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One City–New Team: How New O-Line Coach Mike Goff Will Impact This Years Aztecs

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New Aztecs offensive line coach Mike Goff is no stranger to teachable moments on the gridiron.

As undoubtedly one of the pillars of the vaunted San Diego Chargers offense of the 2000s, Goff helped pave the way for Pro Football Hall of Fame running back LaDainian Tomlinson, as well as potential candidates, quarterbacks Drew Brees and Philip Rivers.

Mike Goff as an All-Pro road grader for the San Diego Chargers

After establishing himself as a force along the line as a Cincinnati Bengal, Goff was brought to San Diego in 2004 to be a difference maker for a Chargers team that lacked performance and leadership. The 2003 team finished with just four measly wins; in contrast, the 2004 team finished with just four losses.

But it was the leadership and mentorship that Goff provided to his fellow younger lineman that proved to be the legacy of his time as a San Diego footballer.

When his time as an active professional came to an end, it was that same leadership that once again shined through as Goff volunteered to serve on a new Brady Hoke coaching staff during the first successful go-round here at San Diego State.

So now, after holding down positions elsewhere–first at USC as a graduate assistant and most recently Western Kentucky as the offensive line coach—what kind of an impact can we expect with a new look Mike Goff offensive line here at San Diego State?

IMPROVED PASS-BLOCKING PERFORMANCE

To immediately come out and predict that the Aztecs pass-blocking performance will improve solely on the addition of Mike Goff would be irresponsible. But it does project to be a notable factor.

According to Pro Football Focus, Western Kentucky was among the better offensive line rankings in the nation, lining up at the #14 spot.

The Hilltoppers had one of the best pass-blocking offensive lines of 2019, and it has carried over into 2020. The unit as a whole has produced the fourth-best pass-blocking grade in the FBS. Right guard Jordan Meredith has been as good as advertised, ranking 10th among all FBS guards in PFF grade. Yet, the main story of this line involves the two starting tackles — Cole Spencer and Marson Brooks — as they have combined to produce the second-best pass-blocking grade among Group of Five tackle units.

Coach Mike Goff during his time at Western Kentucky

Of course, pass-blocking metrics don’t completely add up to more wins. So when Western Kentucky decided to scratch it’s offensive system after the 2020 season, that provided Goff the exit opportunity in conjunction with long time Aztecs O-line coach Mike Schmidt taking that position at Syracuse.

Other notable contributors to an anticipated pass-blocking resurgence would obviously rest at the feet of a solidified quarterback battle.

The 2019 Aztecs football season saw a trio of quarterbacks all receiving considerable amounts of playing time. Last season’s primary signal caller, Carson Baker, had a head turning end of the 2019 season and a similarly promising beginning of the 2020 campaign. But after a series of unsettling performances Carson was replaced in favor of Lucas Johnson and Jordon Brookshire. Baker, the Helix High graduate, is now coincidentally a member of the very Western Kentucky program from which Goff departed from.

The rest of the 2020 season saw a flurry of injuries to the offense, as well as the effects of numerous COVID protocol challenges. The same conditions should not be a factor this season.

A full spring and fall camp, along with the experience of last years trials, should all weigh in favorably to this years quarterback depth and more confident execution of the offense no matter who is behind the center position this season.

TEACHING

If there are two ingredients that make for a great coach, they would be being an effective teacher and an impactful motivator. Often coaches excel at only one of those skill sets and it’s not always that a head coach excels at both.. When you have both, special things happen. Being a teacher and a motivator doesn’t always appear the same way either.

Mike Goff has over a decade of NFL playing experience and an entire career of learning from some of the game’s best offensive coaches at the college and professional levels. This should translate into teaching fundamentals and technique on a much larger scale than what was previously the case. It’s good to have a guy on your staff that has that first-hand experience.

What Goff had to say at an Aztecs presser this week:
Fundamentals and technique … I think that if you develop fundamentals and technique and get them to buy in … it’s just like anything else. Then you can start to build on that and make it more difficult, put more on their plate. But if they don’t understand the basic fundamentals and techniques that you’re trying to teach them, i think you’re doing them a disservice. Not every student learns the same. And you have to pay attention to them as well.

Teaching is a skill, but it is also packed with a purpose and calling.

MOTIVATION

Leadership. Presence. Commanding attention. The motivation impact is huge. Whenever there is a change, especially the replacement of a popular coach, the new coach has to be able to win over the guys very rapidly. Quick results of his instruction is vital! Any new coach wants to have good early results. He must get them ready to understand there will be growing pains, but that he will take the blame for and go to bat for his guys. Guys will play hard for a coach like that. With Goff leading the O-line, a fresh voice to the unit will pay off greatly.

Aside from what Coach Goff says and does, it’s the motivation of playing for a coach who has achieved at the highest level and knows when he sees the same potential in them. We’d like to call it the “stature factor” and it should prove to be important among the newcomers to the program.

SDSU boasted the #1 G-5 offensive line recruiting class of 2021 with notable signings of Josh Simmons and Ross Maseuli. The development that Coach Goff will have on these two lineman among the others will be paramount to his and the Aztecs’ future successes. Both Simmons and Maseuli have ties to San Diego high schools Madison, Helix, etc. Their signings signaled a sort of landmark moment in the elevation of Aztecs big men to put on the Red & Black. Under Goff’s tutelage expect them to raise the bar even beyond that set by names like Siragusa, Brunskill, Ismael and Dunkle.

When asked whether any guys on the offensive line have the potential to play at the next level, Goff replied, “I think they all got the potential. I think every one of them has the potential. But my job is to make sure that they believe that they can do it. Just because I want them to do it, doesn’t mean that they’re going to do it. So, my job as the coach is to make sure that they have every tool that I’ve learned …”

GOOD CHEMISTRY

The good chemistry between Brady Hoke and Mike Goff is apparent. A recently retired pro football player isn’t going to volunteer his time and energy to a collegiate program and a head coach of any FBS program isn’t going to open its coaching staff doors to just anyone; both player and coach to have respect and admiration for each other. Goff has made that known vocally.

But it’s not just the chemistry between Goff and Hoke that is important here.

The time that Goff spent with those early revolutionary Aztecs teams from 2010-2011 was spent laboring together with the entire coaching staff. One of, if not the only, remaining members from those years coaching staff is none other than now offensive coordinator Jeff Hecklinski—serving as Assistant Head coach and running backs position coach back then. Hecklinski is the play caller in this new Aztecs offense. He is the designer and implementor of this system. There are not many more important relationships to a successful offense than that of its coordinator and offensive line coach.

Good chemistry is needed for both when the OC wants a scheme blocked a certain way or specific terminology to be implemented to each positional group. No doubt the level of experience and trust that Offensive Coordinator Hecklinski wants in his system’s O-line coach, he has with Mike Goff. That’s why Goff was brought back to his second home, here in San Diego.

The Motivation of the players isn’t the only area we should keep an eye out on. No doubt about it, the opportunity to return home here in sunny San Diego should play a big part of Goff’s own enthusiasm towards working with the young guys that he enjoys so much. Courtesy of the GoAztecs YouTube account, we’ve left embedded below, the live presser of Coach Mike Goff so you can hear him in his own words.

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