vIQ #21: John Carney On Life As NFL Kicker and the Carney Training Facility

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This episode of the vIQtory podcast features Legendary former NFL Kicker, John Carney.

John kicked in the NFL for 23 seasons in a career that spanned 4 decades. He retired as the 3rd All-Time scorer in the NFL with the bulk of his career coming between the San Diego Chargers and the New Orlean Saints. John was named one of the 50 Greatest Chargers, is a member of the Saints Hall of Fame and was also named to the Notre Dame All-Time team by Sports Illustrated.

After his career ended in the NFL, John went on to open the Carney Training Facility which we talk at length about. Check out his website at and catch him on Twitter as well.


Steve McGrath: Welcome back everybody to the vIQtory podcast. I’m your host Steve McGrath alongside Chris Haddad, as always, and we have yet another very special guest with

us. Our guest today has had a career that spans four decades, 23 seasons, kicking in the NFL. John Carney, most notably with the Chargers and the Saints, was a two-time Pro Bowler, two-time All Pro. When he retired he was third all-time in points scored in the NFL and that is among a host of other accolades that we will dive into a little bit later. John thank you so much for coming on with us this morning.

John Carney: Steve, Chris, my pleasure, thank you.

SM: When we were looking at your career John, I noticed that you were All-State as a punter in high school, so I wanted to ask you just from the jump; how did you get involved in kicking/punting. Obviously you were a talented punter as well, so how did you initially realize that you had a gift for kicking/punting and how did you ultimately decide to become a kicker as opposed to a punter.

JC: Good question. So, actually when I went to high school, soccer really was my passion at that time and playing the trumpet, believe it or not, and so those were my my two passions at the time. When I went to high school it became clear to me that football was the cool thing to do. We had a great football program at Cardinal Newman high school down in West Palm Beach Florida we had a great football coach, legendary football coach – Coach Sam Budnick who is in the Hall of Fame of Florida High School sports and just set all kinds of records; amazing man. So it was pretty much understood it was a rite of passage if you’re a male at our school to go out for the football program. So my sophomore year that’s what I did and I found that sitting on the bench wasn’t that much fun. I thought I was a receiver, that soon became clear that I wasn’t. But the guys that were – I think the football were ‘football guys’, not soccer guys, and so I figured hey if I can kick a soccer ball and figure out how to kick this football. I went to a Garo Yepremian camp, he was just finishing up his NFL career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after a long career with the Miami Dolphins and so that was my first instruction on how to kick or punt a football and from that point I went to JV, went to varsity in my junior, senior years but never had dreams or aspirations of playing football in college. I thought soccer would be what I would be playing if I played an export in college. So, football worked out well, we had a great running back by the name of Alonso Jefferson who was all-world and he chose to go to Notre Dame and Notre Dame was chasing him quite a bit and so as a concession they took me as a walk-on the Notre Dame as place kicker and I was thrilled to the moon for the opportunity. And you mentioned about punting; so I did both punting and kicking. At the time Notre Dame recruited me, they said we don’t have a kicking job open but we have a punting job open so I spent a lot of time punting going into my freshman year. As it turned out the punting job was not open but the kickoff job was and fortunately I had the opportunity to kick off for the University Notre Dame my freshman year.

SM: That’s awesome yeah and I wanted to ask, you ended up going to Notre Dame in the mid-80s. So, I was just curious as to, you know, how that came about – were they offering scholarships? I mean you said that you had walked on but so it was actually they were chasing a teammate of yours. But what they didn’t know at the time – and  they do know now – is that they were getting the man that would ultimately be named to the Notre Dame all-time roster as I believe it was a kicker so I think that trade worked out pretty well for them 

JC: It worked out well for all of us and unfortunately my friend long represent the running back he had a terrible ACL injury his junior year playing against Michigan and back then in the late, mid-80s ACL surgery was not what it is today and he did come back but was never the same and unfortunately did not have a pro career which he would have had and of course ACL surgery been better back then but again out yeah very fortunate to end up there and kick in just a lot of a great experience and the coolest thing of the whole situation now is my son is at Notre Dame and he is a quarterback as a sophomore he’s in the quarterback corral and hopefully someday he’ll get some playing time I’m sure he’s gonna get a lot of good experience on this upcoming month.

Chris Haddad: So John, I wanna fast forward here to the NFL, you ultimately went un-drafted. Do you, and I want to start, do you remember getting your first trial with the Bengals and what that was like – you know, you’re being released, you sat out in 87, can you take us through that experience of just getting into the NFL and the challenges of having to work through, you know, getting released, getting the tryout and then having sit out.

JC: Many college seniors, they feel ‘of course I’m just gonna step right into the NFL and continue my career, sure yeah, pickups in it’ll be a smooth transition’ well for kickers and punters it’s it’s not that smooth as the recently a lot of great kickers and punters coming out with great college accolades have struggling and that’s my passion now because I went through that same experience of sharing with them what’s different about the NFL from college and how do you make that next step and make it a smooth transition and understand what’s expected of you had the NFL which is not affected of you at the college level but um you mentioned Cincinnati Bengals that went there thought I had an opportunity to beat out a veteran by the name of Jim breech who had been there for 10 11 years that wasn’t the case Jim really well I learned a lot from Jim Breech I understood how accurate and how consistent you needed to be at the NFL level and he was extremely accurate I don’t think he missed a field goal the entire training camp huh which was impressive to me there was another young kicker with me at the time Massimo maka from Penn State we both kicked the ball higher and further than Jim breech but he kicked it a lot straighter quick the name of the game in this football to the upright kicking it super high and super far doesn’t always win you the job so learned a lot and had to go back to the lab really back to a home in Florida and work out my game mentally and physically and and certainly iron out my skill so I would be more competitive the next opportunity I would get and then ultimately you got that opportunity in San Diego can you talk about what clicked there what made San Diego what made it work in San Diego well I had a couple years in between there with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as they’re basically they’re their training camp kicker their backup kicker of course during the season they don’t carry backup so you go home and you continue to train and work part-time jobs and that’s a another interesting balance that guys have to work on when they’re not picked up right away, but got some good experience Tampa Bay did bring me back for a few games in 88 and a few games in 89 which was really good to get my feet wet in the regular season and when I came out to San Diego I finally built a tool box of tools that may be more competitive and more capable of sticking with the team competed with foie gras vezh who was a veteran out of the out of the Miami Dolphins it’s been three or four years with dolphins and had some injury problems that they they finally got tired of and so he came out to San Diego we had a great competition they ended up going with fawn at the end of pre-season because of his experience although I felt that I’d put up a good fight Fahd just never got into the rhythm when the season started they brought me back Game five and fought ended up in Minnesota with the Vikings and had another three or four great years with the Vikings

CH: That’s great I mean the mental emotions that you’ve gone through it the roller coaster ride right I’m just going you know from getting picked up and then you back home working a part-time job and then you’re back here then and then all of a sudden like I said you landed in San Diego and things could click for you eleven years there and you know I I got asked you played in San Diego Junior Seau which I saw him on your website too was a close friend well like playing with you and you say ah what kind of guy was he you know what kind of teammate was he being in San Diego 

JC: well one of the best teams ever yes he prepared like nobody else and then a guy that he mentored Rodney Harrison as you have seen Rodney had a phenomenal career. Rodney as soon as he got to the Chargers he realized real quickly who he wanted his mentor to be in that was junior cell very smart on his part but junior was a amazing friend a great teammate like I said prepared like no other yeah what’d he call um uh what he called The Breakfast Club The Breakfast Club was anybody wanted to join him at 6:00 a.m. for workout in the gym at the facility would work out with him of course heck of a workout but also my friends walking in a client’s but also he would feed them breakfast and they would go watch film prior to the first meeting at 8:00 a.m. so by the end of the season the Breakfast Club would have about 15 guys in it and of course building camaraderie but also preparing guys better for each and every day of the season but love the guy really unfortunate the way things ended for him but just an amazing man on and off the field

SM: So like Chris had said though you know eleven seasons in San Diego can you walk us through what it was like you you know at this point you are quite the established kicker but you enter a free agency and then you begin another you know great tenure as the New Orleans Saints what what was it like for you going to that process and kind of figuring out where is the next place that you want to call home 

JC: well I I always assumed we don’t want to assume I assume they hire San Diego charger and you know get the parade and all that fun stuff but that didn’t happen we had a new general manager come in it was evident within two years that he was flipping the roster which he did within three years from the year 2001 to 2003 he had changed the entire roster except for two players: nose guard and our long snapper david ben great long snapper and those will only two guys he kept so the rodney Harrison’s a junior seau’s you name it everybody cleared out I just happened to be on the front end of that clear out it was frustrating it was very disappointing if he told hey we’re going another direction thanks for your effort good luck and so I spent an entire offseason really at home training wondering you know what’s gonna happen this fall will I get a call is there a need for I don’t know at the time maybe I was thirty seven or eight years old things called me up a couple weeks in the training camp and it was certainly a huge change an adjustment but loved my time at the New Orleans Saints they welcomed me with open arms ironically the general manager Randy Muller who was at the Saints at the time had been with the Seattle Seahawks for many years and he had seen me twice a year for many years back then Seattle was part of our divisions so that was a nice connection it’s nice to see a friendly face and couldn’t be more thankful for my experience at the New Orlean Saints football it’s amazing down in New Orleans they love they love their Saints and they love their LSU Tigers so it was really exciting for me and my family to go down and be a part of the New Orleans community and the New Orleans Saints football.

CH:  so John I want you to I want you to brag a little bit I know you’re a humble guy but I want you to brag a little bit what made John Carney so great in the NFL putting a lot on here with it I mean from a mental standpoint you know wasn’t the was it the ability to just kick and forget or you know I’m sure that obviously had to play a huge part in it but you know I want to get into them the mind of John Carney a little bit of why you think that you kick so well for as long as you did

JC: leaving Notre Dame and the tryouts the training camps competing against veterans the the experience of hanging out with guys with other in training camp and watching what made them tick and what made them successful really helped me build again that toolbox of skills and experience that certainly benefited me once the Chargers decided to keep me around for a season and then 11 though that was a big part I think my faith my faith in God that I had a you know he gave me some skills and I was gonna maximize those skills to the best of my ability that everything wasn’t gonna be a piece of cake that there was gonna be failure down the road but sometimes there’s a reason for that failure we are we certainly Lou learn more from our failures than from our successes in me I tried my best to learn as much as I could when the ball wasn’t going through the uprights I think I was realistic I think at times with my training but I always wanted to improve when as decent ended those three months between the end of the season and reporting back to the team in late March early April I wanted to be bigger better stronger faster smarter so I used those months to improve myself as opposed to vacationing or taking days off – yeah I just I knew what it was like to be unemployed to be an unemployed placekicker I knew that wasn’t that much fun and so I really wanted to every effort I put in to mentally physically spiritually into my training and into my performance and take it as seriously as I could to make this career something I’d be happy about

CH: yeah and ultimately your success depends

on the success of the long snapper and the holder as well right how often when did you spend with those guys in the offseason but as well as in season two just making sure that the timing and everything else was perfect

JC: absolutely that’s a part of it you know you can be a great kicker but your snapper and holder aren’t doing a job then you’re gonna struggle regardless of how good you are it’s just you need those guys in your life and so certainly in the offseason we trained a lot with them I was very blessed to have some great holders and snappers over the course of my career I mentioned David Ben earlier David Ben spent seventeen years of the San Diego Chargers make amazing long snapper but that chemistry really important and so and we end up cycling through holders a little bit more than centers punters come and go quarterbacks come and go teams would like to hold on to their long snapper for as long as possible hopefully that guy stays consistent with you but certainly a very considerable amount of work goes into that operation being smooth and when you watch that on Sundays on TV that just looks so easy they make it look easy but there’s many many hours of prep that go behind them snapping holding and kicking that football and making it look smooth and making it look easy it is so fluid right but then the only time people notice is when it goes wrong and it’s like oh what happened but I don’t 99.9% of time it goes right and people don’t even think about it

SM: that’s right you know holder’s kickers you know if they’re not you know kind of along those lines of what to me sounds like you the kicker the play so it’s a lot of it’s underappreciated so along those same lines what I had kind of alluded to in the intro I just wanted to round this off you are currently fifth all-time and scoring your the all-time charger scorer you’re in the Saints Hall of Fame 50 greatest Chargers you were part of the Saints team the year that they won the Super Bowl I mean what else does a man need on his resume to get Hall of Fame consideration I mean I don’t mean to put it on you cuz I know crystal ready put you on the spot but does it ever cross your mind like why is it that you know someone with my resume doesn’t have the buzz that some of these other guys do like why do kickers just not get the love 

JC: well I’ll be honest with you I’ve talked to some national media and over the years media that does have a vote for the Hall of Fame they’re not big fans of kickers and punters it’s pretty obvious when you look at the Hall of Fame we have one punter ray guy and it took what 30 or 40 years to get him in there have Martin Anderson Morton yeah that’s conducted a couple years ago and Jan Stenerud that’s it that’s it in fact you know there should be some long snappers Steve Tasker one of the best cover guys ever one of the best special teams guys ever I think 11 or 12 Pro Bowls in a row and Steve Tasker in the NFL Hall of Fame so I don’t know what it is I’m hoping at some point the NFL the people that vote understand the impact that so many special teams guys have on the game and if the games that are decided with great coverage great returners Morten Andersen making game-winning field goal so and punters flipping the field Darren Bent good friend of ours Darren I played with here in San Diego for many years Darren revolutionized the game of punting because he came from Australia and he brought in the Aussie Rules drop plant which is now the end-over-end punt that every punter hits when they’re going inside the 20 and it’s very accurate it’s it’s a phenomenal punt he introduced that to the NFL why isn’t he being considered another guy who was a to suitable puller why isn’t he considered as a NFL Hall of Fame candidate so it’s it’s too bad it’s unfortunate that these guys are getting overlooked and I hope someday the committee will see the impact these guys have had on the game and give them their due 

SM: yeah well when when Chris and I have a little bit more clout we’ll make a few phone calls on your behalf, it might be a little while – I wanted to ask you know is you know obviously you know all this why wouldn’t you just

stick with the NFL coaching route but quite obviously you took that to what I believe to be the next level you opened up the carnie training facility so I know that right as your career ended you spent time in a consultant coaching type of capacity how long did it take you to this side  you know what I want to open up my own facility where guys can come train can you just tell us like how did that come when did that become an idea and how did you take that to what it is today

JC: at the end of my career guys like Steve Weatherford a really good friend of mine Steve and I played together at the New Orleans Saints in and he and some of his friends started training with me in the offseason in the mid two thousand two thousand six seven eight nine ten and so I had a gym in my garage and so they come out we know why what’s Kearny doing house II laughing so long let’s dis track hey you know here he does it has a pretty good training program let’s you know check this out experience this Nick Folk was another guy who came out a lot and it started before my career ended that this offseason my off seasons here in San Diego we were starting to build up a good little group good little roster of NFL specialists that we’re training with us and so when I did retire I Steve my good buddy was still Clank with the Giants and winning the Super Bowls and now he’s mr. Fitness weatherford fitness calm amazing and so I decided okay let’s move this out of my garage okay my wife really doesn’t want ten guys here every morning so we’ll go to basically a warehouse I’m in a warehouse gym we have an office here we can review film here we can cover a lot of aspects of kicking and punting and long snapping here we have the facility where we can do skill specific training for their strength and conditioning so important that these guys are training correctly for their skill and unfortunately a lot of specialists when they go to college even sometimes when they go to the NFL they’re handed a workout that belongs to it defensive back or a tight end or quarterback here you go this is your this is your workout and it’s not skill specific to what we do so I wanted to share that with the next generation of specialists this is what I learned this is what I continue to learn from the NFL guys that come here in the offseason let’s get you to the best player kicker punter logs net where you can be by training correctly for your skill… Chris this is mr. Nick Novak one of my…

CH: right hey how we doing Nick?

JC: and I’ve known Nick for many years and we were trained together we compete against each other we played against each other and he’s still at it so he pops in every once in a while for a little workout 

CH: John just following you on I Instagram and seeing the guys that you have in your network of guys that you’ve trained with that have gone on to be successful it’s pretty incredible just the network of you guys of you know it I guess what social media becomes more and more evident that the connection that you guys have to one another it’s not just you know facing each other on the gridiron it’s a legitimate support group outside of actually playing how guys are training together it’s it’s really you know pretty unique for us as outsiders to you know sit back and watch

JC: you know it really is it is a fraternity of specialists we support each other and push each other motivate each other teach each other in the offseason of course when the season starts we kind of go back into our own little shell and it’s all about playing and performing for our team and doing the best we can but certainly it’s a fraternity that and quarterbacks do the same thing they get together in the offseason it’s again it’s skill specific training and only you know only Nick and and myself and other kickers and punters that we hang out with that they are although and ones that really know what we go through on a day to day basis the successes and failures that we experience on the field how to deal with those how to prevent those how to get through those 

SM: Nick’s since we have you here do you have any any insights for any young up-and-coming kickers what we’ve been able to pick John’s brain up for the last you know 30, 40 minutes is there any anything that you have that you would give to a young 16 17 year old high school athlete looking to follow the same career path that you guys have blazed?

JC: you know I I started out watching a lot of kickers and punters in college and pros so I would you know turn on the TV if I could get any and now again mention social media you can fight fly great videos and tutorials on YouTube or or on the internet about good kicking good pun in good form good mechanics now there is a lot of minced misinformation out there as well so I had VD to make sure that the right information without there so that’s kick punt train like a pro DVD recover kicking and punting and some training in the wake room and we talked a lot of a lot of aspects of kicking a punting and mechanics that that DVD is available at my website carne coaching comm it’s also available on Amazon but make sure that who you’re listening to when you are getting coached is a credible valid source there’s unfortunately there’s some pretenders out there you want to go to someone like a Nick Novak who’s been there done that and he’s gonna give you the right information make sure they plug it on our website – Steve that link up there yeah and I mean that your website John is awesome Carney coaching com do you have any any events or anything in particular coming up we do thanks for asking we have the Carney ultimate specialist camp we hold that at the Olympic Training Center here in San Diego so an amazing venue us where our Olympians train there’s a lot of Olympians down there training right now for the 2020 Summer Olympics so Olympic training field facility so it’s called the carny ultimate someone called in no worries yeah yeah absolutely and you can sign up for that a carny coaching calm the holiday special ends December 14th so if you want to save some money sign up before December 14th the camp is January 4th 5th and 6th you arrive on a Friday night we go 48 hours Friday night Saturday Sunday we’re done Sunday afternoon and we cover soup to nuts plenty of kicking mental game you name it mechanics would have a great staff all the staff or guys that I coach that are presently on the journey of their their careers they’re either juniors or seniors in college or guys that are NFL three agents or even some NFL retired guys coming to teach in coach and mentor these kids it’s a great opportunity to great camp

SM: awesome we’ll definitely have them the website. John before we get you out of here I just real quick I have a couple of very quick questions for yo we call it the gauntlet so I just need to know firing from the hip here what’s most important having the number one O or number one D?

JC: number one D 

SM: now I know this is tough because you played with so many but who would you say in your entire career was either the best coach or the best player that you would ever lined up alongside or play for?

JC: my two favorite head coaches actually have three but Bobby Ross here in San Diego took us to the Super Bowl Tom Coughlin who was with the Giants when I was with Tom Coughlin Mike one year with the Giants amazing coach both those guys had a very good balance of positive and negative reinforcement there were all one or the other they were they and they’re all business and they were all football and they knew everything that went on in the organization and just amazing guys and then I want to say they didn’t micromanage but they certainly had their hands and everything and you know they joke you’ve heard the joke you know they they knew how many towels each guys used out of the shower and you know who is at their workouts early and who missed workouts I mean they’re just amazing football men and then Sean Payton it’s probably a younger version of those two guys Sean’s probably uh that more personality than those guys but hey Sean spent some time with Bill Parcells at the Dallas Cowboys and so he brought some of that old school discipline and you know football 24/7 with him so those are my three top head coaches 

SM: now do you have a favorite kick of your career favorite football memory?

JC: we were actually winless going into week 12 or 13 and we kicked up 50 52 yard field goal against the Chiefs for our only victory of the season obviously it was very sad season but at that point the team and the coaches were all very excited that we were not going to be the first team in NFL history to go 0-16 the detroit lions did everybody in that favor a few years later and then north browns through that what was that last year but yeah no one wanted that on the resume no one wants 0-16 on the resume and so that was an exciting game that was an exciting victory for us and then arch the Saints when I was with the Saints right after Hurricane Katrina of course things were a mess in the city it was really a horrible situation and we go to Carolina for our first regular season game they’re chosen to win the division very strong team and we ended up battling really well and kicking up 47 yarder to win the game and hopefully lift some spirits in the Gulf South that was struggling so much without the mouth of the hurricane 

SM: I would imagine that it did and last question for you of course we know that specialists are creatures of habit is there one pregame or even pre kick ritual that you always had 

JC: well I can’t tell that secret I think. you know I don’t call them superstitious I call them routines so you know after a while in the NFL you have a special routine when you wake up in the morning on Sunday morning is everything you do is a routine that’s that you’ve done for years that has proven to be successful so from the moment you wake up to the moment they blow that whistle and the game starts to three hours later when the game ends everything’s very routinized and so but you know I wouldn’t say that any cute persons but I was probably much less robot sunday was kind of the same guy. I did have an equipment guy said that I have a big personality changed on game day I go from nice guy to scary guy. I don’t talk on game day the only people I talk to are my snapper my holder and I try not to even talk to the coaches so I’ve become very introverted and focused on the game. In the zone. 

SM: John thank you so much for taking the time with us we really appreciate it. We will have the carney coaching stuff up so that anyone that visits us will be able to see it. Of course we wish you nothing but the best and success for the training facility 

JC: Steve, Chris I appreciate that

CH: Thanks, John.

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