Upstarts, with assists

Jul 15, 2008 7:03 PM

Feist Facts by Jim Feist | Football head coaches get all the glory, but top assistants can be extremely important in a teamís success or failure.

Offensive and defensive coordinators have great influence on game plans and a unitís effectiveness. There was no better example last season than NY Giantsí defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. He came over from the Eagles under outstanding DC Jim Johnson and was a key cog in their amazing Super Bowl run.

Assistants are often the NFL star head coaches of tomorrow. A former defensive assistant, Lovie Smith, has helped to turn the Bears around. Bill Parcells lost one of his top assistants (Sean Payton) two years ago to New Orleans, where he helped lead the Saints turnaround in 2006.

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 and the Bears were not as dominant defensively.

Hereís a glance at some key coaching changes in the college and pro ranks:

Cleveland: The Browns made headlines last season with their strong offense. Head Coach Romeo Crennell brought in new offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski to a Cleveland attack that finished eighth overall in total offense. Now Crennel hopes to do the same thing with the defense. For this season, adding defensive lineman Shaun Rogers from the Lions isnít the only change in store for the defense.

 Cleveland dumped defensive coordinator Todd Grantham and gave the job to Mel Tucker, who was the defensive backs coach after spending four seasons (2001-04) on Jim Tresselís staff at Ohio State. His job will be to improve a defense that ranked 27th and 30th the last two seasons. Rogers and defensive linemen Corey Williams have been brought in to shore up the run, the main priority.

Jacksonville: The Jaguars have a new defensive coordinator in Gregg Williams, who was with the Redskins last fall under Joe Gibbs. Williams has put together some of the leagueís top defenses in recent years, helping Tennessee (1997-2000), Buffalo (2001-03) and Washington (2004-07).

Williams prefers an attacking style that tries to create turnovers. First-round draft pick DE Derrick Harvey, the No. 8 overall selection from Florida, and second-round choice DE Quentin Groves are being counted on to improve the pass rush after losing Marcus Stroud to Buffalo.

San Francisco: The 49ers were a disaster last season, finishing 5-11. Their anemic offense had all kinds of problems, despite high draft picks like QB Alex Smith, TE Vernon Davis, RB Frank Gore and OT Joe Staley. The heat is on head coach Mike Nolan, so he brings in offensive coordinator Mike Martz.

Martz has a pass-happy, imaginative offensive mind. He is reunited with 35-year old WR Isaac Bruce from their days with the St. Louis Rams. Gore has been lining up in the slot like Marshall Faulk used to, while WR Ashley Lelie has been spotted running reverses. Expect a very different San Fran offensive look.

UCLA: The Bruins had quite a coaching makeover in the offseason. Rick Neuheisel was hired as the new coach after past success at Washington and Colorado. He has retained defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker, who has done a great job the last two seasons. UCLA couldnít stop anyone in 2005, then Walker took over and the defense ranked 33rd and 28th nationally in total defense for 2006 and 2007.

Neuheisel smartly brings in offensive coordinator Norm Chow from the Tennessee Titans. Chow is one of the best in the business and was OC at USC on the 2004 national title team under Pete Carroll. Now Chow is on the other side.