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2006 NFL Coaching Changes
Mike Courter
June 2, 2006

New York Jets

After last season’s 4-12 meltdown, an unforgiving salary cap quagmire for the coming 2006 off season and Herm Edwards not-so-secret desire to get out of his Jets commitment prematurely, the New York brass decided to clean house and start anew with 35 year old Bill Belichick protégé, Eric Mangini, the former defensive coordinator for the New England Patriots.

Head Coach Eric Mangini- was DC (NE)

Though he holds the distinction of being named the second youngest head coach in NFL history (Jon Gruden being hired by Oakland at the age of 34 in 1998 still stands as the record), don’t let the school boy appearance fool you.  The new Jets coach on the block is a grizzled 12 year veteran of the NFL coaching ranks, with the vast majority of those 12 seasons spent under the two Bill’s, Belichick and Parcells, in roles that included defensive coordinator, defensive backs coach and defensive assistant/quality control.

Mangini will be called upon immediately to bring some of New England’s ability to mesh a multitude of inexpensive, role player parts into a cohesive, winning ensemble to a Jets roster that is undergoing a massive overhaul due to salary cap realities.  However, he’ll be hard-pressed to duplicate the Patriots formula as Team Mangini’s kitchen is missing a key ingredient in this mix, quarterback Tom Brady.

Questions abound offensively, especially at quarterback, where there are no easy answers between arm-weary Chad Pennington and erratic newcomer, Patrick Ramsey, with 2006 second round pick Kellen Clemens (Oregon) unlikely to contribute much this year. With Mangini’s expertise lying solely on the defensive side of the ball and first-time offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, formerly the Chargers QB coach, the Jets will lead with their defense and hope the offense doesn’t lose games for them, a veritable skunk spray sure to force fantasy footballer’s to look elsewhere in 2006.  

Offensive Coordinator Brian Schottenheimer- was QB coach (SD)   

This was a head scratch-inducing appointment by Mangini. You know something’s not quite right when the team website Coach’s Bio section has a scant one sentence description announcing the hiring of Schottenheimer as offensive coordinator under his name and nothing else.  This has all the makings of a strong minority coaching argument in about a year’s time.  Was Mangini too young to remember the Shula boys getting repeated, undeserved coaching opportunities because of their last name?  This is not a Barry Switzer taking over a talent-laden Cowboys squad circa 1996.  New York’s difficulty passing is well documented and Curtis Martin’s aging process went into warp drive last year without a Lamont Jordan safety net.  Former offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger saw the handwriting on the wall in the off season and bolted to Denver under the auspices of being passed-over for the head coaching assignment.       

Defensive Coordinator Bob Sutton- was LB coach (NYJ)

Sutton, one of the few holdovers from the Herm Edwards days, will takeover as defensive coordinator after being the linebackers coach in 2005.  His line-backing crew, led by Pro Bowler Jonathan Vilma, helped the Jets defense finish fourth overall in points allowed with 261 and fifth versus the run allowing opponents less than 100 yards per game (97.9), despite losing 12 games last year.

Sutton will continue in a teaching role as the second in command implementing Mangini’s defensive scheme.

Oakland

A sad state of affairs exists for an organization that used to wear phrases like “Commitment to Excellence” and “Just Win, Baby” on its figurative sleeve. After failing to land young, up-and-comers Ken Whisenhunt (Steelers offensive coordinator) and Bobby Petrino (University of Louisville), Al Davis went back to his ol’ standby, dusting off longtime Raider Art Shell from the archives to begin a second tour of duty as Oakland’s new head coach after a search that lasted 38 days in which the owner spoke with “four to eight” candidates. The rejection of Oakland’s overtures by two candidates who’ve never been head coaches in the NFL before speaks volumes to how far this once proud franchise has fallen. Regrettably, Art Shell is too much of a Raiders company man to tell Papa Al “NO”, after being Plan C in Davis’ fruitless search for the next fall guy. 

The Raiders are the NFL’s version of Cuba, with Davis playing the role of Fidel. Many believe that until the aging and increasingly irrelevant dictator sitting atop the organization is removed from power, there will continue to be an embargo on winning for an organization that once referred to itself as “The Team of the Decades”. 

At least Shell is intent on enjoying his stay this time around, assembling a group of coaching buddies that most likely double as his Friday night poker pals, including another Raiders retread, offensive coordinator Tom Walsh (see below), fellow Hall of Fame tackle Jackie Slater (zero years coaching experience) and former USFL standout Irv Eatman, who previously served as an assistant O-line coach in Kansas City, Green Bay and Pittsburgh, who will share the offensive line coach duties with Slater. 

Head Coach Art Shell – was NFL front office

The Art Shell redux appears doomed from the start. Yes, Shell has the highest winning percentage of all head coaches hired this off season (.587) and he did lead Oakland into the playoffs three times in his first run as head coach from 1989-94.  Despite a decent showing in his first stint as a head coach (54-38), questions abound as to why Shell was never able to score another gig as a head man, settling for offensive line coach positions in Kansas City (1995-96) and Atlanta (1997-2000) after leaving the Raiders sideline. In fact, 2006 will be the first time Shell dons the sans-a-belt shorts in five years, shedding the suit and tie world of the NFL front office where he served as Senior V.P. of Football Operations and Development since 2001.

The one area Shell is positioned to have an immediate and positive impact will be the offensive line. It’s the position that he carved out a Hall of Fame playing career in and where the majority of his coaching experience lies.  The franchise has spent heavily on the offensive front the last few seasons, most notably with tackle Robert Gallery (the No. 2 pick overall in 2004) and center Jake Grove (2nd Rd pick in ’04) and Al Davis will be looking for Shell to exact a bigger return from his investment, especially from a still-improving Gallery, whose yet to justify his lofty draft status.

Shell will have to work wonders in order to turn the Raiders around in the win-loss column but his work with the offensive line could translate into significant fantasy gains for Randy Moss, Jerry Porter, Lamont Jordan and new quarterback, ex-New Orleans Saint, Aaron Brooks.

Offensive Coordinator Tom Walsh – was head coach Idaho State

This is also Walsh’s second tour of duty with the Raiders after having served with and under Shell as an Oakland assistant coach during his initial 12 year stretch (1982-94) where he held titles of offensive coordinator, quarterbacks coach and receivers coach.  Walsh will run Oakland’s offense after spending a decade on the outside of the NFL. He last roamed the sideline in 1998 as the head coach at Idaho State where he went 6-16 in two seasons. All kidding aside, Walsh has announced that he will retire from his current job as Mayor of Swan Valley, Idaho (population: 200), citing the long distance difficulties of fulfilling both duties effectively.

Philadelphia

Business as usual for Andy Reid and the Eagles, despite the defection of offensive coordinator Brad Childress to coach the Minnesota Vikings this off season.  Philadelphia will take the if it ain’t broke don’t fix it approach with Reid’s longtime coaching friend Marty Mornhinwheg taking over the reins as offensive coordinator.

Offensive Coordinator Marty Mornhinwheg- remains Assistant Head Coach (PHI) 

Mornhinwheg enters his third season with the Eagles after coming aboard in 2003 after spending the two years prior as head coach of the Detroit Lions.  Before Detroit, the 11 year NFL coach was the offensive coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers from 1997-2000. Offensive continuity will not be a problem as Philadelphia is the fourth time that Reid and Mornhinwheg have worked together, with Green Bay (1995-96), Texas El Paso (1987) and at Missouri (1991) being the other occasions. 

San Francisco

After losing his offensive coordinator Mike McCarthy to Green Bay, Mike Nolan conveniently called on old friend Norv Turner, recently axed by the Raiders, to fill the void.  The addition of the experienced Turner more than cushions the blow from the McCarthy loss.  Turner’s work as offensive coordinator was hailed during the Cowboys Super Bowl years of the early nineties and then later in the same capacity with the Dolphins and Chargers.  During Turner’s seven seasons as coach of the Redskins from 1994-2000, Nolan served as his defensive coordinator from 1997-99 before having his contract “non-renewed” by Turner after the 1999 campaign.  

Offensive Coordinator Norv Turner- was head coach (OAK)

Turner remains in the Bay Area after being dismissed from Oakland by Al Davis after a horrible two year head coaching stint that resulted in a 9-23 record, the worst two season stretch by a head coach in Raiders history.  Turner’s resume as a head coach, both in Washington and Oakland has been unforgettable, at best, but a return to the offensive coordinator role should bear fruit.  Turner’s best coaching days have come as the O.C. in Miami, San Diego and especially Dallas, where he won back-to-back Super Bowls over the Buffalo Bills under Jimmy Johnson from 1991-1993.      

Second year quarterback Alex Smith is hoping that some of the same Super Bowl chemistry that existed between Turner and another former No. 1 overall pick, Troy Aikman can be recreated in ‘Frisco between the former Utah star and his new mentor.  Smith sees similarities between himself and Aikman in the early going of his career, including a horrendous first year in the NFL (Aikman went 1-15 in his first year with Dallas) which saw the 49ers offense ranked last in the league during a 4-12 campaign.

St. Louis

The internal struggle between the Rams front office and megalomaniac Mike Martz finally came to a head last year and Martz’s unfortunate heart condition surfaced late in the season, providing Rams President John Shaw a convenient vehicle to start the process of removing the combative, yet capable offensive mind.

The hiring of former Miami Dolphins and Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator, Scott Linehan, represents a younger, team player version of the quarterback-friendly Martz, a coach that seemingly fits much better into the Rams geographically-displaced corporate culture with John Shaw operating out of California and principal owner Georgia Frontiere’s home office in Arizona.     

Head Coach Scott Linehan- was offensive coordinator (MIA)

Linehan has made his coaching mark on offense, mainly as a mentor of quarterbacks and an orchestrator of vertical passing offenses that utilize a strong running game.  As Miami’s offensive coordinator last season, Linehan helped the Dolphins climb from 29th in total offense in 2004 to a respectable 14th in 2005, including an uncharacteristic jump in the run game, going from 31st to 12th.  Despite the success on the ground, the Dolphins offense possessed Linehan’s propensity for the big play, executing 26 plays of 25 or more yards, including seven pass plays of more than 50 yards, tied for the NFL lead, while averaging 26.0 points per game during their six game consecutive winning streak to end the season.  

You would be hard pressed to find another player in 2005 who enjoyed a new coach’s impact more than WR Chris Chambers did with the arrival of Linehan to Miami from Minnesota.  Under Linehan, Chambers reached his first Pro Bowl, the first by a Dolphins receiver since Irving Fryar in 1994.  Chambers career year included 82 receptions (tied for sixth in the AFC, 13th overall) for 1,118 yards and with 11 touchdowns, highlighted by his December 4th performance against Buffalo in which he grabbed 15 balls for 238 yards.  For those fantasy participants who saw Chambers fall to them in the late to middle rounds of their drafts after many years of so-so production from the talented wideout, the former Wisconsin Badger became a key figure in their pursuit of a 2005 FFL championship, demonstrating the impact that coaching changes can make both on the field and in fantasy football.

The planned changes to the offense that Linehan will make include a no huddle offense for at least a portion of most games, an audible system for Marc Bulger and the other quarterbacks to utilize, fewer seven step drops and four wide receiver sets and an expanded role for the tight end (the Rams chose Colorado TE Joe Klopfenstein (6-6, 256) in the second round with the 46th pick and USC’s Dominique Byrd in the third (93rd)) in a simpler game plan and playbook.  These changes are all positive steps toward reducing the amount of sacks Bulger has had to absorb in prior seasons under the inflexible Martz and will help the veteran QB last through an entire season, making him a safer, high round fantasy selection this year.    

Offensive Coordinator Greg Olson –was QB coach (DET)

Olson’s promotion to offensive coordinator appears on the surface to be another example of the coaching incubator that is rampant around the league this season. The new head coach, who’s carved out a reputation as an innovator on either side of the ball appoints a fairly young guy as his offensive or defensive coordinator who’s not quite ready for prime time yet but has demonstrated some ability as a position coach and has some connection with the new head coach from a prior career stop.

Olson succeed Linehan as the quarterbacks coach at Idaho from 1994-96 before heading to Purdue where he participated in a cutting-edge passing attack fueled by two time (1998 & 2000) Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, Drew Brees.  In Olson’s last three seasons as the quarterbacks coach at Purdue, the Boilermakers passing offense posted a top ten national ranking each year and led the nation in total offense with a per game average of 349.1 yards in 2000.

His NFL career consists of stops in San Francisco, Chicago and Detroit where he listed Joey Harrington (Detroit), Jeff Garcia (both in San Francisco and Detroit) and Rex Grossman (Chicago Bears) as pupils, while his college protégé’s included Drew Brees (Purdue) and Jon Kitna (Central Washington).   

Defensive Coordinator Jim Haslett – was head coach (NO)

When Jim Haslett was released from his head coaching duties with the New Orleans Saints after the 2005 season, St. Louis, namely new head coach Scott Linehan, was the beneficiary, scooping up the well-respected former head coach to be their defensive coordinator, a role Haslett performed with the Pittsburgh Steelers (1997-99) and the New Orleans Saints.  Haslett’s defense played a key role in Pittsburgh’s 1997 appearance in the AFC Championship game and during his tenure in New Orleans, the Saints improved from 22nd to 13th in total defense (22nd to third in pass defense) from 1995 to 1996.

Haslett joins the Rams after spending six seasons as the head coach of New Orleans, finishing with 45 wins (second only in franchise history to Jim Mora’s 93) and owning the only postseason victory in the team’s history, helping him achieve Coach of the Year honors in 2000.

With Haslett taking over a defense that’s just been buoyed by the free agent signings of veteran play-makers DT La’ Roi Glover (Dallas), LB Will Witherspoon (Carolina) and S Corey Chavous (Minnesota) and first round pick (15th overall), Clemson CB Tye Hill, the Rams defense, a perennial weak spot for the high scoring club in seasons past, will be expected to make a quantum leap in 2006.

Washington

After convincing in-demand defensive coordinator Gregg Williams to stay put with a three year deal worth $7.8 million, the most lucrative ever for an assistant coach, including a $1 million dollar bonus if he is not named head coach when Gibbs retires, the Redskins second move was to secure the best candidate available on the open market to run the offense, former Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator, Al Saunders.

The Redskins offense was statistically okay, ranking 11th overall in 2005 after being one of the worst units in football the year before (30th in 2004).  But the unit became inconsistent down the stretch, especially in the playoffs (producing just 120 total yards of offense in their lone playoff win against Tampa Bay), though part of the problem was a result of Mark Brunell and Santana Moss both suffering significant injuries late in the year. 

Daniel Snyder used roughly $6 million over three years to persuade Saunders to forego a handful of head coaching possibilities to elevate the Redskins offense under longtime friend Joe Gibbs.  Snyder, as has been his practice, is not afraid of paying top flight coordinator’s head coaching money since he views it as another way to exact the very best from a roster limited by salary cap constraints.

Offensive Coordinator Al Saunders – was offensive coordinator (KC)

On paper, Saunders makes for the perfect fit with the Redskins. He’s known Joe Gibbs since 1970, when he served as a graduate assistant at the University of Southern California while Gibbs was on the coaching staff there and both Saunders and Gibbs learned pro-style, offensive football from famed offensive innovator, Don “Air” Coryell, during there time in San Diego together in the early to mid-eighties.  

After a few seasons as the Chargers head coach where he compiled a 17-22 record, he became the Chiefs assistant head coach and wide receivers coach from 1989-1998, but it wasn’t until his association with Dick Vermeil and the Rams in 2000 did Saunders profile begin to rise in coaching circles.  Saunders became a part of the historic Rams offenses from 1999-2001, first as the receivers coach under Vermeil and then as Assistant Head Coach under Mike Martz.   

He returned to the Chiefs in 2001, following the un-retired Dick Vermeil back to Kansas City as assistant head coach / offensive coordinator.  Since re-joining the Chiefs, Saunders has been in charge of one of the NFL’s showcase offenses, never finishing below No. 5 in total offense and was No.1 in each of the last two seasons, averaging 387 yards per game in 2005.

Saunders move to Washington, D.C., while upgrading the scheme and play calling of the Redskins offense, has also aided the ‘Skins in attracting free agent talent as well.  Both impact wide receiver imports from this off season, Antwaan Randle El (Steelers) and Brandon Lloyd (49ers), cited Saunders presence on Joe Gibbs staff as a “key factor” in agreeing to play in the nation’s capital.  Holdovers Mark Brunell, Clinton Portis and Santana Moss have also concurred with their new teammate’s excitement, making Washington a pleasantly surprising place for fantasy football players to find answers in 2006.

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