At first blush, the hiring of Hal Hunter as offensive line coach seemed like a curious move for New York Giants head coach Pat Shurmur as he assembled his staff.
When Giants assistant coaches met with the media on Wednesday, we got our first glimpse into what Hunter brings to the Giants.
“I’ve always seen myself as a college offensive line coach coaching in the NFL.”
Hunter doesn’t actually look like anybody’s offensive line coach. The Giants don’t list heights and weight in the bios of their coaches, and I’m not one of those “guess your weight” carnival guys.
Hunter, though, is the size of a guy who looks like he should be coaching defensive backs or running backs — not offensive linemen. It is going to be an interesting juxtaposition to see him coaching mammoth offensive linemen while massive former assistant offensive line coach Lunda Wells works with tight ends.
Hunter, in fact, has spent most of his career coaching collegiately. He began as outside linebackers/strength coach at William & Mary in 1982. There were stops at Pittsburgh, Columbia, Indiana (Pa.), Akron, Vanderbilt, LSU, Indiana and North Carolina before he became offensive line coach for the San Diego Chargers in 2006. He has been in the NFL since, aside from last season’s hiatus.
Most of that time was spent coaching offensive lines, though he has dabbled in other positions and was interim head coach at LSU for a single game — which the Tigers won — in 1999.
Talk to offensive linemen and they will tell you there are different types of offensive line coaches. Some coach technique. Others focus more on scheme and assignments. What kind of coach is Hunter?
“I believe in coaching technique. They [players] always can get fundamentally better,” Hunter said. “It’s the Olympics of football. Their margin of error is small. Their technique has to get honed, they’ve gotta be continually coached. The technique and the fundamentals, we’ll never back off that.”
About that year out of football
Listen to the tone of his voice and you can tell that Hunter was disappointed to be let go by the Browns after the 2016 season, his only year coaching Cleveland linemen. That led to his first season out of coaching in 35 years.
“I had some opportunities, but I wanted to get in the right opportunity and the right opportunity didn’t present itself, so I decided to take some time off,” Hunter said.
He didn’t sit on his couch and watch football, though. Using the connections made over those 35 years in the business, he beat the bushes in search of knowledge. He went to college campuses and NFL facilities. He watched practices, went to meetings, broke down film. He prepared himself for his next opportunity.
“Went and visited some colleges, watched what they were doing in college because basically what they’re doing in college, we eventually get here in the NFL, So, I visited some colleges. Then I went down with some people that I knew in the NFL, went down and spent some time with some NFL programs,” Hunter said. “You never get a chance to see how other people do things. You’re only on the staff that you’re on. So, I spent some time with some other people. Watched a lot of video tapes, and then just basically prepared myself to get back in the NFL this year.
“I knew I’d be back in. So, when it rolled around about December/January and everything starts, the musical chairs start again, I had a couple different opportunities and this opportunity presented itself and I jumped at it.”
What does Hunter want from an offensive lineman?
“The one thing that will never change about football, even back when they didn’t have a face mask on a helmet, it’s about toughness. The things that we’re going to stress up front, the things that we’re going to stress on this entire team -- toughness, dependability, competitiveness -- those things are the most fundamental things, especially in offensive line play,” Hunter said.
“I’ve see a lot of guys in this league with talent not make it. It’s talent combined with all those other factors. Are guys conceptual thinkers? Are they dependable? Do they have great work ethic? Do they do more than what’s asked? Are they self-motivated? Are they self-disciplined?
“Guys I’ve coached in the past that have been great players, one thing they all have in common they’ve been tough, tough, tough, tough, tough.”
“Conceptual thinkers?” What did Hunter mean by that?
“The one thing I do expect is I expect the guys to be very conceptual. I don’t expect them just to depend upon the center to tell them what to do every play. I expect all the players to know what everybody else is doing mentally,” Hunter said. “I don’t know how you could be a good tackle without knowing what the guard’s doing, or being a good guard and not knowing what the center’d doing. You’ve gotta be conceptual and understand what everybody else is doing.”
“It’s an NFL-type scheme.”
Zone. Power. Man. Counter. There are all sorts of blocking schemes, and all sorts of variations within them. What does Hunter teach? Well, whatever it takes.
“It’s an NFL-type scheme. It’ll be just a mix of everything. It’ll be power offense, it’ll be zone offense, it’ll be drop back passing, it’ll be a variety of different things. You have a lot of different coaches with a lot of different backgrounds, they bring a lot of different things. We have a lot of coaches with a lot of experience,” Hunter said. “So, I think you bring the experience from all those different things, where we’ve been and all those different places and then you try to pick and choose to put the best thing.
“I think the most important thing for an offensive line, for an offense, is to fit what you do to the personnel that you have. It’s square peg, square hole. That’s kind of what you need to be.”
Hunter used his time in San Diego as an example. He said LaDainian Tomlinson wanted a lead blocker, but when Darren Sproles became the back he did not.
“I can say one thing about this running game. It’s going to be physical up front. It’s going to be a physical running game, it’s not going to be a finesse running game. It’s going to be a physical running game and it’s going to be a multiple running game. It’s going to take advantage of the personnel that we have,” Hunter said.
“We’ll see what our guys do best. We probably won’t know exactly what we’re going to hang our hat on until we come out of camp.”