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Summarizing the Potential Fantasy Impact of NFL Coaching Changes
Bob Cunningham
June 24, 2005

It's the players who score the points and amass the yardage, but it's the coaches - the head man as well as his coordinators and their assistants - who ultimately determine the opportunities. That's why the astute fantasy team owner follows who's in charge, and whom are the key guys in charge of one side of the ball.

It doesn't matter, for example, if RB Travis Henry should have retained his job with Buffalo going into 2004 despite the presence of Willis McGahee. The coaching staff of the Bills wanted McGahee, and so the usually-productive Henry was bumped and is, at this writing, still seeking a regular gig. And if you're convinced Michael Pittman can handle the goal-line duties ably, but the Tampa Bay coaches disagree, you're going to see Mike Alstott pounding away inside the 5 whether you approve or not.

Actually, it looks like it'll be rookie Cadillac Williams beginning with the upcoming season, but you get my drift.

When analyzing the effects of coaching changes, there's more to it than simply deciding whether the coach is run- or pass-oriented. A history with the new guy's acquired talent can also be telling.

So with those factors in mind, we take our annual look at the new head coaches as well coordinators:

ARIZONA CARDINALS
New offensive coordinator -- Keith Rowen

After just one season, Alex Wood is out and head coach Dennis Green opted for former Kansas City assistant Rowen to develop the offense. Rowen has been integral in the progression of Chiefs tight end Tony Gonzalez into a superstar so that's a significant plus for the tight ends though only Eric Edwards and Bobby Blizzard are on the roster. There are still a plethora of questions surrounding the Cardinals' personnel, but Rowen's exposure to the way Chiefs head coach Dick Vermeil likes to do things offensively has to be a positive. Rookie running back J.J. Arrington, for instance, might get a lot of looks in the passing game as well as be a featured back. Green is a serious proponent of the vertical game, so the hiring of Rowen would seem to be logical.

BALTIMORE RAVENS
New offensive coordinator -- Jim Fassel
New defensive coordinator -- Rex Ryan

The defense will probably be virtually unchanged with Ryan taking over for Mike Nolan, who was hired as San Francisco's head coach. It's a smashmouth style that has served the Ravens very well, and with Ryan being the son of former Philadelphia coach and Chicago defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan, the connections are obvious. Fassel, the former head man with the New York Giants, is a longtime friend of head coach Brian Billick. The two think along similar lines, meaning the Ravens desire to become more of a downfield throwing team. But the question is, do they have the personnel to make that work? An effective passing attack could make star running back Jamal Lewis even better, but QB Kyle Boller has been inconsistent so far in his career and even with the acquisition of veteran possession receiver Derrick Mason, the Ravens are hardly explosive outside. The fact that Boller has struggled doesn't reflect well on outgoing coordinator Matt Cavanaugh, a former QB.

CHICAGO BEARS
New offensive coordinator -- Ron Turner

Turner comes from the college ranks - he was the head coach at Illinois the last eight years. That, considering the Fighting Illini's lack of a winning tradition, is not in itself a ringing endorsement but consider that he's held the Bears' OC post before, from 1993-96. The club made the playoffs twice in that span. Turner's emphasis is on balance - during his previous tenure the Bears ran a grand total of nine more pass plays than rushing attempts. To be balanced in 2005, he'll need production from young QB Rex Grossman as well as rookie RB Cedric Benson. It appears that, under Turner, both will get their chances.

CINCINNATI BENGALS
New defensive coordinator -- Chuck Bresnahan

This appears to be somewhat of curious hire, considering that the Bengals made modest progress on the defensive side of the ball in recent years and also because Bresnahan most recently has coached with Kansas City and Oakland, two franchises currently considered among the worst in the NFL defensively. Stay tuned.

CLEVELAND BROWNS
New head coach -- Romeo Crennel
New offensive coordinator -- Maurice Carthon
New defensive coordinator -- Todd Grantham

Crennel's credentials, as a veteran of 35 years coaching in the league and the co-architect of the fabulous Patriots defenses of the last several years, are outstanding even if this is his first whirl as a head coach. Suffice it say, the Browns will have a different look entirely this season than they did under surprisingly unsuccessful Butch Davis. They traded for RB Reuben Droughns, but Lee Suggs would appear to be the favorite to get the bulk of the work at RB. Rookie wideout Braylon Edwards will get every opportunity to shine, but with veteran QB Trent Dilfer the one responsible for getting him the ball, it's a wait-and-see situation. Carthon, a former fullback, is from the Bill Parcells school of ball control. He was the OC at Dallas under Parcells the last two seasons, and has been credited with improving the running attack at several of his career stops. Grantham has promised an attacking style of defense that's high risk, but also figures to force more turnovers and, potentially, result in an increase in defensive scores. His background is with the defensive line, so expect the Browns' run defense and pass rushing abilities to be bolstered.

DETROIT LIONS
New offensive coordinator -- Ted Tollner

One of the original gurus of the West Coast offense is now working for the head coach who most prefers that philosophy. Tollner is a veteran coach of multiple teams, pro and college, but continues to be recognized as an innovator. He replaces the retired Sherman Lewis, and the hope is that a more QB-friendly coach such as Tollner can help extract the best of Joey Harrington, who has improved modestly but has generally fallen shy of substantial expectations. With Detroit having spent its first pick in each of the last three drafts on wide receivers, there should be no lack of talent for Harrington to throw to. And of course, a successful passing game would also benefit second-year back Kevin Jones and the running attack.

GREEN BAY PACKERS
New defensive coordinator -- Jim Bates

If the Packers continue to struggle defensively, as they have for most of head coach Mike Sherman's five-season tenure, it won't be the defensive coordinator's fault. In Bates, the Pack has hired a 34-year coaching veteran who has spent the last five seasons as DC of Miami's perennially effective defense. Green Bay's reputation in recent seasons has been a defensive unit that works hard but gets beat for big plays because of an overall lack of athleticism. Bates' philosophy is to bend but not break - Miami has annually been among the top defenses at avoiding big plays. But while his presence might translate into fewer points allowed, it doesn't figure to foster any standout individuals from a fantasy perspective.

JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS
New offensive coordinator -- Carl Smith

Smith replaces Bill Musgrave, who never seemed to mesh philosophically with head coach Jack Del Rio. Smith coached last year at Del Rio's alma mater, USC, where he served as quarterbacks coach, tutoring eventual Heisman Trophy winner Matt Leinhart. Before last season, he spent 18 years at three different NFL stops, mostly as a QB’s coach but also working with tight ends. Jaguars QB Byron Leftwich's development is steady if not streaking, and Smith is charged with maximizing the pace of that process. Fantasy-wise, this hiring probably won't be significant.

MIAMI DOLPHINS
New head coach -- Nick Saban
New offensive coordinator -- Scott Linehan
New defensive coordinator -- Richard Smith

Saban and outgoing coach Dave Wannstedt aren't that much different in terms of their basic philosophies for building a winner - each has stated publicly their belief that you have to be able to run the ball, and stop the run. But Saban, who enjoyed extensive success as head coach at LSU, is considered by most followers as more dynamic and imaginative. Linehan, who comes over from Minnesota, is accustomed to the mindset of creating big plays... a feature that's mostly been missing from the Miami attack in recent years. It remains to be seen if QB A.J. Feeley can be the big-play guy envisioned by these newcomers, but the selection of rookie RB Ronnie Brown with the second overall pick in the draft certainly epitomizes the desire to take the offense up several notches. Former Lions defensive coach Smith comes in knowing that he is in charge of a group that has enjoyed success in recent seasons, and that the unit has several leadership quality veterans like Zach Thomas and Jason Taylor. Expect the Dolphins defense to essentially maintain the status quo.

MINNESOTA VIKINGS
New offensive coordinator -- Steve Loney

Loney takes over for Scott Linehan, who took a similar post with Miami. He has been in charge of the Vikings' offensive line the past three seasons and, prior to that, has spent separate stints as offensive coordinator at Iowa State and the University of Minnesota. It's doubtful that Loney's promotion will significantly affect what QB Daunte Culpepper and the offense does on the field, but it's possible the team will make a renewed commitment to the run in the wake of the off-season trade sending Randy Moss to Oakland. If so, that's good news for the likes of Michael Bennett and Onterrio Smith.

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
New offensive coordinator -- TBD
New defensive coordinator -- Eric Mangini

If it ain't broke, don't fix it... undoubtedly, that should be the credo for the two-time defending Super Bowl champs. Longtime OC Charlie Weis resigned to take over as head coach at Notre Dame, and head coach Bill Belichick has not as of yet named a successor. That might be because Belichick has only one guy in mind for the job -- Belichick. Also gone is the defensive coordinator of multiple title teams, Romeo Crennel, who is now the head coach at Cleveland. In his place, Belichick promoted secondary coach Mangini to coordinator. It should be a smooth transition, with Mangini undoubtedly maintaining most of the general schemes orchestrated the last four years. Retired boxer Ray 'Boom Boom' Mancini could be the defensive coordinator, and the Patriots defense would still rank among the best.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
New offensive coordinator -- Mike Sheppard

This is a sensible promotion by Saints head coach Jim Haslett. Departed Mike McCarthy was quite successful during his stint, and that was due in large measure to the work of quarterbacks coach Sheppard, who is widely credited with the mostly successful development of QB Aaron Brooks. Brooks has been criticized frequently in the media, but statistically he's been well above average - 72 TDs the last three years against 39 interceptions. With RB Deuce McAlister yet to reach his full potential, and talented young WR Donte' Stallworth also in the fold, Sheppard has a lot of work ahead of him. But he appears to be the right man for the job and fantasy owners of Saints players should be optimistic.

NEW YORK JETS
New offensive coordinator -- Mike Heimerdinger

The Paul Hackett act has gotten old. Every year, Hackett is lauded as an offensive genius... and yet virtually every year, it seems, he winds up with a new team. The Jets offense didn't reach its potential last season under Hackett's guidance so head coach Herman Edwards has brought aboard Heimerdinger, the Tennessee Titans' OC for the last five seasons. Under Titans coach Jeff Fisher, Heimerdinger's offensive units enjoyed significant success including the co-MVP season by QB Steve McNair in 2002. Last year, the Titans had a 1,000-yard rusher and two 1,000-yard receivers despite a losing season. The hiring of Heimerdinger probably will equate to better passing stats for Jets QB Chad Pennington as well as the team's primary WRs (mainly newly reacquired Laveranues Coles) and the tight ends as well. It could reflect a bit of a cutback in the reliability on veteran RB Curtis Martin.

SAN FRANCISCO 49ers
New head coach -- Mike Nolan
New offensive coordinator -- Mike McCarthy
New defensive coordinator -- Billy Davis

After a 2-14 campaign under Dennis Erickson, it was time for wholesale changes for the franchise that is still tied for the most Super Bowl victories all-time at five. Nolan, who enjoyed a thoroughly successful tenure as Baltimore's defensive coordinator, brings a hard-nosed attitude to the head post. He is the son of former 49ers coach Dick Nolan. His new defensive coordinator, Davis, has a background with linebackers, coaching the New York Giants' backers last season and Atlanta's for three years prior. He is adept at schemes utilizing the 3-4 defense, which Nolan has indicated he'd like to make a switch to with the 49ers. McCarthy brings a record of solid achievement with him from his former post at New Orleans under Jim Haslett. The Saints set a franchise scoring record in 2002 with McCarthy as OC. He will be asked to help develop No. 1 overall draft pick Alex Smith as well as re-invigorate stagnant but talented RB Kevan Barlow, among others.

TENNESSEE TITANS
New offensive coordinator -- Norm Chow

Reports out of Tennessee have been conflicted this off-season. Some indicate that departed OC Mike Heimerdinger had issues with management. Others report he simply went after a better paycheck in New York. Regardless, the hiring of Chow is a boon. The long-time architect of the USC offense -- including the last two national championship clubs -- Chow was arguably the most sought-after assistant coach in the country when he accepted the Titans post. Expect the Tennessee offense to be more dynamic in terms of what QB Steve McNair is required to do. He will be asked to revert back to his more active, playmaking days... and if he's unable to do so due to health the club will be content to go with talented backup Billy Volek. Chow is noted for his penchant to go for big plays at any time, and that could translate into a breakout season for WR Tyrone Calico, who figures to emerge in the starting lineup as Derrick Mason's replacement opposite Drew Bennett. This will be a particularly fun and vital situation to monitor during the preseason.