LOS ANGELES—John Baxter, known for producing extremely productive special teams units, has returned to USC as its special teams coordinator after spending a season at Michigan, USC football head coach Clay Helton announced today (Jan. 7).
Baxter, who most recently was at USC in 2013, has 34 years of coaching experience.
“We are very excited to welcome back John Baxter to our Trojan Family,” said Helton. “He is one of the most respected coaches in our profession at any position. His units have been near the top of the collegiate special team efficiency rankings almost every year. Having worked alongside him in the past, I know Coach Baxter as one of the best teachers and skill developers in football today. We look forward to our special teams rising to greater heights under him.”
Baxter was Michigan’s special teams coordinator in 2015. The Wolverines finished 12th nationally in ESPN’s special teams efficiency ranking (they were No. 1 two-thirds of the way into the season) after being 96th the previous year. Michigan was third nationally in kickoff returns, Jabrill Peppers was 19th in punt returns, Jehu Chesson returned a kickoff for a TD, UM allowed only 3 kickoff returns longer than 30 yards, Blake O’Neill had a Michigan Stadium record 80-yard punt and 43% of his punts were downed inside the 20-yard line and Kenny Allen hit 18-of-22 field goals and 44% of his kickoffs were touchbacks (O’Neill and Allen entered the season as non-scholarship players). Michigan won the 2016 Citrus Bowl.
Baxter, 52, spent 4 years (2010-13) at USC as the associate head coach and special teams coordinator. He added the tight ends to his coaching duties in 2013.
In 2013, fullback Soma Vainuku made the All-Pac-12 first team as a special teams player and Nelson Agholor was an All-American second team pick as a punt returner. USC blocked 6 kicks, returned 3 punts for TDs in a game to tie an NCAA record and allowed no punt return yards in 8 games. The Trojans won the 2013 Las Vegas Bowl.
In 2012, USC ranked ninth nationally on ESPN’s special teams efficiency chart. Punter Kyle Negrete was a finalist for the Allstate AFCA Good Works Team. USC played in the 2012 Sun Bowl.
Baxter was named the 2011 FootballScoop.com Special Teams Coordinator of the Year. For the second consecutive year, USC blocked 7 kicks in 2011. The Trojans also had a scoring kickoff return, made a 2-point conversion and converted a fake punt for a first down while ranking No. 8 nationally in special teams efficiency by ESPN. In 2011, placekicker Andre Heidari made Freshman All-American first team and All-Pac-12 first team, and his 88.2% field goal percentage was third in the nation among kickers with at least 10 made field goals (and the best among freshmen kickers). Tight end-fullback Rhett Ellison made the All-Pac-12 first team as a special teams performer.
In 2010, USC’s special teams blocked 7 kicks and punts, returned a punt and kickoff for a touchdown, scored 5 times on 2-point conversions, had a defensive PAT and made first downs on a fake punt and fake field goal. Troy was seventh nationally in ESPN’s special teams efficiency ranking. USC ranked high nationally in punt returns (seventh at 14.6) and kickoff returns (17th at 24.5) with wide receiver Ronald Johnson placing 12th nationally in punt returns (14.2). Wide receiver Robert Woods made the All-Pac-10 first team as a kick returner. Johnson was a sixth round pick in the 2011 NFL draft.
In 13 years (1997-2009) at Fresno State, Baxter was the associate head coach and special teams coach in addition to handling either the tight ends (1997-2001, 2003, 2009) or wide receivers (2002, 2004-2008).
Baxter turned the Bulldogs’ special teams into one of the top units in the nation annually. During his time, Fresno State blocked 84 kicks and punts (including a national-best 49 from 2002 through 2009) and scored 39 special teams touchdowns (with 3 safeties). The Bulldogs topped the nation in fewest punt return yards allowed in 2004 and 2005. A.J. Jefferson led the nation in kickoff returns in 2007. Clifton Smith’s 189 punt return yards with 2 touchdowns against Weber State in 2005 were Fresno State game records, while his 5 career scoring punt returns also was a school mark. Six of Baxter’s Bulldog kickers and punters earned All-Western Athletic Conference first team honors.
During his time at Fresno State, the Bulldogs posted a 100-66 record, played in 10 bowls (1999 Las Vegas, 2000-01-02-03 Silicon Valley, 2004 MPC Computers, 2005 AutoZone Liberty, 2007 Roady’s Humanitarian and 2008-09 New Mexico) and won the WAC title in 1999.
Along with his coaching duties at Fresno State, Baxter developed the highly-successful and nationally-regarded program, “Academic Gameplan.” His innovative and comprehensive study-skills program teaches students the rules, fundamentals, techniques and life skills needed to succeed in the classroom. “Academic Gameplan,” which is now being used at schools throughout the country, was a key reason for the academic success of the Fresno State football program, which during Baxter’s tenure produced 141 Academic All-WAC players and an NCAA APR score nearly 20 percentage points higher than the national average.
He was selected as the Clovis Co-Citizen of the Year in 2006, along with Fresno State head coach Pat Hill.
Baxter began his coaching career at his alma mater, Loras College, where he served for 5 seasons (1981-85) as a student assistant (working with the running backs) during his undergraduate time.
He then moved on to Iowa State for 2 seasons (1986-87) as a graduate assistant working with the defensive line and special teams before the first of 2 stints at Arizona. He was with the Wildcats in 1988 (as a graduate assistant working with the defensive backs and special teams), went to Maine in 1989 for his first full-time job coaching the outside linebackers and special teams when the Black Bears made it to the NCAA Division I-AA playoffs and returned to Arizona in 1990 and 1991 as the tight ends and special teams coach (the Wildcats played in the 1990 Aloha Bowl). He then was at Maryland for 2 seasons (1992-93) handling the running backs and special teams and Tulane for 3 years (1994-96) in charge of the tight ends and special teams before going to Fresno State.
He earned his bachelor’s degree in physical education from Loras in 1985 and then his master’s in higher education from Iowa State in 1987.
He prepped at Loyola Academy in Chicago (Ill.).
He was born on June 28, 1963. He and his wife, Jill, have 2 daughters, Kelly, 19, and McKenzie, 17. His father-in-law is former Utah and Weber State head coach Ron McBride.
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