In the modern NFL, games are often won through better coaching than talent. Coaches are often most responsible for putting players in position to succeed and the NFL level is certainly where the talent gap is immensely decreased to the point that teams must have good coaching and proper salary cap management to succeed.
As Super Bowl week approaches right ahead, here are some of my favorite assistant coach hires who will make a significant impact upon their team next year.
Honorable Mention: Joe Brady, Offensive Coordinator, Carolina Panthers
While Brady does have experience coaching at both the collegiate and professional level with both LSU and the Saints respectively, he lacks experience as a play caller in his career. I am a big believer in what Brady can do with gifted teams like the Carolina Panthers, but there is a bit of a leap between the collegiate and NFL level.
Head coach Matt Rhule made it very clear that he wants an all gas, no brakes philosophy at team practices, and the decision to hire Joe Brady certainly showed that Rhule trusts him with that approach. Teams are smarter at the NFL level, and it is up to Rhule and Brady to find ways to adjust to the differences at the professional level to turn the Carolina Panthers into one of the more successful teams in the NFL.
#5: John Fassel, Special Teams Coordinator, Dallas Cowboys
As a special teams coordinator, Fassell has been nothing but short of spectacular. He has worked with Pro Bowl talents such as kicker Sebastian Janikowski, punter Shane Lechler, and long snapper Jon Condo. During his tenure with the Rams, he developed Greg Zuerlein, Johnny Hekker, and Jacob McQuaide into Pro Bowl and even All-Pro caliber players. Fassel’s special teams return units haven’t disappointed with the development of Pharoah Cooper into an All-Pro returner during the 2017 season.
The Cowboys are returning from a tough season from kicker Brett Maher, which saw him being cut during the middle of the season. Chris Jones, Tavon Austin, and Tony Pollard are serviceable options on special teams, and this unit can only look up from their performance from last season.
#4: Jack Del Rio, Defensive Coordinator, Washington Redskins
If there is one thing Jack Del Rio has done as a defensive coordinator in the league, it is producing an intimidating defense that overwhelms quarterbacks with outstanding pass rushers, leading to minimal yardage being gave up by his unit. Del Rio’s stints as a defensive coordinator have come in short spurts, but his ability to coach a championship level defense in a very short amount of time has led him to having a longer tenure as a head coach where it seems as if the team’s defense is nonexistent.
Del Rio has worked with the likes of Julius Peppers, DeMarcus Ware, Von Miller, and Khalil Mack. While these are very talented players who were in their prime when coached by Del Rio, I would simply point to Ryan Kerrigan and Montez Sweat and say that the team’s pass rush is going to be ferocious.
Matt Ioannidis, Da’Ron Payne, and Johnathan Allen are talented defensive pieces used to jumpstart this defense, while linebackers Cole Holcomb and Reuben Foster can patrol the second level. In the secondary, the team will be led by the shutdown presence of Quinton Dunbar and the hard-hitting presence of Landon Collins. This team has the roster to be a top-5 defense every year, Del Rio may be the catalyst that will get them going.
#3: Jason Garrett, Offensive Coordinator, New York Giants
Now, I know people will point to Jason Garrett’s tenure as a way of saying that he isn’t a good coach. However, head coach and offensive coordinator are two vastly different positions, and require different skill sets. For example, Jack Del Rio was a fantastic defensive coordinator during his tenure with the Broncos and Panthers, but mightily struggled with the head coaching jobs with the Jaguars and the Raiders.
Jason Garrett was an offensive coordinator who earned the trust of Jerry Jones, through guiding the Cowboys to being the second best offense in the NFL, and finishing the season with a 13-3 record during the 2008 season. After four successful years where Garrett led two top-ten offenses, he eventually earned the ranks of head coach.
After Garrett landed the job, the rest is history.
#2: Pat Shurmur, Offensive Coordinator, Denver Broncos
If there is one coordinator who I trust with developing my franchise quarterback into a Pro Bowler, that honor would go to Pat Shurmur. The list of quarterbacks he developed is very long: Donovan McNabb, Sam Bradford, Nick Foles, Case Keenum, and last but not least, Daniel Jones.
Shurmur is well known for leading efficient passing offenses, and for a team like the Broncos, who possess plenty of offensive talent to go with a promising rookie campaign from Drew Lock, I would expect the Broncos to be a playoff team because of him.
#1: Gary Kubiak, Offensive Coordinator, Minnesota Vikings
Kubiak is one of the few direct disciples of the Shanahan-Gruden coaching tree, a long list of coordinators and head coaches who draw roots to Mike Shanahan’s and Jon Gruden’s revolutionary West Coast offenses. As a coach, Kubiak has won four Super Bowls with the Denver Broncos and San Francisco 49ers.
Kubiak even earned one as a head coach after he was able to guide the Broncos to regular season wins with Brock Osweiler at the quarterback position, one of them including a overtime win in the snow against the Patriots.
The one concern I have with Kubiak is his health. He resigned as head coach of Broncos after he needed to take a break, but he joined the Vikings staff last year as an assistant to Kevin Stefanski.
With the drastic improvement the Vikings showed as an offensive unit last year to go along with his offensive coordinator tenures with guiding Steve Young, John Elway, and Peyton Manning to Super Bowls, I expect this hire to be nothing short of a success for the Minnesota Vikings.