MICHAEL CLAY: Glad to be back in the great city of Philadelphia. Good to see some faces now.
Q. We were just talking to Eagles offensive coordinator Shane Steichen and Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon, and what they were saying is what everybody’s kind of going through right now is just trying to — in a phase right now where you’re trying to figure out what you have and then go from there. I imagine it’s got to be more difficult for special teams coaches because you oftentimes are dealing with the bottom end of the roster and you don’t know if guys are going to be there from week to week, so much as the guys that are locked in. But just as far as what you have now, what you see now, what do you feel like you have now with some of these guys, and what have you been able to observe? (Nick Fierro)
MICHAEL CLAY: To answer your question, I think this past week, what’s really shown is the energy from the guys that came through. Dealing with special teams a lot, you have to deal with a whole bunch of different things, injuries, stuff like that. So this being kind of virtual, kind of pseudo-virtual, pseudo-in-person, I think it falls in line with what special teams really is.
The first week, guys were flying around, they were receptive. They’ve been awesome over the virtual meetings answering questions I’ve asked, and they’ve really taken a foot to getting out there and really getting that exciting energy, which we’re all very excited about.
Q. I just wanted to ask you about some of these guys that you’re really excited to work with here on your unit and maybe some of the veterans, specifically, on the special teams unit that you might be looking to lean on to lead this group? (Brandon Lee Gowton)
MICHAEL CLAY: To be completely honest with you, I’m going to lean on everyone, regardless of rookies, veteran guys. Obviously, there are some guys that really stand out in the DB room, in the linebacker room, who we may lean on a little bit more, but I think it’s going to be a collective effort from the entire group, from the wide receivers down to the running backs down to the O-linemen on field goals. So it’s not going to be just one group, it’s going to be the entire team, which I think everyone is really looking forward to that and getting some positive energy coming from the special teams room.
Q. I wanted to talk to you about what’s going on around the league and the fact that everybody’s going through it, but there’s no traditional minicamp, and as a new coaching staff coming in trying to implement a system, how much more difficult does that make it for you? And then secondly, just hearing your thoughts on your specialists, particularly the punter, Arryn Siposs, who hasn’t kicked in the league before. (John McMullen)
MICHAEL CLAY: To answer your first question, everyone is going through the same thing, all 32 teams. Some have guys come in a little bit more, some guys don’t. I think in the special teams world, it almost becomes — you just rely on your fundamentals and your basics, which you’re going to rely on when it comes to the regular season more than anything else.
If we’re able to put in a good foundation the next couple weeks and reiterate it in training camp and get those preseason jitters out, I think it’s going to fall into the right spot come the regular season.
As for the specialists, the first three days with them has been outstanding. We were able to finally see them live, and they all have live legs. They’re energetic, young guys that are hungry, especially Arryn. He was kind of dealt the bad hand with the COVID and everything, but from whatever I’ve heard about him has been positive, and he’s just reinforced it this past week working with [K] Jake [Elliott], working with [LS] Rick [Lovato] , and being able to take in a couple reps on rookie minicamp just so we all could see him.
I’m very excited to get to work with him and the other two.
Q. I wanted to ask you, how important was setting the foundation for your coaching style your first time around in Philly? How important was that time here when you first got to Philly and kind of grew under Chip Kelly’s staff before going to San Francisco? Also, you were mic’d up on the website, I guess during practice, and you had an analogy about the TV screen, about being too far back. Where did you get that from? (Mike Kaye)
MICHAEL CLAY: To answer that, my first time here in Philadelphia was a blessing. I grew up being a defensive guy. I played special teams in college and everything, but being able to work under [former Eagles special teams coordinator and current Lions special teams coordinator] Dave Fipp during those runs really helped me grow as a coach and especially fall in love with the special teams world. Especially going back to San Francisco, working under Derius Swinton and Richard Hightower and working with Stan Kwan, who’s been coaching for 30 years, I think that whole foundation of how Dave really got to connect with players and get them to play as hard as possible, I was able to transcend that and keep that going for my five years in San Francisco under two different coordinators. Nothing changed.
Regardless of the record, it’s all about the energy you put in. If these guys trust you, they’re going to give the energy no matter what.
And as for the analogy, you’ve got to connect with everyone, like not everyone speaks the same language.
I’m a fan of soccer. The guy next to me may not be a fan of soccer, but I think all of us could say, our parents would say, hey, get back from the TV if you can’t see the whole thing. That’s what the whole analogy was, you can’t see the whole screen if you’re two inches away. If you were to back up ten feet, you could probably see the whole screen and see everything else right there.
So it’s all about connecting different ways where maybe it clicks for them to catch the reference that I’m going after.
Q. Two questions really. First, what do you want your units to be known for? What do you want their identity to be? Also, you spent a lot of time with Chip Kelly as a player and a coach. What did you take from Chip? What’s his influence on you been? (Les Bowen)
MICHAEL CLAY: To answer your first question, in terms of the unit I want is something that is not a forced energy. It’s an energetic group that they love doing what they have to do. Everyone gets under the notion, oh, you play special teams, you must not be good. That’s completely false. I think all you guys would say, hey, if you hear Matt Slater, you’re like that’s a damn good special teams player, he’s going to change the game. Special teams can change the game regardless. It could be a 0-0, bad weather, and it could be a blocked punt, a return where it’s going to change the game.
So I think having that true energy and that true confidence like, hey, this play could change it, I think is what this group really wants.
And in terms of Coach Kelly, I mean, I owe the world to him right now because he gave me my first gig as a young guy getting out of college, going with the Dolphins, getting cut, and then him extending an olive branch out and saying, hey, do you want to come coach? What I learned from him is just you’ve got to be on the details, but you’ve also got to believe in yourself more than anything else.
I think, when Chip was really rolling, he was believing in himself. Everything he thought of and everything he said, he believed, and I think to get everybody else to do that, they’ve got to buy in as well. So the whole, from him in college, playing for him for four years and coaching with him for three years, just believing in it, I think, was the biggest thing with Chip.
Q. A lot of guys on this coaching staff already knew each other before they got here. So what has it — and I don’t think that was the case for you. So what has it been like over these last couple months getting to know the rest of the coaching staff and sort of building that camaraderie? (Bo Wulf)
MICHAEL CLAY: It’s been awesome. I think in the coaching world you’re not going to know everyone, but you get to build these relationships with new guys. I’ve been fortunate enough to be around different staffs, and everyone I’ve been around here in this building has been fantastic. [Eagles run game coordinator/offensive line coach] Jeff Stoutland, I worked with a couple years in the first time, so I have a familiar face with him. [Eagles offensive quality control coach] T.J. Paganetti, who coached me at Oregon, and [Eagles assistant special teams coordinator] Joe Pannunzio who I worked with for a year, I think the familiarity really helped settle any of the nerves, but everyone has been fantastic, from Coach Sirianni down to JG [Jonathan Gannon] to Shane [Steichen].
Like once you get in the building, we all know we’re all going to ride or die together. Once we get that sense of confidence, like conversations turn up easily right now. You get all these connections. Like A-Mo [Eagles wide receivers coach Aaron Moorehead], he was at Stanford when I was at a player at Oregon. We can connect through that way. They beat us on an alleged catch by Zach Ertz. You get to talk about that, and it just builds camaraderie within the staff.
Q. You were obviously a defensive player. When you got into coaching, I’m sure you didn’t envision yourself becoming a special teams coordinator. At what point did you start to really enjoy coaching special teams, and what do you like about it now? (Dave Zangaro)
MICHAEL CLAY: To be honest with you, I’ve always liked special teams. I was a long snapper freshman year of college. That’s how I got my seat on the bus. Then I want to say, probably halfway through my first year here as defensive quality control, there had been a coach had to do something, family issue, and I took over a drill for him. Just having that, teaching that stuff to them and having Coach Fipp kind of eyeball it and help me get through all that stuff. With special teams, you get to work with everyone. You can’t say that when you’re a position coach, unless you’re a coordinator. I worked with from quarterbacks to O-line, D-line, and you almost have a full sense of the whole team. You see faces come in, come out.
I think that’s the whole true love of special teams. You work with everyone, and you try to get them better regardless of what they do. They could be a one-phase guy, but you could give them the sense of confidence that, dang, I’m a pretty good one-phase guy, and I’m going to help this team win.
Q. If you think back to when you were here — I guess when you started coaching — where did you want to be by the time you were 30? Was that something you ever thought about that like a path you were on by 30 years old? And then also, Nick Sirianni spoke about the interview you had. What about that interview do you think really resonated with Nick? (Zach Berman)
MICHAEL CLAY: That’s a very good question. I think in 2018 or something like that, I thought to myself — I had been coaching five, six years special teams, and I kind of wrote on my board like, hey, if you could get an interview at 30, that would be pretty cool, just for a coordinator, not even being a coordinator, just getting an interview. I felt like, that’s a pretty attainable goal.
Lucky enough by 30, 29, I was actually able to get an interview and sell it and do a good job with it in terms of being hired as a special teams coordinator. So I thought just writing that goal for myself and trying to attain it, I think it worked out.
With Coach Sirianni, I think the football IQ and just recollection of a lot of special teams things really resonated with him. Obviously, as you know, I had never met Nick until the interview. So going through the whole process with everyone and sitting in there, I think my recollection, and I think the organization that I had, that I learned from Darius, from Fipp, from Hightower really was a sticking out point, like all right, this guy may be ready for it.
Then the follow-up interview of plays and recognizing it, and I give all the credit to the guys I learned from more than anything else, is just being on top of it regardless, pulling out plays, like, oh, I know what this play is going to be, and just being confident in knowing, I’m going to tell him what this play is before the play starts. I think that really caught Nick’s eye to help push myself over the top there.
Q. So when you were here the first time, I mean, obviously, you worked with Darren Sproles on special teams and everything. I’m not asking you to compare any of these guys with Sproles obviously, but what kind of potential do you see in guys like WR Jalen Reagor or maybe even WR DeVonta Smith, and how can coaching Sproles help you relate to these guys or whoever else might be kick or punt returners? (Martin Frank)
MICHAEL CLAY: Just to start off, I think Sproles was teaching me more than anything else when I got in the league, but I still text with Darren and just pick his brain. He’s one of the best punt returners, kick returners in NFL history. So to pick his brain is great.
In terms of Jalen and DeVonta, their college film is very dynamic, and it’s very fluid. So being able to work with them is a challenge, but it’s also an opportunity to help myself grow and hopefully get them a couple touches, if that’s in the game plan or not. But I think they’re very dynamic athletes, special athletes. I mean, both of them are way better athletes than I could say for myself or anyone else.
It’s optimistic to get to work with these guys, these young cats that can change a game if given the opportunity.
Q. Following up on DeVonta and Jalen in the return game, how do you make that determination whether or not you get to use them? And what is your philosophy on first round picks and potential starters being used as returners? (Rob Maaddi)
MICHAEL CLAY: I think it’s a full-on communication between myself, Coach Sirianni, and everybody else in terms of what the game plan is going into that week or anything like that. In terms of the first round, we had Brandon Aiyuk last year, and we were able to use him in different situations. I think it’s also one of those things where, if we’re on the same page — it’s like a basketball player. You want to get to the free-throw line to see one go in. If we want to get him a touch to get him going, that’s a conversation we could have more than anything else.
I think having those guys at your disposal is one of the greater things because it makes everyone have to really game plan, like all right, what are we going to do if those two guys or one of those guys is really back there?
Q. You have been one of the best — I mean, your units in San Francisco have been among the best in terms of starting field position. What’s your general — what’s been the key to your success at having good specialty teams during your time as a coach? (Chris Murray)
MICHAEL CLAY: I think it’s more of, one, the penalty aspect. If you’re a very clean unit, it’s not going to hurt you in the long run. Playing special teams, I’m a big believer that field position is going to help you win games, and I think that was a big part of 2019 in San Francisco, where we had the starting position point was the 32-yard line, I believe.
I think that and not pressing more than anything else. You may not get a return two, three games in a row. You don’t have to be ten yards back in the end zone, still play within the play. Sometimes you’re going to get that opportunity, and when that opportunity strikes, I think with all of our preparation from now until September, it’s going to pop where one of those plays goes from a 25-yard return to hopefully a 75-yard return or a score. I think it’s just playing within yourself and not doing too much is really going to help in terms of our field position going forward.
Q. One more thing. Since you brought up your illustrious long snapping career, Chip said that was one of the first things that impressed him about you is that you stepped in your first game as a freshman and long snapped, and he gave me the impression — we didn’t have a long conversation, but he gave the impression that this was sort of unexpected. Can you kind of flesh that out for me? How did you come to long snap? Did you do it all year that year? (Les Bowen)
MICHAEL CLAY: So my dad was a high school coach forever at Mt. Pleasant High School in San Jose. The head coach there, Clancy O’Hara, and I would always go Friday night games, very typical, go hang out with my dad. He just told me, hey, you should start long snapping for fun. So I just kind of did it as a young kid, then I did it in high school. I was actually the punter, then our long snapper got hurt. So I’m like all right, I can long snap, and they’re not going to hit me, so I can go make more plays, so I’m all for it.
Then freshman year, I mean, you’re trying to make the bus as a true freshman more than anything else. I was recruited as a linebacker, and I was able to long snap on the side. But I remember vividly that first game at Boise State, first college game, scared, and it was the best long snap of my life. But in terms of that, it was just being prepared more than anything else. Going through the summer two-a-days and just being prepared and relying on my techniques and my coaches. Coach Osborne said, hey, just snap it back there. Don’t even think. I think that’s the best thing. When you don’t think, that’s one of the best. It’s like me on the golf course. If I don’t think about my drive, it will probably go straight. If I think too much, look out on the left.
I think it all comes down to preparation, regardless if you’re a long snapper, kicker, right gunner. I think the preparation is going to help you succeed no matter what.
Q. Did you do it all year, or was that the only game? (Les Bowen)
MICHAEL CLAY: I did. I did do it all year my freshman year. I only did long snaps. I didn’t do the short snaps. Then I rotated in as a reserve linebacker. You kind of roll the dice as a reserve linebacker and playing long snapper at the college level. But luckily, Drew Howell came in my sophomore year, and I could focus on linebacker more than anything else. I still could do it a little bit, but you’re not going to get any protection out of me. This college scheme would have been perfect for me this year.