Whither Steve Hoffman?

Any Dallas Cowboys fan worth his salt knows the critical role that Steve Hoffman played in the success of the franchise in the 1990s. From 1988 to 2004, Hoffman coached special teams (mostly along with Joe Avezzano), focusing on the placekickers. During his 17-year tenure in Dallas, Hoffman cultivated and coached many different heretofore unknown and subsequently forgettable kickers, including Ken Willis, Lin Elliott, Chris Boniol, Richie Cunningham, Tim Seder and Billy Cundiff. For nearly two decades, his caravan of kickers made 387 field goals in 507 attempts, for an average of 76.3%, which was pretty much the league average during that span (77%). In fact, after the first two dreadful 1988-89 seasons, Cowboy kickers made over 79% of their attempts.

What makes this relative success even more impressive is that the only veteran kicker Dallas ever used under Hoffman was Eddie Murray (mid-season pickups in 1993 and 1999); the team never drafted a placekicker or signed a high-profile free agent. Despite using nobodies for so long, during Hoffman's time in Dallas the team's "kickers established 15 separate club records, including every single-season record in team history" (according to Wikipedia).

Coach Avezzano was shown the door after the 2002 season, and Bill Parcells did the same to Hoffman after 2004. Hoffman's departure had an immediate and lasting impact. From 2005 to 2010, Cowboy placekickers made 75.6% of their field goals, significantly less than the league average of 82.4%), but even more telling was that they took a much different approach to the position, with their biggest free agent signing of a kicker ever in Mike Vanderjadgt, signing other relatively successful vets like Martin Grammatica and Jose Cortez, and spending two draft picks on Nick Folk and David Buehler. That's a lot of investments in placekickers, with less than satisfactory results.

Meanwhile, Hoffman took the 2005 season off and then coached in Atlanta (2006), Miami (2007-2008) and has been in Kansas City since 2009. His kickers at those three stops have made nearly 85% of their attempts, comfortably above the NFL-wide average. Veteran Jay Feely had a career-best season under Hoffman (91% in 2007), and then the kicking coach found free agent-turned Pro Bowler Dan Carpenter, who has made 81% of his kicks with the Dolphins. Hoffman also convinced the KC brass to draft "Mr. Irrelevant" Ryan Succop with the final pick in the 2009 draft, and he made 87% of his field goals as a rookie (having one crucial kick blocked by Jay Ratliff in the Cowboys' OT win that season, which was AWESOME).

For the most part, I'd venture that we all appreciate the job that Coach DeMillus has done the past two seasons. We can't help but root for a guy with such enthusiasm and who has overcome some personal and physical tragedies since arriving in Dallas. But let's face it, the field goal percentage under his watch has been an abysmal 69.8%, or 12.4% less than the rest of the NFL and LAST IN THE LEAGUE, and we are heading into this season full of even more trepidation than usual. I've heard it said before, but it's more glaring than ever - the Dallas Cowboys made a huge mistake in letting Steve Hoffman go in 2004, and would be well-advised to do whatever it takes to bring him back home as soon as possible. Hoffman actually coached special teams with DeMillus in 2006 with the Falcons, and of course knows Jason Garrett very well (I don't know for sure, but I imagine that #17 was the FG holder for several of Hoffman's kickers).

Ironically, after Hoffman left, his last kicker Billy Cundiff quickly fell out of favor with the Parcells regime, only to turn up as an All-Pro and Pro Bowl kicker with the Ravens last year. And we all know how fan favorite Nick Folk recovered from his 2009 funk in Dallas to score 127 points for the Jets in 2010. Even journeyman kicker Shaun Suisham, who had three stops in Dallas (all post-Hoffman) and was a mediocre 6 of 9 field goals, turned up in AFC Champion Pittsburgh last year and made a clutch 14 of 15 kicks. These examples further confirm the fact that without Hoffman, the Cowboys just don't have capable enough coaching to help placekickers work through slumps or reach their full potential.

Perhaps the most bitter irony is that Hoffman's greatest protoge, Chris Boniol, who btw made 33 of 34 field goals in their 1995 Super Bowl season, is now the Cowboys' "kicking advisor." Boniol is obviously struggling with his advising, which is reminiscient of when he played in the NFL. After Boniol followed up 1995 with a remarkable 1996, including 32 of 36 field goals, his first 50+ yard kick, and tying the NFL single-game record of most field goals with seven, he signed a big contract with the Eagles. But without Hoffman to guide him, he stumbled badly in Philadelphia (and Richie Cunningham picked up right where Boniol left off in Dallas, making 34 of 37 field goals) and was out of the NFL in just three years. Boniol turned out to be nothing without Hoffman, and I seriously doubt if Boniol can help the Cowboys' field goal woes by himself.

Bring back Steve Hoffman!!

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