NFC North: Bob Slowik
We noted earlier Wednesday that Detroit hasn't announced the majority of its new coaching staff, even though some of them apparently are on the job already. But names have been floating around for each job, so for reference, here is one version of new coach Jim Schwartz's first staff as culled from various sources and reports:
Offensive coordinator: Scott Linehan
Offensive line: George Yarno
Running backs: Sam Gash
Wide receivers: Shawn Jefferson
Tights ends: Tim Lappano
Defensive coordinator: Gunther Cunningham
Defensive line: Unknown
Linebackers: Matt Burke
Defensive backs: Tim Walton (or Bob Slowik)
Special teams: Stan Kwan
I don't want to draw too many conclusions because nothing is official yet. But there are a few facts worth noting:
- At least three holdovers from former coach Rod Marinelli's 0-16 team appear to have survived: Gash, Jefferson and Kwan.
- Of the new assistants, two came from the college ranks: Lappano and Walton. (There have also been reports that Slowik would coach defensive backs, so this position is not entirely clear yet.)
- Yarno and Burke received promotions from their previous jobs as assistants in Tampa Bay and Tennessee, respectively. Yarno was the Buccaneers' assistant offensive line coach, while Burke was a defensive assistant for the Titans.
- Youth is balanced by the experience of Linehan and Cunningham, both of whom are former NFL head coaches and have been coordinators for multiple teams.
Minnesota owner Zygi Wilf is ramping up efforts to sell his stadium plan as a way to spur job growth and stimulate the local economy, according to reports in the Star Tribune and St. Paul Pioneer Press.
Wilf hosted a meeting of the Minnesota Building and Construction Trades Council on Tuesday, hoping to gain its leaders' support in spreading the message. Dick Anfang, the council's president, estimates the project could net $500 million for local contractors and at various times provide jobs to as many as 5,500 people during the four-year construction period.
There are many questions left to be answered about those figures, including whether any of the jobs would be permanent and if the stimulus would compensate for the taxpayer contribution -- expected to be $700 million or more -- the project would require.
Every indication from Minnesota state leaders has suggested the Vikings won't get serious consideration during this year's session of the state legislature. But it's clear Wilf will not go quietly. His stadium point man is already elevating the rhetoric, noting the Vikings have 30 games left on their Metrodome lease (which expires after the 2011 season).
Continuing around the NFC North:
- There were reports last month that Detroit would hire Bob Slowik as its defensive backs coach. But a report from FOX-13 in Memphis says the Lions have hired University of Memphis defensive coordinator Tim Walton for the job. The Lions have yet to confirm any member of their coaching staff other than coordinators Gunther Cunningham (defense) and Scott Linehan (offense).
- Via Dave Birkett of the Oakland Press, Rivals.com reports that former University of Washington assistant Tim Lappano will join the Lions as tight ends coach.
- Tom Kowalski of Mlive.com confirms earlier reports that former Lions offensive coordinator Jim Colletto, demoted last month to offensive line coach, won't return in any capacity. Colletto said he likely will retire. George Yarno has been reported to be the Lions' new offensive line coach.
- Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times analyzes whether one of the draft's top quarterbacks could slip to the Bears at No. 18.
- In an online chat, Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette says he thinks backup tailback Brandon Jackson will get more carries in 2009.
- Mike Vandermause of the Press-Gazette suggests the Packers freeze ticket prices for 2009. A decision is expected next month.
Although there haven't been any official announcements, it appears new Detroit coach Jim Schwartz has lined up most of his coaching staff.
David Birkett of the Oakland Press reports that former Tampa Bay assistant George Yarno will be the Lions' offensive line coach. Meanwhile, holdover Shawn Jefferson (receivers) and Sam Gash (running backs) are expected to be retained in their current positions. Former offensive coordinator Jim Colletto, who was demoted to offensive line coach earlier this month, is not expected to be retained.
Previously, it's been reported that former Denver defensive coordinator Bob Slowik will coach defensive backs and former Tennessee assistant Matt Burke will handle linebackers. That leaves the defensive line as the only job that is publicly unaccounted for.
Continuing around the NFC North on Super Bowl hump day:
- New Lions defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham expects his staff to be formally announced within a week. Carlos Monarrez of the Detroit Free Press reports.
- Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel breaks down Pittsburgh's version of the 3-4 defense, one that new Packers coordinator Dom Capers likely will emulate.
- Mike Mulligan of the Chicago Sun-Times traces the path of former Bears offensive lineman Mike Gandy, who will start in the Super Bowl for Arizona.
My AFC South colleague Paul Kuharsky reports that a former Tennessee assistant has officially joined new Lions coach Jim Schwartz in Detroit.
Matt Burke, the Titans' defensive quality control coach for the past three seasons, will be the Lions' linebackers coach. During that time, Burke has joined Schwartz in taking an quantitative approach to football strategy through statistical analysis. Here is Burke's biography from the Titans' web site.
Burke and new defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham are the first two appointments of Schwartz's defensive staff. There have been reports that former Denver defensive coordinator Bob Slowik will coach the Lions' defensive backs, but Schwartz has yet to confirm it.
Assuming they follow through on their reported plans to hire Bob Slowik as defensive backs coach, the Detroit Lions will be well on their way to establishing a credible defensive staff in the wake of their disastrous performances in 2007 and 2008.
The Lions ranked last in total defense during each of former coordinator Joe Barry's two seasons. You don't reverse that trend overnight, but the Lions are moving in the right direction. The combination of coach Jim Schwartz, defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham and Slowik would give the Lions three respected defensive minds who have all experienced success in the NFL.
Slowik, whose NFC North tenure also has included stints in Chicago (1993-98) and Green Bay (2001-04), hasn't fared well as a coordinator during his NFL career. But Slowik is well-respected both as a defensive backs coach and a teacher. His arrival would give the Lions a good chance to improve their pass coverage.
This is not to say I'm convinced the Lions will have a much-improved defense in 2009. Players are the most important element, and it's a lot quicker to overturn a coaching staff than it is to weed through a roster of 53 players. But at this early point in the offseason, it's fair to say the Lions have taken some credible steps.