Not all unemployed coaches are bad or untalented and many find their way back into the league. Now that most coaching positions are filled, Dan Hatman looks at which free agent coaches we can expect to be back in the league shortly at each coaching position.
Coaching in the NFL is a fickle thing – a coach could be successful one season and the out of a job the very next season . Every offseason several coaches watch the game from their couches, but their time away from the game doesn’t mean they’re poor coaches, but that these guys were left holding a golf bag when the dust settled. A little over a year ago, Wade Phillips was out of a job, but a regime change in Denver presented an opportunity to help coach one of the most relentless defensive attacks in years to a Super Bowl victory.
With nearly every coaching staff in place, we can look at coaches who will be on the outside looking in this year. The coaches we included were on an NFL staff during either the 2014 or 2015 seasons, thus eliminating Jon Gruden, Mike Sherman, Mike Shanahan, etc. We worked to match coaches with positions that more closely reflect their career trajectory and as such, did not name Tom Coughlin the wide receivers coach, even though he has held that title in the past. There was a lack of candidates for the offensive coordinator role, so we listed a recent NFL OC who is currently holding the same role in the college ranks.
This exercise was different from how a NFL coaching staff is constructed as there was no consideration for how each coach matched the scheme of the head coach or coordinators, nor previous relationships. When NFL teams work to build a staff for a new HC, they leverage the coach’s network, but will use all resources available to build the equivalent of a ‘draft board’ for the coaching staff. This process provides the HC with multiple vetted options at each position. The coach then works to balance positional thinkers, game plan strategists, play callers, disciplinarians, etc. until the staff covers all the major bases.
So, in honor of their careers, we wanted to highlight a few coaches that could be back on a sideline near you, very soon.
The former Syracuse halfback and coach broke into the NFL in 1984 as the wide receivers coach for the Philadelphia Eagles. He worked under great offensive minds like Ted Marchibroda, Forrest Gregg, and Ron Erhardt before getting his shot to lead the expansion Jacksonville Jaguars. He was the Jaguars’ head coach for eight seasons, bringing them to an AFC Championship game in 1996, after only their two years of existence. His staffs have included future head coaches such asDick Jauron, Chris Palmer, Bobby Petrino, Dom Capers, Lane Kiffin, Steve Spagnuolo, and Tony Sparano. Coughlin was out of the NFL in 2003, but returned quickly as the head coach of the New York Giants, beginning in 2004. He led the organization to the playoffs five times, winning two Super Bowls. Known for being a disciplinarian, including having his own time, he has had some difficulty cultivating relationships with his players. Prior to the 2007 season, Coughlin heard from members of the organization, his family, and his son-in-law (and starting right guard) Chris Snee about ways he could improve his relationships with players. Even at 61, Coughlin took this under advisement and set out that year to improve himself in those areas. He made great strides and was rewarded with his first Lombardi trophy that season.
Offensive Coordinator – Jedd Fisch
Fisch is currently the quarterbacks, wide receivers, and passing game coordinator for the Michigan Wolverines, brought in by Jim Harbaugh in 2015. He was part of the coaching staff that turned the program around from a disastrous 5 -7 season in 2014 to a 10-3 Citrus Bowl winner in 2015. He also has experience at offensive coordinator, serving in that role for the Minnesota Golden Gophers in 2009, the Miami Hurricanes from 2011 to 2012, and the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2013 and 2014. Fisch also has experience coaching under Dom Capers, Brian Billick, Mike Shanahan, and Pete Carroll.
Senior Offensive Assistant – Ray Sherman
Sherman brings 41 years of coaching experience to the team, the last 28 of which was spent in the NFL, mainly as wide receivers coach, but also serving four stints as an offensive coordinator (1990 Atlanta Falcons, 1994 New York Jets, 1998 Pittsburgh Steelers, and 1999 Minnesota Vikings). He has coached many talented wide receivers, such as Jerry Rice, Antonio Freeman, Randy Moss, Donald Driver, and Dez Bryant. He also has experience coaching under Mike Holmgren, Mike Shanahan, Pete Carroll, Brian Billick, Wade Phillips, and Bill Cowher.
Offensive Line – Joe D’Alessandris
A 40-year veteran, D’Alessandris has experience coaching in college, the Canadian Football League, the World League, and the NFL. During his nearly decade long time in the NFL, he coached the offensive lines of the Kansas City Chiefs, Buffalo Bills, and San Diego Chargers. Spending time mostly under Chan Gailey in Kansas City and Buffalo, D’Alessandris has experience coaching pass-heavy offenses and lines that excel in pass protection.
Tight Ends – Pete Metzelaars
A former 16-year NFL tight end (he held the NFL record for most games played by a TE at the time of his retirement), Metzelaars has coached in the league for 12 seasons, 8 as an offensive line coach for the Indianapolis Colts, and the last four as a tight ends coach for the BIlls and Chargers. He has experience coaching players like Antonio Gates, Ladarius Green, Scott Chandler, and was in Indianapolis during the Dallas Clark years.
Running backs – Wilbert Montgomery
Montgomery has a storied career as a two time All-Pro, dual-threat running back for the Philadelphia Eagles. He has coached running backs in the NFL since 1997, including Marshall Faulk and Steven Jackson in St. Louis and Ray Rice in Baltimore. His most recent coaching stint was running backs coach for the Cleveland Browns from 2014-2015.
Wide Receivers – Stan Hixon
A college assistant and coach for 23 years, Hixon moved to the NFL to become the wide receivers coach for Washington from 2004-2010, coaching players like Laveranues Coles, Santana Moss, and Antwaan Randle El. He moved to Buffalo for the 2010-2012 seasons. He joined Bill O’Brien at Penn State before following him to Houston for the 2014-2015 seasons, helping develop DeAndre Hopkins into an All-Pro WR.
Quarterbacks – Geep Chryst
Having coached in the NFL in various capacities since 1991, Chryst brings many years of service as a quarterbacks coach, including the Arizona Cardinals from 1996-1998 and 2001 – 2003, and San Francisco from 2011-2014. He has coached QBs like Jake Plummer, Alex Smith, and Colin Kaepernick. Chryst served as offensive coordinator for three seasons (1999 and 2000 in San Diego and 2015 in San Francisco), while also serving as a, tight ends and quality control coach too.
Assistant Offensive Line –Bob Bostad
Bostad brings 20 years of college coaching experience, the majority of which was with New Mexico St and Wisconsin. He has coached in the NFL for the last four seasons, two with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the most recently with the Tennessee Titans, where he coached Taylor Lewan to All-Rookie honors. While coaching in college he helped develop many future NFL offensive lineman like Gabe Carimi, Kevin Zeitler, and Travis Frederick.
Defensive Coordinator – Eric Mangini
One of the many coaches to come from the Bill Belichick coaching tree, Mangini has served two stints as defensive coordinator, first with the New England Patriots in 2005 and then with the 49ers in 2015. His work with New England led him to the head coaching position with the Jets for the 2006-2008 seasons and the Browns in the 2009 and 2010 seasons. Mangini specializes in a 3-4 defensive front that is blitz heavy, using hybrid players to confuse offenses. Another plus for Mangini is that he has offensive coaching experience (49ers TE coach 2013-14)
Defensive Line – Jim Tomsula
Although his year as a head coach in San Francisco was nothing short of a disaster, Tomsula is still regarded as a quality defensive line coach, a job he held from 2007-2014. Tomsula spent time as a coach in NFL Europe, serving as head coach of the Rhein Fire for a season, defensive coordinator for the Berlin Thunder, and defensive line coach for the Scottish Claymores. In San Francisco, Tomsula helped develop defensive line talents like Justin Smith, Ray McDonald, and Aldon Smith.
Linebackers – Mike Nolan
Nolan has been coaching in the NFL in some capacity since 1987, initially beginning as a special teams coach for the Denver Broncos before transitioning to linebackers coach from 1989 to 1992. Between 1993-2004 and 2009-2014 he served as a defensive coordinator for many teams, such as the Giants, Washington, Jets, Ravens, Broncos, Dolphins, and Falcons. In the years between he was San Francisco’s head coach. His last job was linebackers coach for the San Diego Chargers, guiding a young, talented linebacking group of Melvin Ingram, Jeremiah Attaochu, Denzel Perryman, and Manti Te’o.
Front Seven Assistant – Billy Davis
An NFL coach since 1992, Davis has mostly served as a linebackers coach, but also as a defensive coordinator for the Cardinals from 2009-2010 and most recently for the Eagles from 2013-2015. Davis specializes in a blitz heavy, 3-4 defensive front and has coached under great defensive minds like Bill Cowher, Wade Phillips, and Dom Capers.
Defensive Backs – Tim Lewis
Lewis is a long-time defensive backs and secondary coach with the Steelers, Panthers, Seahawks, Falcons, and 49ers. He also served as a defensive coordinator for the Steelers from 2000-2003 and the Giants from 2004-2006. He coached the ferocious Steelers defensive squads in 2000 and 2001.
Defensive Backs – Donnie Henderson
A long-time defensive backs coach in the college ranks, Henderson broke into the NFL in the same role with the Ravens in 1999 and stayed there until 2004, when he took over as defensive coordinator for the Jets. He lasted for just one season and spent the next as DC for the Detroit Lions; however, Henderson was fired the following season. Since then, he’s bounced between the NFL and college as a defensive backs coach, most recently with the Bills.
Special Teams Staff
Special Teams Coordinator – Kevin O’Dea
For 20 of the previous 21 seasons, O’Dea has served as a special teams coach or assistant in the NFL, spending 2010 coaching the Hartford Colonials (UFL) special teams unit. He also has experience coaching Devin Hester for Chicago Bears, and most recently with the Buccaneers special teams units.
Assistant Special Teams Coordinator – Kevin Spencer
A former Special Teams Coach of the Year (2003), Spencer has been coaching special teams since 1998. Under his watch in Indianapolis from 1998-2001, Spencer coached Mike Vanderjagt to 4 consecutive seasons of 100 points or more. He also has experience coaching returners to star status, helping Patrick Peterson returned four punts for touchdowns in his rookie season with Arizona. Most recently, Spencer held the position of Special Teams Coach for the San Diego Chargers.
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