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dogfish
01-06-2008, 11:06 PM
One of the most exciting developments of this NFL season has been the emergence of some dynamic young coaches and coordinators. A profession that is part revolving door and part meat grinder is always hungry for new blood and new ideas, and this year it got a serious infusion of both. Across the league, fresh faces were thrust into the spotlight, and several of them responded with impressive performances.

No one had bigger shoes to fill than Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin. As if the Steelers vaunted tradition wasn’t enough to live up to, former coach Bill Cowher left a daunting legacy. The league’s longest tenured head coach as of his retirement, Cowher also had one of the best overall records, and just two years ago he added the long-awaited fifth Lombardi Trophy to their collection. Cowher’s Pittsburgh teams were consistently tough and competitive, relying on smashmouth running and swarming defense. It was widely presumed that either offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt or offensive line coach Russ Grimm would be chosen to carry on Cowher’s program in Pittsburgh, and the last minute hiring of Tomlin came as something of a surprise. The thirty-four year old Tomlin was largely unproven, as he had only one year as the defensive coordinator of the Minnesota Vikings to his credit at the time. There were even some ugly suggestions that Tomlin had been chosen due to his race in an attempt to encourage cooperation with the Rooney Rule inspired by the owners of the Steelers franchise.

Tomlin wasted little time putting those rumors to rest, as he more than proved his worthiness with a fine first season. Yes, his Steelers lost in the wildcard round of the playoffs after their furious fourth quarter rally against Jacksonville fell short, but Tomlin certainly gets credit for reinvigorating a previously lethargic Pittsburgh team and bringing home the AFC North division title. Tomlin stayed true to the Steelers tradition of defensive football, and the team finished the season with the league’s top rated defense. He got a big assist from another fresh face, first-time offensive coordinator Bruce Arians. The former quarterbacks coach helped bring balance to the grind-it-out Steelers philosophy by opening up the aerial attack, and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger responded with his finest pro season.

But it wasn’t easy for Tomlin. Under the impetus of an explosive offense, the Cleveland Browns mounted a serious challenge for the division title. The Browns offense saw an impressive turnaround from just a year ago, going from embarrassment to team strength. In 2006, the team finished twenty-third in total offense and thirtieth in scoring, results so atrocious that they led to a demand for offensive coordinator Maurice Carthon’s head from enraged fans. Carthon was replaced midseason by Jeff Davidson, who fared little better.

Enter Rod Chudzinski, whose sum total of NFL coordinator experience was the five games he served in that capacity for the Browns in 2004. Under Chudzinski, this year’s Cleveland offense improved to eighth overall in both scoring and total offense. There’s no question that improved personnel, particularly on the offensive line, helped spur the turnaround, but Chudzinski deserves his fair share of the credit. He got far more production from developing threats Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow than previous coordinators had, and his willingness to attack down the field was a welcome relief after the highly conservative playcalling of Carthon. Cleveland fell just short of a playoff berth, but their finest season in a decade and the emergence of a legitimate offense gives them a promising foundation upon which to build.

The NFC saw the rise to prominence of several new names this year as well. Coincidentally, one of them happened to fill the void left by Tomlin in Minnesota. New Vikings defensive coordinator Leslie Frasier isn’t quite as wet behind the ears as some of the others mentioned here, but he was still a relative unknown before this season despite serving a two year stint in the same position for the Cincinnati Bengals. Minnesota ran a Cover-2 base defense under Tomlin, and Frasier was chosen for his experience with that scheme. His first season with the Vikings was up and down, as injuries forced him to rely on some young players and add more blitz packages to compensate for a lack of pass rush from his front four, but overall the results were positive. The Vikings dropped from eighth to twentieth in total yardage allowed, but actually gave up fewer points than Tomlin’s unit while notching more sacks. Frasier’s willingness to modify his scheme resulted in some big plays, as the Vikes scored seven defensive touchdowns this year. This group promises to be even more productive next season as young players grow into their roles.

Meanwhile, Ken Whisenhunt found a soft spot to land despite missing out on the Steelers job. “Whiz” was hired as the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals, and he took his buddy Russ Grimm with him to help fix their terrible offensive line. A lot of coaches would think twice about taking over a perennial loser like the Cards, but Whisenhunt wasn’t intimidated. His debut may not be considered a smashing success due to an 8-8 record, but that in and of itself is pretty impressive given the number of injuries to key players the team suffered this season. That’s actually the best record Arizona has produced in the past decade, and was good for second place in the weak NFC West. The squad finished fifth in total offense and twelfth in points scored under the former offensive coordinator, and showed some flashes of toughness and physical play before the defense collapsed down the stretch. There is certainly a lot of work to do here still, but based on what he showed in his first season as a head coach Whisenhunt looks more than capable of getting it done. This seemingly cursed franchise has some hope for the first time in years.

Another newly promoted coach who found instant success is Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator Jason Garrett. Hired away from the Miami Dolphins over the offseason, Garrett produced an outstanding season in his first year running an offense. His unit finished third in total offense and second in scoring, and helped carry the Cowboys to the top seed in the NFC. Garrett oversaw the development of quarterback Tony Romo from a one year wonder to a legitimate superstar. Cynics will doubtless point out that Garrett had a lot of talent already in place, but there is no question that his dynamic playcalling managed to distribute the ball well enough to keep moody wideout Terrell Owens happy, make tight end Jason Witten into a dangerous weapon after a down season in 2006, and still get adequate production from the Cowboys’ running back duo of Marion Barber III and Julius Jones. League observers were so impressed with Garrett’s performance that a number of teams are reportedly interested in interviewing him for head coaching positions, though the Cowboys will undoubtedly make a serious effort to keep him as owner Jerry Jones has Garrett slated for the top job in Dallas.

The most resounding success story of all is Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy. In his second year as the Pack’s boss, McCarthy has been widely credited for the revival of Brett Favre’s career. Ball security has long been the major weakness of an otherwise elite player, and previous coaches and coordinators seemed resigned to living with the interceptions and bad decisions that came along with number four’s rocket arm and playmaking skills. But McCarthy wasn’t buying the gunslinger label, and he challenged Favre to take better care of the ball. The result was the legendary quarterback’s finest season in years, as he carefully dissected defenses while leading Green Bay to a division championship and the second seed in the NFC. McCarthy also oversaw the installation of the zone blocking scheme when he was hired, and it finally started to pay dividends over the second half of the season. It took repeated shuffling of Green Bay’s starting running backs, but they seem to have finally found some consistency with Ryan Grant, a last minute trade acquisition who initially looked like nothing more than a depth player but has proven to be an excellent investment. A stout defense has definitely contributed to the Packers’ five game improvement this year, but the offensive minded McCarthy deserves a ton of credit for the rise of the offense from twenty-second a year ago to second this year in points scored. The team has done a quality job of developing wide receivers and plugging in offensive linemen, and McCarthy appears to have a bright future there.

Of course, cynics say that NFL also stands for “Not For Long,” and there is certainly no guarantee that any of these newcomers will repeat their success in the years to come. Still, at a time when top coaches like Cowher and Bill Parcells are handing in their clipboards, and rumors continue to swirl regarding proven winners like Joe Gibbs and Mike Holmgren, it’s reassuring for fans of the sport to see that reinforcements are on the way. A new generation of strategists and motivators is on the horizon, and the future of the game looks to be in solid, qualified hands.

omac
01-07-2008, 09:25 PM
Very nice article, dogfish! :salute: You really covered the coaches who've made a big splash this season. One suggestion, more on formatting ... maybe put a header title for a paragraph for a different coach, since you're covering a lot of coaches. Just a suggestion. Great work. :cheers:

No mention of Wade Phillips, though? I think he's done a tremendous job of bringing that Cowboys team together. That's a big thing, considering the poor job done by Norv Turner with the Chargers.

Tomlin's done great; this Steelers offense looks much more explossive, and Big Ben has really risen to be the leader of their team. One thing they seemed to lack, though, and it's also a weakness of the Broncos; for most of the season, they haven't been able to get rushing TDs. So they get a lot of yardage rushing, but they rely heavily on passing TDs.

Garret's done a great job with the Cowboys, although they have been sputtering lately .... whether it's because Owens couldn't play, or because of Jessica Simpson, who knows? :D Romo'd better focus on football, only a few games left.

The Browns ... surprise team of the season! Great strategy in building up that team, with a focus on their offensive line, and getting a solid veteran RB in Lewis. I think Chudzinsky's offense deserves all the credit it gets. Even when we played them in the preseason, I could see they had some real nice patterns going; lots of receivers free to catch the ball. And now with that offensive line and a good QB, their offense looks invincible. I still think Romeo Crennel is too indecisive as a head coach, though.

I think Whisenhunt's done a great job; give him lemons and he makes roast beef. With Leinart not putting in the work to get better, he introduces "packages" to play Warner and boost their offense. The protection from their line's been pretty good. Their first big win was against Pittsburgh. So he's gotten this team to score big, as well as play good defense. They'll be even better next season.

McCarthy, I never gave him much credit before; it seemed he couldn't control Favre. This season, though, Favre's been playing well, and their team now looks strong in all facets, with a lot of young players owning their possitions. Not sure if that was because of McCarthy, but if it was, then props to him.

Another new coach who I thought did pretty well was Kiffin; sure, his Raiders still have a losing record, but their team played as a team this season, and a lot of their games were hard fought. Their rushing offense with his newly installed zone-blocking, as well as the emergence of career backup Fargas, has put them among the top in the league, even better than Denver. The way he's changed the culture there is a feat in itself. He could be to Oakland what Kubes is to Houston. To Kiffin :salute:

Medford Bronco
01-07-2008, 10:48 PM
Good article Dogfish :beer:

I think Wisinhunt did a great job for Arizona and expect a lot more next year, as long as he stays with Warner, who is better than Leinart is now.

I am no fan of Tomlin, who botched that game on Sat showing no guts to throw the ball at the end of the game to get a 1st down. He is not that great IMO.

Jason Garrett did a wonderful job in Dallas and I predict will be the next head coach in Miami

Bronco9798
01-07-2008, 11:05 PM
And we stick with old men like Bates. I'll never figure it out.

SmilinAssasSin27
01-08-2008, 12:20 AM
WOW, that's a lot of words.

dogfish
01-08-2008, 09:58 PM
Very nice article, dogfish! :salute: You really covered the coaches who've made a big splash this season. One suggestion, more on formatting ... maybe put a header title for a paragraph for a different coach, since you're covering a lot of coaches. Just a suggestion. Great work. :cheers:

No mention of Wade Phillips, though? I think he's done a tremendous job of bringing that Cowboys team together. That's a big thing, considering the poor job done by Norv Turner with the Chargers.

Tomlin's done great; this Steelers offense looks much more explossive, and Big Ben has really risen to be the leader of their team. One thing they seemed to lack, though, and it's also a weakness of the Broncos; for most of the season, they haven't been able to get rushing TDs. So they get a lot of yardage rushing, but they rely heavily on passing TDs.

Garret's done a great job with the Cowboys, although they have been sputtering lately .... whether it's because Owens couldn't play, or because of Jessica Simpson, who knows? :D Romo'd better focus on football, only a few games left.

The Browns ... surprise team of the season! Great strategy in building up that team, with a focus on their offensive line, and getting a solid veteran RB in Lewis. I think Chudzinsky's offense deserves all the credit it gets. Even when we played them in the preseason, I could see they had some real nice patterns going; lots of receivers free to catch the ball. And now with that offensive line and a good QB, their offense looks invincible. I still think Romeo Crennel is too indecisive as a head coach, though.

I think Whisenhunt's done a great job; give him lemons and he makes roast beef. With Leinart not putting in the work to get better, he introduces "packages" to play Warner and boost their offense. The protection from their line's been pretty good. Their first big win was against Pittsburgh. So he's gotten this team to score big, as well as play good defense. They'll be even better next season.

McCarthy, I never gave him much credit before; it seemed he couldn't control Favre. This season, though, Favre's been playing well, and their team now looks strong in all facets, with a lot of young players owning their possitions. Not sure if that was because of McCarthy, but if it was, then props to him.

Another new coach who I thought did pretty well was Kiffin; sure, his Raiders still have a losing record, but their team played as a team this season, and a lot of their games were hard fought. Their rushing offense with his newly installed zone-blocking, as well as the emergence of career backup Fargas, has put them among the top in the league, even better than Denver. The way he's changed the culture there is a feat in itself. He could be to Oakland what Kubes is to Houston. To Kiffin :salute:

thanks omac!

i didn' mention wade phillips because i was writing specifically about "newcomers"-- guys who were in their first or second year as coordinator or head coach (technically leslie frasier doesn't exactly fit this definition, but he's close, and was a relative unknown before this year). . . wade has been a head coach in two different places before this, and has been around the league forever-- he was an established, well known and respected coordinator long before this year, so he doesn't fit my definition of "rising star". . . .

i did consider kubes, but the article was getting pretty long as it was. . . . :laugh:

i agree with you that kiffin made strides with the fade, but they truly had nowhere to go but up-- IMO he needs to take the next step and at least sniff .500 before he joins the company of these other guys. . . JMO though. . .

SmilinAssasSin27
01-08-2008, 09:59 PM
All those choices and we stagnate.

dogfish
01-08-2008, 10:02 PM
Good article Dogfish :beer:

I think Wisinhunt did a great job for Arizona and expect a lot more next year, as long as he stays with Warner, who is better than Leinart is now.

I am no fan of Tomlin, who botched that game on Sat showing no guts to throw the ball at the end of the game to get a 1st down. He is not that great IMO.

Jason Garrett did a wonderful job in Dallas and I predict will be the next head coach in Miami


i agree that tomlin should have passed there, but IMO one bad call-- even in the playoffs-- isn't nearly enough to overshadow a very good season. . .


rumor has it that dallas assistant head coach/O-line coach tony sparano is going to be the miami coach. . . jerry jones can't block anyone else from hiring garrett, but he can pay him as much as he wants, and promise him the cowboys job (much, MUCH more appealing than the dolphins job, no matter how nice south beach is!) in a year or two when wade moves on. . .

dogfish
01-08-2008, 10:03 PM
All those choices and we stagnate.


what, you don't think bob slowik is a rising star. . . . ?





:frusty:

SmilinAssasSin27
01-08-2008, 10:06 PM
i agree that tomlin should have passed there, but IMO one bad call-- even in the playoffs-- isn't nearly enough to overshadow a very good season. . .


rumor has it that dallas assistant head coach/O-line coach tony sparano is going to be the miami coach. . . jerry jones can't block anyone else from hiring garrett, but he can pay him as much as he wants, and promise him the cowboys job (much, MUCH more appealing than the dolphins job, no matter how nice south beach is!) in a year or two when wade moves on. . .

On the contrary...Pitt had an awful season. Their schedule was weak, their OL is a mess, Cleveland has all but caught them. They lost some inexcusable games and the folks 70 miles South of me are NOT happy.

MOtorboat
01-08-2008, 10:11 PM
Great article dogfish (can I call you Steve Dave? (Mallrats reference))...

One I'd add, which is probably an unpopular addition being that it is the Patriots, is Josh McDaniels. He's just 31, and he's a heck of a coordinator. Granted, he has Moss and Brady to help him out, and one of the best offensive lines in recent memory, but he is the coordinator, coordinating the ego of Moss, while producing one of the most high-powered offenses ever.

Other than that...dogfish (Steve Dave), great article!

BTW, why the hell are you part-time?!?!?!

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