Last year the NFL coaching carousel had more change than a toll booth operator; 11 teams had new head coaches, an additional three teams had new offensive coordinators, and another 11 clubs had new defensive coordinators. Add it up, and almost 46 percent of the primary decision-makers in the league were new to their job.
This year, the upheaval is not quite as dramatic. Just three new head coaches will be calling the shots when the NFL kicks off in September, though a total of 10 teams saw turnover at offensive coordinator and 11 flipped the defensive coordinator role. Here’s a rundown of what those changes mean for the fantasy entities on those teams with new skippers at the helm.
Offensive Coordinator Changes »
To most, Thomas Chandler Gailey—you can call him “Chan”—is remembered as the short-tenured coach of the late 90s Dallas Cowboys. But even though Jerry Jones ran Gailey out of town after just two seasons (both of which ended with the Cowboys in the playoffs, though they were one-and-done each year), Jones has more recently said that quick hook was a mistake. Instead of overseeing the end of the Dallas dynasty, it may be more accurate to say that Gailey took aging parts and squeezed a couple more playoff seasons out of his roster.
But truth be told, 10 years ago is ancient history in the NFL. And while Gailey has been coaching since the mid-1970s, he’s still proven to be one of the more creative offensive minds in the game. In 2008 he took a Chiefs team devoid of talent and ravaged by injury and crafted a modified spread offense that propelled then-rookie Tyler Thigpen to put up better per-game fantasy numbers than, among others, Brett Favre, Ben Roethlisberger, and Eli Manning.
Gailey’s modus operandi is to mold his offense to the pieces he has at his disposal, and he told SI’s Peter King “You can win the World Series without Babe Ruth.” There are few if any sluggers on the current Bills roster, so Gailey may be the perfect guy for the job. One of the big names mentioned as a candidate for the Bills’ gig, Bill Cowher, said of Gailey, “Chan’s resume and what he’s done proves that this guy can adapt to situations as well as anybody in the league.”
Unlike Kansas City, where Gailey was unceremoniously stripped of his duties when new head coach Todd Haley wanted to call the plays, Gailey won’t be battling for billing. His hand-picked offensive coordinator is Curtis Modkins, who got his first NFL job with Chaney in Dallas in 1999. Most of Modkins’ work has come with running backs, including last year with the Cardinals. While serving as running backs coach at Georgia Tech under Gailey, Modkins produced the ACC’s top rusher three out of five years and led the conference as a team in 2007 at 199 yards per game.
Modkins was also Gailey’s running backs coach in Kansas City, when the Chiefs ranked 16th in rushing at 113 yards per game—up from 32nd (78 yards per game) the previous season despite losing Priest Holmes and Michael Bennett. So it’s pretty clear that Modkins will be in charge of squeezing the most out of C.J. Spiller, Fred Jackson, and maybe even Marshawn Lynch in the Bills’ ground game.
While Modkins will carry the title of OC in Buffalo, Gailey has already indicated he’s the one who will be calling the plays. You can bet he’ll build the offense around its strengths, which heading into camp appear to be Spiller and Jackson. But if Gailey can turn Thigpen into a usable fantasy piece, you can’t completely write off Trent Edwards... or Ryan Fitzpatrick, or Brian Brohm, or whomever wins the starting job in Buffalo.
That said, despite Thigpen’s fantasy success the Chiefs produced only five 100-yard receiving games that season—three from future HOF tight end Tony Gonzalez and two from Dwayne Bowe. So while James Hardy vs. Steve Johnson may be an intriguing training camp battle for some, it’s tough to see either having much if any fantasy value given the current Bills make-up. Lee Evans remains the best bet among the Buffalo receivers to put up numbers, and even he is largely a fantasy afterthought.
What’s interesting to note is that during Gailey’s brief KC tenure both Larry Johnson and Jamaal Charles had 100-yard games, with Charles averaging 5.3 yards a carry and being targeted as a receiver 40 times despite just two starts. Spiller is a similarly speedy back, so don’t be surprised if Gailey uses the rookie much like he used Charles with the Chiefs. While that doesn’t necessarily leave Jackson out in the cold, if Gailey stays true to form he’ll be trying to get the ball in the hands of his best player—Spiller—as often as possible.
Whatever you think about Pete Carroll, the Pac-10 dynasty he built at at USC, his knowledge (or lack thereof) of violations within the Trojans’ program, etc., etc... one thing is certain: he’s not boring. At Southern Cal his team’s offenses followed that lead as Carroll’s teams produced Heisman winners Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart, and Reggie Bush and 97 wins over nine seasons.
It looks like Carroll is trying to put together a similar cast in Seattle, and not just because he traded for (then subsequently released) former Trojan LenDale White and signed another ex-USC player, wide receiver Mike Williams, as a reclamation project. Since taking over, Carroll has added four skill position players—quarterback Charlie Whitehurst, running back Leon Washington, and wide receivers Williams and Golden Tate—who are expected to be key members of the offense sooner rather than later.
Carroll has tabbed Jeremy Bates as his offensive coordinator, and while Bates may have been Carroll’s second choice (he made a serious run at former USC OC Norm Chow) he’s hardly a consolation prize. Fantasy owners can expect an offense similar to the one Bates ran for Mike Shanahan in Denver in 2008, one that was heavy on the ground game and used a modified version of the West Coast passing game Seattle fans have come to know and love.
The key to the passing game will be the health of Matt Hasselbeck, who’s perfectly suited for the WCO, or the ability of Whitehurst to pick up the system quickly. T.J. Houshmandzadeh is a quality possession receiver, while Tate and Deion Branch can use the horizontal spread of Bates’ WCO to pick up plenty of yards after the catch. Bates has also shown a fondness for multiple tight end sets, which would keep John Carlson on the field while also finding a way to get the likes of Chris Baker and rookie Anthony McCoy (from USC) involved as well.
Bates’ greatest success in Denver, however, came on the ground. Despite no back getting more than 76 carries (from a rag-tag group that included Michael Pittman, Peyton Hillis, Selvin Young, Tatum Bell, and Ryan Torain) the Broncos finished 12th in the league with 1,862 yards and ranked third with a 4.8 yards per carry average. Surely Justin Forsett, Julius Jones, and Washington bring at least as much talent to the table as that group.
And as an added bonus, Carroll brought legendary zone-blocking wizard Alex Gibbs to Seattle to coach the offensive line. Everywhere Gibbs has gone, productive ground games have followed. He directed the Denver lines during their back-to-back Super Bowl run when sixth-round pick Terrell Davis blossomed into a league MVP. The Falcons and Texans both set franchise rushing records during his tenures there, with the Falcons averaging more than five yards a carry over a three-year period.
Best of all, Gibbs doesn’t always need top-end talent to fashion a productive offensive line. Not that Seattle’s cupboard is bare, what with last year’s second-rounder Max Unger and this year’s first-rounder Russell Okung in place. But Gibbs’ system can put other teams’ leftovers, such as former Bronco Ben Hamilton, to good use even if they’re a bit smaller than the typical NFL lineman. Gibbs’ zone-blocking scheme allows linemen with quick feet to win battles by getting position rather than overpowering the opposition, and you can rest assured he’ll find five guys in Seattle to do that job. While the prospect of a Shanahan disciple overseeing a backfield without a clear-cut go-to guy is somewhat unnerving, the potential production of any back behind an Alex Gibbs offensive line is enough to set off the fantasy sleeper meter.
And speaking of Mike Shanahan, look who Daniel Snyder paid to turn around his Redskins!
On the bright side, the law firm of Shanahan and Shanahan, with son Kyle joining Dad’s staff in Washington as the offensive coordinator, provides fantasy footballers with a known entity. On the flip side, there isn’t a more reviled name among fantasy owners thanks to their penchant for backfield committees that are virtually impossible to decipher with regards to roles.
Let’s start with the good. Kyle Shanahan comes to D.C. from a stint in Houston where he oversaw the league’s most productive passing game last year. He gets a motivated Donovan McNabb, rather than Jason Campbell, to run an offense that has not one but two quality tight ends—a favorite of both Shanahans—and some untapped talent at wide receiver. Running back Clinton Portis is familiar with the Shanahan system from his days in Denver, and it’s a much better fit for his skills than whatever the Redskins have been running the past few seasons. And the offensive line, which has been an Achilles’ heel for the Redskins the past few seasons, received serious upgrades via the trade for Jammal Brown and the drafting of Trent Williams.
And then there’s the negative. Not only do the Redskins have Portis, they also have Larry Johnson on the roster. And Willie Parker. And old Shanahan crony Ryan Torain. So despite the improved line and the better stylistic fit, there is every possibility that Portis will be removed from the game at inopportune times (like, the goal line), with Team Shanahan giving carries to Johnson or Parker or Torain or Mike Sellers or the guy from Section 217 who accidentally ended up on the sidelines. The Shanahans have fooled fantasy owners so many times with their backfield Shanahanigans that they simply cannot be trusted. Relying on a Redskins back for fantasy purposes is like spinning the roulette wheel—after putting all your money down on green 00.
That offensive line also has some work to do to become a true Shanahan unit. Veteran o-line coach Chris Foerster has been charged with pulling this unit together, and while it’s almost impossible for them to be worse than they have been it’s not as if Shanahan has Alex Gibbs calling the shots up front. Foerster’s resume is rather checkered, having toiled in Tampa Bay, Miami, Baltimore, and San Francisco over the past 14 seasons. Only once has his team’s offense finished higher than 21st, and that was 17th. Not, of course, that the line is entirely at fault for the productivity, but there are few other indicators that Foerster is a guy who will turn things around: only one top-10 finish in sacks allowed this decade and only one top-10 ranking in yards per carry during his entire 14-year career. If he’s a guru we have yet to see the proof, so development up front might take longer than Redskins fans would like.
Then again, after the chaos that has been the Washington offense over the past two seasons, just about anything different is good. In McNabb and the Shanahans the Redskins definitely have personnel in place to kick start the offense, and in D.C. that’s something to get excited about.
Offensive Coordinator Changes »