Special Teams Coordinator Richard Hightower Press Conference

Special Teams Coordinator Richard Hightower

Press Conference – October 27, 2021

San Francisco 49ers

Listen to Audio I Media Center

What are the challenges that you face this week against the bears?

“Obviously those guys have got some good units. [Chicago Bears WR] Jakeem Grant [Sr.] is one of the huge challenges. He has five career touchdowns, special teams touchdowns, in his career. He has great stop-start ability, he does both punt returns and kick returns. He’s a dynamic player and we’ve got to make sure that we put our best foot forward. And we’re excited about the challenge about going against him. They have some great specialists as well. And then they’ve got some core guys over there. As you guys know, I spent a little bit of time there, got a lot of respect for that organization and the way they treated me. Some of those players are still there and they’ve got some players there and we’ve got to make sure that we continue to do everything we’re doing with our plan and put our plan in and get ready to go to work against these guys. But I’m really excited about this week and going to practice. They present some challenges, but like I said last week, all teams present challenges. We’ve got to be up for the challenge. We’ve got to take advantage of our opportunities.”

There were obviously some odd conditions last Sunday night. The play with WR Brandon Aiyuk there, what’s the coaching point there and maybe just take into account the weather or not taking into account? How do you view it for, you know, making sure stuff like that?

“Yeah, certainly odd, really odd conditions. But I thought our guys were prepared for that moment. They were prepared for the week in terms of the weather and what it was going to be like. On that particular play which the coaching point is you like Aiyuk to get over there and field the ball and catch it. If you catch it right there, it’s a 45-yard punt. Obviously he didn’t catch it right there. But what I was really impressed about was our team and their reaction for three or four seconds. Yeah, nobody wants to be in that situation when that ball’s rolling around back there, but there was absolutely no panic in our guys. Aiyuk did the right thing by recovering it in the end zone. He knew it was a touchback. All of our players knew it was a touchback, and it just goes to show that they listen in meetings. We cover things like that in meetings. And it was just really good as a coach to see that there was no panic in the guys at that point, because really you’re on the sideline and you’re just waiting to see what’s going to happen. And they handled that situation well, Brandon handled that situation the best he can handle it there. And I mean, something I’ll share with you guys, I guess I’ll share this with you guys because it meant a lot to me, [former special teams coordinator] Joe Marciano who I learned from, was the first guy I learned from, he’s a 30-year veteran coaching special teams in this league and has done a hell of a job and got respect from a lot of different people. I had a text message from him after the game that said Aiyuk knew the rules. It’s a great job to see your team respond in that way, keep them going, keep your finger on it, keep your finger on them, keep your foot on the gas and let’s go. Something to that effect. But that meant a whole lot to me coming from Joe, because I sat in his meetings for years and learned from, in my opinion, one of the best. And he knows special teams better than anybody. I shared that with Aiyuk and Aiyuk felt good about that.”

You said that nobody on the field panicked. Was there some panic in you on the sidelines, seeing how your guys would respond?

“I never really panic, to be honest with you. But there is a moment, to be really honest with you, there’s a moment where you just don’t know what’s going to happen. You know, as a moment there, we’re just waiting to see what’s going to happen. And they did the right thing and I was really proud that they did the right thing in that situation because that was a difficult situation. It’s a play that you don’t see a lot. I mean, I’m glad you asked the question. It’s a play that you don’t see often at all. And we sit in meetings and we watch other teams around the league all the time and we go through rules and we go through things and the players get asked questions and they like that meeting. So it was good to see that, it was good to see that they retain something from there. And it was just good to see. And we always do that. We’re always going to watch around the league. We’re always going to watch other teams, special teams units, keep up on the trends, see what’s going on. And we’ll watch those meetings from this year. We’ll watch those plays from year’s past, bring up plays. There’s always something to learn. I told the guys, you know, on your best days, you’re learning confidence, on your worst days you might be learning persistence, but there’s always something to learn. So we just try to keep learning and try to keep getting better.”

Are you going into this week knowing that Aiyuk’s your power returner or is there a platoon with WR Mohamed Sanu Sr.?

“Aiyuk will find that out on the depth chart tomorrow, which is when we do the depth chart. I’m kidding with you, but yeah, Aiyuk is the punt returner. He’ll be back there.”

You were here in 2015 when the Levi’s field was being scrutinized and it wasn’t holding up. How did the grass, just the conditions fair? How did the fields fair during that wet game?

“I thought [senior manager & head groundskeeper Matt] Greiner and his crew did a hell of a job with that field. Even our players said that field was awesome during that downpour and it didn’t feel any different. So obviously it was wetter, but it didn’t feel like guys were slipping and sliding. And those are things we talked about in the meeting about getting to your spot, not having your feet outside the framework of your body, getting in good position, not getting elongated, not getting extended because of the slick conditions. And I think the players took a hold to that and they did a good job with it and the field was awesome. So they did a good job with the field.”

I know net punting usually drops as the season goes on and the weather changes, but right now P Mitch Wishnowsky is at 42.6. What’s your benchmark? What’s a successful punt and what’s not? What’s your benchmark?

“Typically anything over 43 yards, 42 yards, 42 yards and above is going to put you in the top five in the NFL at the end of the year. So he’s done well up to this point, but we still have a lot of games to play and he’s excited to continue to play and see if we can get that net even higher. I mean, I was really impressed with what he did in the conditions and having a 48.3-yard average and then a 47-yard net, which goes pun and coverage and then only allowing five yards, five return yards. So that was an outstanding game by Mitch in those elements. But again, every week is a new week and that week is over. And that’s a good question, but that week’s over and we’re ready to go to work this week.”