Season of coaching change in AFC North
February, 24, 2011
By James Walker | ESPN.com
AP PhotoPat Shurmur, left, and Jay Gruden are two of the new faces in the AFC North.The offseason has just begun, but the coaching carousel has been spinning for all four teams in the AFC North.
Often the struggling teams make significant coaching changes, and that was the case with the Cincinnati Bengals (4-12) and Cleveland Browns (5-11). But playoff teams like the Baltimore Ravens (12-4) and even the Super Bowl runner-up Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4) also experienced some turnover on their staff.
Here is a look at each change and what it means for the division:
In: Head coach Pat Shurmur, defensive coordinator Dick Jauron and a new staff.
Out: Former head coach Eric Mangini, former defensive coordinator Rob Ryan and former offensive coordinator Brian Daboll.
What happened? Mangini entered this past season on the hot seat and went 5-11 for the second consecutive year. There were a lot of philosophical differences between Mangini and Browns president Mike Holmgren. So when the team wasn't winning, it made for an easy decision to go in a different direction. Enter Shurmur, who was a surprise hire for Cleveland. Shurmur has no prior head-coaching experience and wasn't on the radar of other teams. The Browns have pretty much cleaned house and hired a new staff, which includes Jauron and veteran defensive assistant Ray Rhodes.
Analysis: Last year, Holmgren was dumbfounded by some of the things the Browns were doing, particularly on offense. But Holmgren and Shurmur share many of the same views, which will give Holmgren more say in what goes on, and I think being on the same page is important for any team. The Browns are one of the few teams this year that will change both their offense and defense. Cleveland will go to a West Coast offense under Shurmur, who did not hire an offensive coordinator and will call the plays. The Browns also will switch to a 4-3 defense, which is something they haven't run since 2004. Shurmur is taking on a lot of responsibility as a rookie head coach and de facto offensive coordinator, which raises some concerns. Cleveland hopes veteran coaches like Jauron and Rhodes will take care of the defense, giving Shurmur one less thing to worry about. In terms of personnel, the Browns have a lot of work to do. They need better receivers on offense if they plan to pass more and playmakers at defensive end to run a 4-3 scheme.
In: Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden, receivers coach James Urban.
Out: Former offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski, former receivers coach Mike Sheppard.
What happened? Changes were inevitable for Cincinnati's coaching staff this season. There was a lot of unrest among players internally who didn't like the scheme on offense. The Bengals entered the season with playoff aspirations but had an abysmal four-win campaign. Quarterback Carson Palmer was so unhappy that he demanded a trade after the season. Receivers Terrell Owens publicly criticized the coaching staff several times and starting tailback Cedric Benson said he was not returning if Bratkowski was still the offensive coordinator. Bratkowski was let go and later hired by the Atlanta Falcons, and Sheppard went to the Jacksonville Jaguars. Gruden, a former UFL head coach and the brother of former NFL coach Jon Gruden, was hired as offensive coordinator, and Urban was taken as receivers coach from the Philadelphia Eagles.
Analysis: Cincinnati will be the second team in the division implementing a West Coast offense. Gruden also says he wants to make sure Cincinnati has a power running game, which is needed in this division. When the Bengals were at their best in 2009, they ran the football effectively and played tough defense. Cincinnati went away from that last year and had an awful season. How Gruden's offense translates from the UFL to the NFL remains to be seen. Cincinnati also has to handle a lot of personnel issues. Will Palmer retire? If so, who will be the new quarterback? Should the team trade Chad Ochocinco? Will Benson return? Cincinnati will have a very busy offseason trying to figure out these questions before putting together its new offense.
In: Defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano.
Out: Former defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, former quarterbacks coach Jim Zorn.
What happened? Mattison spent two years as Baltimore's defensive coordinator and had big shoes to fill replacing Rex Ryan, who became head coach of the New York Jets. The Ravens were ranked third and 10th in total defense in the two seasons under Mattison. But he left to take over as defensive coordinator at the University of Michigan. Zorn was fired after one season in Baltimore, despite Joe Flacco putting up career highs in yards (3,622), touchdowns (25) and passer rating (93.6). Flacco was not happy about the move.
Analysis: The Ravens seem very excited about Pagano, who says he will bring a more aggressive style back to the defense. Baltimore seemed to be in attack mode more under Ryan than it did under Mattison, perhaps because of the recent secondary woes. Pagano, Baltimore's former secondary coach, will likely have more faith in the back end of the defense and won't be afraid to bring extra blitzers at the expense of man-to-man coverage. Although there was no formal announcement by the team, offensive coordinator Cam Cameron will work more closely with Flacco next season. Ravens head coach John Harbaugh also said Thursday at the NFL combine that Flacco will have increased responsibility in the offense entering his fourth season.
Out: Former defensive backs coach Ray Horton.
What happened? The Steelers have been fortunate to keep most of their coaching staff intact, particularly on defense, despite making three Super Bowl runs in the past six years. But it was just a matter of time before someone left for a better opportunity. Horton was offered the chance to become defensive coordinator of the Arizona Cardinals. Horton worked with Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt while the two were in Pittsburgh. ESPN.com senior writer John Clayton reported former Tennessee Titans defensive coordinator Chuck Cecil recently interviewed with the Steelers and is the early favorite to replace Horton. But Pittsburgh has not made any official decision.
Analysis: I think Cecil would be a great replacement for Pittsburgh. He's a high-energy coach who also can see the big picture as a former defensive coordinator. One criticism I have of Pittsburgh's coaching staff is it hasn't developed its younger cornerbacks. Recent draft picks such as Joe Burnett, Keenan Lewis and Crezdon Butler have been non-factors, and the lack of depth hurt the Steelers. The Steelers likely will bring in another young cornerback this year -- perhaps high in the draft -- and it will be key to coach up that player so that he's ready to contribute.