At the time Coleman Hutzler caught on with his first college football job, the man who brought him in was far better known as a player than a head coach.
His new boss had nearly led a team to the Super Bowl and even appeared on “Saved by the Bell.” The coaching resumé was modest: a long stint as an unpaid assistant, a few years tutoring quarterbacks in the NFL and turning around a small FCS program when Hutzler joined up in 2006.
And no, Jim Harbaugh hasn’t changed too much in the near-decade since.
“Probably the same that he is now,” Hutzler said. “Competitive, really one of the more competitive people I’ve ever been around.
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“What you see is what you get.”
Hutzler, now the special teams coordinator and inside linebackers coach for South Carolina, spent the first four seasons of his career learning from Harbaugh, watching him build Stanford’s program back to prominence. He learned from the likes of current Maryland coach D.J. Durkin, who eventually brought him along to Florida and Will Muschamp’s staff. He also spent last year with Boston College defensive coordinator Don Brown and played a role in building one of best defenses in the country (with a roster heavy on three-star recruits).
While just about every member of the USC staff can boast time working under top-flight coaches, even the 31-year-old has some notable influences as well.
Even coming from humble beginnings.
After playing at a small-school powerhouse in Las Vegas, Hutzler had no illusions about making the big time. Instead, he ended up playing football and baseball at Middlebury, a small, liberal arts college in Vermont.
“My dad was my coach in high school and after my junior year, he gave a list of about 30 schools and said, ‘You’re going to go get a great education and play ball at one of theses schools,’ ” Hutzler said. “I wasn’t getting a scholarship anytime soon, and I knew that.”
He ran solid special teams units in 2013 with New Mexico and 2014 with Florida, and last year’s Boston College group was prone to making big plays. The Eagles blocked three punts, had a primary kick returner average better than 28 yards per touch and were decent in punting.
“Every year, it’s the same message,” Hutzler said. “We’re going to play with great technique and great effort. We’re going to go out and make big plays on special teams, blocking a punt, returning a kick for a touchdown, creating field position for our team, helps us win games. So that message really doesn’t change from the year before to the next.”
The best special teams units he’s had a hand in coaching came at Florida, and in some ways that makes sense as a roster deeper in talented players will see that trickle down to special teams. It also couldn’t hurt when it comes to defense, a year after he helped build up a group in BC.
In short, access to talent in the conference he’s returning to was a big reason he’s landed in Columbia.
“The return to the SEC .... was a big part of it,” Hutzler said. “The opportunity to work for coach Muschamp, who I have tremendous respect for, and this place, the support, the excitement around South Carolina football and the bright future that this place really has.”