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2006 NFL Coaching Changes
Mike Courter
June 2, 2006

Buffalo

Apparently you can come home again…two of the three new Bills coaches had prior stays in Buffalo, albeit in different roles, Jauron as the defensive backs coach in 1985 and Fairchild as the running backs coach in 2001.  The 21 year veteran coach Jauron will have seemingly unquestioned authority after assembling a relatively young pair of coordinators in Fairchild and Fewell, both with six and eight years coaching experience, respectively.  The Bills organizational decision to hand the reins over to defensive-minded Dick Jauron after the failed experiment with offensive guru Mike Mularkey appears to be a better fit not only to their current personnel, which sports a top flight running back, Willis McGahee, and several defensive stars, including pro bowlers, Takeo Spikes and Nate Clements, but also to their icy home-field advantage during the latter part of the season.  Buffalo’s first NFL Draft with Jauron at the helm said it all about the team’s new direction, drafting defensive players with their six of their first seven picks, including first rounder selections safety Donte Whitner (eighth overall from Ohio State) and defensive tackle John McCargo (26th overall from North Carolina State) and 300 pound plus offensive linemen with their remaining three choices, tackles Brad Butler (Virginia) and Terrance Pennington (New Mexico) and guard Aaron Merz (California).

After a promising but bittersweet 9-7 finish in 2004 that had a playoff spot slip through Buffalo’s grasp in the final week’s 29-24 home loss to a Pittsburgh team that technically had nothing to play for in that contest,  fortunes continued to decline for the Mularkey regime in 2005 when veteran QB Drew Bledsoe left for Dallas and the complicated offensive scheme was placed in the hands of inexperienced J.P. Losman, creating an unfair burden on a once promising defense, exacerbated further by the loss of their top defensive stopper, Takeo Spikes, to a season-ending Achilles heel injury.  Buffalo crashed in 2005, ending with a 5-11 record, losing eight of their last ten games, no doubt forcing Mike Mularkey to reminisce about the good ol’ days in Pittsburgh as an off-the-radar assistant coach.     

The Bills maintain that they were surprised by Mularkey’s resignation this past January and his departure prompted Ralph Wilson and Marv Levy to find a coaching staff that could achieve their newly formed, two-pronged mandate:  to put some starch back into a once formidable defense that disintegrated in 2005 and to protect the athletically-gifted yet unfinished Losman with a sound running attack to aid his quest to become a functional NFL quarterback capable of guiding a team deep into the playoffs.  They believed they found that in the hiring of Dick Jauron. With Jauron, they acquire a head coach with a proven track record of success (2001 Associated Press NFL Coach of the Year during Chicago’s 13-3 season, the Bears first division championship since 1990) and in a newly competitive AFC East that has seen the once dominant Patriots start to creep back down toward the rest of the pack, Jauron’s ability to win close games (The 2001 Bears were 8-0 in games decided by seven points or less, and engineered five second half, come-from-behind victories) stands in marked contrast to Mularkey’s 3-8 record in games decided by seven points or less in the last two seasons. 

Head Coach Dick Jauron - was interim HC (DET)

From 1999-2003, Jauron served as the head coach for the Chicago Bears. The highlight of his Bears coaching tenure came in 2001 when the Bears finished 13-3 and claimed the team's first division championship since 1990. Under Jauron's leadership, the 2001 Bears maintained their poise in clutch situations. The Bears were 8-0 in games decided by seven points or less, and engineered five second half, come-from-behind victories. The Bears defense ranked first in the NFL in points allowed and second in rushing yards allowed. For his efforts, Jauron was selected as the Associated Press NFL Coach of the Year. He was just the third coach in team history to win 13 games in a season.

Jauron began his coaching career with the Buffalo Bills in 1985 where he served as the defensive backs coach. From Buffalo, he moved on to coach defensive backs in Green Bay from 1986-94 and became the defensive coordinator of the Jacksonville Jaguars from 1995-98.

Offensive Coordinator Steve Fairchild - was OC (STL) 

Fairchild began his NFL coaching career as the running backs coach with the Bills in 2001. After two seasons in Buffalo, Fairchild joined the St. Louis Rams where he served as the offensive coordinator for two seasons and offensive coordinator/quarterbacks for one. In 2005, the St. Louis Rams offense ranked second in the NFC with a 252.3 passing yards per game average. In 2003, Fairchild’s first season as offensive coordinator/quarterbacks, the Rams ranked third in the NFL averaging 247.6 passing yards per game.

Jauron’s selection of Steve Fairchild to be his offensive coordinator is clearly intended to resurrect J.P. Losman’s confidence and quarterback play after a disastrous 2005 which saw him complete less than 50% of his passes (49.6) while tossing only eight touchdowns to his eight interceptions and three fumbles lost.  Fairchild played for then-assistant coach Mike Martz at San Diego Mesa Community College before recently serving as the Rams offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach under Martz and he has been cited for his work with Marc Bulger, helping the Rams quarterback make the Pro Bowl following the 2003 season, while guiding the St. Louis passing attack to a top three ranking overall in the last few seasons. While his primary focus should be Losman’s development, the running game won’t be neglected either.  As the Bills running backs coach in 2002, Fairchild helped running back Travis Henry rush for a career-best 1,438 yards and his first career Pro Bowl berth.

Defensive Coordinator Perry Fewell  - was DB coach (CHI)  

New defensive coordinator Perry Fewell worked previously under Jauron during his time in Jacksonville as the Jaguars defensive coordinator from 1995-98.  While serving as the Chicago Bears defensive backs coach last season, Fewell oversaw a ball-hawking secondary that garnered 24 interceptions with four of them being returned for touchdowns for the NFL’s top ranked defense. 

With the addition of Jauron and Fewell, and the healthy return of Takeo Spikes, expect the 2006 Bills defense to restore the lofty preseason fantasy ranking it had earned in the seasons prior to crumbling in 2005, where the unit ranked next to last in rushing yards allowed (31st) and not much better against the pass, 20th in passing yards allowed.  Indeed, Fewell’s fingerprint’s were all over the Bills first selection (eigth overall) in the 2006 Draft, SS Donte Whitner from Ohio State.  All of the intelligence on Whitner was gathered on the down-low to mask the Bills draft day intentions by Fewell, who had previously worked with Whitner’s position coach at Ohio State, Paul Haynes, with the Jacksonville Jaguars, who compared Whitner to a young Donovan Darius.    

Dallas

With the influx of numerous free agents onto the Cowboys 2006 roster, including offensive tackle Jason Fabini (Jets), kicker Mike Vanderjagt (Colts) and linebacker Akin Ayodele (Jaguars) but highlighted by the self-proclaimed “Star of Stars”, wideout Terrell Owens (Eagles), personnel changes ruled the day in Dallas this year, overshadowing the lone major change in the coaching staff, the loss of Sean Payton to fill the head coaching vacancy in New Orleans.

QB Coach - Chris Palmer

With the New Orleans Saints plucking Sean Payton out of Dallas to be their head coach this season, the Cowboys will not formally fill the role of offensive coordinator, however, they did decide to import longtime offensive mastermind, Chris Palmer, to be their quarterbacks coach.

In an interview by Dallascowboys.com on 2/27/06, Parcells commented on Palmer’s lengthy track record as an NFL coach and his prior work with veteran quarterback Drew Bledsoe as the primary drivers to bringing him in, “Sixteen years in the league. He’s worked with (Drew) Bledsoe before, successfully. I knew he’d have a good relationship with quarterbacks, and I felt like that was our best option.”

The addition of Palmer to the offensive coaching staff and the expected upgrade to the Dallas receiving corps should boost Bledsoe’s fantasy football status even further after a pleasantly surprising 2005 statistical production (3,639 passing yards, 25 touchdowns (23 passing, 2 rushing).

Denver

With the re-acquisition of Mike Shanahan’s longtime coaching compadre Mike Heimerdinger as the assistant head coach, the Broncos elevation of proven offensive line coach Rick Dennison to Offensive Coordinator rings hollow in terms of giving Dennison an increased decision-making role in Denver’s offense for 2006. The offense will remain  as Shanahan’s personal sandbox with newcomer ‘Dinger being allowed to bring his shovel and pail but not much room for anyone else.

Shanahan and Heimerdinger share a long and successful history together starting back in the early seventies when they were roommates while both played for Eastern Illinois University’s football team. The pair also coached together at the University of Florida in 1983 with Shanahan serving as offensive coordinator and Heimerdinger as the receivers coach before reuniting in Denver from 1995-99 and picking up two Super Bowl rings (1997 & 1998) in the process.

Since things in New York did not work out as planned for the much-heralded offensive mind, Denver became an ideal landing situation for the 12 year NFL coach. The former Titans offensive coordinator will have a chance to restore his “offensive genius” label under Shanahan while waiting for head coaching vacancies to develop in early 2007.

Offensive Coordinator Rick Dennison – was OL coach (DEN)   

Rick Dennison enters his 12th year on the Broncos’ coaching staff in 2006 and his first as offensive coordinator, a position he was named to on Jan. 30, 2006. Dennison spent the last 11 years working as an assistant for the Broncos, coaching the offensive line from 2001-05, special teams from 1997-00 and serving as an offensive assistant from 1995-96.

As the Broncos’ offensive line coach from 2001-05, Dennison oversaw a unit that annually was regarded as the best in the business. Anchored by five-time Pro Bowl center Tom Nalen, the Broncos’ line helped the team rank among the NFL’s top-10 in overall yards in each of the last four seasons.

The Broncos rushed for an NFL-best 11,644 yards and produced four 1,000-yard rushing seasons in the last five years with Dennison as offensive line coach. Denver’s offensive line was equally adept at pass blocking under Dennison, surrendering the fifth-lowest sack total (151) in the NFL since 2001 and allowing a franchise-low 15 sacks in 2004.

Dennison’s offensive line paved the way for the NFL’s fifth-ranked offense (360.4 ypg.) in 2005 and was instrumental in the team advancing to the AFC Championship Game.  The Broncos ranked second in the league in rushing offense (158.7 ypg.) and totaled the second-highest single-season rushing total (2,539) in franchise history.

Assistant Head Coach Mike Heimerdinger – was OC (NYJ)  

Heimerdinger coached the University of Florida’s wide receivers from 1983-87 and worked with Broncos Head Coach Mike Shanahan on the Gators’ staff in 1983 with Shanahan serving as their assistant head coach/offensive coordinator. With Shanahan as offensive coordinator and Heimerdinger as receivers coach in 1983, the Gators ranked among the nation's top passing teams. They also enjoyed bowl success during Heimerdinger's tenure, playing in the 1983 Gator Bowl and 1987 Aloha Bowl while posting identical 9-1-1 records in both 1984 and 1985.

The former Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator, who was a college teammate and roommate of Shanahan’s at Eastern Illinois University, also worked with Shanahan at Florida as a graduate assistant in 1980 when Shanahan was the school’s offensive coordinator.

Heimerdinger started in Denver as the wide receivers coach in the mid-nineties and had a big hand in the development of both Ed McCaffrey and Rod Smith (an undrafted free agent) into Pro Bowl receivers. Before leaving for Tennessee in 2000, Heimerdinger picked up two Super Bowl rings in consecutive season’s while his receivers group was considered a key part in a Denver offense that ranked in the top three of the NFL in overall yards during four of his five seasons.

From a fantasy football perspective, figure all of Denver’s core offensive players to be beneficiaries of the Heimerdinger effect.

Heimerdinger offenses have produced MVP’s (McNair in 2003-04, Terrell Davis 1998), Pro Bowl receivers (Ed McCaffrey, Rod Smith, Derrick Mason) and 1000 yard rushers (Terrell Davis, Eddie George, Olandis Gary) while consistently ranking at the top of the league in overall yardage and scoring.

Starting at quarterback, a noticeable rise in Jake Plummer’s respectable number’s from last year (3,366 passing yards, 20 touchdowns -18 passing, two rushing with only seven INTs) would not be surprising at all.  As Tennessee’s offensive coordinator, Heimerdinger loomed large in Steve McNair’s 2003-04 campaign which saw the veteran signal-caller share the Associated Press Most Valuable Player award with the Colts Peyton Manning.

His work with receivers has been just as impressive. After eight underwhelming years in the league, Denver fan favorite Ed McCaffrey had his first 1000 yard season with Heimerdinger as his wide receivers coach in 1998, also earning the first Pro Bowl nomination of his career that year while making second team Associated Press All Pro, another milestone. Rod Smith was an undrafted free agent ball of clay that Heimerdinger helped mold into a record-setting receiver for the Broncos who now stands as the NFL’s all-time leading undrafted receiver in every career category.  Similar stories can be repeated about Derrick Mason, Drew Bennett and others.

Mike Shanahan is surely hoping that the ‘Dinger dust still has some magic left to invigorate a number of the talented underachievers currently comprising the bulk of the Broncos receiving corps, namely disgruntled Ashley Lelie, Darius Watts and Charlie Adams. Watch training camp and see which of these three buys into the program the most and then pencil that name onto your Sleeper list for your upcoming draft. 

Detroit

Though the jury won’t decide on veteran, first year head coach Rod Marinelli for a least a little while, the Lions coaching overhaul has resulted in an impressive group on paper, with the tripod rounded out by Mike Martz, architect of the Rams “Greatest Show on Turf” offense and feisty former New York Jets defensive coordinator Donnie Henderson. The new staff will have a strong focus on shoring up the defense but with Martz presence in the weekly coaches meetings, the offense will surely receive its due.

Detroit President and CEO Matt Millen, after eluding a near public lynching from fed up Lions fans in 2005 has made a statement about his roster with his 2006 coaching changes.  After years of high draft selections, the Lions have the talent in place to win consistently in the NFL and the organization has gone out and acquired some of the best coaches at their respective positions to ensure that every ounce of production is squeezed from the players in an all or nothing bid to erase the painful memory of last season’s 5-11 meltdown.

Head Coach Rod Marinelli - was Asst HC/DL coach (TB)  

Since 1983, Marinelli’s entire coaching body of work proudly sits on the defensive side of the ball, particularly the defensive line.  A Marinelli-coached defensive line will rush the passer.  In his ten years in Tampa Bay, the defense recorded 416 sacks, with 328.5 coming via the defensive line and the Bucs defense placed in the top five in total defense seven times. His front four, led by Simeon Rice and Warren Sapp, was credited with 36 of the 43 sacks (tied for sixth in the NFL) that the dominant Buccaneers defense garnered in 2002, culminating with Tampa Bay’s first ever championship in Super Bowl XXXVII.

Surely Marinelli played a large role in breaking Detroit’s unbearable three year streak of picking wide receivers in the first round with the Lions 2006 first round choice of Derrick Brooks clone, Ernie Sims, the outstanding Florida State LB with the ninth overall selection.    

Offensive Coordinator Mike Martz – was HC (STL)   

The brilliant but incorrigible Martz will bring his much needed wizardry to a talented group of Lions skill position players that have up ‘til now fallen far below their lofty draft status expectations.  Initially, observers will expect the passing attack to show the greatest improvement, boding well for the winner of the Jon Kitna / Josh McCown quarterback battle, Roy Williams, Mike Williams and Charles Rogers fantasy prospects but a healthy Kevin Jones is primed to flourish under the influence of Martz. Jones has demonstrated an ability to both run between the tackles and catch the ball out of the backfield but has been limited by ineffectiveness at quarterback, health issues and the team’s losing ways. The fire that Mike Martz will bring to the offense could have Jones’ fantasy owners dreaming of a Motor City version of Marshall Faulk circa the late 1990’s to early 2000’s.  Even this year’s third round pick, talented RB Brian Calhoun (Wisconsin) also looms as a potential late season pick up sleeper in this offense, should Jones injury woes continue.  However, the Detroit Lions organization may have already started receiving dividends from their off season commitment to Martz after his surly style rubbed the sensitive Joey Harrington the wrong way in this Spring’s quarterback camp, leading the colossal first-round bust to insist on starting over with a new team, most likely the Miami Dolphins.

The Lions hiring of Martz represents the classic “high risk-high return” of coaching moves.  Martz’s yardage-consuming schemes can most definitely bring the return on investment Detroit is seeking on costly high draft choices Roy Williams, Mike Williams, Charles Rogers and Kevin Jones.  But the risk side looms equally as large with his Buddy Ryan-esque force of personality, still stewing that he was railroaded out of his head coaching job in St. Louis and seemingly settling for the job in Detroit for the time being.  If first year head coach Rod Marinelli stumbles out of the gate, Martz, with his over-inflated sense of self, might find the situation too irresistible and become a disruptive factor within Detroit’s fragile team chemistry.

Defensive Coordinator Donnie Henderson – was DC (NYJ)           

Henderson made his coaching bones in 2000 as the defensive backs coach for the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens and their record-setting defense.  From 2000-03, Henderson’s secondary finished in the top ten overall for pass defense in three of the four seasons during that time.  The eight year NFL coach similar success in New York, elevating the Jets defense in 2004, his first season with the team, to seventh overall in total defense, up from 21st in 2003 while also vastly improving their ranking in points allowed (from 23rd to fourth) and rushing yards allowed (28th to fifth).

Henderson received new head coach Rod Marinelli’s defensive emphasis on this year’s draft day with open arms, welcoming two projected opening day starters, linebacker Ernie Sims (9th overall) and second round pick (40th overall) strong safety Daniel Bullocks from Nebraska.

Green Bay

Though the Packers made changes at head coach, offensive coordinator and defensive coordinator, the overhaul was not as drastic of a transition as it first appears due in large part to new head coach Mike McCarthy’s knowledge of the West Coast offense and his prior history in Green Bay. 

Head Coach Mike McCarthy- was OC (SF)  

In naming Mike McCarthy as the 14th Head Coach in their storied franchise history, the Packers now have the youngest head coach in the NFL, nearly three months younger than Tampa Bay’s Jon Gruden, but one that can count 19 years of coaching experience, 13 in the NFL.

McCarthy’s familiarity with the organization (QB coach in 1999) as well as a resume steeped in the West Coast offense and quarterbacks mentoring make the youthful yet experienced first year head coach an ideal fit to usher in a new era for a Green Bay roster averaging 26.04 years of age.    

The lengthy list of quarterbacks coached by McCarthy include Favre, Matt Hasselbeck, Aaron Brooks, Jake Delhomme, Marc Bulger, Rich Gannon, Elvis Grbac and Joe Montana, a group has amassed 25 career Pro Bowl selections and eight Super Bowl starts.  Green Bay has hedged their quarterback position bet with McCarthy in the fold, as Brett Favre returns for what will likely be his farewell season or in the event that they have to throw second year QB Aaron Rodgers into the fire. 

During his five year stint as the Saints offensive coordinator, McCarthy oversaw the most productive offensive era in New Orleans history, guiding the Saints to 10 offensive team records and 25 individual marks while being named the 2000 NFC Assistant Coach of the Year by USA Today, raising fantasy participants 2006 hopes for those Packers players that remain standing as the starters after training camp.  Barring a reoccurrence of health issues, one-time fantasy star Ahman Green (as of March ’06, Green was two months ahead of his ruptured thigh tendon rehab schedule, creating enough confidence within the Packers organization to re-sign him to a new deal this Spring) could very well experience a rebirth under McCarthy and re-emerge as a factor in fantasy circles once again after falling through the floor in 2005.

For that matter, McCarthy’s arrival in Wisconsin, plus the Packers front office demonstrative efforts to improve the team’s personnel in recent months (CB Charles Woodson- Raiders and No. 5 pick overall linebacker A.J. Hawk) proved compelling enough for Brett Favre to return and thrill the Lambeau faithful for one more year, placing the 36 year old war horse in a more favorable position to flip his embattled touchdown to interception ratio from 2005 (nearly 4,000 yards passing but 20 touchdowns versus 29 interceptions).

Offensive Coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski - was OL coach (ATL)  

Due to the fact that the offense will be McCarthy’s show, Jeff Jagodzinski’s promotion to offensive coordinator from Atlanta’s offensive line coach for the prior two years doesn’t have a lot of teeth to it and will most likely serve as a grooming experience for the eight year NFL coach.  However, the 42 year old brings an extensive offensive line and tight ends coach background to the Green Bay staff that includes a five year stay (1999-2003) in Green Bay coaching the tight ends.  His time in Atlanta allowed him the privilege of working under famed offensive line coach Alex Gibbs, which became a critical contributor to the Falcons setting a team franchise rushing record of 2,672 yards in 2004 and Warrick Dunn’s career best 1,416 yards in 2005, earning him a berth in the Pro Bowl.  

Jagodzinski’s zone blocking wisdom will possess the signature multiple running lane Gibbs footprint and should provide the foundation for a more successful Green Bay ground game in 2006 (ranked 30th  in 2005 for rushing yards per game with 84.5 avg.), regardless of whether it’s Ahman Green or Samkon Gado leading the charge.  If Green’s thigh makes a full recovery as expected, the addition of Jagodzinski’s blocking scheme to a rejuvenated passing offense under Mike McCarthy will make the former Nebraska Cornhusker one of the more enticing sleepers in this year’s fantasy drafts.

Defensive Coordinator Bob Sanders – was DE coach (GB)  

When former defensive coordinator Jim Bates departed Green Bay after being spurned in his quest to fill the head coaching vacancy created by Mike Sherman’s dismissal, Bob Sanders, who had coached the Packers defensive ends in 2005 under Bates, impressed new head coach Mike McCarthy enough to receive the bump to defensive coordinator for the 2006 campaign.

The Packers expect Sanders, a six year NFL coach entering his second season with Green Bay, to continue the good work started with Bates arrival last season.  Green Bay’s defense was one of the few bright spots in an otherwise miserable campaign last year, ranking seventh overall and first against the pass, and should continue to use the same schemes that worked so well under Bates last season while the defensive personnel quality starts to slowly improve with young linebackers A.J. Hawk and Abdul Hodge (3rd RD- 67th overall).

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