Like some of you, my response to many of this year’s offensive coordinator and defensive coordinator hires with “...who?” So let’s change that. Below is a snapshot of each hire: where they come from, what’s their background, their style and potentially what they will contribute or implement in their new role. Schemes and gameplans are immense, practically infinite, so the goal was to whittle down each slice into what I found most compelling.
As always errors are possible when dealing with many new names, so if you believe I made a mistake - just reach out! Also, I will wait until teams officially announce the hires before writing, This will be a constantly updating feature, so check back in when each hire is announced.
Offensive Coordinator Joe Brady
Only 30 years of age, Brady joins the Panthers after just one season at LSU as the passing game coordinator/WR coach. This coincided with a drastic improvement of quarterback Joe Burrow, propelling him to the Heisman trophy. It’s quite a rise for Brady, who opened his coaching career as the Linebackers coach at William & Mary in 2013 to Saints Offensive assistant in 2017 and 2018. But Brady doesn’t want to hear about his age or his lack of experience, “If there is one thing I’ve never done, I’ve never thought about my age or talked about my age,” he said. “You’ll never hear me talk about my age. I don’t believe that your age determines what kind of a coach you are.”
Across the league you hear about different philosophies. Some stick strictly to 11 personnel over 90-percent of the time. Some utilize a fullback at the highest rate in the league, or three tight ends with different skill sets, etc etc. Some even suggest the keys to winning football games are running the ball and stopping the run. Brady said nothing of the sort during his press conference. He avoided locking himself and his scheme into a box. “You talk about a ‘West Coast’ system,” Brady said. “You talk about a ‘spread’ system. You know, everybody kind of has put their own stamp on who they are, and what they are. Our system is going to be what our players do best. I think that changes year to year. I think that changes based upon what you have… I’m not a big believer that what you do today is going to work necessarily tomorrow, or what we did this year is going to work next year.”
Defensive Coordinator Phil Snow
Matt Rhule and Phil Snow have worked together since the 2013 season, but their relationship dates back to their days at UCLA in 2001, when rule acted as the defensive line coach under Snow’s defensive coordinator title. While OC Joe Brady is undoubtedly young at 30 years of age, Snow has 37 years of coaching experience including holding the defensive coordinator title at eight different FBS schools and four seasons as a defensive coach for the Detroit Lions.
Prior to his last stop at Baylor, Snow stressed he wants his defense to multiple. Some of this might be reliant on safety play: types who can play single high and cover a lot of ground with ball skills, line up as split safeties, and another who is capable of covering the slot. Athleticism seems to rank highly on Rhule and Snow’s list of traits for front seven players, especially at linebacker and on the edge. The constant theme from coaches, players and opponents is the declaration that Snow’s defenses “fly around.”
Offensive Coordinator Bill Lazor
After two seasons as the Bengals offensive coordinator, Lazor was fired once new head coach Zac Taylor was brought in for the 2019 season. Now, after a year away from the NFL, Lazor returns to join forces with Matt Nagy ahead of an important season for the head coach. Nagy surely will continue to call plays, so Taylor’s background working with quarterbacks could be his main focus. While the Bengals did not cross the 7-9 plateau with Lazor calling plays, he did manage to elevate talent on the roster. Offensive line continuity was an issue, as was a limited quarterback. So Lazor implemented RPOs, made things more defined, in an attempt to manufacture yards and production. The Bears also need to answer questions about their running game, and that could fall on Juan Castillo’s shoulders.
Defensive Coordinator Mike Nolan
Some of you might know Mike Nolan as the former 49ers head coach repping a suit on the sidelines. Most recently he coached linebackers with the Saints after coordinating defenses for the Broncos, Dolphins and Falcons. The people over at Blogging the Boys dug in on Nolan’s first season with the Falcons and came to this conclusion: “The common theme… is trickery upfront with the way the defense lines up in the box, linebackers running downhill in run defense, and disguised coverages leading to big plays.” The looming question over the offense is if Mike McCarthy has changed his playcalling ways after a year away from coaching. Has Nolan done the same after five seasons away from calling a defense?
Offensive Coordinator Pat Shurmur
Shurmur called plays in the NFL for the last three and a half years with the Vikings and then as the head coach of the Giants. Joe Rowles of Mile High Report laid out a few changes Shurmur might bring to the table compared to the Broncos 2019 offense. Some standouts: More mesh concepts to create natural rubs for his inexperienced quarterback, Shurmur called run plays nearly 75 percent of the time out of 11 personnel, and to not expect an “aerial circus,” rather repeated concepts that win until the defense stops them. It likely helps that Shurmur has recent experience (elevating) Case Keenum and Daniel Jones.
Defensive Coordinator Cory Undlin
Undlin, 48, has been the Eagles defensive backs coach since 2015. His first NFL season as a defensive assistant (with the Patriots in 2004) coincided with Matt Patricia’s first season as an offensive assistant. While with the Eagles, Undlin was asked to define his coaching style and answered with this statement: “I want my guys to play with technique and effort...I don’t care how fast you run, how fast the wideout runs — if you don’t play with technique, it’s a hard position to play.”
Undlin is not expected to call the defense. That role will likely fall on Patricia. So Undlin could continue to focus on the defensive backs in lieu of a designated position coach, considering he has never held the title of defensive play caller.
Defensive Coordinator Anthony Weaver
Weaver will be the third defensive coordinator under Bill O’Brien since 2014. The former Ravens and Texans player started coaching as a GA for the Florida Gators in 2010 and has coached in the NFL since 2012. It’s difficult to know what changes Weaver might make to the Texans overall defense, but perhaps working under Rex Ryan and Romeo Crennel impacted his vision for his scheme.
Obviously Weaver has a knack for coaching pass rushers, playing the position himself. While coaching the Bills DL in 2013, Weaver helped Mario Williams reach 13 sacks, Kyle Williams 10.5 and Jerry Hughes 10. It’s a tall task to fix this defense, as the Texans finished the season 26th in Pass D DVOA and 22nd in Run D DVOA.
Los Angeles Rams
Offensive Coordinator Kevin O’Connell
The former No. 94 overall pick by the Patriots fills a position that was non-existent during the 2019 season, ever since Matt LaFleur left prior to the 2018 season for the Tennessee Titans. McVay will continue to call plays, but adding another person to assist in week to week, game to game strategy was needed, especially if McVay plans to take on a larger voice in all three phases of the team.
We know McVay worked under Jay Gruden prior to being hired as the Rams coach. So did O’Connell, jumping from quarterbacks coach in 2017, promoted to pass-game coordinator in 2018 and finally offensive coordinator in 2019. The hiring of O’Connell also allows Shane Waldron to focus more on quarterbacks and Aaron Kromer on the offensive line. It’s safe to assume that McVay’s offense will make more adjustments week to week based on strengths, weaknesses and opponent. Sean McVay is 33, O’Connell 34, Staley 37… sense a theme?
Defensive Coordinator Brandon Staley
A former quarterback on a fast rise. A graduate assistant at Tennessee prior to the 2013 season, to coordinating the defense at John Carroll University before finally earning the trust of Vic Fangio to coach outside linebackers/edge rushers with the Bears and the Broncos. McVay, age 31 during his first season as head coach of the Rams, now gives Staley his first opportunity to run a defense at the NFL level at age 37. The foundation of the move appears to be McVay’s desire to alter gameplans week to week based on opponent.
One line from Staley’s mentor stood out to me: “He just has this innate ability to understand opposing offenses… He sees the game from an offensive perspective and that’s how he coaches defense.” It’s not a stretch to assume McVay’s Super Bowl loss to the Patriots changed him. Of course it would. And while finding a coach like Bill Belichick is impossible, identifying someone to run the defense who asks “what is our opposition trying to do? And how do we take that away?” was a clear goal. Expect a defense that is multiple, with a variety of fronts, driven by matchups.
Offensive Coordinator Chan Gailey
A name from the past. Gailey has not officially coached in the NFL since the 2016 season after retiring as the Jets offensive coordinator. Who was Gailey’s quarterbacks during his two season stint in New York? Ryan Fitzpatrick. He was leaning on spread concepts before the rest of the league. Two-back sets will be rare. Athleticism along the offensive line might be desired with pulling blockers, stretch runs, zone runs and moving pockets. At least three receivers on the field attempting to attack the defense horizontally. Has Gailey changed? Possibly, but since he was ahead of the game by multiple years, it would be surprising if he’s taken a step back.
Defensive Coordinator Josh Boyer
Has worked with Brian Flores since 2006, previously coaching defensive backs and cornerbacks with the Patriots before joining the Dolphins in 2019. His only previous defensive coordinator experience is one season at South Dakota School of Mines & Technology in 2005. While the secondary struggled under Boyer last season, injuries forced plenty of turnover and Flores credited Boyer with preparing those newcomers as quickly as possible. Noteworthy, Brian Flores was not the defensive playcaller last season, so that duty likely rests on Boyer in 2020.
New York Giants
Offensive Coordinator Jason Garrett
After 10 years as a head coach with the Cowboys, Garrett now stays inside the division to work for the rival Giants. Obviously new head coach Joe Judge will enter his first season as a head coach at age 38, so Garrett’s experience in that role likely helps. As does Garrett’s recent history of working with a young quarterback and foundation running back, from Dak and Zeke to Daniel Jones and Saquon Barkley.
We have all watched Cowboys games for years and years, but it is still shocking to consider that Garrett has not called plays since prior to the 2013 season. He certainly had an influence on the Cowboys Offense since then on a week to week level, but the physical act of stringing together plays was not his responsibility. It will be now.
This doesn’t seem to be an example of “friends hire friends,” in fact it does not appear that Garrett has worked with Judge nor receivers coach Tyke Tolbert, quarterbacks coach Jerry Schuplinski, or Burton Burns as running backs coach.
Defensive Coordinator Patrick Graham
After one season as the Dolphins defensive coordinator, Graham moves up North to follow another Patriots disciple in Joe Judge. Avery Moss started eight games for the Dolphins Defense last season, so he’s more qualified than I am to explain Graham’s scheme. “it is truly multiple. It will sometimes be a 4-3, then we had a 6-2 front and that was our primary defense for a couple of weeks, then there were a couple of weeks where we only ran three D-tackles and two outside linebackers. It’s really wild.”
The main takeaway is that Graham is not afraid to change on a weekly basis, based on personnel available and opponent tendencies. “Personnel” might be the big hurdle, as the Dolphins (and now Giants) personnel is quite different than the Patriots (read less talented). Last season, Miami finished 32nd in pass defense DVOA and 27th in run defense DVOA.
Offensive Coordinator Scott Turner
The son of Norv closed out the final four games of the Panthers season as offensive coordinator. It’s difficult to know what a Scott Turner offense will look like in terms of differing from his father. Both utilized motion, jet action, shifts with the goal of getting the ball in space to playmakers so they can succeed after the catch. Actual plays and route combinations can often be the same, just out of different looks pre-snap.
For D.J. Moore, this meant shorter routes: slants or drags across the formation, then morphing into a running back after the catch. The Panthers deep passing game failed constantly in 2019, and much of the blame can be put on the quarterback situation. There were numerous occasions where Curtis Samuel created separation downfield, but a poorly thrown ball forced an incompletion. Scott Turner recognized this, and in those final four weeks of the season manufactured touches to Samuel out of the backfield.
It stands to question if Washington has a (young) running back with the winning versatility Christian McCaffrey offers, specifically in the receiving game. Norv pounded home the point of taking the “lay-up” to Cam Newton. Expect to hear that same phrase out of Dwayne Haskins’ mouth this offseason.
Defensive Coordinator Jack Del Rio
The final few seasons of the Rivera-era in Carolina showed how great of a defensive coach Sean McDermott is. After he left for Buffalo, the Panthers Defense declined year by year, coordinator after coordinator. Now Rivera has pegged Del Rio, a former head coach and longtime DC in his own right, to run the defense in Washington.
Del Rio might not stick to one single scheme, but from a “base” perspective he seems to side with a one gapping 4-3 under: A five-man front with four down linemen and a stand-up linebacker on the tight end/strong side. Rivera tended to keep things simple defensively over the last few seasons in order for his defense to play “fast.” But with the defense continuing to decline thanks to his front failing to win one on one matchups, Rivera attempted to become more “multiple” with his looks. This was an obvious attempt to manufacture disruption, but that fluctuating 3-4/4-3 front jives with Del Rio and shows why the distinction is not as binary as many make it out to be.