Raymond Summerlin

Offseason Low Down

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The Coaching Carousel: AFC

Monday, January 22, 2018

With teams wanting to get a quick jump on the coaching search and fates seemingly decided weeks in advance, Black Monday has really turned into Black Sunday Night and in some cases Black Week 13. The end result is the same no matter when it happens, however, and that means there will be seven teams with new head coaches and four with new general managers heading into in 2018. With all of that upheaval, it is worth taking a look at the coaching searches so far and the organizational structure of every team in the AFC.

The NFC rundown can be found here.

Last Update: 02/12/2018

Make sure to bookmark the Rotoworld News Page for up to the second breaking news. I also occasionally tweet about football @RMSummerlin. 

New Organization
Cleveland Browns
Because picking a 1-31 coach who wanted to trade for A.J. McCarron over a general manager who had put together two good drafts in a row is a sound decision, Sashi Brown was fired in early December. Brown did pass on at least two quarterbacks which look like they will be franchise building blocks, but picking Hue Jackson over him makes almost no sense.

Firing Sashi early did allow the Browns to jump the market, which they did by hiring ex-Chiefs GM John Dorsey on literally the same day they canned Brown. Dorsey did a good job in Kansas City before falling out with owner Clark Hunt and made three good hires in new assistant GM Elliot Wolf, new VP Alonzo Highsmith, and new personnel consultant Scot McCloughan, but he also did his best to alienate Cleveland’s roster by talking about how bad the players were shortly after being hired. Despite Dorsey’s pedigree, this has the potential to go bad, as things tend to do in Cleveland.

As for Hue, his job is safe despite the worst two-year run of any coach in NFL history. On the bright side, he will hire an offensive coordinator for the first time in his tenure, and that coach will be ex-Steelers OC Todd Haley. Considering his experience, it is likely Jackson hands over play-calling duties to Haley. 

Even though Hue is staying, Cleveland made several changes to the offensive staff, most notably firing RBs coach Kirby Wilson and QBs coach David Lee. ST coordinator Chris Tabor also moved on and has taken the same job with the Bears. 

GM John Dorsey:
Did a good job with the Chiefs, but has made some missteps with the media already
HC Hue Jackson:
Since the merger, the only other team to go two seasons in a row with one win or fewer was the 72-73 Oilers, and they at least managed to win one game each year
OC Todd Haley: 
One of the better play callers in the game and a good hire
DC Gregg Williams:
Offense consistently put them in bad positions, but the defense stood up well against the run and finished in the top half of total yards

Houston Texans
Rick Smith is taking an extended leave of absence, a full season according to Smith, to care for his wife who has been diagnosed with breast cancer. Smith will keep his executive vice president title, but the Texans have hired a new general manager. Considering how strained his relationship reportedly was with Bill O’Brien, this is a change which might have been made no matter what, and the timing is certainly dubious.

Houston's director of player personnel before leaving to join the Bills last season, Brian Gaine's name quickly emerged once the Texans entered the market for a general manager, and he ended up being the choice, signing a five-year deal. O'Brien signed a four-year extension the same day as Gaine, locking the two together for better or worse. Inheriting a good roster which already appears to have a franchise quarterback, Gaine is set up for success. 

The team did end up losing DC Mike Vrabel, who is the new head coach in Tennessee. Luckily for Houston, Romeo Crennel, who Vrabel replaced after last season, was ready to step right back into the job. It will probably end up being an upgrade. The defensive staff also added ex-Chargers DC John Pagano as a senior defensive assistant. 

On the coaching side, the Texans agreed to part ways with ST coordinator Larry Izzo. DBs coach John Butler and RBs coach Charles London are also out the door. Houston could also lose QBs coach Sean Ryan, who is interviewing for the offensive coordinator job in Cleveland.

GM Brian Gaine:
Reportedly has a good relationship with O'Brien, which should be a welcome development in Houston
HC & OC Bill O’Brien:
There were rumors his relationship with EVP Rick Smith would send him out the door, but that situation has been resolved
DC Romeo Crennel
: Moving him back to DC was an easy decision after Vrabel took the Titans' job

New Coach
Indianapolis Colts
Surprisingly retained despite the Colts changing general managers last January, Pagano needed a strong season to have any chance at keeping his job. Unfortunately for him, Andrew Luck did not play a snap because of a shoulder injury, and the Colts struggled to a 4-12 record. The losing season was Pagano’s first in six years with the Colts, but the team had been clearly trending the wrong way for several seasons and had not made the playoffs since 2014, making this a justifiable change.

Unfortunately for Indy, things have not gone very well since their decision to fire Pagano. After by all accounts finding their next coach and even waiting until after the Super Bowl to hire him, the Colts were left at the altar by Patriots OC Josh McDaniels in one of the more shocking coaching reversals in NFL history. Indy had even gone as far as to schedule an introductory press conference before McDaniels backed out, and several assistants including DC Matt Eberflus had already signed contracts -- GM Chris Ballard confirmed Eberflus will remain the defensive coordinator under the new head coach. In short, this is a disaster for the Colts.  

Luckily, the Colts were able to land one of the other assistants who coached in the Super Bowl, and they may come out of this situation smelling like roses when it is all said and done. Frank Reich did good work with the Chargers before helping develop Carson Wentz in Philadelphia. Considering the situation, they could have done much worse.

With Eberflus already in the fold, all Reich needed to do was hire an offensive coordinator. He quickly tabbed Chargers WRs coach Nick Sirianni for the job.  

GM Chris Ballard:
Has done a good job reshaping the roster in his short time in charge
HC Frank Reich: 
A candidate for other jobs this cycle, the Colts were lucky he was still around
OC Nick Sirianni:
Worked with Reich in San Diego
DC Matt Eberflus:
 Despite the head coach fiasco, Eberflus will run the defense

Oakland Raiders
Signed to a four-year extension in February, Del Rio looked as safe as any coach heading into the year, but a 6-10 season in which the offense and franchise quarterback Derek Carr markedly regressed was enough for ownership to make a change. That move is understandable if Del Rio was the one who let ex-OC Bill Musgrave walk in favor of Todd Downing, but it seems harsh if that decision came from over his head.

That said, the defense struggled each of Del Rio’s three seasons in charge despite talent up front and in the secondary, and he now has just one winning season in his last seven as a head coach. For Oakland to become a consistent contender, they likely needed a change.

In the worst kept secret of this young year, that change will come in the form of Jon Gruden, who was officially announced following Wild Card weekend. Despite the name value, this is in no way a slam-dunk hire. Gruden’s teams in Tampa were mediocre at best his final years in charge, and he has been out of the league since 2008. The game has changed since then, and while he has had as good a seat as anyone to watch that evolution, making the transition will still be a challenge.

That means he will need experienced coordinators, and he landed two in ex-Rams QBs coach Greg Olson and ex-Bengals DC Paul Guenther. Unfortunately, they also hired ex-Seahawks OL coach Tom Cable for the same job, but they made a better decision bringing Brian Callahan to coach the quarterbacks.  

There was some question about what would happen to Reggie McKenzie with Gruden taking over, but he turned down a chance to interview with the Packers and will reportedly keep his role even with Gruden on board. 

GM Reggie McKenzie:
Changed the face of the franchise by landing Khalil Mack, Derek Carr, and Amari Cooper in back-to-back drafts, but the Gruden decision will likely determine his legacy
HC Jon Gruden: 
He is certainly a name hire, but he has been out of the league for almost a decade
OC Greg Olson:
 Has both worked with Gruden and coached Derek Carr his rookie season
DC Paul Guenther:
Defenses were mostly middle of the pack in Cincinnati

Tennessee Titans
A playoff win appeared to earn this staff another season despite a down year by the offense and Marcus Mariota, but the Titans and Mike Mularkey "agreed to part ways" following the Divisional Round loss. That "agreement" came after Tennessee offered Mularkey a contract extension, but it appears that deal would have required him to make changes to his staff, something the coach clearly was not willing to do. No matter how it happened, this was likely the preferred outcome for GM Jon Robinson, who will now get to hire his coach.

The Titans were quickly linked with OC Josh McDaniels, but it turns out they were after a different former Patriot. Following a short search, Tennessee hired Texans DC Mike Vrabel as their new head coach. It is a bit of a surprise considering Mariota's lack of development was one of the main reasons Mularkey was pushed out the door, so Tennessee must have been very comfortable with Vrabel's offensive coordinator targets.

The first of those targets was reportedly Ryan Day, but he decided to keep the coordinator job at Ohio State. Ex-Lions QBs coach Brian Callahan was also in the mix, but the Titans ended up hiring Matt LaFleur, who has worked with some of the best offensive minds in the game the last several seasons, "coordinating" Sean McVay's offense in Los Angeles and working as Kyle Shanahan's QBs coach in both Atlanta and Washington. This will be his first time really running an NFL offense, but it is difficult to come from better lineage. This is a good hire.

On defense, Vrabel convinced ex-Ravens DC Dean Pees to come out of his roughly four-week retirement to take the same job with the Titans. Pees had success in Baltimore, leading top-12 defenses in five of his six seasons, and looks like another good hire.  

GM Jon Robinson:
Has built a better roster than his 18-14 record indicates
HC Mike Vrabel:
On the fast track to a head coaching job almost from the day he retired
OC Matt LaFleur:
Sean McVay ran the show, but LaFleur deserves some credit for the Rams' turnaround
DC Dean Pees:
At worst, he is a quality, experienced ear for the first-time head coach

New Coordinator
Baltimore Ravens
There were rumors Dean Pees would be let go last offseason, but he ultimately was retained. Baltimore should be happy he was as the Ravens dominated on defense, especially in the takeaway department, but the 68-year-old decided to move on after the season, "retiring" before joining the Titans as defensive coordinator. 

Baltimore flirted with outside candidates like ex-Colts coach Chuck Pagano, who coordinated their defense in 2011, but they decided to stay in-house, promoting former LBs coach Don Martindale. Denver's defense was dreadful under Martindale in 2010, his only season of coordinating experience, but he has been with the Ravens since 2012 and seems to be well respected.  

GM Ozzie Newsome:
 Will step into a consulting role after the 2018 season with Eric DeCosta taking over the GM title
HC John Harbaugh:
Baltimore has now missed the playoffs four times in five seasons, so it is not a surprise the owner put him on the hot seat
OC Marty Mornhinweg:
He will stick around despite an abysmal passing "attack"
DC Don Martindale:
Harbaugh expressed a desire for continuity, so it is not a surprise they decided to promote from within

Buffalo Bills
The first playoff appearance of this century was not enough to keep the group intact. OC Rick Dennison was fired just under a week after Buffalo's pitiful offensive showing against the Jaguars in the Wild Card round. The offense did struggle in Dennison's only year in charge, but his offense was not a good fit with Tyrod Taylor while LeSean McCoy was the only real weapon at his disposal. Firing him after one season looks a bit harsh.

Buffalo moved quickly after firing Dennison, hiring Brian Daboll away from Alabama. It is an out-of-nowhere move for a coach who did not have success at any of his three stops as an offensive coordinator at the beginning of this decade. He does come from the Patriots' tree, however, and did a good job in his one season with the Crimson Tide. Still, this is not a slam-dunk hire.

Indy's late-cycle hiccup could end up costing the Bills another coordinator with the Colts set to interview DC Leslie Frazier. 

GM Brandon Beane:
Hired after the draft, he has not had much time to make his mark
HC Sean McDermott: 
Decision to bench Tyrod Taylor for Nathan Peterman could have lived in infamy, but the playoff berth should quickly wash that from memory
OC Brian Daboll: 
Quarterback play has been an issue, but has not coordinated a top-20 offense in four years of experience
DC Leslie Frazier:
Run defense was a mess, but they gave up just 14 passing touchdowns all season 

continue story »
Raymond Summerlin is a football writer for He can be found on Twitter at @RMSummerlin.
Email :Raymond Summerlin

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