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2005 Coaching and Philosophy Changes

In a league that espouses parity, it stands to reason that a fair amount of coaching turnover is going to be an annual occurrence. This offseason was no exception, as three teams ushered in new head coaches: Cleveland (Romeo Crennel), Miami (Nick Saban), and San Francisco (Mike Nolan). While the head coaching changes get the most media coverage, fantasy leaguers understand that coordinator changes can be just as significant to a team's performance. This year, sixteen (16) teams (i.e., half the league) replaced at least one of their coordinators.

As we embark on the 2005 fantasy season, it's important to understand how these changes will impact the teams in question. While there's no hard and fast science behind this (who would've believed the Bill Belichick would create a dynasty in New England coming off his tenure as Cleveland's head coach?), we will endeavor to at the very least quantify all the major coaching changes and make some educated supposition as to the likely impact for the 2005 season.

Arizona Cardinals
Head Coach: Dennis Green
Offensive Coordinator: Keith Rowen (replaces Alex Wood)
Defensive Coordinator: Clancy Pendergast

What to expect on offense: Don't expect much to change from a philosophy standpoint in Arizona; Head Coach Dennis Green still runs the show regardless of who holds the title of offensive coordinator. In Green's coaching history, his offensive coordinators haven't wielded much power, and this hire doesn't suggest that's about to change. Alex Wood, a long-time Green friend and assistant coach, was let go after one season at the helm and Rowen was brought in as replacement. Rowen served as the Kansas City Chiefs tight ends coach last year, which may suggest that Green wants to incorporate a bit more of Dick Vermeil's spread offense into the Cardinals game plan; a good idea considering QB Kurt Warner has been brought aboard to start. With three solid receivers in Boldin, Fitzgerald and Johnson, spread formations make a lot of sense but the team must get better production from the running game that ranked 30th in yards per carry a season ago.

Baltimore Ravens
Head Coach: Brian Billick
Offensive Coordinator: Jim Fassel (replaces Matt Cavanaugh)
Defensive Coordinator: Rex Ryan (replaces Mike Nolan)

What to expect on offense: The Ravens season will largely come down to whether QB Kyle Boller can elevate his level of play; which is interesting because reports from camp last year suggested that Jim Fassel, then an advisor to the team, had serious doubts about Boller's aptitude. In any event, he must have seen enough from Boller to accept the offensive coordinator position. Fassel, with seven years as an NFL head coach, has roots in a variety of offensive systems and will be asked to get better productivity out of the existing playbook. HC Brian Billick, Fassel and QB coach Rick Neuheisel all have ties to the West Coast offense, but this offense will undoubtedly feature a heavier dose of the power running game given the presence of Jamal Lewis. Assuming Boller can take a big leap forward, the Ravens have above average personnel at nearly every position.

What to expect on defense: For the third time in recent years, a Ravens defensive coach has ascended to an NFL head coaching position; Mike Nolan being the latest. The Ravens promoted from within, naming Rex Ryan the team's newest defensive coordinator after serving for several years as the defensive line coach. Ryan, son of former NFL legend Buddy Ryan, is not content to sit on his laurels. The Ravens are going to use a combination of Buddy Ryan's vaunted "46" defense and a more traditional 4-3 defensive front; and Ryan promises to blitz the quarterback with regularity, something his predecessors were less apt to do. With one of the league's best secondaries, Ryan believes the Ravens can afford to bring pressure from all directions. Terrell Suggs will move to defensive end while 2nd year DT Dwan Edwards will join stalwart Kelly Gregg in the interior.

Chicago Bears
Head Coach: Lovie Smith
Offensive Coordinator: Ron Turner (replaces Terry Shea)
Defensive Coordinator: Ron Rivera

What to expect on offense: The "Terry Shea Experiment" is over after one season, as HC Lovie Smith learned the hard way that just because someone hails from a prestigious coaching tree, it doesn't mean they can magically yield the same results. Shea was supposed to implement Dick Vermeil's spread offense in Chicago, but the windy confines of Soldier Field and the team's personnel were poor fits for that experiment, not to mention Shea was woefully inexperienced calling plays. Expect a 180-degree change from last season, as Ron Turner returns to a role he first filled from 1993-1996. Turner is a proponent of a balanced offensive attack that relies heavily on a power, between-the-tackles running game. To that end, rookie RB Cedric Benson will be given every opportunity to carry the team's offensive load. Turner's experience as the head coach at the University of Illinois should also help in the development of QB Rex Grossman and the young WR corps; one of which will line up every week opposite recently signed veteran WR Muhsin Muhammad.

Cincinnati Bengals
Head Coach: Marvin Lewis
Offensive Coordinator: Bob Bratkowski
Defensive Coordinator: Chuck Bresnahan (replaces Leslie Frazier)

What to expect on defense: Chuck Bresnahan, a consultant to the team a year ago, takes over the defensive coordinator duties from Leslie Frazier. HC Marvin Lewis, himself a defensive minded coach, simply differed philosophically from Frazier which led to a growing lack of confidence in the direction of a defense that failed to make major strides last season (19th in yards allowed, 21st in scoring). Bresnahan, who was the DC in Oakland for four seasons prior to joining the Bengals staff, is a proponent of playing man-to-man coverage as much as possible in the secondary and bringing pressure from a traditional 4-3 defensive alignment up front. The Bengals will look to integrate some youth, including LBs David Pollack and Odell Thurman, into an attacking defense while also not forgoing a focus on stopping the run; a failure of last year's unit.

Cleveland Browns
Head Coach: Romeo Crennel (replaces Butch Davis)
Offensive Coordinator: Maurice Carthon (replaces Terry Robiskie)
Defensive Coordinator: Todd Grantham (replaces Dave Campo)

What to expect on offense: Maurice Carthon has been an offensive coordinator for three seasons (one year in Detroit, the last two in Dallas), but has never had primary play-calling responsibilities on a full-time basis. It's clear from his experience as an NFL running back and years as a running backs coach that he'll favor a balanced offensive game plan that relies on a committed ground attack. The team will primarily use a 2-back offensive set, although the team won't be averse to multiple receiver sets when appropriate. With QB Trent Dilfer at the helm, the team would like to utilize a consistent running game to set up play action passes downfield to the Browns cadre of speedy receivers including 3rd overall draft choice Braylon Edwards.

What to expect on defense: The Browns are almost starting from scratch on the defensive side of the ball; moving to a 3-4 defensive alignment as their base defense and bringing in a boatload of new players. Crennel, who tried to hire his former assistant Eric Mangini, instead settled on the relatively inexperienced Grantham because of his familiarity with the 3-4 in Houston. Crennel is a defensive mastermind, but his system is complicated and above all else the players must be disciplined in their assignments. It stands to reason the rebuilding process will take more than one year particularly when you consider that Crennel and Grantham have never before served as head coach and defensive coordinator, respectively.

Detroit Lions
Head Coach: Steve Mariucci
Offensive Coordinator: Ted Tollner (replaces Sherm Lewis)
Defensive Coordinator: Dick Jauron

What to expect on offense: Don't expect much change on the offensive side of the ball just because the team switched coordinators. Ted Tollner, like his predecessor Sherm Lewis, is a veteran assistant schooled in the finer points of the West Coast Offense. Tollner served on the 49ers staff the last few seasons, and will serve as Steve Mariucci's right-hand man; but Mooch will call the plays on Sundays. The Lions are absolutely stacked at the offensive skill positions, with first round draft choices at RB (Kevin Jones), WR (Mike Williams, Charles Rogers and Roy Williams) and QB (Joey Harrington). Should Harrington falter, Mariucci won't hesitate to hand the offense over to QB Jeff Garcia, who went to three Pro Bowls playing for him in San Francisco.

Dallas Cowboys
Head Coach: Bill Parcells
Offensive Coordinators: Sean Payton/Tony Sparano (replace Maurice Carthon)
Defensive Coordinator: Mike Zimmer

What to expect on offense: Bill Parcells was so dissatisfied with his team's performance last year, he's taking matters almost entirely into his own hands. With Maurice Carthon moving on to Cleveland, Parcells is eschewing a formal replacement and will instead call the plays himself with input from a Passing Coordinator (Sean Payton) and Rushing Coordinator (Tony Sparano). There's little question that the Cowboys want to run the ball 500+ times, control the clock in the process, and then use play-action passes downfield when the opportunity presents itself. As long as the defense holds its own this season, the Cowboys will run a disciplined albeit fairly predictable offensive attack that lets playmakers like RB Julius Jones and TE Jason Witten make plays.

What to expect on defense: Mike Zimmer returns as defensive coordinator, but his role with the team is uncertain beyond this season. Parcells inherited Zimmer from the previous coaching regime, and was so disgusted with the team's inability to stop opposing offenses last season that he has replaced several defensive coaches, spent the majority of the draft on defensive players and, most importantly, is implementing a 3-4 defensive front. The fact that Zimmer has never coached a 3-4 defense suggests that, as with the offense, Parcells will take a very hands-on role this year. This unit won't blitz prodigiously, particularly because the secondary is untested in man-to-man schemes. Pressure will come primarily from the outside rush linebacker position and the defensive ends.

Green Bay Packers
Head Coach: Mike Sherman
Offensive Coordinator: Tom Rossley
Defensive Coordinator: Jim Bates (replaces Bob Slowik)

What to expect on defense: Although the Packers will retain their 4-3 defensive alignment under new DC Jim Bates, not much else will look the same. Bates, who orchestrated the stellar Dolphins defense for the last half decade, preaches the need to bring pressure from the outside and his defensive ends will line up wide of the offensive tackles. Unlike a traditional 4-3, the linebackers all play off the ball; there is no one lined up over the tight end. And the team will use primarily bump-and-run coverage in the secondary. While Bates isn't opposed to blitzing, it's not something the Packers will do with abandon, unless they can't get pressure from the front four. Whether the Packers have the defensive talent to execute Bates' aggressive "flow to the inside" system remains to be seen, but for the first time in several years the Packers won't be at a strategic disadvantage on the defensive side of the ball.

Jacksonville Jaguars
Head Coach: Jack Del Rio
Offensive Coordinator: Carl Smith (replaces Bill Musgrave)
Defensive Coordinator: Mike Smith

What to expect on offense: Carl Smith, a 40-year coaching veteran, gets his first chance at calling NFL plays in almost a decade as Bill Musgrave's replacement in Jacksonville. When Smith was hired this offseason, he was touted as "USC's QB Coach" but that belies the long history he's had in coaching; most notably as the New Orleans Saints offensive coordinator under Jim Mora. Smith will be tasked with improving an offense that ranked 29th in points scored last year but returns the majority of last year's offensive cast. He's promised to abandon the more traditional West Coast offense in favor of a pro-style set that looks to make big plays downfield while remaining committed to the running game; a move that has QB Byron Leftwich excited. Known in New Orleans as a very conservative play-caller, it will be interesting to see whether Smith's time coaching alongside Norm Chow (USC) has taught him anything. A key will be getting better production from WR Reggie Williams while also finding a consistent ground attack with or without RB Fred Taylor who is recovering from offseason knee surgery.

Miami Dolphins
Head Coach: Nick Saban (replaces Dave Wannstedt)
Offensive Coordinator: Scott Linehan (replaces Chris Foerster)
Defensive Coordinator: Richard Smith (replaces Jim Bates)

What to expect on offense: New head coach Nick Saban is likely to take an active role on both sides of the ball, but Scott Linehan was brought in to manage the Dolphins offense and will call the plays on Sunday. Linehan, who spent the last three seasons as the OC in Minnesota, was a sought after commodity who ultimately landed in Minnesota for a very lucrative deal. It's difficult to know how gifted Linehan truly is given the stellar offensive talent he had to work with in Minnesota; but we'll certainly learn a lot about him as he tries to improve a Dolphins offense that ranked 28th in scoring and 29th in yards. Linehan promises a balanced offense and rookie RB Ronnie Brown will be looked upon as a focal point. Linehan prefers a one-back offense using multiple-receiver sets; which seems well suited for the receiving talent on hand.

What to expect on defense: Defensively the Dolphins are going to use a hybrid defensive front, mixing in its traditional 4-3 front with some 3-4 looks on occasion. In the 3-4 alignment, DE Jason Taylor will be asked to play linebacker; a transition that Defensive Coordinator Richard Smith is well equipped to facilitate having spent most of his career as a linebackers coach. Saban is a masterful defensive mind; Patriots' head coach Bill Belichick went down to LSU last season to get a first hand view of Saban's zone blitz schemes. Saban, like Belichick, believes in confusing the opposing quarterback with a variety of pre-snap looks; and will rely on a veteran defensive unit to make that happen. In the secondary, Saban likes to use zone coverage, which is a better fit for the revamped secondary which features several young players alongside CB Sam Madison.

Minnesota Vikings
Head Coach: Mike Tice
Offensive Coordinator: Scott Loney (replaces Scott Linehan)
Defensive Coordinator: Ted Cottrell

What to expect on offense: The Vikings remained in-house to find a replacement for departed OC Scott Linehan, and have promoted Scott Loney to the position. Loney has been the team's offensive line coach for the past three seasons and will be asked, above all else, to maintain the status quo. The Vikings have finished among the top-3 in offensive yards each of the last three seasons, and return a cadre of weapons. Of course, the team will be without WR Randy Moss, arguably the league's best playmaker and, because of that, Head Coach Mike Tice and OC Loney have promised a more balanced offensive game plan. The first order of business will be settling on a starting running back, and then finding out how much rookie WR Troy Williamson is ready to contribute in his first year. With QB Daunte Culpepper and WR Nate Burleson along with a solid offensive line returning, Loney has a full cupboard with which to cook his meals.

New England Patriots
Head Coach: Bill Belichick
Offensive Coordinator: Vacant (replaces Charlie Weis)
Defensive Coordinator: Eric Mangini (replaces Romeo Crennel)

What to expect on offense: When you've won three of the last four Super Bowls, major changes are neither required nor recommended. Yet, maintaining the status quo will be difficult with OC Charlie Weis' departure. HC Bill Belichick plans to utilize a committee approach, at least initially, and he will take a more active role in the week-to-week game planning. Weis' strong suit was his unpredictability. He was just as likely to call 20 straight pass plays as he was to run the ball between the tackles to grind out the clock. It's a daunting task to replace someone with Weis' track record of success which is why the team will go without a formal coordinator this season. The team will use the same base formations, and as long as RB Corey Dillon and QB Tom Brady are healthy, don't expect the Patriots offensive attack to take a significant step back.

What to expect on defense: Eric Mangini was a wanted man this offseason. He had formal offers from Miami and Cleveland but ultimately accepted the promotion to defensive coordinator in New England. Mangini, the team's defensive backs coach last year, won't change much from Crennel's base defensive scheme. The team will continue to use multiple formations, and run a myriad of plays out of each pre-snap formation to confuse opposing offenses. As always, the team will plug-and-play a number of new players (e.g., LB Chad Brown, CB Duane Starks) with no expectation of significant drop-off.

New Orleans Saints
Head Coach: Jim Haslett
Offensive Coordinator: Mike Sheppard (replaces Mike McCarthy)
Defensive Coordinator: Rick Venturi

What to expect on offense: The Saints promoted receivers coach Mike Sheppard to offensive coordinator after an exhaustive search turned up no other compelling options. Sheppard is credited with the development of QB Aaron Brooks, and has promised to simplify the playbook; a move welcomed by many Saints players. From a scheme perspective, expect the Saints to continue to use a classic version of the West Coach offense; something Sheppard is grounded in from his days coaching with Mike Holmgren. The Saints have excellent skill position players and have bolstered their line with the signing of OG Jermane Mayberry and drafting OT Jammal Brown; so the onus for success will fall squarely on the play-calling of Sheppard. It's worth noting that in his previous stints as an NFL coordinator; his team has never finished higher than 26th in points scored.

New York Jets
Head Coach: Herm Edwards
Offensive Coordinator: Mike Heimerdinger (replaces Paul Hackett)
Defensive Coordinator: Donnie Henderson

What to expect on offense: Jets fans across the Tri-State area rejoiced at the firing of Paul Hackett, considered among the most conservative play-callers in the league. Fans would've been happy with any choice, as long as it wasn't Hackett. But the Jets did one better by luring Mike Heimerdinger away from the Tennessee Titans, where he served as offensive coordinator for five years and was credited with turning QB Steve McNair into a league MVP. Heimerdinger is the polar opposite of Hackett; he's an aggressive play caller that believes in attacking defenses by exploiting matchups. He'll use the shotgun (which QB Chad Pennington used in college) and loves spread formations. Heimerdinger is also a proponent of using frequent audibles at the line of scrimmage. While the Jets will have a very different offensive look this year, Heimerdinger is keenly aware of RB Curtis Martin's value and you can be sure that the team will continue to run prodigiously.

San Francisco 49ers
Head Coach: Mike Nolan (replaces Dennis Erickson)
Offensive Coordinator: Mike McCarthy (replaces Ted Tollner)
Defensive Coordinator: Billy Davis (replaces Willy Robinson)

What to expect on offense: Mike McCarthy ran the Saints offense for the last five seasons and was lured to San Francisco by new head coach Mike Nolan. McCarthy, a disciple of Paul Hackett, will bring back the West Coast offense to the City by the Bay after a failed experiment to deviate from tradition led to the ouster of the 49ers previous coaching staff. While McCarthy's offense was generally productive in New Orleans, there was some belief that he overburdened the team with an exhaustively expansive playbook. With a rookie franchise QB at the helm, and very few irreplaceable pieces on offense, look for this season to be about implementing the core tenets of the offensive playbook, setting a foundation for future growth, and evaluating the roster for pieces worth retaining.

What to expect on defense: Billy Davis, one of the younger hires among this year's coaching crop, will assist HC Mike Nolan in implementing a 3-4 defensive front; a departure from the team's traditional 4-3 front. Nolan had great success with the 3-4 front in Baltimore, where he served as defensive coordinator and Davis is familiar with the 3-4 front from his days coaching linebackers in Pittsburgh and Atlanta. The 49ers personnel isn't ideally suited to the 3-4 necessarily, but much like the offense, 2005 is about establishing a foundation and figuring out which players are worth retaining as they build toward fielding a competitive team in future seasons.

Tennessee Titans
Head Coach: Jeff Fisher
Offensive Coordinator: Norm Chow (replaces Mike Heimerdinger)
Defensive Coordinator: Jim Schwartz

What to expect on offense: In somewhat of a coup, Jeff Fisher (a former USC Trojan) has lured Norm Chow, the 58-year old collegiate offensive mastermind, away from USC and into the NFL coaching ranks for the first time. Chow replaces Mike Heimerdinger, who accepted an offer to become the offensive coordinator with the New York Jets. Chow has earned a reputation as an offensive wizard; particularly in the passing game. He's overseen the collegiate development of Steve Young, Ty Detmer, Philip Rivers, Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart among many others. Chow will presumably bring his wide open offensive stylings to the Titans, who have no sure-fire offensive stars beyond QB Steve McNair. Believing players have a finite amount of retention, Chow eschews complicated jargon and mammoth playbooks for an easy-to-understand, open attack that stretches the field and looks to exploit mismatches. Chow's experience working with young players will be essential for a team that will be the youngest in the league.

Other Notable Coaching Changes

  • Jeff Jagodzinski (O-Line) in Atlanta
  • Rick Neuheisel (Quarterbacks) in Baltimore
  • Danny Crossman (Special Teams) in Carolina
  • Jerry Rosburg (Special Teams) in Cleveland
  • Paul Pasqualoni (Defensive Assistant) in Dallas
  • Bob Slowik (Defensive Backs) in Denver
  • Leslie Frazier (Defensive Assistant) in Indianapolis
  • Dave Campo (Secondary) in Jacksonville
  • Hudson Houck (O-Line) in Miami
  • Wes Chandler (Receivers) in Minnesota
  • Willy Robinson (Secondary) in New Orleans
  • John Shoop (Quarterbacks) in Oakland
  • Bob Ligashesky (Special Teams) in St. Louis
  • Mike Singletary (Linebackers) in San Francisco
  • Bob Casullo (Special Teams) in Seattle
  • Paul Hackett (Quarterbacks) in Tampa Bay
  • Ray Sherman (Receivers) in Tennessee
  • Bill Musgrave (Quarterbacks) in Washington
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