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2003 NFL COACHING CHANGES
Change in coaches could mean change in players' fortunes

by Bob Cunningham
August 5, 2003
  Five NFL teams have new head coaches going into the 2003 season, and the astute fantasy owner takes a close look at each club to consider what effects the change at the top might have on the players.

So of course, I propose we do that here.

But there's more to ponder here than just the head coach. For fantasy participants, NFL offensive coordinators frequently have just as significant of an impact on the QB, RBs, and receivers as the boss man.

Let's examine each of the five head coaching changes:

CINCINNATI BENGALS

New Head Coach -- Marvin Lewis (replaces Dick LeBeau)
Offensive Coordinator -- Bob Bratkowski

What we can expect -- Lewis is a defensive guru, which means it's likely that the Bengals will be stronger defensively than in years past. But regardless of who's running the offense, this is a franchise in constant transition, and it's doubtful the results will be significantly altered. RB Corey Dillon will remain the central focus of the attack, QB Jon Kitna will be the clear No. 1 guy while rookie top draft pick Carson Palmer is groomed at a leisurely pace, and the Bengals will try to continue the development of what appears to be a promising group of receivers. Check back about this time in 2004.

DALLAS COWBOYS

New Head Coach -- Bill Parcells (replaces Dave Campo)
Offensive Coordinator -- doesn't matter

What we can expect -- Same ol' Parcells. He will be the clear boss, on both sides of the line of scrimmage and everywhere in between. He's always been primarily a run-first type of coach, but the Cowboys don't presently feature a proven back. Parcells hopes that Troy Hambrick is that guy, and the burly former Emmitt Smith backup could blossom here... or fold like an internet start-up. Two young QBs, Quincy Carter and Chad Hutchinson, will battle for the starting job. Hutchinson is more of a Parcells-type leader, so he gets the nod for now. Whichever QB emerges will have a decent cast of receivers to choose from. It's likely that Dallas will struggle this season, then emerge as a wild-card contender next year... so your fantasy analysis probably should reflect that as well.

DETROIT LIONS

New Head Coach -- Steve Mariucci (replaces Marty Mornhinweg)
Offensive Coordinator -- Sherman Lewis

What we can expect -- The media guide may list Lewis as OC, but Mariucci will be running the offense. No question about that. This coaching change is probably the most significant of the five from a fantasy standpoint. The Lions' attack should be a lot better right out of the gate, especially the passing game. Young QB Joey Harrington is expected to eventually form a lethal bond with rookie wideout Charles Rogers. That will take some time, however. Detroit's running game is more questionable, with veteran James Stewart still a bit ahead of some decent youngsters. Ironically, Mariucci was criticized during his last few seasons with San Francisco for being too conservative with his play-calling. Fair or not, expect that not to be a problem here.

JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS

New Head Coach -- Jack Del Rio (replaces Tom Coughlin)
Offensive Coordinator -- Ty Knott

What we can expect -- The hiring of Del Rio struck me as odd, because some insiders look at him as simply a younger version of Coughlin -- tough, defense-oriented. However, he strikes me as a more mellow personality. Either way, Knott is presumably in charge of the offense, although his title of "Offensive Quality Control" sounds more like a factory foreman than a coach. Del Rio has professed that he will be a more aggressive strategist. To be brutally honest, it's tough to predict the effects here. An educated guess has the Jaguars throwing more. Veteran QB Mark Brunell, likely in his last hurrah after highly-touted Byron Leftwich was drafted, will again count on veteran WR Jimmy Smith. RB Fred Taylor is as skillfull as they come, and now it appears that he has the ability to stay healthy as well. If so, Jacksonville's offense should be pretty balanced, with Taylor and Smith each putting up the numbers you might expect from All-Pro caliber players.

SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

New Head Coach -- Dennis Erickson (replaces Mariucci)
Offensive Coordinator -- Greg Knapp

What we can expect -- With QB Jeff Garcia and WR Terrell Owens still ranking among the NFL's elite, the 49ers probably won't break stride offensively. Erickson is smart enough, and has enjoyed enough success, to know not to fix something that isn't broken. Where his influence might most be felt is with the running game, because Erickson is unlikely to feel any significant loyalty to aging Garrison Hearst... meaning that promising Kevan Barlow might finally get to tote the rock 20-plus times a game. That remains to be seen, however. If Mariucci's hiring at Detroit represents the most significant alteration of the bunch, Erickson's replacing him on the Left Coast may turn out to be the most level switch.