John McNulty knows there is a high standard of excellence associated with playing tight end for the San Diego Chargers.
The team's new tight ends coach intends to keep that legacy alive.
Entering his 26th season, including his 14th in the NFL, McNulty knows the Bolts are associated with high quality of play at the position thanks to two of the all-time greats – Kellen Winslow and Antonio Gates.
"They are incredible, and it is really special for me to have this opportunity," he said. "The tight end position is obviously really important to this organization and this town. There are some teams where maybe they minimize the role, and there are guys you may not even be able to name. Here, you are talking about two Hall of Famers. That is a pretty unique situation to have at the position, and hopefully we can continue it along."
While the Chargers named six new position coaches for 2016, McNulty's situation differs from the rest in that none of the tight ends who appeared in a game for the Bolts last year are currently under contract. The team needs to make decisions on whether to retain Gates, Ladarius Green, John Phillips and David Johnson or add someone else to compete with Sean McGrath and Asante Cleveland.
"I've been talking with the coaches that were here last year and the personnel staff to evaluate those guys," McNulty said. "We're giving our opinion on if we need to bring certain guys back, and what he will do for us. So I'm talking with (Head Coach) Mike McCoy and (Offensive Coordinator) Ken Whisenhunt about what we feel their role will be, and then the personnel department will come up with a number to see if we can bring them back. I am watching the tape and saying this is what I think this guy can do and where he can help us. But then they ultimately have to make the decision on having guys back. Those players all seem to be good people, good players and tough, hardworking guys."
The Bolts have been on record about their hope to bring Gates back as General Manager Tom Telesco and President of Football Operations John Spanos have made their intentions well known. Should he return, McNulty looks forward to working with one of the players for whom he has the utmost respect.
"For me, he is one of the great stories in the history of the league," McNulty said as his eyes lit up. "I don't know how many guys with his background and being undrafted are sitting on the precipice of being a Hall of Fame player. Obviously it means he has a tremendous work ethic, and he's meant a lot to this team and this community. It is a unique story. From where he started, to be able to put this type of career together, you are talking about a unique individual in which the team, the city and the community have been lucky. You don't very often get to watch a guy in front of your eyes have that type of career. Hopefully it will continue and finish in the town where it started."
McNulty spent the past two seasons as quarterbacks coach for the Tennessee Titans after one season in the same position with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He served as wide receivers and quarterbacks coach for the Arizona Cardinals from 2009-12., and also coached for the Dallas Cowboys Jacksonville Jaguars in addition to 12 years at the collegiate level (Rutgers, Connecticut and Michigan)/
Even though this marks his first stint as tight ends coach, McNulty is confident he is equipped for the job based on his past experiences leading all aspects of an offense.
"Especially having been an offensive coordinator (at Rutgers), but also working as quarterbacks coach, I've been pretty heavily involved with tight ends in the passing game. The run game I go back to when I was a coordinator and we ran the ball with Ray Rice and Brian Leonard about 50 times a game. I was heavily involved with the run game schematically, and in terms of the fundamentals of blocking. So I have a feel for it, and I think I have a good feel for how to help the guys improve."
Still, McNulty knows a lot goes into the tight ends position, which he says may have the most responsibilities in an offense outside of the quarterback.
"I think it is one of the most interesting positions to coach, because like quarterbacks, you are involved in the running game and the passing game. You have to work with the offensive line, the quarterback and the receivers. You are involved in all aspects of the game with pass protection, run blocking, running routes and pretty much everything. And it is not just one nowadays with the multiple tight end sets. The position has taken on a life of its own, and it's become more and more productive the last few years. The hard thing is finding guys who can both block and be effective in the passing game."