May 29, 2014
By Matt Winkeljohn
The Good Word
With the controls of a video player at his fingertips in his new office, Ray Rychleski smiled Wednesday at the thought of something he already loves about Georgia Tech even though it hasn’t happened yet.
As the Yellow Jackets’ special teams coordinator, Rychleski has a strong feeling that his new job under head coach Paul Johnson will be quite different in some ways than his last with the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League.
He’d rather not accumulate a lot of film on Tech punting.
“There are only three downs up there; you’re yelling for the punt team after first down. We punted 14 times in my first game,” Rychleski recalled. “The norm I think is about eight to 10.
“With Coach Johnson’s offense . . . I looked at the stats, and they punted about four times a game on average. With Peyton [Manning and the Indianapolis Colts from 2009-`10], we punted four times a game on average. Usually one, maybe two, is a pooch punt going in, and as a special teams coach, I like that.”
It is no secret that Johnson is not an avid practitioner of the punt. Tech punted 45 times last season, or 3.45 times per game.
The head coach and Rychleski – who will also assist offensive line coach Mike Sewak — would prefer to kick even less. However often special teams are called upon, the Jackets will find themselves working under a coach who has a great idea about what is happening.
Entering his 29th season as a college coach, most of them spent working with special teams, Rychleski has been a part of many effective units in the ACC and beyond.
He spent just one year in the SEC, although the Old Forge, Pa., native says he would have stayed at South Carolina (2008) if not for an NFL itch he wanted to scratch. Yet when the Colts called, he went.
Going back to his tenures at Temple (’81-`88), Northeastern (’89-`90), Penn State (`91), East Stroudsburg (`92), the ACC’s Wake Forest (’93-`00) and Maryland (’01-`07), there were some impressive streaks.
Although he did not oversee special teams in every one of his college seasons, Rychleski’s units once went a combined 110 consecutive games without having a punt blocked.
You might say that time spent in College Park influenced Rychleski’s decision to take Johnson’s call soon after Dave Walkosky left the Tech staff recently.
Former Jackets offensive coordinator-turned Terps head coach Ralph Friedgen was quite a Georgia Tech advocate.
“Ralph used to always talk about Georgia Tech, and how he really liked it down here, the warmth of the people,” Rychleski said. “And this is one of the loudest stadiums, when it’s rocking, that I’ve ever been in. We beat [Tech] in ’01 [when Maryland went on to win the ACC title], and in ’03 we lost. Both were Thursday nights.”
That Rychleski, 56, is a football coach is no surprise.
Growing up in the “Coal Region” of northeast Pennsylvania in Old Forge (about eight miles from Scranton), he admired his former assistant coach.
“[The late] Vince Thomasetti was my special teams coach and driver’s education teacher,” the coach explained. “In high school I always wanted to be a head football coach and driver’s ed teacher.”
Soon after graduating from Millersville (Pa.) State College (now known as Millersville University), Rychleski landed a job as a teacher and as the head coach of the freshman football team.
That lasted just four games, however, because teachers went on strike and, “and when we got back I was low man on the totem pole, obviously, and I was cut.”
After about a year spent kicking around, Rychleski visited the football offices at Temple University. Head coach Wayne Hardin, who later was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame, gave the young man a break.
“I went down to see him . . . and they needed somebody to run the scout team. I walked through the door, volunteered, and . . . went from a volunteer to a part-time outside linebackers coach, to a graduate assistant to a full-time assistant.”
With the exception of the three years spent with the Colts and one with Montreal, Rychleski’s career has been spent in the college ranks.
He likes to say, “Every coach has a scar, or scars,” and he claims a notable example.
When the Colts fell to the Saints in Super Bowl XLIV after the 2009 season, New Orleans turned the game with a successful onside kick to start the second half. It was recovered, coincidentally, by former Yellow Jacket Chris Reis.
When Rychleski cues up a replay in his office, it’s easy to see the ball bounce off the turf and then off the facemask of former Colt Hank Baskett. He appeared to wrestle it free in the ensuing pile, but Reis wound up with it and Rychleski and the Colts wound up wounded.
“We talked about it at halftime, and again right before the start of the second half,” he said. “That’s my scar, my super scar.”
Really, Rychleski was not too impacted.
He continues to relish football at every stop, and even traveled last fall back to Pennsylvania to watch his alma mater play in a state championship game.
The Blue Devils lost 15-14 in overtime when North Catholic scored a two-point conversion after Old Forge had kicked following an overtime touchdown.
“That was their first lead of the game,” Rychleski said. “I spoke at the high school banquet in March, and I told them that walking to my car that day I felt the same way that I did when we lost the Super Bowl; I felt for those kids.
“That was the furthest those kids had gotten, although we’re a good Coal Region football team, but to lose the way they lost was heart-breaking. That was their Super Bowl.”
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