ATHENS –Apparently Kevin Butler had a lot of work left to do to complete his degree and, for Kirby Smart and the Georgia Bulldogs, that’s a very good thing.
Smart confirmed at Monday night’s meeting of the Touchdown Club of Athens that the former Georgia All-American and College Football Hall of Fame place-kicker will be back to coach the Bulldogs’ place-kickers and punters for another season. Butler was able to join Smart’s staff before last season as an undergraduate student assistant when he returned to UGA to complete his degree requirements.
“Oh, absolutely. That’s the plan,” Smart said when asked by a fan if Butler would remain on the coaching staff. “As long as Kevin Butler’s in school, he will be an assistant. Hopefully we can get a deferred diploma plan where we just keep deferring him and deferring him and deferring him. We’re very thankful that he didn’t finish up when he was here.”
Butler, 55, was a two-time All-American and four-time All-SEC place-kicker for the Bulldogs from 1981-84, but did not finish his undergraduate work before being drafted by the Chicago Bears and embarking on an 11-year NFL career. After football, he entered into a successful business career. His son, Drew Butler, punted for Georgia and now plays in the NFL.
Butler said he will graduate with a degree in economics at the end of the fall semester. As an undergraduate student assistant, the successful businessman is unpaid in his current role with the Bulldogs.
“I get tennis shoes and part of a warmup,” Butler joked. “I’ll earn the upper top of my warmup this year if I stick around.”
All kidding aside, Smart said Butler has been an invaluable resource for him and for Georgia’s kickers.
“I’m going to tell you, he has been tremendous,” Smart said. “You think that a kicker just knows how to kick, but the mental part of it is important. A lot of kickers just enjoy being around him because you think about all the pressure kicks he hit, not only when he was here, but when he was in the NFL. The experience he has and the value he creates for us, that’s awesome. I’m worried about what we’re going to do when he’s gone. He’s been a tremendous help for us.”
And that’s saying something since the Bulldogs didn’t exactly light it up in the kicking game last season. Georgia was proficient in place-kicking, thanks to redshirt freshman walkon Rodrigo Blankenship, but it was decidedly substandard in kick coverage. The Bulldogs were 13th in the 14-team SEC in both punting (34.9 net yards per punt) and kickoff coverage (37.9-yard average from kickoff tee).
As a result, Smart has brought in players to provide competition for incumbent kickers, Blankenship at place-kicker and Marshall Long at punter. Cameron Nizialek has come in from Columbia as a graduate transfer to punt this spring and has looked good so far, Smart said. He is also bringing in another place-kicker via graduate transfer on something called a “blueshirt scholarship” to compete with Blankenship primarily on kickoffs.
“We have a blue-shirt kid that’s hopefully going to come in in the fall, David Marvin, and Rodrigo is going to compete with him,” Smart told TD Club members Monday. “Rodrigo is doing a good job right now on the place-kicking part of it. We’ve done some extra points and field goals. And then kickoffs will be a challenge as well.”
Smart said that offenses fail to score 80 percent of the time when they take over possession inside the 20. Georgia had only 24 touchbacks last season, fifth fewest in the SEC.
“That’s one of the driving factors in us having a guy that can come in and impact that part of our game,” Smart said. “… So if you have touchbacks like Auburn’s guy kicks every time, or you pin them inside the 20, there’s an 80 percent chance they’re not getting points. Well, we weren’t putting them behind the 20-yard line, we weren’t putting them behind that fence very often. That had to do with coverage, too, not just kickers. But those two guys are going to compete there.”
Competition, Butler said, is what it’s all about. He said the addition of Marvin is not a reflection on their belief in Blankenship. He said he has actually seen improvement from Blankenship since he learned that Marvin was coming in the fall.
“The easiest way to sum it up is competition,” Butler said. “With (William) Ham leaving and Rodrigo being out there by himself, there’s nobody to measure yourself against. I’m a firm believer — and I’ve let Kirby know this — that competition is good. It’s really the best way to get a kicker ready for a game and a pressure kick. That’s why we’re out there charting every day.
“But it is a competition. And I’ve seen some maturity in Rodrigo and how he prepared in the offseason and what he’s doing now. That’s exactly the goal of it, to keep pushing these guys to be the best they can be.”