his six seasons, among the top three in kickoff returns five of six years and among the top three in net punting on four occasions. Before departing Eugene in 2000, Oregon led the league in kickoff coverage (17.04 avg.), kickoff returns (22.5 avg.) and net punting (37.7 avg.).
From a statistical standpoint, Osborne also coached Oregon’s top three tight ends of all time (Josh Wilcox - 103 receptions, Blake Spence - 92 catches, and Dickson). During his first six years, the Ducks’ tight ends annually averaged close to 50 catches for 700 yards and seven touchdowns. Wilcox, Spence, Jed Weaver and Justin Peelle each received all-conference and All-America attention in addition to spending time on NFL rosters.
Prior to joining the Oregon staff, Osborne coached running backs and tight ends at Boise State for two seasons (1993-94) and coached at Portland State from 1986-92.