NFL Nation: 2011 Assistant Coaches Power Rankings

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.
Tuesday is Power Rankings day on ESPN's NFL site, and today's topic was top 10 up-and-coming assistant coaches. For me, this question meant picking which current assistants had the best chance to become NFL head coaches. The rules we established for voting eliminated anyone who'd been a head coach already except for those who'd only worn the title of "interim" head coach, such as Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell.

[+] EnlargePerry Fewell
AP Photo/Paul SpinelliPerry Fewell was listed first on four of eight ballots ranking up-and-coming assistants.
As a result of Fewell's high profile, the way he's regarded around the league and the number of head-coaching interviews he went on this past offseason, Fewell ranked No. 1 on our list of up-and-coming assistants. He got a taste of the head-coaching seat when he had the interim job in Buffalo in 2009, and he's made no secret of his desire to land a more permanent head-coaching position. Our panel thinks he will, as he was ranked first on four of the eight ballots and named on seven of them.

Fewell finished just ahead of new Dallas defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, who was one of only two assistants (along with sixth-place finisher Winston Moss) to be named on all eight ballots. Ryan certainly has an opportunity to dazzle in Dallas, where the defense was a major letdown in 2010 and could be poised for a nowhere-to-go-but-up recovery. Dallas also offers Ryan a high profile, and if he succeeds there it could carry more weight with decision-makers around the league when head-coaching positions are being handed out down the line. He's not as likely to move up next offseason as Fewell might be, but he's a guy who's on people's minds.

I threw a 10th-place vote for Cowboys special-teams coach Joe DeCamillis, because I've heard his name mentioned in this capacity a few times. But mine was the only ballot on which he appeared. James Walker of the AFC North blog ranked Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan sixth on his ballot, but that was the only ballot on which he appeared.

O'Brien establishing coach cred with Pats

June, 21, 2011
6/21/11
1:23
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This week's Power Rankings took a gander at the NFL's best up-and-coming assistant coaches.

To define the list, ESPN.com's panel of division bloggers decided we would concentrate on assistants who have never been head coaches (we didn't count interim tags) and are approaching their shot to run a staff.

Here's my ballot:
  1. Rob Ryan, Cowboys defensive coordinator
  2. Russ Grimm, Cardinals offensive line coach
  3. Dirk Koetter, Jaguars offensive coordinator
  4. Bill O'Brien, Patriots offensive coordinator
  5. Rob Chudzinski, Panthers offensive coordinator
  6. Perry Fewell, Giants defensive coordinator
  7. Brian Schottenheimer, Jets offensive coordinator
  8. Winston Moss, Packers inside linebackers coach
  9. Mike Waufle, Raiders defensive line coach
  10. Pete Carmichael, Saints offensive coordinator

Ryan topped my ballot for two reasons. First, he's a great defensive coach. Second, his twin brother's success with the New York Jets is pushing Rob Ryan even closer and closer to consideration.

In sorting out my list, my dominant criterion was becoming a head coach soon. Grimm has interviewed for jobs, reportedly been close to landing a couple and is highly thought of around the league. If Las Vegas posted odds on the next assistant to become a first-time head coach, Ryan and Grimm would be at the top of the list.

I was one of only three panelists to vote for O'Brien at all. AFC South blogger Paul Kuharsky listed him fifth. NFC North blogger Kevin Seifert ranked him eighth.

A high ranking for O'Brien simply is playing the percentages. Bill Belichick coordinators always seem to get an opportunity to be a head coach, and O'Brien certainly is making his mark. A coordinator appointment from Belichick is the ultimate sideline blessing these days. Tom Brady's not a bad reference either.

O'Brien did more than just pick up where Josh McDaniels left off. O'Brien oversaw a restructuring of the Patriots' offense from a shotgun-spread style to a two tight-end approach. He also prevailed in a battle of wills with Randy Moss and then directed the Patriots' offense to great things without him.
The ESPN.com Power Rankings for up-and-coming assistant coaches are out and two NFC South representatives made the top 10.

Tampa Bay offensive coordinator Greg Olson came in at No. 7 and Carolina offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski is No. 8. It’s important to note that Atlanta offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey and New Orleans defensive coordinator Gregg Williams were not eligible. We set the guidelines on this to not include guys who previously have been head coaches.

[+] EnlargeGreg Olson
Kim Klement/US PresswireGreg Olson got the most out of young players such as Josh Freeman, LeGarrette Blount and Mike Williams last season.
Olson led the division based largely on his work with the Tampa Bay offense and quarterback Josh Freeman last season. Originally brought in as the quarterbacks coach, Olson was thrust into the offensive coordinator job when Jeff Jagodzinski was fired in the middle of training camp in 2009. The Bucs struggled to a 3-13 record that season and didn’t play the rookie Freeman until the second half of the season.

But 2010 was a different story. In Freeman’s first full season as a starter, the Bucs went 10-6 and Olson got the most out of rookie receiver Mike Williams, rookie running back LeGarrette Blount and a bunch of other young players. If the Tampa Bay offense can build on that this season, we might be hearing Olson’s name connected to some openings for head coaches next year.

Chudzinski made the list because several of us looked at the crystal ball and projected good things for a guy who is making the move from being San Diego’s tight ends coach to Carolina’s offensive coordinator. I had Chudzinski No. 8 on my ballot and AFC West colleague Bill Williamson, who covered him in his San Diego days, had him at No. 4. I think I speak for Williamson when I say it remains to be seen how Chudzinski will fare in Carolina.

But the man has a great reputation around the league and a lot of people expect him to succeed. As daunting as the task of revamping the offense of a 2-14 team may sound, I think Chudzinski could be in good shape. Carolina has some talent on the offensive line and at running back. With or without Steve Smith, they also have some talent at running back. The key will be the development of quarterbacks Cam Newton and Jimmy Clausen. If Chudzinski can bring one or both of those guys along, his résumé will get a lot stronger.
Power Rankings turn to an important, relatively unknown bunch this week: assistant coaches.

But we’re not ranking the top 10 assistant coaches, we’re ranking the top 10 up-and-coming assistant coaches. Who are guys who have not been head coaches before (interim stints didn’t disqualify anyone) who we expect will ultimately be patrolling the sideline in the primary headset?

It’s an interesting list that has a lot of debatable votes. For example, I didn’t vote for Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell, who wound up No. 1.

I explain why in Kevin Seifert’s piece unveiling the overall rankings (and here's the column relating to it all). I also make the case for Jacksonville offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, who got my third-place vote and finished fifth overall.

Considering that I am on record selecting Koetter as my head coach if I assembled a staff from the AFC South pool of coaches, including the four head coaches, my vote should be no surprise. Indications were he was great in his interview with Denver, and only John Fox’s prior experience got him the job ahead of Koetter.

He was the No. 1 selection for agent Bob Lattinville, who represents a lot of coaches and put together a top 10 list for me.

Here’s my ballot, which I remind you counted just one-eighth of the overall result:
  1. Rob Ryan
  2. Winston Moss
  3. Dirk Koetter
  4. Greg Olson
  5. Bill O’Brien
  6. Darren Perry
  7. Brian Schottenheimer
  8. Rich Bisaccia
  9. Mike Zimmer
  10. Mike Waufle
The AFC North has done very well lately in ESPN.com’s Power Rankings. Last week, Joe Thomas of the Cleveland Browns claimed the top spot for left tackles. The division also had high placements with defensive players, helmets and stadiums in recent weeks.

But the AFC North was shut out Tuesday when it came to up-and-coming assistant coaches. The highest finish was No. 11 by Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer.

Two AFC North coaches made the final ballot. Zimmer received three votes from our panel, including my No. 7 vote. I was the only person to vote for Steelers linebackers coach Keith Butler, who is viewed as the in-house favorite to eventually replace longtime defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau.

Former Browns defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, who was hired this offseason by the Dallas Cowboys, was No. 2 on this list.

ESPN.com's up-and-coming coaches Power Rankings

1. Perry Fewell, Giants

2. Rob Ryan, Cowboys

3. Brian Schottenheimer, Jets

4. Russ Grimm, Cardinals

5. Dirk Koetter, Jaguars

6. Winston Moss, Green Bay Packers

7. Greg Olson, Buccaneers

8. Rob Chudzinski, Panthers

9. Bill O’Brien, New England Patriots

10. Darren Perry, Packers

Walker's up-and-coming coaches Power Rankings

1. Perry Fewell, Giants

2. Russ Grimm, Cardinals

3. Winston Moss, Packers

4. Brian Schottenheimer, Jets

5. Rob Ryan, Cowboys

6. Kyle Shanahan, Redskins

7. Mike Zimmer, Bengals

8. Mel Tucker, Jaguars

9. Rob Chudzinski, Panthers

10. Keith Butler, Steelers
The AFC West didn’t play much of a role in this week's Power Rankings where we looked at the top 10 up-and-coming assistant coaches.

We were looking for assistants who could soon be head coaches in the NFL. Coaches who have been interim head coaches were eligible; former full-time coaches, however, were not eligible.

No current AFC West assistant made the list. Former San Diego Chargers assistant Rod Chudinski was ranked fourth. He left the Chargers earlier this year to become Ron Rivera’s offensive coordinator in Carolina. Rivera was the Chargers’ defensive coordinator until the Panthers hired him as head coach in January, so, I guess there was an AFC West feel on the list.

Oakland Raiders defensive line coach Mike Waufle received some votes and he finished in 13th place. I ranked Waulfle in 10th place. I really like the way Oakland’s defensive line developed under his guidance last season. To a man, his defensive linemen swear by Waufle. He’s definitely a coach to keep an eye on.

I didn’t vote for any other AFC West assistant. The other current AFC West assistant to receive votes was new San Diego special teams coach Rich Biasaccia. He was in 15th place. Biasaccia is well respected and is expected to instantly help the Chargers’ weak spot. But I want to see him in action first before I give him a top-10 vote.
ESPN.com’s NFL writers rank the top 10 up-and-coming assistant coaches in the league today. Next week: Top players overall.

Seven NFL teams named new head coaches after last season, tapping into a pool that included experienced coordinators and relatively unknown assistants alike. The class of 2011 featured longtime candidates (Leslie Frazier, Ron Rivera). It also included a trusted position coach in Mike Munchak (Tennessee Titans) and a couple of relative hotshots in Hue Jackson (Oakland Raiders) and Pat Shurmur (Cleveland Browns).

Who will comprise the NFL's next batch of head-coaching candidates? That was the question ESPN.com hoped to answer in this week's edition of the offseason Power Rankings. We established one ground rule by eliminating any assistant who has already had a permanent head-coaching job. The idea was to develop a list that focused on the "next wave" of coaching candidates.

No less than 24 NFL assistants received at least one vote, a reflection of both the variables involved in head-coaching searches and the relative lack of national name recognition for all but the most highly regarded assistants.

So in that vein, it was no surprise to see four well-known assistants at the top of our list, headed by New York Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell -- who placed first or second on six of the eight ballots. Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan finished second, followed by New York Jets offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and Arizona offensive line coach Russ Grimm.

Fewell is an ideal candidate in many ways, having spent time as the Buffalo Bills' interim coach in 2009 and leading a substantial turnaround of the Giants' defense last season. Fewell interviewed for four head-coaching jobs last winter, and NFC East blogger Dan Graziano suggested that experience, along with a high profile afforded to coaches in New York, make him "the most likely guy on the list to be a head coach soon."

Just don't bother forwarding his name to AFC South colleague Paul Kuharsky, who couldn't find room for Fewell on his 10-man ballot. Kuharsky noted the Giants' poor performance in Week 2 last season against the Indianapolis Colts, during which quarterback Peyton Manning threw three touchdowns and cruised to an easy 38-14 victory.

"Certainly I'm letting one game overinfluence my ballot," Kuharsky muttered. "But Fewell's plan for the Giants against the Colts last season was so bad that I could not help but score him down for it. Was he not familiar with how Peyton Manning and Indianapolis operate?"

We can't cover every coach who received votes in this exercise, but let's hit some of the more interesting names that received attention.

Another Ryan? Deserved or not, Ryan has long been considered a loose cannon. There is little doubt about his schematic prowess, but hiring him would require a confident owner ready to make a leap of faith.

The success of twin brother Rex Ryan with the Jets might have softened the perception of that risk, and collectively we see Rob Ryan on the doorstep of a job.

"Similar to Rex, Rob Ryan is good with X's and O's and has the type of outgoing personality players want to be around," AFC North blogger James Walker said. "I think both are equally important in today's NFL. Both brothers say exactly what's on their mind, and before that scared off a lot of teams. But Rex broke the ice with his success in New York and that could help Rob in the future."

The next generation: Schottenheimer has turned down more opportunities to interview for head-coaching jobs than he has actually submitted to. He has nixed requests from the Miami Dolphins and Bills in recent years, but he did interview for the Jets' job that ultimately went to Ryan. I placed him atop my ballot (he finished No. 3 overall) because I think NFL people have made up their mind that he is the kind of young and innovative assistant who can turn around their franchise. (Think: Cowboys coach Jason Garrett.)

Schottenheimer's pedigree doesn't hurt -- he's the son of longtime NFL coach Marty Schottenheimer -- and I'm not sure how closely teams will dissect the specifics of the Jets' offensive performance. Graziano, on the other hand, thinks Schottenheimer is close to coaching his way out of the golden-child image he cultivated and left him off his ballot.

"Having spent a good amount of time around that team the past couple of years, I just feel like defensive coordinator Mike Pettine is the more likely guy to end up a head coach," Graziano said. "Schottenheimer's under a ton of pressure as Ryan defers the offensive responsibilities to him. I feel like, if the offense has a bad year, he could end up in trouble or even out of a job. And given their youth at quarterback and running back and the uncertainty of their receiver situation, a bad year for the Jets' offense is possible.

"Now, he could be a genius, make chicken salad and be the next hot name eight months from now. But I think there's the potential that he may have already peaked as a hot coaching prospect and that he might not be set up to succeed in New York."

The big fella: Four years ago, Grimm thought he would be the next Pittsburgh Steelers coach. He moved to Arizona after the Steelers selected Mike Tomlin instead, and we view his status as a head-coaching candidate with wide disparity.

AFC West blogger Bill Williamson put Grimm atop his ballot, and AFC East blogger Tim Graham had him No. 2. Kuharsky and I left him off.

Williamson thinks Grimm has moved to "the top of the food chain" largely because most of his "hot-name" contemporaries have already gotten jobs. As well, Graham suggested that it will soon be Grimm's turn because he is still well-regarded throughout the league.

Personally, I couldn't get past Grimm's well-publicized gaffe after interviewing with the Chicago Bears, after which he referred to the team owners as the "McClaskey" family. I also agree with NFC West blogger Mike Sando, who ranked Grimm No. 8 and wondered: "Is he still ascending? Grimm seems content coaching the line in Arizona. He has plateaued and doesn't seem to be losing any sleep over it."

Welcome back: Unless you're a college football fan, you might not have heard of Jacksonville Jaguars offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter. He spent six years as the head coach at Arizona State, but has drawn some quiet acclaim for his work with the Jaguars and made a strong impression while interviewing with the Denver Broncos last winter.

"In a setting where he won't have to deal with boosters and can shine for being a smart X's and O's guy with strong coaching DNA," Kuharsky said, "I think he'd do far better. He's smart and will interview quite well. He really impressed John Elway and the Broncos before losing out to John Fox's experience. St. Louis wanted him as coordinator, but Jacksonville wouldn't let him go. He's heading into the final year of his contract. How Blaine Gabbert develops early on will have a big bearing on Koetter's future."

Secret weapon: In two years, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have developed quarterback Josh Freeman into one of the better starters in the league. The man largely responsible is offensive coordinator Greg Olson, who navigated a disastrous 2009 preseason -- coach Raheem Morris promoted him in the middle of training camp after firing Jeff Jagodzinski -- and NFL teams often seek out coaches with success developing young quarterbacks.

"I think Olson deserves a ton of credit for developing Freeman so quickly," said NFC South blogger Pat Yasinskas. "Freeman threw for 25 touchdowns and six interceptions in his first full season as a starter and carried an incredibly young team to a 10-6 record. I also think people need to look at what Olson did last year with rookie running back LeGarrette Blount and rookie receiver Mike Williams. He helped make them into instant stars."

Super Bowl entitlement: The Green Bay Packers were the only team to place more than one name in the top 10, as would be expected from a championship team. Assistant head coach/inside linebackers Winston Moss is at No. 6, while safeties coach Darren Perry finished No. 10. I also voted for receivers coach Edgar Bennett, who has moved over from running backs coach and is clearly being groomed for bigger things.

I'll detail my ranking of the Packers' assistants, including why I think so highly of Perry, in a future post for NFC North readers. But we'll say this for now: Moss is a strong leader who has drawn interest from the Raiders, while Perry is a disciple of Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers and his coveted 3-4 scheme.
The last few weeks, in conjunction with our Power Rankings, I’ve done posts with AFC South players sharing their lists.

I wanted to do the same this week, but as we look at the NFL’s up-and-coming assistant coaches, there was no player with the frame of reference to offer a ballot.

So I turned to agent Bob Lattinville. His firm, Premier Stinson Sports, represents over 100 college and professional coaches in football, men’s and women’s basketball and baseball. (We’ll unveil our list at about 1 p.m. ET.)

But as a preview, we share Lattinville’s thoughts.

I asked that he be reasonable and measured in including his own clients on his list of the top 10 up-and-coming assistants, and he was. Only his No. 10 selection is a client.

Here then, are his opening comments and his list. We thank him for supplying a great read from an interesting angle:

Following is my top 10 list of up-and-coming NFL assistant coaches. I split my list into two categories: (a) six younger, position coaches with eventual head-coach potential, and (b) four veteran, coordinator level coaches who are an opportunity away from ascending to a head-coach position.

My list not only takes into account statistical performance but, more importantly, player development and performance in the context of what these coaches deliver given the personnel resources provided and how they respond to the situations their players/positions/clubs are required to handle.
    [+] EnlargeDirk Koetter
    David Butler II/US PresswireDirk Koetter has been the offensive coordinator in Jacksonville since the 2007 season.

  1. Dirk Koetter (offensive coordinator, Jacksonville Jaguars). Koetter’s expertise with X's and O's and scheme are rare, even for the NFL, and he remains cool under pressure.
  2. Russ Grimm (assistant head coach/offensive line, Arizona Cardinals). Well respected by players, coaches and front offices, it’s just a matter of time before this Hall of Famer rightly ascends to a head-coach position.
  3. Juan Castillo (defensive coordinator, Philadelphia Eagles). An intelligent coach with a masterful ability to teach and relate to players. His recent switch to the defensive side of the ball will only enhance his already head coach-worthy credentials.
  4. Greg Manusky (defensive coordinator, San Diego Chargers). Manusky’s defenses are always among the NFL’s most productive and his players play hard for him.
  5. Edgar Bennett (wide receivers, Green Bay Packers). Bennett spent the last six years turning young, and frequently undrafted, running backs into NFL stars. His switch to coaching the Pack’s talented group of wideouts will further showcase his skills.
  6. Aaron Kromer (offensive line, New Orleans Saints). The cradle of coaches, Miami (Ohio), produced another winner in Kromer. Incredibly well respected by his players and mentored by one of the NFL’s brightest minds in Sean Peyton, Kromer’s troops make it all go for the Saints’ prolific offense. Without exception, every player I have represented who played for Kromer says the same thing: "He made me better."
  7. Todd Downing (quarterbacks, Detroit Lions). Downing prepared three quarterbacks for the Lions in 2010 and each one of them was productive. At only 31, Downing already has eight years of NFL experience under his belt.
  8. Mike Priefer (special-teams coordinator, Minnesota Vikings). Organized and talented, this U.S. Naval Academy graduate also benefits from strong NFL bloodlines (son of veteran NFL special-teams coach Chuck Priefer). Working with players from several positions on both sides of the ball has developed Priefer’s talent evaluation skills as well.
  9. Mike Devlin (tight ends/assistant offensive line, New York Jets). A tough-minded coach’s son, Devlin developed as a player under Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz, carved out an NFL career from sheer will and flawless technique and is being polished by the league’s hottest coaching staff.
  10. Matt Griffin (offensive coach, Jacksonville Jaguars). Griffin’s tireless approach, analytical skills and dedication to his players will flourish under Jack Del Rio, a head coach who develops and promotes his staff (an underappreciated aspect of good head coaches). (Lattinville represents Griffin.)

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