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Thread: Meet the coaches: Tom McMahon ..
Meet the coaches: Tom McMahon ..
By Nick Wagoner
Tom McMahon comes from a pretty impressive family tree. Unlike many football coaches, McMahon’s family doesn’t have a long history in the game.
In fact, had McMahon chose to follow in the footsteps of his father and brother (and eventually his sister); he wouldn’t be holding his current position as the Rams’ special teams coach.
The only way McMahon would have been able to follow the family legacy in football was to become a team doctor. And at one point, it appeared that he too would become a doctor.
“I didn’t know until I was a junior in college,” McMahon said. “I was pre-med and it was going pretty good but my dad was a doctor and one of my brothers was and one of my sisters is now. It was one of those where everyone told me that’s what I should be. I didn’t think that’s what I wanted to do but I had no idea what it was. It just hit me that I wanted to coach football.”
Making the leap into coaching football wasn’t exactly a jump out of the ordinary. Growing up in Montana, McMahon had long been involved in the game and played at Carroll College in Helena.
At the time, McMahon enjoyed football but figured his future was somewhere outside of the game. But when that opinion changed, McMahon began to explore options outside of the medical field.
McMahon got his degree in mathematics and secondary education from Carroll. McMahon’s coach at Carroll was Bob Petrino, father of current Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino.
Little did McMahon know at the time but he was making a connection that would plug him into the coaching world on a near permanent basis.
McMahon made his coaching debut as the secondary coach at Carroll in 1992, coached at Bozeman High for a year before returning to Carroll for one more season.
Eventually, Petrino connected McMahon to Paul Petrino, his other son and a coach at Utah State. Paul Petrino put McMahon on as a graduate assistant at Utah State and that became McMahon’s home for the next 11 years.
In that time, McMahon earned a Master’s Degree in Secondary Education and worked as defensive line coach, linebackers coach, recruiting coordinator, special teams coordinator and graduate assistant.
It was a modest start but one that McMahon credits to the Petrino family for giving him his start and teaching him so much about the game.
“You look back at your start and mine started with the Petrinos and every time I had a chance to move on, it seems like one of them has always been there to help me make that step,” McMahon said. “You don’t get opportunities sometimes without somebody you know. They have just been great references and they have helped me get opportunities.”
It was no surprise then that McMahon got his next opportunity and his biggest yet from another Petrino. The younger Bobby Petrino was the coach at Louisville in 2006 and invited McMahon to coach linebackers and special teams.
Although he was there for just one year, McMahon coached kicker Art Carmody to the Groza Award, given to the nation’s best at the position.
When Petrino took the job as head coach of the Atlanta Falcons, he took McMahon with him as assistant special teams coach.
In a sudden turn of events, McMahon had gone from the stability he had at Utah State to making two moves in two years and to the game’s highest level.
“It hasn’t been that hard,” McMahon said. “We thought it would be. The first move we thought it would be difficult but our children have adjusted. For me, I have adjusted getting to know new staffs. You work with a lot of different people so it’s not that different when you are that new guy. It hasn’t been a whirlwind. A lot of people think that but it’s not, I’ve been blessed to be with great people and great organizations.”
The adjustment to the coaching side wasn’t terribly difficult, either. McMahon embraced his role working with special teams and took every opportunity to learn the intricacies of coaching that unit.
After a successful two year stay in Atlanta, McMahon was deemed ready to run his own unit by Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo and was hired soon after Spagnuolo was named head coach.
With him, McMahon brings an enthusiasm for coaching special teams that is rare in many coaches. When he started coaching special teams in college, he was responsible only for certain aspects of the special teams but when he arrived in the NFL he quickly realized all that goes into dealing with a whole unit.
Initially, McMahon was impressed with how professional the players are and that only excited him to come to work every day.
McMahon also realized the importance of not pigeonholing certain players into roles based on their position.
“The one thing I think is overlooked and I did it probably my first seven, eight years and I didn’t know I was overlooking it but was the importance of the personnel and where you put them,” McMahon said. “We all think linebackers should be on the punt team and we don’t think a receiver should unless he’s out playing gunner. But some receivers should be inside on protection schemes and there are NFL linebackers that can play gunner. It’s where you put guys that increases your chances to succeed. You have to mix and match them. That’s the biggest thing I noticed when I got to this level. Your ability to make mistakes in placement and still have success is very minimal. That’s something I really enjoy and take as a challenge.”
The Rams special teams improved some in 2008 and the team already has three of the best specialists in the league in punter Donnie Jones, kicker Josh Brown and snapper Chris Massey. But the coverage and return units could use some improvement and McMahon is making it his mission to get those groups to be more vertical on both sides of the ball.
In other words, less dancing and more attacking.
“The biggest thing is attacking vertically both in coverage and return schemes,” McMahon said. “Some teams are lateral return teams. It’s not coming up with some dynamic scheme; you have to get vertical for us. I’d rather start at the 30 than the 29, that extra yard means something.”
Last edited by MauiRam; -07-01-2009 at 12:12 PM.
Re: Meet the coaches: Tom McMahon ..“The one thing I think is overlooked and I did it probably my first seven, eight years and I didn’t know I was overlooking it but was the importance of the personnel and where you put them,” McMahon said. “We all think linebackers should be on the punt team and we don’t think a receiver should unless he’s out playing gunner. But some receivers should be inside on protection schemes and there are NFL linebackers that can play gunner. It’s where you put guys that increases your chances to succeed. You have to mix and match them. That’s the biggest thing I noticed when I got to this level. Your ability to make mistakes in placement and still have success is very minimal. That’s something I really enjoy and take as a challenge.”
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