When it became apparent that Dom Capers couldn’t quite turn the corner on getting to the favorable side of wins and losses, going 4-12 in 2002, 5-11 in 2003 and 7-9 in 2004 before the 2-14 crash of 2005, the Texans were forced to part ways with the well-liked veteran coach and infuse the new blood of proven Denver Broncos assistant, Gary Kubiak, with a new staff of his own picking, including a redundant coaching layer in ex-Packer coach Mike Sherman who will serve in the Assistant Head Coach role.
Head Coach Gary Kubiak – was OC (DEN)
The longtime bridesmaid of head coaching candidates returns to his native Houston on a white horse to save the fledgling franchise after its 2-14 descent in 2005. Born and raised in Houston, Kubiak was a Texas high school football star before going on to Texas A&M before being drafted by the Broncos in 1983.
In the 11 years that he acted as Denver’s offensive coordinator, the Broncos accumulated 66,501 total yards and 465 touchdowns, tops in the NFL during that span. But it’s his recent touchdown to turnover makeover of Jake Plummer that has David Carr supporters, both Texans fans and fantasy football participants alike, excited and hopeful for the first time since his 2002 draft day.
After an Arizona career stained by mistake filled performances littered by interceptions and sacks, Plummer has thrown more touchdowns than interceptions in every season in Kubiak’s system, leading the Broncos to the playoffs in each of the last three seasons.
Another Kubiak-Plummer development that the traumatized Carr would like to see duplicated in Houston was Plummer’s ability to stay on his feet in Kubiak’s offense. After being sacked an average of 36 times per season in his six years in Arizona, Plummer happily welcomed a drop in this average to 17 times per season as a member of the Broncos.
Blending Kubiak’s offense and his ability to polish David Carr’s raw talent, the addition of veteran Pro Bowl receiver Eric Moulds (Bills) to complement the further maturation of budding receiving star Andre Johnson and consistent backfield threat Domanick Davis should force fantasy drafters to finally take notice and put Houston on their 2006 map.
Assistant Head Coach/Offense Mike Sherman – was HC (GB)
In what seems to be a recurring theme in early 2006, Sherman, like Mike Martz, Dom Capers and Mike Heimerdinger, became another established, veteran coach with a solid resume to land in a job that wasn’t quite his first choice, but he’ll take it for now after being forced out of his former position in Green Bay.
After becoming the Packers head coach in 2000, Sherman guided the team to five winning seasons, including NFC North division titles from 2002-2004, sporting a winning percentage .663 (53-27), second only to coaching icon Vince Lombardi in Packers history.
Sherman’s skills and experience should serve a twofold purpose for Houston. His background as an offensive line coach (Texas A&M 1989-93 and ’95-’97 and in 1998 in his first stint in Green Bay before following Mike Holmgren to Seattle for one season in 1999 as offensive coordinator) will help him impact the Texans longtime struggle with pass protection and his mostly successful run as the head man in Green Bay casts him in the role of consigliere for new head coach Gary Kubiak to seek advice from as he faces first time challenges that are unique to the top spot.
Offensive Coordinator Troy Calhoun - was Asst. to the HC (DEN)
Calhoun will be more quarterbacks coach than offensive coordinator since both Kubiak and Sherman, to a lesser degree, will have their hands all over then offensive blueprint. Last season in Denver, the four year NFL coach held the title of “assistant TO the Head Coach” rather than assistant Head Coach, inspiring comparisons to the hilarious, would be corporate ladder-climbing character, Dwight Shroot, on NBC’s hit show, The Office.
With the Texans exercising David Carr’s option early this year, Calhoun’s primary role will be the extra set of hands working with the young but battle-weary quarterback, in addition to Kubiak’s tutelage, to elevate his game and ensure Bob McNair’s most recent financial commitment brings about the desired results.
Defensive Coordinator Richard Smith – was DC (MIA)
Serving as defensive coordinator under Nick Saban in 2005, Smith guided a Miami defense that had lost several prominent veterans to free agency to an overall ranking of 18th in the NFL but finished the season with 49 sacks, second most in the league last year. The Texans would like to see Smith have the same type of impact on their pass rush, having ranked 17th overall with 37 in 2005. The drafting of North Carolina State defensive end Mario Williams with the number one overall pick provides Smith with a 6-7 290 pound pass rushing force that the Texans expect immediate production from after enduring countless second guessing for passing over the ESPN-anointed No.1 pick, Reggie Bush. And second round pick outside linebacker DeMeco Ryans (Alabama) will bring his exceptional first step and pursuit speed to bolster an already young and improving Texans line backing corps.
Smith will be converting Houston’s defense from a 3-4 to a 4-3, which plays more to their roster’s strength, which boasts stout interior tackles like Seth Payne, Robaire Smith, Travis Johnson and Gary Walker. The scheme change should also lead to outside linebackers Antwan Peek and Jason Babin moving forward and planting one hand in the dirt.
Dick Vermeil’s retirement after the 2005 season conveniently paved the way for President & General Manager Carl Peterson to hire personal favorite, Herman Edwards, at a time when Edwards became disillusioned with his future as coach of the New York Jets. With Edwards blessing, Gunther Cunningham will continue to captain the defense as the major holdover of the Vermeil regime.
Head Coach Herman Edwards- was HC (NYJ)
Herman Edwards returns to the team where his coaching career began in 1990 as a scout for the Chiefs after participating in the club’s Minority Coaching Fellowship in training camp of 1989. The announcement of Edwards as the 10th head coach in the team’s history brings his longtime relationship with current Chiefs President Carl Peterson full circle as it was a young Peterson, serving as the Eagles Director of Player Personnel, that signed the rookie free agent out of San Diego State to a contract in 1977.
During his time in New York, Edwards forged a coaching brand that featured disciplined, fundamentally-sound teams that made the postseason on a regular basis. Edwards’ Jets were the least-penalized team in the NFL during his 2001-05 tenure, getting flagged just 399 times for 3,236 yards, totals that were lowest in the league in both categories. The Jets, in their five seasons with Edwards, boasted a +33 turnover differential (143 takeaways vs. 110 giveaways), second best in the NFL during that span. Making the postseason in three of his five years in New York, he was the first coach in Jets history to lead the franchise to the playoffs on three separate occasions, clinching the AFC East title in 2002, and qualifying for the Wildcard round 2001 and 2004.
With Edwards defense-first foundation, poured from spending his formative years as a coach under Tony Dungy and Monte Kiffin in Tampa Bay, and his ability to get his teams to minimize mistakes and force turnovers, Carl Peterson saw an ideal fit for what ailed his supremely talented offensive club that has struggled to make the playoffs only once in the last five years.
Offensive Coordinator Mike Solari- was OL Coach (KC)
New head coach Herman Edwards, hoping to mitigate any perceived loss to their vaunted offense from the defection of highly-respected OC Al Saunders to the Redskins, promoted from within, elevating 18 year NFL veteran Mike Solari from his duties as the offensive line coach, to fill the vacancy.
Solari has been with the Chiefs since 1997 as their offensive line coach and is widely respected as a great teacher of the game. League insiders are well aware of Solari’s wizardry along the offensive front, crafting innovative and well-conceived blocking schemes that have been the motor behind a Chiefs offense that has ranked amongst the league leaders in virtually every category in the last five seasons. With Solari’s promotion to lead the offense, expect the transition to be seamless and Kansas City to not miss a beat from their league high average of 380.9 yards per game and 27.0 points per (second overall) over the last five years.
The O-line has always been the face of the Chiefs prolific offensive production. Priest Holmes was a backfield afterthought with the Ravens before finding his happy place behind Willie Roaf, Will Shields, Brian Waters and company. Solari’s continued presence in the mix assures rotisserie participants that the Arrowhead ground remains fantasy fertile and the Chiefs skill players, especially Larry Johnson, should continue to be harvested early in their league drafts.
Nick Saban made like the Statue of Liberty with regard to his off season coaching staff additions, welcoming the “tired, poor, huddled masses” in the form of the downtrodden duo of Mike Mularkey and Dom Capers, both coming off failed head coaching tenures in Buffalo and Houston, respectively. Indeed, other teams trash might just turn into the Dolphins’ treasure as both coaches boast impressive credentials as coordinators, Mularkey on offense and Capers on the defense, and they will be allowed to focus on their core competencies under the head coaching umbrella provided by Saban.
According to a January 2006 interview with MiamiDolphins.com, Saban stated that both coaches will be expected to complement Miami’s existing offensive and defensive systems, not change them, “We're going to keep things as consistent for our players as we can so we can grow and develop the things that we have already put in place in the first year”.
Offensive Coordinator Mike Mularkey – was HC (BUF)
The former Bills head coach did his best work as offensive coordinator for the Pittsburgh Steelers, propelling the Steelers total offense ranking to third and fifth overall in the first two of his three seasons (2001 & 2002) running Bill Cowher’s offense.
Quarterbacks Kordell Stewart and Tommy Maddox enjoyed the best seasons of their careers under Mularkey in Pittsburgh and former Vikings castoff and new Dolphins quarterback Daunte Culpepper will be expecting similar results as he struggles to resurrect a once promising career that suffered a steep nosedive in 2005, punctuated by his season-ending ACL tear. "His expertise produced an explosive and physical style of play, and he raised the production level of his quarterbacks," Nick Saban commenting shortly after Mularkey was brought on board.
Mularkey will be called upon to continue the great strides the offense made under former Dolphins offensive coordinator, now Rams head coach, Scott Linehan, last season, jumping from 29th in total offense in 2004 to 14th in 2005, with the biggest gain coming on the ground, going from 31st in rushing to 12th. A question of primary concern for fantasy footballers is how well Mularkey will mitigate the potential negative impact Linehan’s exit will have on wideout Chris Chambers, who soared under the former Minnesota Vikings OC, registering the first Pro Bowl selection of his career, the first by a Dolphins receiver since Irving Fryar in 1994.
Thanks to Linehan’s vertical passing attack, Chambers recorded a career year with 82 receptions for 1,118 yards and 11 touchdowns, highlighted by his December 4th performance against Buffalo with 15 catches for 238 yards. Chambers will go much higher in fantasy drafts this year and Mike Mularkey’s arrival in Miami will have a big say as to whether Chambers can continue to justify his newfound rock star status in 2006 or will he turn into the unforgiving iceberg to your team’s starboard side?
Special Assistant to the head coach Dom Capers - was HC (HOU)
After Houston’s 2-14 dissolution last year, Dom Capers head coaching ambitions deteriorated into the popular Snickers bar “not going anywhere for awhile…” commercial. The two-time head coach and 22 year veteran of the professional football ranks was forced to swallow a lateral demotion after leaving Houston to become the “Special Assistant” to Miami head coach Nick Saban.
Capers and Saban started their coaching careers as graduate assistants on the Kent State University staff during the 1973-74 seasons. Capers lengthy climb up the coaching ladder included collegiate stops at Tennessee (1980-81) and Ohio State (1982-83), two championships with the USFL’s Philadelphia/Baltimore Stars in 1984 and 1985 as a defensive backs coach before following Jim Mora to New Orleans when the fledgling league folded after the 1985 season.
Despite leading the Carolina Panthers to within one game of the Super Bowl in 1996 (losing to eventual SB champion Green Bay in the NFC Championship game) in only the second year of the expansion franchise’s history, the Dom Capers coaching brand is personified by his standout performance as a defensive coordinator for both the Steelers (1992-94) and the Jaguars (1999-2000). The Steelers total defense ranking was third and second overall, respectively, in his final two seasons running the defense in the Steel City. In his first year with Jacksonville, the Jaguars defense registered a 19 spot improvement from the year before in total defense, vaulting to fourth overall while leading the league in points allowed (217) and sacks (57).
Miami, which predominantly ran a 3-4 defense sprinkled with some 4-3 alignments last season, will utilize Capers vast knowledge of the 3-4 defense and how to execute it at a high level in a teaching role rather than running the defense on game days. Saban’s Belichick-like shadow will continue to dictate what Miami does defensively in his second year as the boss with Capers serving as his sergeant-in-arms.
Imagine Zygi Wilf’s buyer’s remorse after having just plunked down $600 million to purchase the Vikings, only to watch the Purple People Eater’s reward him with stomach-turning scandals each week in an unfortunate, life-imitating-art replay of ESPN’s fictional Playmakers. That experience led him to seeing that, in addition to Brad Childress’ impressive coaching record, the fact that he’s an Andy Reid disciple, from a coaching culture no doubt influenced by Reid’s Mormon-based values, addresses another need area for a Minnesota team that has sorely lacked character, as opposed to characters, in recent years. In this regard, Childress is viewed as the anti-Tice and a way for Wilf to further protect his sizeable endowment.
Head Coach Brad Childress – was OC (PHI)
Vikings owner Zygmunt Wilf chose Eagles offensive coordinator Brad Childress as the seventh head coach in Minnesota Vikings history based primarily on the 29 year (nine in the NFL) coaching veteran’s track record for helping turn struggling programs into perennial winners and his ability to maximize his offensive personnel’s production.
Childress helped make Big Ten Champions and Rose Bowl teams out of losing programs, Illinois (1978-84) and Wisconsin (1991-98), where he was the running backs and wide receivers coach and offensive coordinator, respectively, at the two schools.
Before joining the Eagles as the quarterbacks coach in 1999, Philadelphia had struggled to a 3-13 record in 1998. Two years later, the Eagles made the playoffs and the very next season, with Childress as offensive coordinator, won the first of four straight NFC East division titles (2001-04), culminating in a trip to Super Bowl XXXIX, and losing to eventual champion New England.
Lest anyone be fooled by the Vikings 9-7 record in 2005, this was an organization wrought with chaos on and off the field, from the Mike Tice Super Bowl ticket-scalping debacle and the infamous Love Boat scandal to the implosion of a Randy Moss-less Daunte Culpepper, who looked lost without his outspoken, long ball threat right up until tearing up his knee in the late October, 38-13 loss at Carolina. Ironically, many close to the organization whispered that the loss of Culpepper to injury was a blessing in disguise, inserting the mistake-free, veteran Brad Johnson to run the offense, helping spur the team’s six game winning streak following Culpepper’s removal from the lineup.
The Vikings quarterback position will likely not suffer with Culpepper having departed, as veteran holdover Brad Johnson can steady the ship while Minnesota monitors whether promising second round pick, QB Tavaris Jackson (6-2, 225) from Alabama State has the goods to become the franchise quarterback of the future. Childress is a perfect fit to mentor the raw but talented draft day surprise after having spent the bulk of his time in Philadelphia, helping raise Donovan McNabb to elite quarterback status in the past seven seasons, including five Pro Bowl berths, an NFL record in 2004 as the first QB to throw 30+ touchdowns with less than 10 interceptions and runner up for the Associated Press NFL MVP Award in 2000.
Former Ravens running back Chester Taylor’s choice of Minnesota as his free agent destination could result in a major up tick in his fantasy football ranking as Childress has already mentioned a Brian Westbrook role for Taylor in the Minnesota version of his West Coast offense.
Offensive Coordinator Darrell Bevell- was QB coach (GB)
Bevell, primarily the quarterback’s coach in his last five seasons spent in Green Bay, reunites with his former offensive coordinator at the University of Wisconsin, where, in 1993, he quarterbacked the Badgers, under Childress’ direction, to their first Big ten title and Rose Bowl appearance in 31 years.
The seven year NFL coach will be looked upon to help teach the Childress way to the Vikings offensive role players. Bevell will once again serve in the understudy role to Childress, this time as a coach and will likely be groomed the way Childress was under his mentor, Andy Reid.
Bevell’s value to Minnesota is twofold. He arrives at the Vikings Winter Park office already well-schooled in the head coach’s offensive philosophy and his addition to the Vikings staff also equates to a subtraction from division rival Green Bay.
Defensive Coodinator Mike Tomlin- was DB coach (TB)
Tomlin enters his first season with the Vikings as defensive coordinator after five seasons in Tampa Bay overseeing one of the NFL’s top secondaries as the Buccaneers defensive backs coach.
Tomlin’s defensive backfields have garnered many awards and top rankings over the last few seasons led by perennial Pro Bowlers Ronde Barber (2001, 2004 & 2005) and ex-Buc John Lynch (2001 & 2002). In 2002, Tomlin’s secondary recorded four of Tampa’s five interceptions, returning two for touchdowns, in the Buccaneers Super Bowl XXXVII triumph. While leading the NFL in total defense in 2005, Tampa Bay ranked sixth overall in passing defense at 183.1 yards per game.
Expect Tomlin to make a positive impact with a talented yet underachieving (22nd overall in pass defense- 208.3 yards per game and 25th ranked in pass TDs allowed with 23) Vikings secondary boasting the likes of Pro Bowl veterans Darren Sharper, Fred Smoot and Antoine Winfield. Childress sees this as an area for a quick turnaround and the type of catalyst that can turn a 9-7 team into an 11-5 possible division-winner. The Vikings also added more tools in Tomlin’s toolbox by spending their first two picks this past April on defensive playmakers linebacker Chad Greenway from Iowa (17th overall) and second round pick (48th overall) University of Texas cornerback Cedric Griffin.
The Vikings defense will surely linger in the lower half of fantasy pre-draft rankings after last year’s underwhelming effort, but the addition of Tomlin could be the under-the-radar change that allows drafters to wait on a defense until late and select a defensive sleeping giant like the Vikings, whom Childress is counting on Tomlin to awaken.
The 2006 graduation of Josh McDaniels from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator and Dean Pees from linebackers coach to defensive coordinator reflects the promote-from-within philosophy of Bill Belichick’s coaching incubator. Rather than import an established coach from the outside who might rightfully challenge his authority on their specific subject matter, Belichick’s preference is to give opportunities to the young acolytes on his staff that have been schooled under the guru’s watchful eye after having started out as interns or in the Patriots scouting department.
Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels – was QB coach (NE)
McDaniels has spent all five of his NFL coaching years in New England, starting out as a personnel assistant in the scouting department in 2001. After assisting the defensive staff with film breakdown and scouting chart preparations for three seasons he became New England’s quarterbacks coach in 2004, helping Tom Brady achieve the highest passer rating of his career (92.9) and the second highest passer rating in team history.
From a fantasy football perspective, the promotion of McDaniels to head the New England offense signals a continuing of the offensive philosophy that has served the organization so well over the last few years but with an increased emphasis on longer pass plays from scrimmage. Indeed, the hallmark of McDaniels impact on this offense and on Tom Brady as a fantasy football factor has been the increase in his average yards per attempt, bumping up to 7.79 yards per from a pre-McDaniels mark of 6.62 the first few seasons of his career.
McDaniels cause should be buoyed by the first round addition of top-rated RB Laurence Maroney from the University of Minnesota (21st overall) and arguably the draft’s best receiver in Chad Jackson from the Florida Gators in the second round (36th pick), adding youth, speed and explosiveness to an offensive unit whose effectiveness had dwindled with age and free agent departures.
Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees – was LB coach (NE)
Pees, entering only his second season in the professional ranks, both with New England, fills the void left by Eric Mangini’s move to become the head coach of the New York Jets in 2006.
Prior to joining Belichick’s staff in 2004, the 33 year coaching veteran spent six seasons as the head coach of Kent State University and also has a connection to the Belichick- Nick Saban tribe going back to his days as Michigan State’s defensive coordinator under Saban.
Pees’ coaching contribution will be smaller than McDaniels’ by virtue of the fact that he’s on the defensive side of the ball, which Bill Belichick will continue to own.
Importing unproven Sean Payton as the head coach and his subsequent hiring of inexperienced Jets offensive line coach Doug Marrone as his offensive coordinator and Dallas linebackers coach Gary Gibbs as his defensive coordinator reveals a New Orleans organization that’s content to start over and rebuild from the ground up after a nightmarish 2005 season which saw their team and community unravel in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
Head Coach Sean Payton –was OC (DAL)
The 42 year old Payton becomes the 14th head coach in New Orleans Saints history after years of grooming spent as an offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for top tier NFL coaches including Bill Parcells (Dallas, 2003-05) and Jon Gruden (Philadelphia, 1997-98) while also spending four seasons with the New York Giants and Jim Fassell, including the 2000 NFC Championship team that eventually lost to Baltimore in Super Bowl XXXV.
It remains to be seen as to whether Payton’s much heralded skills as a play-caller and game-planner can translate positively with regard to wins and losses but the marriage between the first time head coach and his new starting quarterback, ex-Charger Drew Brees, should produce a winning combination for fantasy participants that take a chance on Saints players, namely Deuce McAlister, Joe Horn, and Donte Stallworth and of course, No.2 overall pick, offensive wunderkind Reggie Bush, who will either be used in conjunction with power back Deuce McAllister, like his days sharing the Trojan backfield with Lendale White or as the fulltime back, should McAllister succumb to another lengthy injury as he is wont to do.
Brees brings a heady decision-making quality to the quarterback position that will be a refreshing change of pace from the bungling bloopers of Aaron Brooks of the last six seasons. Brees, with Payton at the controls, will elevate the production of all key New Orleans playmakers by virtue of an increased third down conversion rate and noticeable reduction in giveaways, providing the New Orleans offense with increased opportunities for yards gained and touchdowns.
Offensive Coordinator Doug Marrone – was OL coach (NYJ)
Marrone returns to New Orleans, where he played offensive line in 1989, by way of the New York where he has served as the Jets offensive line coach for the last four years. The fifth year NFL coach’s offensive line helped future hall-of-famer Curtis Martin to his first ever rushing title with 1,697 yards in 2004.
With Sean Payton running the offense, Marrone’s title as offensive coordinator is puppet at best. He’ll primarily be tasked with raising the execution level of a large but slothful group of underachievers featuring T Jermane Mayberry (6-4, 325), G Jamar Nesbitt (6-4, 328) and Montrae Holland (6-2, 322) and recently added fourth round pick OT Jahri Evans (6-4, 317). The 2006 fantasy fortunes of backs Deuce McAlister (coming back from another season-ending knee injury in 2005) and the speedy rookie Bush are largely bound to how effective Marrone can be in eliminating pre-snap penalties, a persistent problem during the Jim Haslett era, and getting his offensive line charges to consistently follow through on their blocking assignments.
Defensive Coordinator Gary Gibbs – was LB coach (DAL)
Entering his fourth year of coaching in the NFL, Gibbs is a 26 year coaching veteran which included the head coaching assignment at the University of Oklahoma from 1989-94 where he compiled a 43-22-2 record as well as recent posts as defensive coordinator at LSU (2001) and University of Georgia (2000).
Gibbs work with the Dallas Cowboys under Bill Parcells as the linebackers coach (2002-05) is highlighted by the Cowboys linebackers leading the team in tackles each season since Gibbs arrival while posting some of the top tackle totals in team history.
Gibbs expertise should immediately impact a Saints defense that was ranked 28th overall in points allowed per game (24.9) and 27th against the run (134.1 yards per game) with their young and oft-injured linebacker group widely considered their weakest link. Courtney Watson and Cie Grant, both second round picks in the 2004 and 2003 draft, respectively, have missed a noticeable amount of games due to injury with Grant being the more brittle of the two. Expect second round pick (43rd overall) FS Roman Harper from Alabama to make Gibbs job a little easier, providing immediate help on the Saints last line of defense.