Chargers team reporter Hayley Elwood sat down with new special teams coordinator Ryan Ficken. Below are three takeaways from Ficken's interview.
Going back to where it all started
In early February, the Chargers hired Ryan Ficken to be their new special teams coordinator after being a member of the Minnesota Vikings coaching staff in various roles since 2007. Last season, Ficken was promoted to Vikings special teams coordinator before making the move to the Chargers.
The move to L.A. brings Ficken from the frigid Minnesota winters to the year-round sunny Southern California weather, or in his own words, he's "traded in the snow boots for some sandals."
Despite spending his entire 14-year NFL coaching career with the Vikings, Ficken is already familiar with working in Los Angeles. Ficken's first coaching job was at UCLA as a graduate assistant after his collegiate career at Arizona State ended. Ficken talked about the "unbelievable opportunity" to join the Bolts coaching staff and what went into his decision to move to the West Coast.
"Coming out here talking with [head] coach [Brandon] Staley and [general manager] Tom Telesco and the Spanos family, it just felt like home," Ficken said. "It has a family atmosphere and I just really love the direction that they're headed and that's what actually sold me on the opportunity to come here."
Ficken also talked about working with head coach Brandon Staley since joining the coaching staff.
"He's amazing," Ficken said. "Just everything that everyone talks about just in terms of the energy, the vision that he has, the love that he has for not only this organization, but the players that are in the building, that's the thing I'm really looking forward to working with and alongside."
Creating value on special teams
A special teams squad in the NFL can be made up of a variety of players, whether it's a rookie who has little experience on special teams, a seasoned veteran, or a player fighting for a spot on the 53-man roster. Ficken talked about what type of player he's looking for when building his special teams unit next season.
"I want the best football player," Ficken said. "That's all I can care about. However you can create value for our organization, to our team that's what we look forward to. It could be from a first round draft pick to a free agent who tried out [at] rookie minicamp, it doesn't matter. If they add value to this team that's what we look forward to."
Ficken also talked about how important it is to have a special teams group of 'complete' players in order to have success.
"The biggest thing is we're not looking for just a corner or running back, we're looking for a complete football player," he said. "They need to be able to go ahead and contribute to our team. You know a running back might be coming to kick and making tackles, so they got to be able to contribute on the positive effect and be somebody that we can rely on an every-play basis."
From 2013-2020, Ficken served as the Vikings assistant special teams coach before getting promoted to special teams coordinator last season. Ficken talked about what he's learned from making the transition from an assistant coach to now a coordinator.
"Just how to handle adversity in different situations," Ficken said. "You run a different role…they look at you a little bit differently, so being able to transition from that role and just having more of a vision and how we can go ahead and achieve success on the field and help our team win games."
One of the most important things for a coach at any level is getting players to buy-in to your philosophy and coaching style. Ficken gave more insight into his philosophy as a coach and how he gets the best out of his players.
"I think you just got to be honest," Ficken said. "You show them how you are going to be able to help them, how they are going to be successful. You put them in those positions to be successful, they'll understand that the time you put into them that they know that you actually care about them and their success and that you are actually looking for the best for them."
As Ficken heads into his first season with the Chargers, he talked about his plans and how he's looking to the draft and free agency to build the Bolts special teams.
"We're always looking to try to improve, uncovering all those rocks and making sure we can get better in any spot. If it's just a little bit, that's what we want to make sure we do and then to the draft and just putting the whole philosophy in what we want to be as a special teams unit."
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