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A Fantasy Spin on the Coaching Carousel
Paul Sandy

One needn't look any further than the barrage of hirings and firings within the Redskins organization to realize that job security for NFL coaches is at an all-time low. Once a common cliché heard in press conferences and interviews, "rebuilding year" has all but disappeared from the lexicon of today's general managers and owners. With New England and Baltimore proving that any team can go from rags to riches overnight, the pressure is on to win now.

In 2002, 12 teams made significant changes to their coaching staffs. These coaching changes will have varying degrees of impact on the fantasy performance of players. While one coach may institute sweeping changes to his team's offensive philosophy, another may only make minor tweaks. In either case, it pays to examine the impact before locking in your final player rankings.

Below you'll find a brief overview of the offensive tendencies and philosophies of the new head coaches and offensive coordinators, as well as which players may be positively and negatively impacted by the changes. By no means do these recommendations imply that a player is or isn't worth drafting. Instead, they indicate whether or not you can expect to see an increase or decrease in fantasy production based solely on the coaching change. A variety of other factors (age, injuries, strength of schedule, preseason performance, etc.) should be used in conjunction with this information before drawing any conclusions. 

Please note: Omissions of players indicate the hiring of a new coach will not have a significant impact on the player's performance in 2002.

Offensive Coordinator: Kevin Gilbride
Background: Pittsburgh, Jacksonville and Houston offensive coordinator and San Diego head coach
Offensive Philosophy: Balanced attack
Positively Impacted: Drew Bledsoe, Eric Moulds, Peerless Price, Jay Riemersma and Travis Henry
Negatively Impacted: None

Over the years as an offensive mastermind, Gilbride has never been married to any one particular style of offense. As the coordinator in Jacksonville and Houston, Gilbride leveraged the talents of Warren Moon, Mark Brunell, Haywood Jeffries and Jimmy Smith. His passing attacks ranked among the best in the league. Then in San Diego and Pittsburgh, the focus shifted to a power running attack led by Jerome Bettis and Natrone Means. It appears the Bills are shaping up to be more like the Jags and Oilers rather than the Steelers and Chargers. Gilbride will work the ball downfield to his receivers and his hiring will prove to be a blessing for Drew Bledsoe, Eric Moulds and Peerless Price. The running game in Buffalo won't be anything to bank your season on, but an overall improvement to the offense and Gilbride's tendency to use a two-tight-end set should also provide a boost to Travis Henry in his second season.

Head Coach: John Fox
Background: New York Giants defensive coordinator
Offensive Philosophy: Power rushing attack and ball control
Positively Impacted: DeShaun Foster, Wesley Walls and Steve Smith
Negatively Impacted: Chris Weinke and Muhsin Muhammad

The offseason acquisition of Lamar Smith and the drafting of UCLA running back DeShaun Foster suggest Coach Fox and offensive coordinator Dan Henning plan to rely on a power running game in 2002. In published reports, Fox stated he believes the team's offensive line is a key strength. If Foster wins the preseason battle for the starting running back slot, he will be the front-runner for offensive rookie of the year honors. While the Panthers will clearly focus on the run, Henning will also make frequent use of the tight-end position and occasionally throw deep to speedy wideout Steve Smith to keep defenses honest. It's a major change in philosophy from George Seifert's version of the West Coast Offense.

Offensive Coordinator: Bruce Coslet
Background: Cincinnati and New York head coach and Cincinnati offensive coordinator
Offensive Philosophy: Balanced attack
Positively Impacted: Emmitt Smith and Troy Hambrick
Negatively Impacted: None

Toward the end of 2001, it seemed as though the Dallas offense began to develop some chemistry. Quarterback Quincy Carter was able to connect on long passes with his speedy receivers and the team won a few games. With the offseason hiring of new offensive coordinator Bruce Coslet, the Cowboys will start out slowly again in 2002. Even veteran quarterbacks sometimes struggle to learn new offensive systems. Carter will too. Coslet's tutelage will eventually benefit the young quarterback (just as it did Boomer Esiason and Jeff Blake) but expect more growing pains in 2002. During his tenure with the Bengals, Coslet's units lead the league in offense three times, using balanced attacks powered by the talents of Carl Pickens, Darnay Scott, Ickey Woods and Corey Dillon. Expect a good mix of short timing routes, downfield strikes, and a hefty dose of Emmitt Smith as he pursues the all-time rushing record.

Head Coach: Dom Capers
Background: Carolina head coach
Offensive Philosophy: Survive
Positively Impacted: James Allen and Jonathan Wells
Negatively Impacted: David Carr and Corey Bradford

Based on his time spent with expansion Carolina, don't expect offensive fireworks from Dom Capers and the Houston Texans. Even when he led the Panthers to the NFC title game in 1996, the offense was never anything special. The last thing the new coach wants is to shell shock rookie quarterback David Carr by exposing him to a complex offense and punishing blitzes (see Akili Smith). Instead, Capers and offensive coordinator Chris Palmer will implement a simple system that helps build the former Fresno State Bulldog's confidence. Count on the Texans to utilize quick passes and a lot of runs. Whoever wins the starting running back job is worth a mid-to-late-round draft pick. Everyone else should be avoided unless you're in a deep keeper or dynasty league.

Head Coach: Tony Dungy
Background: Tampa Bay head coach and Minnesota defensive coordinator
Offensive Philosophy: Same as last year
Positively Impacted: Edgerrin James
Negatively Impacted: Peyton Manning, Marvin Harrison and Qadry Ismail

The Colts brought in Tony Dungy for one reason - to fix the defense. Offensive coordinator Tom Moore will continue to call the plays and the Colts will again field one of the NFL's most explosive attacks. With a healthy Edgerrin James, the team can score from any position on the field. That aside, the offense doesn't operate in a vacuum. If Dungy is able to right the ship on defense, as he did in Tampa, the Colts won't be in many situations where they are down by 20 points at halftime. In turn, Manning won't need to pass 35-40 times per game. Expect a modest drop in fantasy production from everyone involved in the passing game.

Offensive Coordinator: Tom Coughlin
Background: Jacksonville head coach
Offensive Philosophy: Balanced attack
Positively Impacted: Fred Taylor and Jimmy Smith
Negatively Impacted: Mark Brunell

Coughlin is perhaps the NFL's biggest control freak. During the offseason he fired offensive coordinator Bob Petrino and hired himself as the replacement. Coughlin isn't new to calling his own plays. He did so in 1999 and 2000 with a great deal of success, both on the ground and through the air. Taylor is always a question mark, but if he can make it through the season without suffering a catastrophic injury, Coughlin should guide the Jags back to fantasy prominence. It's worth noting that the reason Petrino was hired in the first place was because Coughlin and quarterback Mark Brunell had a tumultuous relationship. If the Jaguar family can't get along (the Jimmy Smith holdout isn't helping), Brunell stands to suffer the most. 

Offensive Coordinator: Norv Turner
Background: San Diego and Dallas offensive coordinator and Washington head coach
Offensive Philosophy: Use a power running game to open up intermediate and downfield passes
Positively Impacted: Ricky Williams, Jay Fiedler and Chris Chambers
Negatively Impacted: None

In recent years, Norv Turner has guided offenses that featured Emmitt Smith, Stephen Davis and LaDainian Tomlinson. The successes of these running backs should shine a light on what we can expect from Ricky Williams. The former Heisman Trophy winner will be the focus of every game and should set career bests in every category as long as he can keep physically and mentally healthy. Even though the running game is the focal point, Turner likes to have his receivers average around 18 yards per catch. This is great news for owners of Chris Chambers. The second-year sensation, along with quarterback Jay Fiedler, can only be helped by Turner's presence.

Head Coach: Mike Tice
Background: Offensive line coach
Offensive Philosophy: The Randy Ratio
Positively Impacted: Randy Moss, Daunte Culpepper, Michael Bennett, Byron Chamberlain, and D'Wayne Bates
Negatively Impacted: None

While Steve Spurrier has gotten most of the publicity, perhaps even more intriguing is the hiring of Mike Tice by Minnesota Vikings owner Red McCombs. The former offensive line coach has promised to involve explosive receiver Randy Moss in 40% of the offensive plays. To do so, Tice and new offensive coordinator Scott Linehan will implement a two-tight-end offense that will force defenses to protect against the run and ultimately draw coverage away from Moss. On paper, it sounds brilliant; however, let's not forget Minnesota's mostly -unchanged offensive line and running attack ranked among the worst in the league in 2001. Still, Tice has been seen running wind sprints with the team and should provide the offense with a motivational boost. Moss will re-claim his title as the league's best receiver while the rest of the offense makes more modest improvements.

Head Coach: Bill Callahan
Background: Oakland offensive coordinator
Offensive Philosophy: Establish the run to open up the pass
Positively Impacted: Tyrone Wheatley and Jerry Porter
Negatively Impacted: Charlie Garner, Tim Brown and Jerry Rice

In 2000, under Callahan and Jon Gruden, the Raiders led the league in rushing with an average of 154 yards per game. On first-down, they ran the ball 65% of the time. In 2001, the team's focus on the run diminished and they dropped to 103 yards per game, while only calling a rush on 50% of their first-down plays. With Gruden now in Tampa, the changes won't be earth shattering, but Callahan has suggested the team will re-dedicate itself to establishing the running game. If he's healthy and committed, Tyrone Wheatley could again carry the load on first and second down and make fantasy owners forget about his disappointing 2001 season. Callahan has also said he wants to make sure his team is testing all locations on the field. Don't be surprised to see the Raiders use second-year receiver Jerry Porter's size and speed to burn defenses deep.

San Diego
Head Coach: Marty Schottenheimer
Background: Head coach at Cleveland, Kansas City and Washington
Offensive Philosophy: Marty Ball
Positively Impacted: LaDainian Tomlinson and Stephen Alexander
Negatively Impacted: Drew Brees, Doug Flutie, Curtis Conway and Tim Dwight

In the circle of fantasy football owners, Marty Schottenheimer has been forever stereotyped as a conservative head coach. And while many football stereotypes are accurate (for example, all Raiders fans are indeed obnoxious and vulgar), Schottenheimer's reputation isn't necessarily well deserved. Take for example, his stints in Cleveland and Kansas City. With Bernie Kosar and Joe Montana at the helm, his teams ranked toward the top in nearly every passing category. If there's an accurate portrayal of Schottenheimer, it's that he takes the people available to him and plays to his team's strength. That said, let's get one thing straight: neither Doug Flutie, nor Drew Brees is Joe Montana. As in Washington with Stephen Davis, San Diego's team strengths appear to be the running game and LaDainian Tomlinson, as well as a formidable defense. Expect the Chargers to attempt to overcome a weak offensive line and focus on the run. 

Tampa Bay
Head Coach: Jon Gruden
Background: Raiders head coach
Offensive Philosophy: West Coast Offense
Positively Impacted: Michael Pittman, Keyshawn Johnson, Brad Johnson and Keenan McCardell
Negatively Impacted: None

Jon Gruden is the greatest thing to happen to the Buccaneers since Tony Dungy. But unlike Dungy, whose game plan was to win with defense, Gruden will rely on his offense to put points on the board. As in Oakland, there will be no first-round fantasy talent that comes out of Tampa. Instead, Gruden will leverage a balanced attack that utilizes all positions equally. Each of the key players deserves a roster spot, but the man who has the most to gain from Gruden's version of the West Coast Offense is Michael Pittman. Reports out of training camp suggest Gruden believes the former Cardinals running back is a perfect blend of Tyrone Wheatley and Charlie Garner, all in one neat package. If Pittman shows enough versatility to keep Mike Alstott off the field, he could finish this year ranked among the top backs in the league.

Head Coach: Steve Spurrier
Background: University of Florida head coach
Offensive Philosophy: Fun and Gun
Positively Impacted: Shane Matthews/Danny Wuerffel, Rod Gardner, Reidel Anthony and Jacquez Green
Negatively Impacted: Stephen Davis

If all goes as planned, Spurrier will guide the Redskins to the SEC title and another Orange Bowl. Well, not exactly, but the new coach will save paper by bringing the same playbook he used at Florida up the coast to the nation's capital. An impressive preseason not withstanding, it remains to be seen how the zealous coach's "Fun-and-Gun" offense translates into the NFL. After all, Spurrier was accustomed to facing perhaps one All-American cornerback per month at Florida; he'll be strategizing against two or more every week in the NFL. Even when they have a big lead, the Redskins will aim to make plays through the air with a vertical passing game. Contrast this with Marty Schottenheimer's run-oriented attack in 2001 and it spells trouble for Stephen Davis.