The head coaches get all of the attention in the NFL, but who they hire as coordinators has at least as much bearing on the on-field success of the team as their own performance. Coaches all have different styles, but for many teams the head coach acts as the CEO who oversees operations, and it’s the coordinators who actually work with the players, implement the strategy, call the plays, and have the direct impact on the outcome of games. The media tends to spend most of their time dwelling on head coaches, though, spending the limited coordinator time they do have on the high profile stars. By looking beyond those big names and getting a sense of some of the significant under the radar coordinator moves that have been made in the offseason bettors can have an edge over those who aren’t paying attention. Here are three significant coordinator changes that you’ll want to consider as you prepare for this upcoming NFL season:
Curtis Modkins, OC, Buffalo Bills – Modkins takes over what was the worst coached unit of any in the entire NFL. The Bills don’t have a lot of offensive firepower, but they have a lot more to work with than was obvious last year in the mockery of a season they had. You can’t blame the offensive players for the struggles last year because the guidance they received was ridiculously bad. For starters, Turk Schonert was fired as OC on September 4 – after all of the preseason games had been played but just 10 days before the regular season started. Schonert was a lousy coordinator himself, but firing a guy at this time is ridiculous – it became a mini-trend last year, and didn’t work out well in any of the three cases it happened. It might have been different if he was replaced by an experienced coordinator, but former backup QB and QB coach Alex Van Pelt was given the keys. He wasn’t ready for the job and it showed. Van Pelt didn’t do much of a job, but he wasn’t helped by the fact that Dick Jauron was fired nine games into the season. I could go on, but one fact stands out – this is a team in desperate need of good offensive coaching. That’s especially true because all of their quarterbacks would qualify more as projects than sure things.
The bad news is that Modkins is making his debut as an offensive coordinator here. The good news, though, is that he will certainly be on the same page as new head coach Chan Gailey. Modkins worked under Gailey for a year in Dallas, six years at Georgia Tech, and a year in Kansas City. Last year he was running backs coach in Arizona. Modkins has done very well coaching running backs – he had the leading rusher in the ACC three times in six year at Tech. The transition from position coach to OC will be made easier by the fact the Gailey will be calling plays, but the offensive success of the Bills will still rely heavily on Modkins’ ability to teach his players and build their confidence.
Jeremy Bates, OC, Seattle Seahawks – Pete Carroll gets all of the attention in Seattle, but his success has always owed a lot to the quality of his coordinators. That’s not to say that he isn’t a good coach. It’s just that he heavily favors a teamwork approach to coaching, so the coordinators play a big role. Bates needs to hit the ground running because this offense has not been good recently, and the window for Matt Hasselbeck is closing quickly.
Like Modkins, Bates will be making his debut as a coordinator at any level this year. He has the advantage of having worked with Carroll at USC, but that was for only one season. It was in an assistant head coach role in which Bates coached quarterbacks and was the offensive coach on the field during the games while OC John Morton was calling plays from the press box. Before that Bates spent three years working under Mike Shanahan in Denver, a year with the Jets, and three years in Tampa Bay. Bates’ ability to energize this offense and get them working together – and working hard – will have a significant impact on the early part of the new Carroll era.
Don Martindale, DC, Denver Broncos – Something strange is going on defensively in Denver, and Martindale is the guy who needs to quickly get the house back in order. The Broncos started out brilliantly on defense last year, but they were noticeably less effective as the season wore on, and were just plain vulnerable down the stretch. Still, they wound up as the seventh ranked unit in the league, and appeared to be moving forward. Just after the season ended, though, Mike Nolan unexpectedly stepped down as DC and was very vocal about his philosophical differences with coach Josh McDaniels. Nolan was popular with many of his players, so the move has the ability to create friction and problems for the team and a head coach who is already on a warmer seat than he would like.
If Martindale has one thing going for him it’s that he knows how to coach when surrounded by chaos – he was the linebacker coach in Oakland from 2004 until 2008. He was strongly considered for the head coaching job in Oakland before Tom Cable was given it full time, and he came to Denver in the linebacker role soon after. Martindale hasn’t been a coordinator before, but he has had a year to get to know the players, and Brian Dawkins has been very vocal in his support of him. Martindale has the tools to succeed, and McDaniels will be hoping that he definitely does. Any early defensive issues out of Denver could be a real cause for concern, though.