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10 Feb 2004

The Coaching Carousel, Part II: Uncoordinated

by Michael David Smith

If you think there has been a lot of turnover among NFL head coaches this year, take a look at what has happened with defensive coordinators.

Six of the seven teams that fired their head coaches will also have new men leading their defenses, with only the Bills keeping their coordinator, Jerry Gray.

Another two teams lost their coordinators to NFL head coaching jobs when Lovie Smith left the Rams to coach the Bears, and Jim Mora left the 49ers to coach the Falcons. The Vikings lost their defensive coordinator, George O'Leary, who became the head coach at Central Florida.

The Lions, Packers, Jets, Chargers, Steelers and Chiefs all decided their defensive coordinators weren't getting the job done, so that brings us to 15 new defensive coordinators next year. It's still possible that some more defensive coordinators could get fired, and it's also possible that the Raiders could hire away a defensive coordinator from another team for the head job in Oakland. So perhaps half of all NFL teams will change defensive coordinators this offseason.

Offensive coordinator changes won't be quite as common this offseason, but all seven teams that change head coaches will have new offensive coordinators, too. Other changes include Pittsburgh losing Mike Mularkey to Buffalo, San Francisco losing Greg Knapp to Atlanta, and Cleveland firing Bruce Arians.

I'm not asking you to feel sorry for these guys; they do get paid a lot of money to do something they love. But only four coordinators became head coaches, while 20 got fired. Can you name another job where you're five times as likely to get terminated as you are to get promoted?

Setting out to discover just how much difference a new coordinator makes, I've looked at the coordinator changes in the past three offseasons and compared how many points the team scored or allowed and how many yards the team gained or allowed with the new coordinator as opposed to the guy who departed. I also think it's important to make a distinction between the teams that lose their coordinators because he was hired as a head coach by another team (or in the case of the Redskins taking Marvin Lewis from the Ravens, given an assistant's job but more money), as opposed to the teams that choose to fire their coordinators.

I realize that points and yards aren't perfect measures of the relative qualities of an offense or defense. Certainly, when Steve Spurrier became the head coach of the Redskins and Marvin Lewis became the defensive coordinator, I would blame Spurrier's offense for the fact that the Redskins both scored and allowed more points in 2002 than they did under Marty Schottenheimer's ball control style in 2001. But it at least gives us an idea of whether the units with new coordinators improved.

It turns out that teams that change coordinators only do better with a new guy slightly more often than they do worse. So if your favorite team changed its coordinator this off-season, your chances of seeing that unit improve are only somewhere between 50 and 60 percent.

19 of the 32 teams (59 percent) that changed defensive coordinators in the past three offseasons allowed fewer points with the new coordinator; 17 of 32 (53 percent) allowed fewer yards. Four of the seven whose coordinators left by choice improved in points allowed and only one of the seven whose coordinators left by choice improved in yards allowed.

21 of the 37 teams (57 percent) that changed offensive coordinators in the past three offseasons scored more points with the new coordinator; 22 of 37 (59 percent) gained more yards. Only two of the 37 lost their offensive coordinators to head coaching jobs: The Bears, who replaced Gary Crowton with John Shoop when Crowton left to coach BYU, and the 49ers, who replaced Marty Mornhinweg with Greg Knapp when Mornhinweg left to coach the Lions. Both the Bears and 49ers scored more points with their new offensive coordinators, although the 49ers gained fewer yards.

Teams that changed defensive coordinators
*indicates coach chose to leave for greener pastures

Team
Year
New Coordinator
Points Allowed
Yards Allowed
Year
Old Coordinator
Points Allowed
Yards
Allowed
CIN
03
Leslie Frazier
384
5620
02
Mark Duffner
456
5265
CLE
03
Dave Campo
322
4959
02
Foge Fazio
320
5348
DEN
03
Larry Coyer
301
4433
02
Ray Rhodes
344
4826
JAX
03
Mike Smith
331
4657
02
John Pease
315
5335
CAR
03
Mike Trgovac
304
4725
02
Jack Del Rio*
302
4646
MIN
03
George O'Leary
353
5356
02
Willie Shaw
442
5769
SEA
03
Ray Rhodes
327
5239
02
Steve Sidwell
369
5852
WAS
03
George Edwards
287
5412
02
Marvin Lewis*
365
4787
BAL
02
Mike Nolan
354
5353
01
Marvin Lewis*
265
4446
IND
02
Ron Meeks
313
4909
01
Vic Fangio
486
5715
JAX
02
John Pease
315
5335
01
Gary Moeller
286
5070
SD
02
Dale Lindsey
367
6034
01
Joe Pascale
321
4904
ATL
02
Wade Phillips
314
5334
01
Don Blackmon
377
5845
CAR
02
Jack Del Rio
302
4646
01
John Marshall
410
5943
DET
02
Kurt Schottenheimer
451
6117
01
Vince Tobin
424
5521
MIN
02
Willie Shaw
442
5769
01
Emmitt Thomas
390
5666
NO
02
Rick Venturi
388
5796
01
Ron Zook*
409
5070
NYG
02
Johnnie Lynn
279
4949
01
John Fox*
321
4975
WAS
02
Marvin Lewis
365
4787
01
Kurt Schottenheimer
303
4846
BUF
01
Jerry Gray
420
5292
00
Ted Cottrell
350
4426
CLE
01
Foge Fazio
319
5297
00
Romeo Crennel
419
5643
DEN
01
Ray Rhodes
339
4774
00
Greg Robinson
369
5544
JAX
01
Gary Moeller
286
5070
00
Dom Capers*
327
4845
KAN
01
Greg Robinson
344
5304
00
Kurt Schottenheimer
354
5280
NWE
01
Romeo Crennel
272
4882
00
(none)
338
5353
NYJ
01
Ted Cottrell
295
4795
00
Mike Nolan
321
4820
TEN
01
Jim Schwartz
388
5515
00
Gregg Williams*
191
3813
ARZ
01
Larry Marmie
343
4898
00
Dave McGinnis
443
5737
ATL
01
Don Blackmon
377
5070
00
Rich Brooks
413
5607
DET
01
Vince Tobin
424
5521
00
Larry Peccatiello
307
5033
STL
01
Lovie Smith
273
4471
00
Peter Giunta
471
5494
WAS
01
Kurt Schottenheimer
303
4846
00
Ray Rhodes
269
4474

Teams that changed offensive coordinators
*indicates coach chose to leave for greener pastures

Team
Year
New Coordinator
Points Scored
Yards Gained
Year
Old Coordinator
Points Scored
Yards Gained
JAC
03
Bill Musgrave
276
5358
02
(none)
328
4851
ARZ
03
Jerry Sullivan
225
4490
02
Rich Olson
262
4563
ATL
03
Pete Mangurian
299
4357
02
(none)
402
4395
DAL
03
Maurice Carthon
289
5161
02
Bruce Coslet
217
4375
DET
03
Sherman Lewis
270
4262
02
Maurice Carthon*
306
4471
NYG
03
(none)
243
4942
02
Sean Payton
320
5826
STL
03
Steve Fairchild
447
5457
02
Bobby Jackson
316
5559
WAS
03
Hue Jackson
287
4659
02
(none)
307
5143
BUF
02
Kevin Gilbride
379
5591
01
Mike Sheppard
265
5137
JAC
02
(none)
328
4851
01
Bob Petrino
294
4840
MIA
02
Norv Turner
378
5392
01
Chan Gailey
344
4821
OAK
02
(none)
450
6237
01
Bill Callahan
399
5361
SD
02
Cam Cameron
333
5325
01
Norv Turner
332
5200
ATL
02
(none)
402
5535
01
George Sefcik
291
5070
CAR
02
Dan Henning
258
4280
01
Richard Williamson
253
4254
DAL
02
Bruce Coslet
217
4375
01
Jack Reilly
246
4402
DET
02
Maurice Carthon
306
4471
01
(none)
270
4994
MIN
02
Scott Linehan
390
6192
01
Sherman Lewis
290
5185
PHI
02
Brad Childress
415
5604
01
Rod Dowhower
343
4923
TAM,
02
Bill Muir
346
5002
01
Clyde Christensen
324
4694
WAS
02
(none)
307
5143
01
Jimmy Raye
256
4435
BUF
01
Mike Sheppard
265
5137
00
Joe Pendry
315
5498
CHI
01
John Shoop
338
4694
00
Gary Crowton*
216
4541
SF
01
Greg Knapp
409
5689
00
Marty Mornhinweg*
388
6040
CIN
01
Bob Bratkowski
226
4800
00
Ken Anderson
185
4260
CLE
01
Bruce Arians
285
4152
00
Pete Carmichael
161
3530
JAC
01
Bob Petrino
294
4840
00
(none)
367
5690
KAN
01
Al Saunders
320
5673
00
Jimmy Raye
355
5614
NYJ
01
Paul Hackett
308
4795
00
Dan Henning
321
5395
PIT
01
Mike Mularkey
352
5887
00
Kevin Gilbride
321
4766
SD
01
Norv Turner
332
5200
00
Geep Chryst
269
4300
ARZ
01
Rich Olson
295
4898
00
Marc Trestman
210
4528
CAR
01
Richard Williamson
253
4254
00
Bill Musgrave
310
4654
DET
01
(none)
270
4994
00
Sylvester Croom
307
4422
STL
01
Bobby Jackson
503
6690
00
(none)
540
7075
TAM
01
Clyde Christensen
324
4694
00
Les Steckel
388
4649
WAS
01
Jimmy Raye
256
4435
00
(none)
281
5396

Some interesting notes:

--Romeo Crennel is starting to garner the genius label working for Bill Belichick in New England, but it was only three years ago that Butch Davis fired Crennel in Cleveland.

--Most of the people who became defensive coordinators had been defensive assistants before they got the job, but when the Ravens hired Mike Nolan from the Jets, they first made him their wide receivers coach before promoting him to defensive coordinator when Marvin Lewis left. That Ravens defense has played quite well for Nolan, so it's surprising that a guy with experience on both sides of the ball is never mentioned as a head-coaching candidate.

--He cries about it now, but when Dick Vermeil first hired Greg Robinson to become his defensive coordinator, he thought he had stolen a brilliant young coach from a division rival.

--I don't understand why some coaches choose not to have a coordinator. Yes, I'm sure Bill Belichick felt when he took over in New England that he was fully capable of running the defense himself, but what does it hurt to have another coach helping you out? Clearly, Crennel has been a big addition to the team. I guess I can forgive Belichick for being so arrogant as to think he doesn't need a coordinator, but the fact that Marty Mornhinweg thought he was such a great offensive mind that he didn't have to have a coordinator would be funny if it weren't so sad.

So when we see that changing coordinators doesn't make a huge difference, why do half the teams do it each year? Because coordinators are important enough that owners, general managers and head coaches think a change will greatly improve their teams. But at the same time, coordinators are expendable enough that general managers and head coaches don't feel that cutting one loose will send their team into upheaval, and inexpensive enough that owners don't mind hiring a new one. No one said the life of an assistant coach is easy.

Posted by: Michael David Smith on 10 Feb 2004

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