Early Outlook of the 2015 NFL Coaching Carousel
The 2015 offseason has already brought about changes for multiple teams despite the Super Bowl having yet been played. Six teams have already named new head coaches, with one appearing to be holding out for their man. Let’s take a look at the six new head coaching situations and an outlook of their new staffs.
Head Coach: Rex Ryan
Off. Coord. — Greg Roman
Def. Coord. — Dennis Thurman
The Bills will be hoping that Ryan can sustain or even improve upon last year’s success which established Buffalo as one of the best defensive units in the league.
Many assume that his previous failure in developing quarterbacks Mark Sanchez and Geno Smith is a pre-indication of what will occur during his tenure in Buffalo. However, his first year with the Bills will equip Ryan with arguably the best offensive unit he has ever had assembled.
In New York, Ryan was never able to aid in his quarterbacks’ development in terms of supporting cast. He regularly was limited to implementing veteran skill players who had already maxed out in potential or were on the tail end of their careers. Already in place is a much younger, explosive core featuring receivers Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin available at the dispense of their starting quarterback—whether that will be EJ Manuel or not is still a lingering question.
Befittingly, Ryan will also be equipped with a talented and deep backfield, fronted by veteran Fred Jackson and oft-injured CJ Spiller, as well as Bryce Brown and Anthony Dixon. All four at one point or another in their careers have demonstrated the ability to serve as a feature back and handle the duties of the primary rusher.
With the addition of Greg Roman (who came over from San Francisco) as offensive coordinator, expect to see an emphasis upon the power running game—something that works in tandem with Ryan’s aggressive style of defense.
Last season, Rex utilized the talents of Muhammad Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson, Quinton Coples, Jason Babin and David Harris at a high level. In Buffalo, he’ll now transition his scheme to make use of the talents of Mario Williams, Kyle Williams, Marcell Dareus, Jerry Hughes and Manny Lawson just along his defensive line; at linebacker he’ll be able to choose between Brandon Spikes, Keith Rivers, Nigel Bradham and Kiko Alonso.
While New York possesses a strong defensive front-seven, Buffalo’s is arguably the best in the league. With the elite talent available, Ryan will be able to routinely be aggressive on the defensive side of the ball.
The key difference between his previous job and his new one: a bit more consistency on the offensive side of the ball, especially in terms of production. Offensive production alone was something that prevented the Jets from ever really taking the next step as a team during Ryan’s time there, but the potential for it to benefit him in Buffalo is certainly more present.
Head Coach: John Fox
Off. Coord. — Adam Gase
Def. Coord. — Vic Fangio
Chicago’s 2014 season didn’t go anywhere near as planned—their franchise quarterback repeatedly looked out of sorts and the team was unable to ever find form defensively, contradicting a historically gritty hard-hitting lineage of defensive units.
Enter John Fox.
Although Fox may not be the first name brought up in conversation of creative minds in the NFL coaching realm, he deserves to be associated with success. During both of his stints as a head coach he’s managed to take that team to the Super Bowl (despite losing both). He’s also garnered a reputation for being a player’s coach.
That reputation is hoped to be able to help in restoring quarterback Jay Cutler’s confidence, as well as bring together a defensive unit that finished 30th in total defense. Fox has never coached a team whose defense finished the regular season worse than 20th in that statistical category. Furthermore, newly added defensive coordinator Vic Fangio boasted a top five defense during each of his four seasons at San Francisco.
The defensive unit provides a mix of older veterans and emerging talent, however the team has yet to really see consistent play out of its front-seven, particularly along the defensive line. Fangio and Fox will look to fix the issues there this season.
Offensively, pressure will look to be alleviated from being Jay Cutler’s burden as offensive coordinator Adam Gase (coming with Fox from Denver) will likely install a system similar to that he ran in Denver. That would suggest a more balanced approach with the ability to effectively become one-dimensional.
Gase (36) is heralded by many as one of the brightest young minds in the coaching realm, particularly in creating mismatches. With the likes of Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffrey on the outside, with Martellus Bennett roaming the middle, and Matt Forte proving as a threat both as a runner and receiver out of the backfield, Gase has an opportunity to hone Cutler’s incredible ability and bounce back from a tumultuous 2014 season.
Should there be some changes in personnel on the defensive side of the ball and consistency on the offensive side, expect Fox and his staff to quickly change the direction of the franchise.
Head Coach: Gary Kubiak
Off. Coord. — not yet named.
Def. Coord. — not yet named.
Many are excited for Denver with the hire of Kubiak as head coach, however there’s just as much to be skeptical of as there is to revel in.
Kubiak’s offenses have always demonstrated a more run-oriented scheme that includes plenty of play-action and a few home-run shots on a game-to-game basis. This means there’s a heavy incorporation of intermediate route concepts off of play fakes.
Peyton Manning’s body is noticeably breaking down, and he’s not able to make the same throws he was able to make a few years ago. His upper leg strength combined with his weakening arm strength is concerning particularly when considering his ability to thrive in this system next season.
Between Kubiak’s last two quarterbacks—Joe Flacco and Matt Schaub—Schaub may be the better comparison in terms of projecting success for Manning in Kubiak’s system. However, even with limited arm-strength, Schaub didn’t struggle to drive the ball nor was he as immobile from the pocket or as Manning appeared to be last season.
It doesn’t necessarily mean that Manning will be unable to find any success in Kubiak’s offense, but it’s hard to imagine him posting the gaudy type of numbers he did his first two seasons in Denver.
In light of Manning’s diminishing ability, the signing of Kubiak does make sense. The Broncos didn’t use a lot of zone-blocking runs under the direction of Gase (implemented a primarily man-to-man scheme in Denver), but when they did undrafted rookie CJ Anderson proved to find regular success.
With the emphasis that Denver placed on the run last season, there should be a considerable amount of chemistry established amongst the offensive line, making the transition to a zone-blocking scheme that much easier and effective. That will take the pressure off of Manning to pass 35 times a game as his body begins to fail him, which is why bringing in Kubiak makes sense—especially if Denver plans on having No. 18 back next season.
New York Jets
Head Coach: Todd Bowles
Off. Coord. — Chan Gailey
Def. Coord. — Kacey Rodgers
Todd Bowles did a phenomenal time during his time as the defensive coordinator in Arizona, leading one of the top defenses in the league that proved to be the strength of the playoff-bound Cardinals.
Bowles has had experience under the likes of Mike Holmgren, Bill Parcells and Wade Phillips during his career. It comes at no surprise that traces of their influences have aided in both the success and progression of his coaching career thus far.
The Jets serve as a very suitable fit for Bowles, especially when considering the success he was able to enjoy in a situation very similar to the one he’s stepping into in New York. The Jets have a talented defensive unit, and youth in their secondary with intriguing potential that includes two first-round selections in safety Calvin Pryor and cornerback Dee Milliner.
Expect Bowles to leave the development of Geno Smith (should they stick with him as the starting quarterback) to Chan Gailey, who will more than likely install a run-heavy offense to keep the ball of out of Smith’s hands.
This situation also differs from that in Arizona, particularly in the sense that the defensive side of the ball has a dominant front-four, an aging linebacker core and a rather inexperienced secondary. Bowles conveniently has spent nine seasons as a secondary coach during his coaching career, so it will be interesting to see whether or not he can harness the talent of and develop Milliner and Pryor early on during his tenure.
There should be noticeable improvement as a whole for the Jets come next season. It will be difficult for Bowles to replicate the same result he did with the Cardinals in terms of wins, but he has certainly demonstrated throughout his career he is capable and deserving of the opportunity to be at the helm of a team.
Head Coach: Jack Del Rio
Off. Coord. — Bill Musgrave
Def. Coord. — not yet named.
The Raiders weren’t necessarily “shooting for the stars” throughout their coaching search. Early on it became apparent that Oakland was seeking an experienced head coach, and ended up landing one of the more desirable candidates that appeared as realistic options for them to land.
Del Rio steps in bringing a defensive approach to a team that simply just lacked the personnel to ever truly be effective as a wholly cohesive unit.
Under Del Rio, the Broncos finished in the top three in two of the three years he spent as defensive coordinator, and first in net yards gained per pass attempt twice, according to Pro Football Reference. Conversely, the Raiders finished 16th against the pass last season, and even finished last in points allowed per game.
There are some bright spots on the defensive side of the ball for Del Rio to make use of early on and develop like linebackers Khalil Mack and Sio Moore, as well as nose tackle Justin Ellis. However, in order for there to be any improvement, Del Rio will need to make personnel changes within the secondary, particularly at the strong safety and cornerback positions.
Offensively, Oakland remains an enigma. Under the direction of former offensive coordinator Greg Olson, rookie quarterback Derek Carr seemed to be held back at times (finished last in the league in yards per attempt at 5.46 per pass attempt) when it would have made more sense to let him be more gun-ho with the ball. Despite the restrictions, he was still able to make impressive strides throughout his rookie year as a starting caliber quarterback in the league.
The key to Carr’s continuing improvement will hinge upon the success of the Raiders rushing attack, which struggled mightily throughout the season en route to finishing last in the league in total rushing yards. This is where the addition of offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave is hoped to make a significant impact after spending years with the Adrian Peterson-led Minnesota Vikings and then Chip Kelly’s high-tempo offense of the Philadelphia Eagles.
Oakland has yet to really establish a feature back with Darren McFadden proving too ineffective last season, however Latavius Murray possesses intriguing physical potential that began to emerge with a few games remaining in the year.
The theme with the Raiders remains untapped and unknown potential, at least in a positive sense. Del Rio has an opportunity to make a contender out of this team should he be able to add some pieces on the defensive side of the ball that will fit well within his system.
San Francisco 49ers
Head Coach: Jim Tomsula
Off. Coord. — not yet named.
Def. Coord. — not yet named.
Tomsula already has a win under his belt as a head coach of the 49ers, believe it or not. He was named the interim head coach following the firing of Mike Singletary and led San Francisco to a 38-7 win over the Arizona Cardinals in Week 17 of the 2010 season.
Aside from his one-game stint as the interim head coach, Tomsula has never spent time in the NFL as anything more than the defensive line coach for the team. He joined the 49ers coaching staff in 2007.
It’s difficult to project an outlook for how the team will perform under Tomsula considering he has no coordinating or head coaching background in the league. If there’s any indication here to assume, it’s that Jed York and Co. seem to believe that sticking with what got them there and making an in-house hire was the best way to go, despite all the ugly fallout that resulted in their final year with Jim Harbaugh at the helm.
It will be interesting to see how the post-Harbaugh era works out in San Francisco next season.
Follow Kaelen Jones on Twitter: @kaelenjones