The offensive coordinator, defensive coordinator and special teams coordinator make up the coaching backbone of a football team. The positions are so challenging at the professional level, and there is so much pressure to succeed, that the turnover rate is extremely high. The NFL can employ as many as 96 coordinators per season, but on average, 15-20 of those coaches will not have a job by the end of the year.
Looking at the NFL landscapre, just one team -- the New England Patriots -- has opted to go without an offensive and defensive coordinator this season. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Dallas Cowboys, who have defensive-minded head coaches, will go without defensive coordinators. However, I do not think this is an indicator of the future of the game because coordinators are so important on most coaching staffs.
There were some remarkable performances from new coordinators last season. In fact, the two Super Bowl teams got great results from first-year defensive coordinators Larry Coyer (Indianapolis) and Gregg Williams (New Orleans). Both brought an aggressive, fresh approach to the job, and if nothing else, they encouraged other teams to look at switching coordinators.
This season, there are 14 new offensive and defensive coordinators looking to create the impact Coyer and Williams had in 2009. Five of those coordinators are former head coaches, and that experience can help a coordinator understand the big picture and the art of leading an entire team, which is invaluable when coordinating one side of the ball.
Here are the five new coordinators who seem to have the best chance to make an impact on the club they joined this offseason. It would be easy to place Colts offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen at the top of the list, but he's coordinating a Peyton Manning offense, so I decided to look for some tougher examples.
The list is in alphabetical order:
Jeremy Bates, offensive coordinator, Seattle Seahawks -- Bates inherits the NFL's 21st-ranked offense, but he did spend a year with Pete Carroll at USC learning to work side-by-side with his new boss. Bates took over the playcalling duties for Denver in 2008, directing an offense that generated 6,333 yards and ranked second in the NFL. Getting Alex Gibbs to coach the offensive line and handle the run game is a big plus for Bates. Securing offensive talent like Russell Okung, Golden Tate and Leon Washington will help even more. The Seahawks were minus-8 in turnovers last year, but I would be very surprised if Carroll team didn't flip that number to a plus-8. The big 'if' is the health of quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, although the team does like what they have in backup Charlie Whitehurst.
Perry Fewell, defensive coordinator, New York Giants -- Fewell comes to the Giants with a reputation of building a stingy scoring defense that forces turnovers. His defense in Buffalo allowed fewer touchdown passes over the past two seasons (28) than the Giants gave up last year (31), and in 2009 the Bills finished with 28 interceptions, which ranked second in the NFL. The 2009 Giants were minus-7 in turnovers, which surely will improve under Fewell. The offense is capable of supporting the defense, which the team committed to improving during the offseason by drafting defensive players with its first four picks and acquiring safety Antrel Rolle. Perry spent five years with Tom Coughlin in Jacksonville, so he has a great head start on communicating with the head coach.
Mike Martz, offensive coordinator, Chicago Bears -- Not many NFL coaches are criticized more than Martz. He is outspoken, brash and has kind of a love-hate relationship with many around the league. But Martz understands offensive football and how to attack defenses. He will have a chance to get his system to work with quarterback Jay Cutler, who had his best year in 2008 when he threw for 4,526 yards and 25 touchdowns on 616 attempts for the Broncos. Under Martz in St. Louis, Kurt Warner never threw more than 546 passes in a season, so Martz might blend in more running than many believe. The influence of offensive line coach Mike Tice will bring a physical presence to the offense, and if the Bears can avoid too many sacks (they gave up 35 last year), there could be a big improvement from the league's 23rd-ranked offense. Coach Lovie Smith has a longstanding relationship with Martz and will let him get creative, but he won't let him get into 'mad scientist' territory. The defense will also be better equiped to support Martz's offense with addition of defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli, defensive end Julius Peppers and the return of linebacker Brian Urlacher.
Mike Nolan, defensive coordinator, Miami Dolphins -- Nolan has a relationship with Dolphins executive vice president of football operations Bill Parcells that goes back to the New York Jets in the late 1990s. Nolan is an aggressive 3-4 coach who can morph his package into a 4-3 scheme, if he has to, in order to survive. In Denver he converted an undersized but fast defense that had played the 4-3 into a 3-4 package, improving the defense from No. 22 in 2008 to No. 7 in 2009. Under Nolan, Elvis Dumervil moved from defensive end to outside linebacker, jumping from five sacks in the 4-3 scheme in 2008 to 17 sacks in his package last season. Now he needs to produce the same magic for rookie Koa Misi, Charlie Anderson and Cameron Wake. The additions of linebacker Karlos Dansby and rookie defensive end Jared Odrick will help the front seven. The Dolphins' offense will be a great help to Nolan because they can run the ball, and they should score more points in 2010 with the continued emergence of QB Chad Henne and the acquisition of WR Brandon Marshall.
Kyle Shanahan, offensive coordinator, Washington Redskins -- Shanahan's offense in Houston ranked fourth overall last season, averaging 383.1 yards per game. Now he is reunited with his father (coach Mike Shanahan) and gets Donovan McNabb as his quarterback. The Redskins were ranked 22nd in total offense last year and 27th in rushing. Running back Larry Johnson will push Clinton Portis in the backfield and the addition of tackle Trent Williams will help an offensive line that battled injuries all season. McNabb gives the Redskins a leader who knows the division, and as a veteran can make all the checks at the line. Plus, don't underestimate what defensive coordinator Jim Haslett will do with last season's 10th-ranked defense. He's converting the unit to a Pittsburgh-style, pressure 3-4 defense that will force more turnovers and consequently give Kyle Shanahan more opportunities on offense. The Redskins were minus-11 in turnovers last year, but McNabb alone should remedy that issue.
The honorable mentions among coordinators go to Marinelli, Haslett, Chiefs offensive coordinator Charlie Weis, Chiefs defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel and Raiders offensive coordinator Hue Jackson. This group of coaches will have a significant impact on their new teams, but might need two seasons to completely turn things around.