NFC South: Ken Flajole

Steve Spagnuolo out in New Orleans

January, 24, 2013
It didn’t take New Orleans coach Sean Payton long to make a major move after he was reinstated from a season-long suspension earlier this week.

The team announced Thursday night that defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo has been fired. Secondary coach Ken Flajole also was relieved of his duties.

“I personally want to thank Steve and Ken for their contributions during what was an unprecedented 2012 season,” Payton said in a statement released by the team. “Philosophically we are changing our defense to a 3-4 alignment and right now is the best time to accomplish this transition.”

The moves don’t come as a huge surprise. Although Spagnuolo was Payton’s hand-picked choice a year ago, the defense struggled mightily in the 2012 season. Spagnuolo’s defense allowed more yards than any defense in NFL history.

The switch to the 3-4 will be challenging for whoever is brought in as the new coordinator. The Saints also will have to find some new personnel to fit in the 3-4 scheme. That won’t be easy because the team currently is about $20 million over the expected salary cap.

Around the NFC South

February, 8, 2012
Let's take a look at the top Wednesday morning headlines from around the NFC South.
  • The New Orleans Saints apparently have completed the overhaul of their defensive coaching staff with the hiring of Andre Curtis as assistant defensive backs coach. Curtis worked with new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and defensive backs coach Ken Flajole in St. Louis.
  • Atlanta kicker Matt Bryant will speak to Georgia politicians Wednesday in support of a bill that would help provide information on concussion recognition and management to parents of young athletes.
  • The Panthers reportedly have told their holders of personal seat licenses that they will not raise season-ticket prices in 2012. That should come as a bit of a pleasant surprise. Quarterback Cam Newton’s rookie season certainly raised the interest and excitement level among fans, but the Panthers aren’t going to try to capitalize on that at the box office.
  • Although new Hall of Fame selection Chris Doleman spent most of his career in Minnesota, he did spend two seasons with the Falcons. One of them was a playoff season and Doleman said he has warm memories of his time with the Falcons.
  • Jeff Duncan writes that it’s hard to call retiring running back Ricky Williams a bust, although his three seasons in New Orleans and sudden departure were not what the Saints expected when they drafted him in 1999.
  • A Charlotte man recently found a Panthers’ playbook from the team’s lone Super Bowl appearance at a yard sale. He returned it to the team.
  • Bill Lazor was mentioned Tuesday as a candidate to be Tampa Bay’s offensive coordinator. But it now is being reported Lazor no longer is a candidate and will remain at the University of Virginia.

NFC South evening update

February, 2, 2012
Let's take a look at the day's top headlines from around the division.
  • New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees says he expects to have a new contract before free agency opens in mid-March. That would be a good idea. If Brees were to somehow hit the free-agent market there would be major unrest throughout the entire population of Louisiana.
  • The Saints have hired Ken Flajole as secondary coach, James Varney reports. Flajole was defensive coordinator in St. Louis under former Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo, who now is defensive coordinator for the Saints. Flajole also has some background in the NFC South. He spent some time as the linebackers coach in Carolina.
  • Carolina quarterback Cam Newton said he “failed’’ at the Pro Bowl as he played the entire second half and threw three interceptions. I think it’s nice that Newton’s critical of himself. But I don’t think anybody should be critiquing or celebrating the Pro Bowl performance. If you watched this year’s game all the way through, which wasn’t easy, it made you wonder why they even have an all-star game in football. Go ahead and name an all-star team, but, if the game is going to be played at half speed, why bother?
  • Mark Cook takes a look at some possibilities to fill the job as Tampa Bay’s defensive coordinator. The early assumption was Butch Davis would fill that role because he has history with coach Greg Schiano. But there’s been no announcement of Davis’ hiring, which makes you wonder if it’s not going to happen. The name I like on Cook’s list is Green Bay defensive line coach Mike Trgovac. I covered Trgovac in Carolina, where he had a pretty successful run as a defensive coordinator. As a matter of fact, I believe Trgovac might have been a head coach by now if Carolina owner Jerry Richardson hadn’t seen the lockout coming and wasn’t offering any security to former coach John Fox and his assistants. Fox told assistants with families they should take other jobs if they could get them. That’s when Trgovac left for Green Bay. Although Trgovac certainly has a better résumé than a bunch of current coordinators, his family is content in Green Bay, so he might stay content in his current role.
Getty Images
Kurt Warner’s Cardinals and Jake Delhomme’s Panthers have gone in different directions since their playoff meeting last season.

Posted by's Mike Sando and Pat Yasinskas

The Arizona Cardinals did more than knock the Carolina Panthers from the 2008 postseason.

Their 33-13 victory in Charlotte delivered a knockout blow from which the Panthers' organization has yet to recover. What should be a Week 8 grudge match between playoff contenders is looking more like a mismatch.

Arizona is 4-2 and riding high following a nationally televised victory over the Giants, the Cardinals' fourth consecutive road victory dating to their divisional-round upset of Carolina. The Panthers are 2-4 and contemplating whether to bench veteran quarterback Jake Delhomme, who has more interceptions through six games (13) than he had in 16 starts last season (12).

What happened?

NFC West blogger Mike Sando and NFC South counterpart Pat Yasinskas pick up the discussion.

Pat Yasinskas: That playoff game changed the momentum for both franchises. Going into that game, the thinking was how the Panthers would thump the Cardinals. Arizona had beaten Atlanta in the wild-card round to get its playoff victory, but the Cardinals were ultimately a 9-7 team from a weak division. They would be no match on the road against a 12-4 team. The upset vaulted the Cardinals toward the Super Bowl while absolutely crumbling the Panthers. Carolina hasn't recovered from it, starting with the quarterback and extending to the defense. The game led to changes on the coaching staff. The Panthers still could have a mental block heading into the rematch at University of Phoenix Stadium.

Mike Sando: These teams share quite a few similarities. Both re-signed older quarterbacks during the offseason. Both made significant changes to their coaching staffs. Both faced salary-cap limitations in free agency after naming franchise players. The results have been vastly different.

Fateful QB decisions

Chris Keane/Icon SMI
Jake Delhomme and the Panthers haven’t been the same since last season’s playoff loss to Arizona.
Pat Yasinskas: After the playoff game, I personally had some doubts about Delhomme, as did a lot of fans. He threw those five picks and I thought there was a chance they would at least bring in someone to compete with him -- not to replace him, but to compete with him. They did not do that. He had one year left on his deal and they signed him to a contract extension. I understand the loyalty coach John Fox and general manager Marty Hurney felt toward Delhomme because he has obviously done a lot for that franchise and he is a leader in the locker room. But in hindsight, that game against the Cardinals and even a few late-season games last year showed that he was declining and they should have sought out alternatives.

Mike Sando: The Cardinals had little choice but to re-sign Warner. In the back of their minds, though, they would have been entitled to wonder when Warner might hit the wall. Quite a few other quarterbacks have faded at around age 38. Would Warner be next? He made the trip to San Francisco in free agency, but there was still a sense the Cardinals were bidding against themselves. Committing $22 million to him over two seasons was a necessary risk. In the end, Arizona could not walk away from the quarterback who put them ahead in the final stages of Super Bowl XLIII. The Cardinals made the right move.

Coaching turnover

Pat Yasinskas: I think the playoff debacle against Arizona contributed to a rift on the Panthers' coaching staff over the direction of the team. Defensive coordinator Mike Trgovac decided he no longer wanted to be a coordinator. His departure started a near-total disbandment of the defensive staff. Line coach Sal Sunseri left for the University of Alabama. Linebackers coach Ken Flajole bolted to become defensive coordinator for the Rams. Secondary coach Tim Lewis left for the Seahawks. On the offensive side, Delhomme's longtime position coach, Mike McCoy, became offensive coordinator in Denver. Fox had passed over him for the same position on his staff a couple of years earlier. Some on the staff felt McCoy should have gotten that job.

Jason Bridge/US Presswire
Kurt Warner has thrown for 1,672 yards and nine touchdowns this season.
Mike Sando: The Cardinals had a good thing going on the offensive staff when coordinator Todd Haley left to coach the Chiefs. I think Arizona is still sorting through the aftermath of that one. Haley and Warner were tight. Haley knew how to push players' buttons. He called the plays and the offense was in a rhythm. The offense is still finding its identity a little bit. On defense, Whisenhunt failed to land Keith Butler from the Steelers after firing coordinator Clancy Pendergast. He promoted linebackers coach Bill Davis instead. Either way, the defense was going to become more straightforward, with an emphasis on reducing big plays allowed. It's still too early to pass judgment on Davis, but the defense has played very well recently. Overall, Whisenhunt is certainly on the rise, whereas there's a perception Fox has possibly run his course in Carolina.

Pat Yasinskas: Absolutely, Mike. There’s a sense of that. Julius Peppers asked out after last season, shocking given that Fox is supposedly a defensive wizard. There was precedent for this. Kris Jenkins asked out for two years before Peppers did. People shrugged and said Jenkins was a flake. But when Peppers, who was born and raised in North Carolina, asked for the same, it raised some eyebrows. Fox used to build his team around the defensive line and suddenly you had the two cornerstones of that line asking to get out of there. That tells you something pretty major right there.

Salary-cap limitations

Pat Yasinskas: Franchising Peppers cost about $18 million total in cap space. The Panthers re-signed tackle Jordan Gross to a long-term deal. With those moves, they tied up their cap to a point where they could not do anything else. They did not sign any free agents. They had to let veteran cornerback Ken Lucas go. They could not even re-sign veteran snapper Jason Kyle, even though the savings for letting him go was only $600,000. That severely affected their depth across the board, which was demonstrated when defensive tackle Ma'ake Kemoeatu went down with an injury on the first day of training camp and there were no decent replacements behind him. The Panthers have struggled on the interior of their defensive line ever since. They bragged coming into the season that they had 21 of 22 starters back, but the salary-cap issues meant they had absolutely no depth behind those starters.

Mike Sando: The Cardinals charged $9.678 million against their cap by naming Karlos Dansby their franchise player. They paid more than $10 million per year to Warner. Larry Fitzgerald was already making that kind of money. Re-signing Adrian Wilson ate up another huge chunk of cap room, although some of that seemed by design. Arizona did manage to sign cornerback Bryant McFadden from the Steelers in free agency. When defensive end Antonio Smith left in free agency for $8 million a year, the Cardinals plugged in second-year player Calais Campbell, who has played well. Again, the Cardinals' moves have simply worked out better.

Divergent outlooks

Pat Yasinskas: I think we're seeing the end of the Fox era in Carolina. The Panthers still have talent, but Delhomme appears finished. It’s time to blow up the roster and rebuild.

Mike Sando: The Cardinals are a good team with the potential to get better. The Cardinals were 4-2 at this point last season heading into their 30-24 regular-season defeat at Carolina. They should beat the Panthers this time. The rest of the schedule sets up favorably. Some of the games that once appeared toughest this season -- at Seattle, at the Giants, at Tennessee -- are either in the bank already or looking like they will be.

Panthers hire Baker to coach D-line

February, 13, 2009

Posted by's Pat Yasinskas

The Panthers have completed the overhaul of their defensive coaching staff. The team named Brian Baker its defensive line coach Friday.

Baker, who previously held that position for the St. Louis Rams, will join the staff of new coordinator Ron Meeks. Coordinator Mike Trgovac, defensive line coach Sal Sunseri, defensive backs coach Tim Lewis and linebackers coach Ken Flajole all left the Panthers for other jobs after last season.

Posted by's Pat Yasinskas

John Fox is pushing hard for experience as he rebuilds his defensive coaching staff after four assistants left in January.

The Panthers just announced Richard Smith will be the linebackers coach and Ron Milus has been added to work with the defensive backs along with holdover Mike Gilhammer.

Smith comes with an extensive résumé and has previously been a coordinator with the Texans and Dolphins. He also coached linebackers for the Broncos, Lions and Oilers. But his biggest claim to fame might have come in a stint with San Francisco from 1997 through 2002 when he helped linebackers Julian Peterson, Winfred Tubbs, Ken Norton Jr. and Lee Woodall reach the Pro Bowl.

Milus has worked with defensive backs for the Rams, Giants, Cardinals and Broncos. Smith and Milus will join a staff that's now headed by Ron Meeks, who took over after defensive coordinator Mike Trgovac, linebackers coach Ken Flajole, defensive line coach Sal Sunseri and secondary coach Tim Lewis left the Panthers for other jobs.

A bit more on Carolina's crazy day

January, 22, 2009

Posted by's Pat Yasinskas

Details are starting to emerge as to why basically the entire defensive coaching staff of the Carolina Panthers has jumped ship.

And it has nothing to do with All-Pro defensive end Julius Peppers saying he wants to jump ship.

According to sources close to the situation, several of the assistants were more than a little perturbed that it took so long for the Panthers to offer them contract extensions. Apparently, the offers came only in recent days.

The coaches, who were under contract through Feb. 1, felt new offers should have come before the playoff game against Arizona. That's commonly what happens around the NFL. But it didn't work within that time frame in Carolina this year and it might have cost the Panthers three coaches (defensive coordinator Mike Trgovac, defensive line coach Sal Sunseri and defensive backs coach Tim Lewis). Linebackers coach Ken Flajole left, but that was a promotion as he took the St. Louis defensive coordinator job.

Coaches are people, too, and they have families and futures to worry about.

Not sure exactly whether the blame for this should fall on general manager Marty Hurney or ownership. But the word out of Carolina is that head coach John Fox isn't very happy about what transpired.

You can't blame him for that. He's suddenly got a defensive staff to fill and most of the good coaches already have been hired elsewhere.

Posted by's Pat Yasinskas

Something really weird is happening in Carolina. As previously reported, defensive coordinator Mike Trgovac has told the team he's leaving to pursue other options, even though the Panthers had offered him a new contract.

Now, secondary coach Tim Lewis is leaving to coach the defensive backs in Seattle. This one adds to the strangeness of everything else because Lewis would have seemed like a logical candidate to move into Trgovac's former spot.

It also comes on the heels of defensive line coach Sal Sunseri leaving to become linebackers coach at the University of Alabama. That one was particularly shocking because Sunseri has been a very close friend to head coach John Fox.

Also, linebackers coach Ken Flajole has left to become defensive coordinator at St. Louis. But that move is different and unrelated to all the others because it was a straight promotion.

So what's really going in Carolina, where All-Pro defensive end Julius Peppers has said he wants to play elsewhere? Well, it's definitely not an intentional housecleaning. Lewis and Trgovac definitely were offered new contracts and it's believed Sunseri was as well. These guys are leaving by their own choice.

There are rumblings the Panthers were slow in offering contract renewals and the assistants started shopping around. But the offers were eventually made to keep them and they could have stayed. They chose not to and that's not a good sign.

In fact, it looks like people are trying to get off a sinking ship. Keep an eye on this situation because right now the way things are playing out, the events of this offseason so far make it look like the Panthers went 4-12 and not 12-4.

Trgovac leaving Panthers after all

January, 22, 2009

Posted by's Pat Yasinskas

Carolina's strange offseason is getting more strange. Just two days after the team and defensive coordinator Mike Trgovac said he's staying with the team, he's not.

General manager Marty Hurney said this morning that Trgovac, who's contract had expired, has said he's leaving the Panthers to pursue other options. The team had made a contract offer to Trgovac and he said Tuesday he planned to sign it in the coming days.

But that all changed and it's just the latest strange thing to happen to Carolina's defense. All-Pro defensive end Julius Peppers came out last week and said he wants out of Carolina. Then, defensive line coach Sal Sunseri abruptly left to coach linebackers at the University of Alabama.

The Panthers also lost linebackers coach Ken Flajole, but there's nothing strange about that one. He took a promotion to defensive coordinator in St. Louis.