2010 Coaching and Philosophy Changes
By Jason Wood
July 15th, 2010

The NFL is a demanding league, and the coaching carousel never stops spinning. This offseason was relatively benign as just three teams replaced their head coaches: Buffalo (Chan Gailey), Seattle (Pete Carroll) and Washington (Mike Shanahan). The lack of turnover is as much a reaction to last season, when nine teams made offseason head coaching changes, as it is an endorsement of the current men running the show. One thing history tells us is that in a year of such few replacements, a lot of people will be on the hot seat this year.

Although the head coaching turnover is what grabs headlines, the changing landscape among assistant coaches remains vitally important to NFL fans and fantasy football owners. This year, an astounding twenty-one (22) defensive coordinators were replaced; in one case, by the team's head coach (Wade Phillips in Dallas). That's clearly a sign of the times, as defenses struggle to keep up with explosive offenses the NFL rules committee seems to be so intent on producing. On the offensive side, 10 new coordinators are in place. Just remember, the smartest hires in February can look like the worst in December; and the guys everyone assumes will struggle are just as likely to emerge from the pack.

Buffalo Bills

Head Coach: Chan Gailey (replaces Dick Jauron/Perry Fewell)
Offensive Coordinator: Curtis Modkins (replaces Alex Van Pelt)
Defensive Coordinator: George Edwards (replaces Perry Fewell)

What to expect on offense: Chan Gailey is an established veteran offensive coach and has confidence in his ‘system.' He'll need every ounce of his experience to turn around an offense that ranked 30th in yards and 28th in points last year. History tells us that Gailey's system is a complex one that will require a cerebral group of players willing to absorb a wealth of information quickly. Gailey loves to mix and match personnel groups and run similar plays out of different formations to challenge opposing defenses. The Bills' greatest asset is their trio of RBs, but the questions at QB and along the offensive line will dictate the run/pass balance more than the coaching staff's preferences.

What to expect on defense: Defensive coordinator George Edwards is transitioning the Bills from a 4-3 defensive front to a 3-4 alignment this year, in the hopes that it will better suit the team's personnel. The challenge will be maintaining the exemplary pass defense (Buffalo ranked 2nd last year) while fixing one of the league's worst run defenses (30th in yards allowed, 28th in TDs). The good news is Edwards has a lot of experience in transitioning 4-3 fronts into 3-4 looks, and has coached in three different 3-4 systems (under Mike Zimmer in Dallas, working with Marvel Lewis in Washington and finally in Miami). Edwards promises to bring the best components of each to his new role in Buffalo, but it remains to be seen whether the Bills have the horses to make the transition successful. The Bills used 2nd and 3rd round picks on a pair of defensive linemen (Torell Troup and Alex Carrington) and signed 3-4 DE Dwan Edwards; which should help. But the team needs to find playmaking linebackers, particularly if Aaron Schobel is serious about plans to retire.

Chicago Bears

Head Coach: Lovie Smith
Offensive Coordinator: Mike Martz (replaces Ron Turner)
Defensive Coordinator: Rod Marinelli (replaces Lovie Smith)

What to expect on offense: By now Mike Martz has become synonymous with his wide open system patterned after the late great Don Coryell. It's undeniable that Martz loves to throw the ball. In his tenure as an NFL head coach and offensive coordinator, his teams have averaged 577 passing attempts against 377 rushing attempts. How that fits with Lovie Smith's vision remains to be seen, but you don't hire Martz if you're not willing to let him run his system. Critics point to his tendency to leave his QB unprotected, which is a concern for a team that allowed 35 sacks a year ago. But statistically it's hard to argue with his results. Jay Cutler is a strong, tough passer and should flourish under Martz so long as he's capable of the harsh criticism he'll receive.

What to expect on defense: Lovie Smith did double duty last year and the results weren't pretty. Now the Bears 21st place defensive ranking was as much about injuries as it was an admonition of Lovie's play-calling, yet the team was wise to hand off those duties to Rod Marinelli. Marinelli didn't have the success he hoped for as Detroit's head coach, but he is a well respected defensive coach who coached the Bears defensive line in 2009. Philosophically, Smith and Marinelli fit well together as both are protégés of Monte Kiffin's Tampa-2 scheme. The addition of DE Julius Peppers and the (hopefully) healthy return of LBs Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher should bring the Bears back to respectability at worst, and elite status at best.

Denver Broncos

Head Coach: Josh McDaniels
Offensive Coordinator: Mike McCoy
Defensive Coordinator: Don Martindale (replaces Mike Nolan)

What to expect on defense: Mike Nolan got every ounce of ability from the Broncos defensive unit last year and should have been retained at all costs, but a schism altered the course of the Broncos plans and that opened the door for Don Martindale to take over the coordinator position. Martindale was the Broncos linebackers coach last year, and he served in a similar capacity for the Raiders prior to 2008. Head coach Josh McDaniels promises continuity, "Our system won't change, our philosophy won't change." Even though the Broncos plan on keeping the same 3-4 system in place, they are hoping for a more consistent performance from the front line – the team has brought in a new trio of defensive lineman (Justin Bannan, Jamal Williams and Jarvis Green) to stabilize a rush defense that allowed 2,059 yards last year.

Houston Texans

Head Coach: Gary Kubiak
Offensive Coordinator: Rick Dennison (replaces Kyle Shanahan)
Defensive Coordinator: Frank Bush

What to expect on offense: Rick Dennison becomes the fifth offensive coordinator in six seasons for Houston, but like his predecessor Kyle Shanahan, Dennison is intimately familiar with his fellow coaches. Dennison, like HC Gary Kubiak and Kyle Shanahan, were long-time assistant coaches in Denver under Mike Shanahan. With Kyle leaving to join his father in Washington, it makes a ton of sense for Dennison to step into the role; particularly when you consider Kubiak tried to hire Dennison away from Denver back in 2006 (but was denied permission to speak to him). Don't expect much to change schematically, although there will always be slight tweaks when a new play-caller puts his personal stamp on the offense. The biggest challenge for Houston will be invigorating a rushing offense that ranked 30th last year without taking anything away from the NFL's leading passing attack.

Indianapolis Colts

Head Coach: Jim Caldwell
Offensive Coordinator: Clyde Christensen (replaces Tom Moore)
Defensive Coordinator: Larry Coyer

What to expect on offense: Tom Moore, who toyed with retirement last year, has transitioned to the role of Senior Offensive Assistant, opening the door for Clyde Christensen to become offensive coordinator. Christensen is a long-time Colts assistant, and it would be ridiculous to expect much change to one of the league's most productive and mature offenses. But there will be some differences if for no other reason than Christensen will be calling plays and that's going to be something new for QB Peyton Manning. Some have conjectured that the Colts will look to run the ball a bit more particularly if 2nd year RB Donald Brown can take a step forward and provide a dynamic counterpart to Joseph Addai.

Kansas City Chiefs

Head Coach: Todd Haley
Offensive Coordinator: Charlie Weis (replaces Chan Gailey)
Defensive Coordinator: Romeo Crennel (replaces Clancy Pendergast)

What to expect on offense: Todd Haley and Charlie Weis are both disciples of Ron Erhardt and plan to get back to the roots of Erhardt's offense this year now that they're reunited after years forging their own successful careers at other ports of call. In Todd Haley's own words, "It's run the ball and then throwing play-action passes off of those runs." Philosophically the Chiefs won't run an extensive playbook, but will instead leverage different formations and personnel packages off a smaller number of core plays. Haley and Weis both believe in being a "game plan offense" which is to say crafting the play-calling to suit the opponent, versus trying to instantiate a system that is unwavering. With two minds like Haley and Weis at the helm, no one is going to question the preparation or play-calling, but that doesn't mean QB Matt Cassel or the offensive line are good enough to optimize the coaching expertise.

What to expect on defense: Chiefs GM Scott Pioli figured why stop at one former Patriots Super Bowl coordinator when Romeo Crennel is available, too? As a result, Crennel – fresh off a less-than-stellar stint as the Browns head coach – comes to Kansas City tasked with improving the 30th ranked defense. Crennel is a 3-4 coach, and will need to pull out all the stops to generate a pass rush (the Chiefs were 31st in sacks last year). Crennel is also a "game plan" coach, and has said repeatedly that his defense will look different each week to suit the opponent. Expect a mix of man and zone coverage, with rookie Eric Berry anchoring the defensive backfield.

Miami Dolphins

Head Coach: Tony Sparano
Offensive Coordinator: Dan Henning
Defensive Coordinator: Mike Nolan (replaces Paul Pasqualoni)

What to expect on defense: Mike Nolan has been a defensive coordinator for six NFL teams, as well as the San Francisco 49ers head coach. In spite of his frequent job hopping, he's widely respected by his peers as one of the best defensive minds in the game. Last year he worked wonders in Denver turning a 29th ranked unit into the 7th best defense and seemed a sure bet to return in 2010. Yet there appeared to be a bit of a schism between he and HC Josh McDaniels, so Nolan sought greener pastures. The Dolphins need his help because they finished 25th in points allowed and 22nd in yards. Nolan has experience in both 3-4 and 4-3 fronts, but will use a base 3-4 in Miami. The key to his defenses is the ability of the secondary to handle man coverage because Nolan is aggressive and blitzes frequently. The addition of Karlos Dansby will help.

New England Patriots

Head Coach: Bill Belichick
Offensive Coordinator: Vacant
Defensive Coordinator: Vacant (replaces Dean Pees)

What to expect on defense: Can the man really do everything? It sure seems that way as Bill Belichick enters the 2010 season with neither an offensive coordinator nor a defensive coordinator. Dean Pees chose not to seek a new contract this offseason citing health issues, but that rings a bit hollow considering he quickly signed on with Baltimore as a linebackers coach. In the same way he now handled the offense, Belichick entrust a number of key assistants with more responsibility, but the ultimate decisions will come down to the head coach. Schematically very little will change as the Patriots use a variety of formations on defense that are driven by the opponent more than a dogmatic adherence to a particular system. About the only question defensively will be if rookie LBs Brandon Spikes and Jermaine Cunningham are ready to push for starting roles.

New York Giants

Head Coach: Tom Coughlin
Offensive Coordinator: Kevin Gilbride
Defensive Coordinator: Perry Fewell (replaces Bill Sheridan)

What to expect on defense: A year ago we warned of a potential let down in New York as Bill Sheridan replaced Steve Spagnuolo. The Giants complete defensive collapse over the final three months of 2009 made Sheridan one and done, and opened the door for Perry Fewell. Fresh off a stint as the Buffalo Bills interim head coach, Fewell will be given a lot of autonomy in spite of the fact he's a new addition. The Giants deep defensive line makes their 4-3 alignment an obvious choice as a base package, even though Fewell is comfortable using multiple fronts. The secondary will have a Cover-2 look in most situations, which will put a lot of pressure on free agent Antrel Rolle and a recuperating Kenny Phillips. Fewell is more of a flow play-caller, and there will be games where he blitzes aggressively and others when leaves the rush to the front four.

Oakland Raiders

Head Coach: Tom Cable
Offensive Coordinator: Hue Jackson (replaces Ted Tollner)
Defensive Coordinator: John Marshall

What to expect on offense: Hue Jackson joins his fifth team in eight years, and lands back on the West Coast (where he was OC for the University of California and USC prior to his NFL career) with the daunting task of returning the Raiders to respectability. The good news is Jason Campbell should provide massive improvement over the revolving door of also-rans the Silver and Black have come to expect. Jackson is promising a return to "Raider Football" which really means a run heavy attack that takes vertical shots downfield. In order for that to materialize, the offensive line has to gel and the mix of young receivers must take big steps forward. Early returns on Jackson are positive, and he's preaching above all else a focus on pace. He wants the offense to break the huddle quickly and stay aggressive. Don't be surprised if Oakland toys with some no-huddle in keeping with Jackson's mantra.

Seattle Seahawks

Head Coach: Pete Carroll (replaces Jim Mora)
Offensive Coordinator: Jeremy Bates (replaces Greg Knapp)
Defensive Coordinator: Gus Bradley

What to expect on offense: Pete Carroll is a defensive-minded coach and will rely heavily on Jeremy Bates to rebuild an offense that finished 24th in 2009. Bates is just 33 years old and considered a rising star, serving under Carroll at USC last year in the role of offensive coordinator, but being best known for his time in Denver working with QB Jay Cutler. The Seahawks offensive scheme will be very similar to the Broncos offense under Mike Shanahan; in fact, Bates says the playbook and terminology will be the same. Carroll has brought in Alex Gibbs to help perfect the zone-blocking scheme that has generated so much success in Denver and Atlanta. The only real question is how Bates will call a game, and whether the Seahawks personnel is ready to match the creative nature of their new OC.

What to expect on defense: Pete Carroll decided to retain Gus Bradley as defensive coordinator, a ringing endorsement for the incumbent considering the Seahawks finished a paltry 25th in points allowed last season. Carroll was impressed with Bradley's preparation and the respect his players had for him. What's not yet clear is how Carroll's own defensive philosophy will combine with Bradley's into a cohesive vision. The base defense will be a 4-3, but the Seahawks are talking about using different looks to confound opponents.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Head Coach: Raheem Morris
Offensive Coordinator: Greg Olson
Defensive Coordinator: Raheem Morris (replaces Jim Bates)

What to expect on defense: Raheem Morris had a rocky first year as the head coach in Tampa Bay, leading to his taking over the defensive coordinator role from Jim Bates after a 1-9 start. Morris was actually hired to be the Bucs defensive coordinator before the team ultimately decided to part ways with Jon Gruden and make Morris the youngest NFL head coach (33 years old at the time). He's a traditional Tampa Cover-2 coach that uses a traditional 4-3 front (as opposed to Bates' style of keeping the ends out wide to force all plays into the middle). What's not clear is how talented the Bucs defensive front seven are, but the additions of rookie DTs Gerald McCoy and Brian Price hopefully provide key building blocks.

Washington Redskins

Head Coach: Mike Shanahan (replaces Jim Zorn)
Offensive Coordinator: Kyle Shanahan (replaces Sherm Smith)
Defensive Coordinator: Jim Haslett (replaces Greg Blache)

What to expect on offense: Mike Shanahan returns to the NFL after a year-long hiatus and this time will have his son at his side as offensive coordinator. Kyle served in the same capacity in Houston last year, coaching under long-time Shanahan assistant Gary Kubiak. They plan on implementing Shanahan's version of the West Coast offense and will take advantage of new QB Donovan McNabb's strength and athleticism. Mike Shanahan has a long history of successfully leveraging athletic QBs in a WCO environment, from John Elway to Jake Plummer. The major question mark surrounds the running game, and whether they will settle on one feature back, or instead use a committee approach.

What to expect on defense: Jim Haslett is a former NFL head coach of the year (in New Orleans) and joins the Redskins after a year as head coach of the Florida Tuskers of the UFL. Haslett's was the St. Louis Rams defensive coordinator (and interim head coach) from 2006-2008, but wasn't able to match the success of his prior stops. Haslett is transitioning to a 3-4 front, which has upset the apple cart as Albert Haynesworth doesn't want to play in a scheme that he thinks will impede his individual stats. It's not clear whether Haynesworth will play for Washington in 2010, but either way transitioning a team from a base 4-3 to a 3-4 is going to require an adjustment period. Don't be surprised if D.C. struggles early, but improves as the season wears on particularly if LB Brian Orakpo takes the next step toward stardom, as many observers believe he will.

Other Notable Coaching Hires

  • Bobby April (Special Teams) - Philadelphia
  • Danny Crossman (Special Teams) - Detroit
  • Al Everest (Special Teams) - Pittsburgh
  • Alex Gibbs (Offensive Line) - Seattle
  • Dick Jauron (Secondary) - Philadelphia
  • Greg Knapp (Quarterbacks) - Houston
  • Bob Ligashesky (Tight Ends) - Denver
  • Paul Pasqualoni (Defensive Line) - Dallas
  • Dean Pees (Linebackers) - Baltimore
  • Ron Turner (Wide Receivers) -- Indianapolis
  • Brian Schneider (Special Teams) - Seattle
  • Bill Sheridan (Inside Linebackers) - Miami
  • Sherm Smith (Running Backs) - Seattle
  • Alex Van Pelt (Quarterbacks) - Tampa Bay
  • Jim Zorn (Quarterbacks) - Baltimore
  • Questions, suggestions and comments are always welcome to wood@footballguys.com.

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