Nevada football announced the additions of two new assistant coaches this week.
Thomas Sheffield was hired as the special teams coordinator and Bill Best was hired as the new offensive line coach, the university announced.
Sheffield replaces Tommy Perry, who was hired the special teams coordinator at Texas-San Antonio earlier this month. When Sheffield was a special teams/offensive graduate assistant at North Texas, Sheffield worked with Perry.
“Thomas is incredibly passionate about special teams,” Nevada head coach Jay Norvell said. “He assisted Tommy Perry in the past and is extremely knowledgeable about our package. He’s also great working individually with punters, kickers and long-snappers. We’re excited to have him on board.”
Sheffield was the special teams coordinator, tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator at Arkansas-Pine Bluff the last three seasons. His immediate impact led to the punting unit finishing 3rd-best in the FCS net punting (41.08 avg) and 8th-best in punt return defense (3.56 yards per return) in his first season, both finishing atop the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) and setting new school records.
In the last two seasons, Sheffield’s punt unit finished No. 33 and No. 86 in the FCS in net punting. In 2018, UAPB’s Jamie Gillian earned All-SWAC honors as a kicker and punter. He was No. 13 in the nation in net punting (37.5 avg) and converted on 20 of his 29 field goal attempts. Gillian joined the Cleveland Browns as an undrafted rookie last season, earning the starting role. In his rookie season, he finished in the Top-10 in the NFL in punting with 46.2 yards per punt.
Sheffield’s coverage teams finished No. 4 in the SWAC in both punt return (9.88 avg) and kickoff return yardage (21.21 avg).
Prior to UAPB, he worked at North Texas as a special teams/offensive graduate assistant. In 2015, punter Eric Keena finished second in the Conference USA — T-21 in the nation — in punting with 44.2 yards per punt. Sheffield served as the tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator for University of Mary Hardin Baylor after beginning his coaching career at San Houston State in 2011-12.
The Pack lose punter Quinton Conaway to graduation, but return placekicker Brandon Talton. Talton, a second-team All-MWC honoree, nailed 84.0 percent of his field goals — including a season-long 56-yard field goal to beat Purdue as time expired.
UNREAL FINISH!— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) August 31, 2019
Nevada true freshman Brandon Talton nails a 56-yard FG to stun Purdue on the final play of the game pic.twitter.com/ECnq7kPKR6
Nevada’s special teams ranked as the 85th-best special teams group in the nation, according to ESPN’s efficiency rankings. The group ranked No. 88 in 2018 and No. 125 in 2017.
“My family and I are excited for the opportunity that Coach Norvell has given us,” Sheffield said. “A lot of hard work and sacrifice has led us to this position and we are excited to be a part of the Wolf Pack family.”
Best is Nevada’s 8th offensive line coach in the last 12 seasons. He spent the previous two seasons the tight ends coach at Rice after spending four seasons with as the run-game coordinator and the offensive line coach at Stephen F. Austin.
He replaces Angus McClure, who was hired as California’s offensive line coach earlier this month. McClure spent the last two seasons with the Wolf Pack.
“I am thrilled for the opportunity work for Jay Norvell and to coach the Union for the Wolf Pack,” Best said. “The Nevada football program is headed in a great direction and I can’t wait to get started.”
In his first three seasons with SFA, the offense totaled 427-plus yards and finished within the Top-25 in the FCS in total offense each season.
In 2014, Best’s offensive line paved the way in the ground game, ranking No. 28 in the nation in rushing offense (207.4 ypg) — including rushing for the 9th-most rushing touchdowns with 38. Running back Gus Johnson (no, not the broadcaster) finished with 1,683 rushing yards and 23 touchdowns in 2014, both single-season school records. In 2015, the Lumberjacks finished 22nd-best in the FCS with 207.9 rush yards per game.
Prior to being with SFA, he spent two seasons at Central Arkansas (2012-13). Best was the associate head coach and offensive coordinator at West Texas A&M (2006-11) after beginning his collegiate coaching career at Ranger College in 2004.
Best inherits an offensive line that will return all five starters next season. According to Pro Football Focus (PFF), Nevada’s offense line ranked No. 123 out of 130 teams. The Wolf Pack allowed the 14th-most pressures and sported the fourth-worst run game, per PFF.
He could potentially revitalize the run game, which placed No. 122 in rushing offense (115.6 ypg) and No. 124 in yards per carry (3.4) this season — the worst marks since the 2000-01 season.
Best has coached 11 offensive lineman that have made it to the professional level in his coaching career.
“Bill is tremendously knowledgeable,” Norvell said. “He’s been a coordinator as well as an offensive line coach, and he has experience with both Air Raid and West Coast Offense principles. He is a perfect fit for Nevada and we’re excited to have him on board.”