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Steady Hand Seely

Posted Nov 18, 2011



With 22 years of NFL coaching experience, 49ers special teams coordinator/assistant head coach Brad Seely has added instant respectability to Jim Harbaugh’s staff. Throughout his years on the NFL circuit, Seely has won three Super Bowl rings while leaving a positive imprint at each of his coaching stops. Though he joined a new organization this offseason, Seely he’s been reunited with some of his former colleagues and players. The cerebral Seely has already made a huge impact in his first few months with the 49ers and is focused on one thing: putting another Super Bowl ring on his finger. Click here to watch Seely's interview.

BRAD SEELY is a thief and a pitchman all wrapped into one. And he has a firm grip on this whole coaching thing, too. The composed South Dakota native is predictable to find around this time of year. If he’s not out on the field coaching the 49ers special teams, Seely is probably behind the desk of his second floor office, studying up on the next opponent. He spends his days in the Bay Area now, but Seely has put on plenty of mileage since his coaching career started in 1978. Seely’s first stop was as an assistant at his alma mater, South Dakota State, but he’s since coached at five more universities and spent 22 years in the NFL. Like any smart coach, he’s picked up a little something at each stop along the way. “What coaching is, is stealing,” admits Seely. “We steal techniques and we steal ways to approach people. Because what a coach is, is a salesman. I’ve got to do a better job of selling my players, than some other coach does.”

Through nine games of a spectacular season that’s resulted in eight wins, it’s evident the 49ers are buying in to Seely’s philosophy. It shows every time the kick-off coverage team bounces around before the ball is teed up. Every time the sideline erupts after a big hit. Every time the tackler is mobbed by his teammates after delivering a blow. “When you’re talking about special teams, I think it all starts with effort,” says Seely. “We’re going to fly around on the field. We’re going to play as hard as we possibly can every moment we’re out there.”

LITTLE DID Seely know, but the seeds for his cerebral coaching style would be planted during his playing days at South Dakota State. As an offensive lineman who wasn’t the most physically-gifted guy on the field, Seely had to be shrewd. “I’d like to think I was a smart player,” says Seely. “Whatever I lacked in athletic ability, I tried to make up by knowing a little bit more than my opponent before the line was snapped. I was an offensive lineman and we’d like to think of ourselves as thinkers.” Following a successful college career, Seely signed as a free agent with the Dallas Cowboys, but his playing days were soon over.

With a passion for the pigskin, it was only natural for Seely to return to South Dakota State as a graduate assistant. From there, Seely darted about the country – with stints at Colorado State, Southern Methodist, North Carolina State, University of Pacific and ultimately Oklahoma State. Primed for the pro ranks, Seely joined the coaching staff of the Indianapolis Colts in 1989 and has held a job in the league ever since. By the mid-90s, Seely had his established himself as one of the NFL’s top special teams coaches with the Carolina Panthers.

LISTENING TO 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, Seely’s value to his team is undeniable. His input isn’t restricted to merely the third phase of the game, special teams. “He’s just a phenomenal football coach,” Harbaugh said at a press conference on Monday. “I sit in on every meeting, I don’t say a word, I just learn. … (He teaches) the non-flashy things that don’t show up on the statistics. The tackles, the scheme, the eating up a block, the technique that carries over to the entire football team both offensively and defensively.” With such an influence, it’s no wonder why Harbaugh named Seely his assistant head coach this offseason.

The two weren’t familiar with each other on a personal level before this season, but Seely’s body of work speaks for itself. Seely had become familiar with Harbaugh’s brother and current Baltimore Ravens coach, John Harbaugh, throughout the years. So when the opportunity arose, Jim Harbaugh called up Seely to be his right-hand man. As smart and insightful as Seely is, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him leave the 49ers for a head coaching gig in the future. “He just does a great job and I’ve almost got the feeling that ‘OK, we’ve got him now,’” Harbaugh said this week prior to the 49ers home game against the Arizona Cardinals. “We’ve got Coach Seely now and at some point, some smart organization is going to hire him away from us.”

AT THE moment, Seely is the architect behind a special teams unit that has evolved into one of the league’s best. And though he joined a new organization this offseason, Seely is no stranger to some of his colleagues on the staff. Seely and the 49ers other two top assistants, offensive coordinator Greg Roman and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, coached together with the expansion Carolina Panthers franchise for four seasons. Seely also spent time with defensive backs coach Ed Donatell at UOP in 1983 and with the New York Jets in 1994. “It’s a real comfortable situation for us as coaches,” says Seely. “It’s always good to see some familiar faces.”

Success is nothing new to Seely. Following four years with the Panthers, including 1996 when he was named Special Teams Coach of the Year, Seely joined the New England Patriots in 1999 for a historic 10-year run. In that time, Seely helped guide the Patriots to three Super Bowl victories. Truth be told, Seely doesn’t spend much time reflecting on past glory. As for those three rings, Seely says he doesn’t put a lot of stock into them. He’s focused on winning ring No. 4.

“That’s always the goal as a coach,” says Seely. “Someday, I’ll really sit back and look at those times and feel really good about what we did. But as a coach, we’re always looking forward. What are we going to do today and what are we going to do tomorrow to get one of those rings?”

THOUGH THEY didn’t know each other on a personal level before this year, Seely and Harbaugh did see eye-to-eye on something: the need for core special teams players. Aside from retain players like C.J. Spillman and draft others like Colin Jones, the 49ers went out and signed players like Blake Costanzo, Larry Grant and Tavares Gooden to make regular contributions on special teams. Costanzo, who followed Seely from Cleveland after spending two years with the coach, says the 49ers take pride in their special teams. “We got a bunch of guys that love playing it and are passionate guys,” says Costanzo. “We all just feed off each other. … We’ve got confidence in (Seely) and he’s got confidence in us.”

The results have been stellar. The 49ers are the best team in the NFL when it comes to the battle for field position, as they begin drives from an average of the 32-yard line while opponents start from an average of the 24-yard line. Free-agent kicker David Akers is tied for the league lead with 23 made field goals against just two misses and punter Andy Lee is the leading Pro Bowl vote-getter for his position. Ted Ginn Jr. has maintained his presence as one of the league’s most consistent return men since his two-touchdown s afternoon in Week 1. Through it all, Seely has been the steady hand.