Coaching Role Modification For WVU Kickers, Punters
MORGANTOWN, W.Va — West Virginia’s kickers and punters have a different voice to listen to in 2018. And, perhaps more importantly, a different face off which to bounce thoughts and ideas.
Michael Molinari, who played for the Mountaineers from 2011-14, is now serving as a graduate assistant in the WVU program, and working directly with the kickers and punters. A native of Parkersburg, W.Va., Molinari punted for WVU in 2011, averaging 37.2 yards per kick on 30 attempts while suffering just two touchbacks. In the last two years of his career (2013-14), he moved primarily to kickoffs, where had 138 total tries, with 45 of those resulting in touchbacks against just three off-target out-of-bounds results. He’s been there and done that, which makes him a valuable touchstone and mentor for the current Mountaineers vying for kicking jobs.
“He’s working with the specialists every day,” WVU assistant coach Mark Scott, who also has special teams assignments, detailed. “He comes up to the practice field with them at the start of practice when we have kicking [periods], then he goes with them to the stadium or the indoor facility to work with them for the rest of the practice.”
Scott, who works with other assistants under head coach Dana Holgorsen’s overall supervision of special teams, is confident in what Molinari can do with the current specialists.
“He’s been through all of that before, and not so long ago,” Scott noted. “So he brings a lot to the table. We trust him, and he knows what we want and what we want to get from our kickers.”
“It’s a huge advantage for us,” senior punter Billy Kinney said of having someone of Molinari’s experience to work with on a daily basis. “He understands us. If we miss a kick, he understands what we are going through, and he knows how to communicate with us, to motivate us and to keep our confidence up.”
Molinari didn’t attempt a placekick during his WVU career, but that isn’t a huge factor in terms of coaching players with different skills and positions. After all, many football assistants wind up coaching positions they didn’t play in college. Of more importance is the mindset of a specialist — and one that isn’t too far removed from the current players in terms of age.
“Since he’s younger, he understand us, he jokes with us, and that might make him seem a little bit more like one of us,” Kinney observes. “As a specialist, being with the other guys, you know what they are doing. I think Molinari, since he has been in that same role, he can see if anyone is doing anything wrong.”
Molinari, also a sure-handed holder for WVU, isn’t entering the coaching world blindly. He served as a graduate assistant on West Virginia’s reconstituted links program in 2015 after kindling an interest in the game during his college days.
“He came to us as we were just starting out,” West Virginia head golf coach Sean Covich said. “It was a great fit because he knew what it was to be a student-athlete, and he could tell all our guys what to expect. He was able to share that experience.”
At one point in his career, Molinari had compared the golf swing to the leg swing of kickers, but Covich said one of his more valuable contributions was in another area of the game.
“The mental aspect was where he really had an impact,” said Covich. “Kickers are the only ones performing their job, and they’re sort of out there alone. Gofers compete alone too, and have to deal with success and failure in a way that is similar to the way kickers do.
WVU hasn’t been shy in recent years in allowing graduate assistants work directly with players as the lead contact. Current tight ends and fullbacks coach Dan Gerberry worked with that position as a GA in his previous stint at WVU in 2015, and Michael Burchett, now at Fordham, tutored the quarterbacks from a similar standpoint. Those stints were successful enough for the coaching staff to continue to follow that path, although it’s not as if the decision-making and entire coaching structure are turned over to the GA in place.
“We still chart every kick, and have video of all of their work,” Scott said, explaining the multi-tiered approach to coaching the kickers. “We still see them in all the live sessions, and we evaluate and monitor everything they are doing. But having [Molinari] with them gives us another set of eyes and another perspective in working with them.”
“I told Coach Holgorsen that if he could coach golfers, he could coach kickers,” Covich added, leaving no doubt that Molinari would be able to hit the ground running.