Wednesday, February 5, 2014
Tracking AFC North coaching changes
By Scott Brown
PITTSBURGH -- Staggering might be a bit strong when looking at the amount of coaching turnover that has taken place in the AFC North.
But there has been a lot of it in the last six weeks, which leads me to a story even if it does poke fun at yours truly.
I decided to recap all of the coaching changes in the division, reaching out to the other ESPN.com AFC North reporters about the comings and goings on their respective teams.
Here is the response I got from ESPN.com Brown reporter (and noted nemesis of mine) Pat McManamon: Um ... Scott ... except for special teams coach, they've changed the entire staff.
Uh, yeah, would make sense that a new head coach hires his own staff. I appreciated Pat not calling me stupid though I'm pretty sure he implied it (Pat, I must be getting too much sun here in Pittsburgh).
But I digress. Here is an update on the coaching staffs in the AFC North (teams in order of 2013 finish).
What has changed: The Bengals have two new coordinators, Hue Jackson (offense) and Paul Guenther (defense), after Jay Gruden and Mike Zimmer left for head coaching jobs.
Most significant hire: Guenther. Zimmer, who left for Minnesota, had been a widely respected coordinator. The Bengals finished no worse than seventh in the NFL in total defense in each of the previous three seasons, Guenther, who was promoted from linebackers coach to take over for Zimmer, has said he will call plays with the same aggressiveness that defined his predecessor.
Skinny: Head coach Marvin Lewis stayed in-house to replace both coordinators, and Jackson is expected to emphasize the run more, something the Bengals got away from in their playoff loss to the San Diego Chargers. Look for Jackson to take better advantage of Giovani Bernard, who flashed as a rookie and should get more touches after splitting carries with the plodding BenJarvus Green-Ellis in 2013.
What has changed:Mike Munchak is the new offensive line coach, and the Steelers essentially traded running backs coaches with the Vikings with Kirby Wilson joining Zimmer's new staff in Minnesota and James Saxon replacing Wilson.
Most significant hire: Munchak. The Pro Football Hall of Famer becomes the third former head coach who is now an assistant on Tomlin's staff, and there are incredibly high hopes for him. His credentials as a player and an offensive line coach make this one of Tomlin's best hires -- and one that Steelers' fans appear to be unanimous in applauding.
Skinny: Tomlin's staff for 2014 appears to be set. Defensive assistant Jerry Olsavsky was a candidate to become the linebackers coach in Buffalo but that position has been filled. Munchak is expected to institute a zone-blocking scheme and there may not be a more qualified person on the planet to teach it. I've written how Le'Veon Bell could be one of the biggest beneficiaries of the zone-blocking scheme. Here is what former Titans tight end and current radio talk show host Frank Wyche told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette about Bell in that scheme: "He's going to run the ball like Eddie George did for us."
What has changed: John Harbaugh made plenty of changes after the Ravens went 8-8 and missed the playoffs a season after winning the Super Bowl. Gary Kubiak is the new offensive coordinator and Rick Dennison, has followed Kubiak to Baltimore. Dennison, the Texans' offensive coordinator for the previous four seasons under Kubiak, will coach the Ravens' quarterbacks
Most significant hire: Kubiak. The former Texans head coach wasn't among the three finalists for the offensive coordinator job, but Harbaugh convinced him to join his staff. Kubiak's biggest challenge is reviving a ground attack that mustered just 3.0 yards per carry in 2013, the worst in the NFL. The Texans always seemed to be able to run the ball during Kubiak's tenure in Houston so he is probably the right coach to fix the Ravens' broken ground game.
The skinny: Harbaugh now has two former NFL head coaches on his staff with assistant head coach/secondary coach Steve Spagnuolo joining Kubiak in that distinction. There are still openings at running backs coach and wide receivers coach to fill. When Harbaugh has finished rounding out his staff he will have made six changes to it. The previous high as far as coaches Harbaugh had to replace in an offseason was four in 2011.
What has changed: Well, just about everything and yet not much at all to jaded Browns fans. Cleveland dumped Rob Chudzinski after just one season. What seemed like an interminable search for his successor turned up former Bills defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, who didn't appear to be on any other teams' radar as far as head-coaching candidates. Former Bills linebackers coach Jim O'Neil is the new defensive coordinator while former Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan now holds the same position in Cleveland.
Most significant hire: After Pettine, it is Shanahan. The former will be tasked with grooming the quarterback of the future and getting more out of an offense that has a legitimate star in wide receiver Josh Gordon but is lacking overall at the skill positions. The Browns have two first-round draft picks, including No. 4 overall, this year and they figure to take a quarterback with one of those selections.
The skinny: The Pettine hire didn't inspire much hope among Browns fans so add that to the list of things working against him in Cleveland. The Browns might have been able to lure defensive coordinator Dan Quinn away from Seattle had they waited longer to hire Chudzinski's replacement. That too will loom over Pettine's first season in Cleveland, especially if his results are similar to the ones that got Chudzinski fired.