AFC South: Dan Riley

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

Want to alter a team's culture without changing the head coach?

The best avenue might just be through the team's strength coach, the one assistant who deals with everyone on the roster with some regularity throughout the NFL year.

In Jacksonville, Jack Del Rio recently hired a new man for the job, Luke Richesson. In Houston, Gary Kubiak still has an opening at the spot.

 
  Denny Medley/US Presswire
  Jack Del Rio hopes a new strength and conditioning coach will help turn things around for the Jags.

Gone from the Jaguars' staff is Mark Asanovich, said to be a steady and uncompromising personality. Gone from the Texans' staff is Dan Riley, a stronger presence some categorize as cantankerous.

With open offices, Del Rio and Kubiak had a chance to be sold on a different kind of training regimen and decide what sort of approach might work best for their rosters. But they also had a chance to gauge personalities and the ability of a new assistant to buy into the team's philosophy and to be an effective disciple of it.

"Those guys probably spend as much time, if not more time, with your players than you do," Kubiak said. "I know they are with players a great deal of time from the standpoint of being in the weight room doing their work. Then when they are not with us in meetings or in practice, that's usually the first place players go. The mentality of your football team and a lot of those work habits are developed down there in that atmosphere."

In Richesson and the Houston hire -- which rumblings suggest could be Ray Wright, a Riley assistant who remains on staff -- the Jags and Texans hope they'll have a coach who players come to consider both a resource and a model.

Richesson joined the Jaguars from Athletes' Performance, a company that trains college players looking to post great workout numbers at the league's annual scouting combine. Indications are he may not have been the Jaguars first choice, but Del Rio is confident he will be a difference maker. (When teams don't get their first choice, I'm always compelled to remind people how far basketball coach Roy Williams was down the list before he got the job at Kansas and how well that turned out.)

Richesson's biggest challenge may be broadening his repertoire in a way that embraces a more diverse pool of athletes. At Athletes' Performance, his focus was narrow -- elite college athletes were sent to him by agents looking to boost draft status. In the Jaguars' locker room, he'll deal with veterans and rookies with more established routines, some of whom are emboldened by status or paychecks.

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Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

The theory says there are just six degrees of separation between each of us and anyone else on the planet, that in only six steps we can be connected through common acquaintances.

It's only natural in a league of 32 teams that had about 556 assistant coaches in 2008 that the degree of separation among them, if there is one at all, is usually one.

 
  Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US Presswire
  Gary Kubiak's defensive staff in Houston will have a new look heading into next season.

Let us consider that as we attempt to prejudge the promotions and additions Gary Kubiak has made to his staff in Houston. Frank Bush, promoted to defensive coordinator, and David Gibbs, hired as defensive backs coach, each have extensive experience with the Denver Broncos on their resumes.

In a recent, scathing column in the Houston Chronicle, Richard Justice made fun of the franchise for its propensity to lean on people Kubiak and GM Rick Smith know from their previous NFL lives in Denver.

Justice wrote that Smith might not have trusted two staff members who were let go after the Texans' season ended -- strength and conditioning coach Dan Riley and head trainer Kevin Bastin -- "because neither worked for the Denver Broncos, had enough friends with the Denver Broncos or changed planes in Denver."

The strength and conditioning coach job is still open. But Kubiak's staff is otherwise complete and now includes eight assistants with Denver ties and 11 without them. (Relevant aside: Of the four coaches Kubiak let go, defensive coordinator Richard Smith was connected to the Broncos while defensive line coach Jethro Franklin, defensive backs coach Jon Hoke and Riley were not.)

Now, of the team's four most powerful assistants by authority and title -- assistant head coach/offense Alex Gibbs and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, Bush and new assistant head coach/defensive line coach Bill Kollar -- only Kollar has no Broncos connection.

That certainly leads some to say, "Hey, coach Kubiak, there's a whole, big football world out there that extends beyond Denver, especially considering that your mentor and the head man out there, Mike Shanahan -- also your offensive coordinator's dad -- was just fired."

Kubiak isn't concerned with perception outside team headquarters, but he was willing to outline how he looks at people he considers hiring or shifting upward.

"This is important and I've been doing it long enough to have coached with a lot of football coaches," he said. "And having some familiarity with how a guy coaches, how a guy teaches, him knowing what you expect and what you stand for, that's is important to me. I can't speak for everyone else out there. At the same time, when you're interviewing coaches that you haven't worked with or you don't know personally, I start pulling from guys I do know that may have worked with them, guys who know their work habits, know what type of person they are.

"In this business, coaches bounce around and we all kind of know each other one way or another."

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Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

Peter King's All-Pro Team includes several people from the AFC South: Andre Johnson, Michael Roos, Dallas Clark, Albert Haynesworth, Cortland Finnegan and Jim Washburn. Peyton Manning is King's MVP, but not his All-Pro QB?

Meanwhile, Don Banks' All Disappointment Team features Brad Meester and Jack Del Rio, with mentions for Vince Young, Jerry Porter and Chris Myers.

Houston Texans

Gary Kubiak interviewed Rod Marinelli for the Texans open defensive line coach post, says John McClain.

Richard Justice is hot and he says the dismissals of strength coach Dan Riley and trainer Kevin Bastin "rank as two of the monumental acts of stupidity in the brief history of the Texans.

Indianapolis Colts

Marlin Jackson is recovering well after season-ending knee surgery, writes Cliff Brunt.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Gregg Williams has started to interview for other defensive coordinator jobs. In an even bigger development, Vito Stellino actually got a comment from Williams' agent, the usually ellusive Marvin Demoff.

Tennessee Titans

The Titans expect Leroy Harris to do just fine filling in at center for the injured Kevin Mawae, writes Gary Estwick. (The team officially designated Mawae as out Friday afternoon.)

Dan Pompeii looks at Mike Heimerdinger's strong return to the Titans.

Craig Hentrich thinks he's figured out a punting problem, says The Tennessean's notebook. Also assistant coach Bart Andrus is in the mix for the CFL Argos head coaching job.

Brandon Jones and Mark Clayton were on the same side for the BCS title game, says Estwick.

Some Titans-Ravens history in pictures, from The Tennessean.

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

Houston Texans

  • Another award for receiver Andre Johnson, says Megan Manfull.
  • John McClain wants to know who you want the Texans to hire as defensive coordinator.
  • Richard Justice's take on the Texans letting go of strength coach Dan Riley.

Indianapolis Colts

  • Joseph Addai had a hole and could have converted second down at the end of the game in San Diego, Bill Polian said in his weekly radio show.
  • Marlin Jackson is recovering well, the AP reports.
  • Phillip B. Wilson's obit for the 2008 Colts.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Tennessee Titans

  • Cortland Finnegan won't back down, but knows the Titans can't afford an untimely personal foul penalty, writes Jim Wyatt.
  • Kyle Vanden Bosch is ready to go, according to The Tennessean's notebook.
  • Joe Biddle says age hasn't slowed Derrick Mason.
  • The Titans' offensive line has done wonders for Kerry Collins, writes Tom Weir.

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

The Texans cut two more from their staff Tuesday when they announced they will not renew the contracts of head athletic trainer Kevin Bastin and strength and conditioning coach Dan Riley.

Riley is the only strength and conditioning coach the Texans have had, joining the franchise early in 2001. Before that he had served in the same post for the Washington Redskins for 19 years.

Bastin also spent eight years with Houston after working for the Redskins.

It's unclear what coach Gary Kubiak and GM Rick Smith feel they were missing with Riley and Bastin or what changes they will want to see in replacements.

"We want to thank Kevin and Dan for their dedicated years of service to the Texans and wish them both the best in their future endeavors," Smith said in a statement.

The team now has five staff positions to fill. Defensive coordinator Richard Smith, defensive backs coach Jon Hoke and defensive line coach Jethro Franklin were let go on Dec. 30.

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