Q&A: Special Teams Coach Fred von Appen

by David Oliver

Fred von Appen, Special Teams Coach, was gracious to spend some time with your reporter. Coach von Appen has been everywhere as a coach and has had stints as a head coach at the University of Hawaii and a couple of High Schools in his native Oregon. He also worked with Bill Walsh several times, including stints at the 49ers and Stanford. He worked along with Coach Fassel at Stanford. Last year, he was the defensive line coach of the Vikings.

I asked him if the name was Prussian, and he grunted, “yes, Prussian.” I told him he reminded me of a Baron and that every time I heard his name, I slapped my cheeks together and saluted. I could tell by his body language that he was wondering what asylum had day release and he was prepared for “another one of those interviews”. So, I didn’t waste any time and got right into it.

Me: Coach, do you think that Kerouac and Cassidy were gay, just good friends who were close, or a couple of guys that shared everything?

Coach: Good friends. If anything, K had to be bi-sexual. Cassidy definitely was and he even admitted to it. I don’t think anything was ever said about Jack. He had a penchant for women, too, so I don’t know.

Me: Do you think his style (K’s) was copied from Miller, particularly the Tropics?

Coach: No, I see them as different. Of course, I read Miller so long ago, Capricorn and Cancer and I wasn’t enamored of either one. That was a strange group. I had occasion to go by Kesey’s place outside of Eugene and see the Kool Acid Bus.

Me: Did you ever stop by City Lights (bookstore in S.F. owned by Ferlinghetti)?

Coach: Yes. That’s where I first ran across Charles Bukowski, who I have a real passion for, he’s under valued…in Europe, he’s big, but, of course, there’s a lot of…some of his stuff is straight porn, but he has some really poignant things to say from a kind of a back alley street poet sense. (Bukowski was one of the least known beat writers – a man who spent many days and nights with the fruit of the vine and wrote in a wild style – read some, if you have the guts – editorial comment from Me).

Me: How about Giants’ Special Teams – do you have anything here?

Coach: Oh, I hope so. It’s so difficult to determine much of anything until you play a game and put some guys into the crucible of competition. I think we’ve got a core group that has some experience with “Teams” (special), that if we remain healthy, and that’s always a big “if” because it’s a chance factor, then I think we have a reasonable chance. There are some young guys that look promising, but I haven’t seen them play under fire, so, when you’ve got 85 to draw from and soon to be 60, and you get to evaluate them in such a limited context, I hope we can be sound, solid, dependable and provide a dimension of our own that will lend some excitement to the game.

Me: What is your philosophy of Specials? Do you have a philosophy?

Coach: Well, I think there are opportunities within various phases of “teams” to take advantage strategically of situations. Even though it’s considered to be a third of the football, in fact, in number of plays that you actually get in a game, it’s considerably under a third of the time, but they can have such, – (here the coach was thinking) – there’s so much momentum in field position tied to what happens in “teams” play, that if you don’t take advantage, tactically and strategically, of some of the situations, and, a lot of that is dependent on what the philosophy of the Head Coach is and he (Jim Fassel) wants to do some things this year, so we’re endeavoring to work on some things and if we feel they’re available, we’ll try to take advantage of that situation; but you have to do them enough in the practice setting, that you, (thinking), they’re always going to involve ball handling cause that’s the issue, that you have enough confidence in the ball handling that if you are going to pass out of punt formation or you’re going to fake out of field goal, or whatever, that the guy doing the ball handling doesn’t throw the ball eight rows into the top deck, which can happen if you haven’t done it. So we’ve been working on stuff from day one. How much it will be utilized is dependent upon how we game plan and what it looks like and how it dovetails with the O and the D.

Me: Coach, I had an opportunity to talk with Coach Rusty Tillman about specials and I asked him [Coach intervened here with the aside “Great Coach” (Tillman)] what makes Specials great, and he said “Execution”.

Coach: That’s right. And you’ve got basically the entire football team at your disposal for a relatively short period of time, so the logistics involved are tough. Game day logistics are very difficult to deal with; practice logistics are being able to take a compressed time frame and get a lot of work done, and when you’re dealing with a lot of numbers it’s hard, so you really just put a very light foundation down in 2 a days, and you start embellishing it later.

Me: The kickers – I haven’t read or seen anything positive about this phase of the game in camp. Is the kicking game going to be OK?

Coach: I’ll tell you what, I think it’ll be fine. This is a tough business. If we’re not entirely satisfied – production has to be forthcoming – and if it isn’t, we’ll look elsewhere. But I think of the four candidates right now, it’s competitive. The thing they don’t have, which we’ve all been through at some time in our vocational experience, they haven’t done it before, they don’t have the backlog of experience, they aren’t considered the incumbent. But how do you ever become that until you work your way up the system and stick your nose into something, and get a chance to play full time – then you’re the guy and there’s certainly hunger from that standpoint, there’s enough athleticism with any of the 4 that they can do it, now whether they do it or not, that is the question.

There were others waiting for the coach, so I told him I had enough for this interview and we agreed we’d talk more special teams later in camp, and, added coach, more Bukowski.