KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Chiefs special teams coordinator Dave Toub is a master builder.
Toub, the son of a carpenter, built his own home in Columbia when he was an assistant coach at Missouri in the mid-1990s. He also remodeled houses and basements and built decks for fellow coaches.
But Toub’s best renovation work may be what he’s accomplished midway through his first preseason with the Chiefs. The Chiefs’ special teams have been spectacular, especially in the return phase.
For a team that has not returned a regular-season kickoff for a touchdown since 2009 or punt for a score since opening day of 2010, the Chiefs already have produced a 79-yard kickoff return by Knile Davis and a 55-yard return by Dexter McCluster that set up field goals at New Orleans. They had a 104-yard kickoff return by Quintin Demps for the only touchdown last week against San Francisco, as well as a 52-yard punt return by Devon Wylie.
And the kickoff and punt coverage has been airtight. Opponents have returned four kickoffs for a 25.8-yard average with a long of 30 yards. They’ve returned three punts for 24 yards with a long of 11.
“Our philosophy is to create field position for our offense and defense … by being aggressive,” said Toub, who consistently fielded the best special-teams units in the NFL during the past nine years at Chicago. “We’re going to be an attacking-style special teams. We’re going to try and make big plays; we want to put teams on their heels. We want them to try to react to us, not us react to them.”
Toub (pronounced TOBE) is not a typical NFL special-teams coach. He never covered a kick or rushed a punter as a player. He’s a former college offensive lineman who began his coaching career as a strength coach under Bob Stull at UTEP and at Missouri. When Missouri defensive line coach Curtis Jones died of a heart attack in July 1998, he took over those duties and has been on the field ever since.
Those days in the weight room and his familiarity with both sides of the line of scrimmage prepared Toub for coaching special teams because he is the only member of a staff, other than the head coach, who works directly with players on both sides of the ball. He brings the no-nonsense and disciplined approach of the weight room to his special teams.
“As a strength coach, you work with all athletes,” said Toub, 51. “That’s one thing you learn, how to relate to all different personalities. But I really liked being on the football field. With the offensive line … that comes into play as far as protecting on field goals and punts. With the defensive line … it’s punt rush … return … that’s where that factors in. So overall, my total career has been built toward special teams.”
Chiefs coach Andy Reid brought Toub from Missouri to the Philadelphia Eagles in 2001, where he assisted then-special-teams coach John Harbaugh before getting an opportunity as Chicago’s special-teams coach in 2004.
The Bears’ special teams were all about big plays under Toub. During 2004-12, the Bears returned an NFL-most 22 kicks and 15 punts for touchdowns and led the NFL in punt return yardage, punt coverage (6.8 yards per return) and blocked kicks, with 25.
“Drive start is the number-one thing,” Toub said. “It doesn’t matter how much yardage you get. We were at Chicago and people would try to kick away from Devin, and we would get field position. At the end of the day, it’s about creating field position for your offense and your defense.”
Reid, whose experience with Toub dates back to UTEP and Missouri in addition to their time in Philadelphia, said Toub has an eye for identifying special-teams talent when the club puts together its roster.
“He fights to make sure he gets good players,” Reid said. “He makes sure he’s done his homework, and he is in tune with the general manager.”
Toub has a system for putting his players in place, particularly on kickoff coverage.
“I tell guys you’re either a disrupter or a play-off guy,” Toub said. “A disrupter is somebody who comes down there and just tries to blow guys up. A play-off guy will play off those guys. Over the last two games, we were able to do that, get guys in the right position. We don’t have two disrupters next to each other. We’ll have a disrupter and a play-off guy … and a disrupter and a play-off guy.”
Linebacker Edgar Jones, a special-teams standout, appreciates Toub’s meticulous approach.
“The thing I like about him is he knows his players and puts us in a good position to make plays,” Jones said. “He’s constantly on us about the little things …he pays attention to everything that is going around him, not just special teams.”
Toub’s reputation is such that he just might break the glass ceiling that has blocked special-teams coaches from going directly to head-coaching positions. While the likes of Dick Vermeil, Marv Levy and Mike Ditka began as special-teams coaches, they were position coaches or coordinators before becoming head coaches.
Not since Frank Gansz was promoted from Chiefs special-teams coach to head coach in 1987 has someone made that jump in the NFL. Even John Harbaugh, who was a special-teams coach for nine years in Philadelphia, was the Eagles’ secondary coach for a year before taking over as Baltimore’s head coach in 2008.
Two years ago, Toub interviewed for the Miami Dolphins’ head coaching job, and last year, the Bears gave him a courtesy interview, largely because they did not want to lose Toub as special-teams coach.
“They’re starting to be aware of the possibility special teams could be good head coaches,” Toub said. “Either I want to be a special-teams coach or a head coach. And I’m very, very happy being here.”