New coaches hope to upgrade NFL/college programs

Jul 17, 2007 3:04 AM

Football head coaches get all the glory, but top assistants can be extremely important in a team’s success or failure.

Offensive and defensive coordinators have great influence on game plans and a unit’s effectiveness. They are often the NFL star head coaches of tomorrow. Lovie Smith, a former defensive assistant, has helped to turn the Bears around. Sean Payton, a former top assistant to Bill Parcells at Dallas, went to New Orleans and helped lead the Saints to an electric turnaround in 2006.

Football assistants can be very important. Buddy Ryan was the principle architect of the Bears 46 defense that led the way to the 1986 Super Bowl. He left the team after that victory. Chicago did not return to the Super Bowl during the Mike Ditka regime, despite a ton of talent at his disposal.

Let’s look at some key coaching changes in the pro and college ranks.

NFL

Broncos: Mike Shanahan fired defensive coordinator Larry Coyer, who didn’t like to blitz much, but tried for balance on defense. He was let go after the Broncos allowed an average of 26.1 points in their final 10 games of 2006. They bring in a new DC in Jim Bates, who said he will blitz more.

"No. 1, the top priority is you have to play well against the run," Bates said. "You have to stop the run to get the sticks in our favor where it’s third down-and-long. That gets you more sack opportunities."

Coyer has a lot of pieces to work with in young DE Elvis Dumervil, rookies Jarvis Moss (DE Florida, first round), Tim Crowder (DE Texas) along with in-coming veteran run stuffers Sam Adams (345-pounds, Bengals) and Jimmy Kennedy (DT, Rams). Look for the aggressive new Broncos to blitz more, starting in preseason.

Falcons: Atlanta has been all-running and no-passing the last few years under coach Jim Mora. You won’t recognize the Falcons in 2007. Bobby Petrino is the new head coach. The former Louisville guru is one of the most imaginative offensive minds in the game.

Petrino likes wide-open offensive schemes and said he wants to spread the field, use the running backs out of the backfield more as passing options for QB Michael Vick. Petrino is adding audibles to the playbook to allow Vick more options, something he’s been asking for the last few years. The real question is can he improve Vick’s passing abilities? Vick is not a good decision maker or accurate passer, completing just 50, 56, 55 and 52 percent the last four seasons.

Browns: The success of the Indians and Cavaliers have made Cleveland fans antsy for their football team to improve. Head Coach Romeo Crennell is 10-22 in two seasons and brings in offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski. He was Cleveland’s tight ends coach in 2004 under Butch Davis and coached San Diego’s tight ends the past two seasons.

Chudzinski has a lot of tools, but will need to be a good teacher with young players like QB Charlie Frye along with rookies QB Brady Quinn and OT Joe Thomas, the No. 2 pick in the draft. He will have to mesh their talents with WR Braylon Edwards, TE Kellen Winslow, Jr, and newly acquired RB Jamal Lewis from Baltimore.

NCAA

North Carolina: Speaking of the Browns, Davis takes over at Chapel Hill. The ex-Cleveland head coach was a terrific recruiter while at Miami, so there is a lot of excitement. He doesn’t have a lot of tools, but one bright spot is at QB. Freshman Mike Paulus committed to the Tar Heels, despite offers from Tennessee, Alabama, and Miami. Let’s see if Davis can improve a poor defense that has caused the OVER to go 24-15 in UNC games during the past four years.

Florida State: Bobby Bowden took a lot of heat for the stumbling Seminoles offense with his son as offensive coordinator. You won’t hear that criticism now with five new assistants joining Bowden, including new OC Jimbo Fisher. The Fisher offense helped LSU to a national title in 2003. Fisher has seven starters returning on offense, including two starting QBs. The Seminoles as an underdog are 4-0 ATS in their last four situations, including three straight up wins.

UCLA: Jay Norvell, an assistant coach at Nebraska, is the new offensive coordinator. Norvell ran a "West Coast" style of offense as an assistant to Bill Callahan both with the Oakland Raiders and Nebraska, the latter in 2003. The young, inexperienced Bruins offense prior to Norvell caused the under to go 10-3 in UCLA’s games last fall.