Onside kicks can make a head coach look brilliant or completely incompetent depending on the outcome, so a special teams coordinator needs to plead his case well, and back it up with evidence, if he thinks one can be recovered successfully durign a game.
That convincing isn't just a desperate plea on the sidelines before the decision is made. It goes back to the week of practice, whether the kickoff team had proven their strategy could work effectively -- and was executed -- on several occasions and whether the week of film study had found a noticeable area to take advantage of an opponent.
"In your game-planning, you've got to recognize something that the opponent is doing that you think you can exploit," Redskins special teams coordinator Ben Kotwica said on a recent "Redskins Nation" appearance. "So we saw something there on tape that we thought we could exploit and then the next part is selling it off to the boss and believing what your eyes see and being able to practice that."
Kotwica was describing this season's successful onside kick, which came in the third quarter of the biggest comeback in Redskins history, fighting from a 24 point deficit against the Buccaneers.
With the Bucs lining up at behind the 50-yard line, assuming a big boot, kicker Dustin Hopkins foiled their expectations with a small pooch that went untouched by Tampa Bay. The Redskins, down by 10 points at the time, recovered (thanks to Trenton Robinson) and eventually drove down the field for a touchdown.
The Redskins would go on to win 31-30, prompting a midseason turnaround and a new identity for their quarterback.
The special teams unit had practiced and executed the play a couple times during the week, giving Kotwica and head coach Jay Gruden the confidence that, in a game where the Redskins had momentarily reclaimed the momentum, it was an ideal time to try some trickery.
"I remember it, Jay and I just kind of looked eye to eye and he gave me the nod and he had enough confidence to make it happen and we did," Kotwica said." And the other fortunate thing when you talk about complementary football is you take that turnover, which is the momentum changer, and the offense goes down and scores. So when you can execute complementary football like that, you're going to have a lot more success."