The San Francisco 49ers coaching staff remains a work in progress, but one job that appears to be settled is the special teams coordinator. Matt Barrows reported earlier this week that the team was hiring Derius Swinton for the special teams job. Swinton spent the last three seasons as a special teams assistant for the Chicago Bears.
Swinton is replacing Thomas McGaughey, who spent one year with the 49ers. The 49ers special teams had some issues last year, with inconsistent performances. Phil Dawson had a very solid year, and Bradley Pinion made strides late in the season, but it was an area that could use improvement in 2016.
Dallas Morning News columnist Rick Gosselin puts together an annual ranking of special teams units. He looks at 22 special teams categories, ranging from field goals and returns to starting line of scrimmage and penalties. He then ranks all 32 NFL teams, with the best team getting one point, the second best getting two points, and so on through the No. 32 team getting 32 points. The goal is to get the lowest point total possible.
Gosselin's rankings for 2015 have the 49ers at No. 27. In an interesting comparison, Football Outsiders ranks special teams using DVOA, and they also ranked the 49ers No. 27. FO looks at field goals/extra points, kicking, kick returns, punting, and punt returns.
A year ago, the 49ers ranked No. 23, and in 2013, they ranked second. Chip Kelly's Eagles ranked No. 5 this season, and No. 1 last season. Dave Fipp handled special teams for Kelly, and he will remain with the team under new head coach Doug Pederson.
It's difficult to fully assess how a special teams coach impacts the units. Injuries play as much a role in special teams struggles as anything else. Swinton's bio at the Bears website references his time with the Broncos, and points to the success of the kicker and kick returner. The Broncos ranked in the 20s according to Football Outsiders. But it's never easy to sort through who is responsible for what.
There was a thought that 49ers ST coach Thomas McGaughey did not want to use Jarryd Hayne as a return option, but it's not like he had significant impact on the 53-man roster decisions. He tried to downplay the optimism about Hayne, which I think was fairly reasonable, but we don't really know how much he did not want to play Hayne, versus how much Jim Tomsula or Trent Baalke did not want to roll the dice with him.