It was an honor that was bestowed upon Buffalo's special teams coordinator, but always the one to pass the credit around, Bobby April made sure the men that make up his special teams units for the Bills were given their due when he was presented with the Special Teams Coach of the Year Award as voted by NFL coaches last Tuesday.
"This award is really a statement of achievement by the Buffalo Bills organization, and it is a great honor to have an opportunity to represent the Buffalo Bills through this award," said April after receiving the honor in Reno, NV.
The award was presented by Professional Kicking Services, which honors the NFL's best special teams coach each year. April's leadership of Buffalo's specialists was difficult to overlook as the Bills finished first in overall special teams ranking for the third time in five years (2004, 2005, 2008).
In 2008, April's special teams unit led the NFL in average drive start (32.4) and punt return average (15.5) and ranked second in opponent kick return average (19.8). They also ranked in the top five in five other categories and in the top 10 in seven others.
Last season was arguably April's best. With a host of new players and undrafted free agents making up a good portion of his units, the performance steadily improved as the season wore on. Still by midseason there was a big jump Buffalo's special teamers would have to make to be in striking distance of the top spot.
"A lot of guys had to step up for the first time and we used guys like Marcus Buggs when we lost Bryan Scott and Keith Ellison when they had to start on defense," said April. "We also lost (John) DiGiorgio to a knee injury, so we had a lot of guys that had to come into the mix.
"Most of them were first time guys and a lot of them were guys that were free agents and generally if those guys have toughness and are willing to compete you can make something happen, but usually you don't have the majority of your team made up of as many young guys as we do. When they're all young and relatively inexperienced, it's hard to do a good job, but they did a great job."
If you ask the players about the results they were able to produce they point to their special teams coordinator, who they feel had the best coaching season of his career in light of the lineup adjustments he had to make on a weekly basis.
"You'd be hard pressed not to say this was his best season," said punter Brian Moorman. "When you look at it Leodis (McKelvin) stepped in as a rookie as a kick returner and no one really knew exactly what was going to happen. Leodis is obviously very, very talented, but we also had a lot of new faces on the return unit and he can't do it without blocking. That success that we had comes from coaching. Then everything else factored in with all the other units and all the new faces and all the adjustments he had to make before and during the season, it's hard to say it was not his best year."
This is the second time April has received the Coach of the Year Award. His first came in the 2004 season, the first year in which they led the league in the special teams ranking compiled by the Dallas Morning News.