Wednesday, June 22, 2011
Power Rankings: NFC North rising coaches
By Kevin Seifert
This week's edition of ESPN.com's offseason Power Rankings was one of my favorites, and not just because I wrote it. As opposed to ranking the best of this moment, our goal was to look ahead and project some of the people we might include in future Power Rankings.
If we're right, this week's list represents the core members of the next wave of NFL head-coaching candidates. We didn't include college coaches, and we made the executive decision to eliminate anyone who has already been a head coach, allowing us to focus on up-and-coming assistants throughout the league.
Given how much projection was involved in this exercise, I felt most comfortable with the people I know most about. (So did the other bloggers, and 24 assistants ended up appearing on at least one ballot.) To that end, I voted for four NFC North coaches in the order below:
3. Green Bay Packers safeties coach Darren Perry
6. Packers receivers coach Edgar Bennett
7. Chicago Bears special-teams coach Dave Toub
10. Packers assistant head coach/inside linebackers Winston Moss
Moss (No. 6) and Perry (No. 10) made the top 10. My thoughts below:
- Perry has two important attributes going for him. First, he is a good coach and deserves credit not only for guiding the transition of Pro Bowl free safety Nick Collins into a new scheme but also patching together the strong safety spot last season between multiple starters. Second, and this is just as important to his future, he is a long-time disciple of defensive coordinator Dom Capers, having played and coached in his 3-4 scheme. Given the success of the Packers' defense last season, and the fact that both Super Bowl teams played that scheme last season, Perry has the schematic pedigree NFL teams will be looking for. Many people around the league believe it is a matter of when, not if, Perry makes the next step to defensive coordinator.
- Bennett presided over the rise of tailback Ryan Grant from obscurity in 2007 and has drawn particular praise for drills designed to limit fumbles. Grant deserves some credit as well, but the fact remains he lost five fumbles in three years under Bennett as the Packers' primary tailback. Last season, no one among the trio of Brandon Jackson, John Kuhn and James Starks lost a fumble on a running play. The Packers' decision to shift Bennett to receivers coach suggests he is being groomed for a bigger job -- either in Green Bay or elsewhere.
- I didn't really expect anyone else to vote for Toub, and I can't say for sure that an NFL owner would seriously consider hiring a special-teams coach from outside the organization for his own head-coaching job. But Toub has quite simply fielded the most competent and explosive special-teams group in the NFL since joining the Bears in 2004. (One obscure stat among many: The Bears have more blocked kicks during Toub's tenure than any other NFL team.) Toub also has the global mindset necessary to be a head coach, and in 2009, Philadelphia Eagles coach Andy Reid said: "On your staff, the coach that's best prepared to be a head coach is your special-teams coach. They have to deal with everybody on the roster, plus [the media]. That's a tough thing to do. Dave Toub would be a great head coach down the road." Like current Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh, Toub might need to move to an offensive or defensive role for a time period to balance his résumé.
- Moss drew interest from both the St. Louis Rams and Oakland Raiders two years ago for their respective head-coaching jobs. He is a strong leader, someone that players enjoy working for and deserves credit for transitioning A.J. Hawk into an inside linebacker and Desmond Bishop into a full-time starter. Moss has experience in a 3-4 and a 4-3 scheme, and there was talk of the Raiders hiring him as their defensive coordinator this winter. My thought in ranking him No. 10 is that NFL teams would pursue Perry before Moss because of Perry's connection with Capers, but that's just an educated guess.
- Remember, this was a ranking of up-and-coming assistants, not a list of the 10 best assistant coaches in the NFL. If it had been, my list would have looked dramatically different. Many of the NFC North's best assistants are former head coaches who might not get another chance at the top job. That list includes Capers, Chicago Bears assistants Rod Marinelli, Mike Martz and Mike Tice, and Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Scott Linehan.
- And finally, we put together a little video that you might have missed in the original post. Extra credit for anyone who identifies the photograph in the background of my segment.