During the offseason, we spend so much time talking about things that rarely end up impacting the regular season and almost never end up influencing the postseason. For example, the Tim Tebow signing – a player who probably will not last in Jacksonville through training camp. Before that, it was speculating which big-name quarterbacks could be on the move, despite that almost never happening. Now, it is all about Julio Jones and which team can become an instant title contender if they acquire him. We also spend too little time talking about the things that will have a huge impact on next season. Like the importance of teams’ offensive and defensive coordinators. This is a subject that just does not get talked about enough.
Here are a few of the coaches that will impact the season in a major way:
Todd Bowles, Tampa Bay Buccaneers Defensive Coordinator
I worked with Todd Bowles in Philadelphia and interviewed him multiple times as a head coach candidate. Right now, I do not think there is any defensive coordinator that can even compete with Bowles. He’s an excellent strategist, very aggressive, and he's really liked and respected by his players. He was an undrafted player that made it in the league for eight seasons, so he gets it. He is very collaborative and open-minded, so he gets his players to play hard.
Bowles is one of these coordinators whose unit you can just see get better as the year goes on, which for me is a great litmus test when grading coaches. Do their units get better from the time they take over and from the start of each season? In other words, is the coach making the unit consistently better? This applies to individual players, but more so to an overall group. When I watch Bowles, I feel like I see that happening every single year, including when he was a head coach.
I think one of the reasons Tampa Bay can have success as they defend their title next year is because of Bowles -- but it will be interesting to watch their defense when he gets another head coaching opportunity in the near future.
Kevin Stefanski, Cleveland Browns Head Coach
When you look back, you realize Minnesota has been looking for an offensive coordinator from the day Mike Zimmer was hired as head coach in 2014. They have found guys that have been okay, but Zimmer ended up making changes or the coach left in the end. Stefanski had been on that staff the whole time, dating back to 2006 as an assistant. It took until 2019 for Zimmer to finally name him coordinator after he rotated around multiple offensive positions. After one season as Minnesota’s offensive coordinator, he left to become the Browns head coach.
If you watched Cleveland’s offense last year, yes they have talent and the players played hard for him, but it was the scheme that was a huge upgrade. Baker Mayfield had by far the best TD-INT ratio (26-8) of his career and he saw a nearly 33% jump in his QBR from 2019. On the ground, both Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt had their best seasons in Cleveland in terms of yards per rush in 2020. Stefanski absolutely came in and gave the players on that offense a chance to maximize their abilities, and thus that offense had its best year in a long time.
Another substantial addition for them in the realm of assistant coaches was Bill Callahan along the offensive line. He is another guy like Mike Munchak, under whom the offensive line improves everywhere he goes -- with or without changes in the personnel. In this case, Cleveland’s line was bolstered with the additions of Jack Conklin and Jedrick Wills, but they still allowed 15 fewer sacks in 2020 compared to 2019.
When you put those two together; Stefenaski, with his scheme and play-calling and Callahan teaching up front, that is everything you want to turn a franchise around.
Frank Reich, Indianapolis Colts Head Coach
Reich immediately made Philadelphia a better team when he arrived in 2016, and he helped Carson Wentz to an MVP-caliber season before he got hurt in 2017. When Wentz went down, he was still able to help lead the Eagles to the Super Bowl, with Nick Foles under center, before becoming the head coach in Indianapolis.
I think his departure was immediately felt in Philadelphia, and he dramatically improved the trajectory of the Colts franchise when he arrived there. After taking over a 4-12 team, he has led them to the playoffs in two of his three seasons, with three different quarterbacks.
He created an offense in which the roots of the scheme are things he believes in and has done effectively through his career – but he includes elements that cater to the personnel he has. He also really gets his players to play hard for him despite being one of the most even-keeled head coaches in the league. It will be really intriguing to watch him reunited with Wentz. I think this sets up for some sort of bounce-back season for Wentz. I think with Reich, that offensive line, and those weapons, Wentz can have a really successful season, even if he is not the MVP candidate he once was.
A Few other examples:
Mike Munchak, Denver Broncos Offensive Line Coach
There was such a flip in the success of Pittsburgh and Denver along the offensive line when Munchak joined the Broncos in 2019 after five seasons in Pittsburgh. In 2020, Denver allowed their fewest sacks since 2014, and Munchak helped turn around Garrett Bolles after he was really struggling to start his career. Now, he is one of the top-paid left tackles in the NFL.
Greg Roman, Baltimore Ravens Offensive Coordinator
I like Marty Mornhinweg and think he is a really good coordinator, but with Lamar Jackson as the quarterback -- and when you look what Roman did in San Francisco with Colin Kaepernick -- I think this was a really smart hire. This was an upgrade, not because he is a better coach than Mornhinweg, but because his offense is just a much better fit. In year one under Roman, we saw Jackson become an MVP-winning quarterback. Roman took advantage of developing a system that really fit the players he had, starting with Jackson, and it worked.
Raheem Morris, Los Angeles Rams Defensive Coordinator
After one season leading the Rams defense, Brandon Staley switched locker rooms in Sofi Stadium to become the Chargers’ head coach. If Morris is just mediocre as the Rams’ new DC, everyone that expects big things from them because they got Matt Stafford are going to be disappointed. None of their additions on offense are going to matter unless this guy is a really good defensive coordinator and the drop down from Staley and Wade Phillips before him is minimal.
Last season, the Rams defense allowed the fewest points in the NFL; since 2019, they have allowed the fifth-fewest points. Los Angeles has also been a top five turnover defense over the past three seasons. While they are led by two superstar players, in Jalen Ramsey and Aaron Donald, Leonard Floyd is coming off a career year (10.5 sacks) that awarded him a four-year, $64 million contract. Any drop-off in the quality of coordinator will probably offset the impact of the quarterback upgrade, so for me, there is no guarantee the Rams will be an improved team next year. There are still a lot of unknowns on that side of the ball.