Chan Gailey's recent hiring by the Bills means all 32 NFL head-coaching jobs are filled. But don't be fooled: the coaching carousel has not stopped spinning. Several coordinator and position coach openings have yet to be filled, and while those don't generate as much attention, they're no less important.
Coaching is critical to success in the NFL. Football is so detailed and complex that one false move or mental error could be the difference between a win or a loss. And often is. Maybe a better coach in those situations would have prevented miscues.
That's why league insiders are keeping a very watchful eye on the assistant coaches who are changing their colors this offseason. Here are three items related to assistant coach movement that you should keep in mind when thinking about both your team and its opponents for the 2010 season:
1. Why a change took place. Outside of the head coach and his entire staff being dismissed, there are four main reasons moves are made at the assistant coach level. The first one is obvious -- a significant drop-off in the level of performance. The clearest example of that this year was Giants defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan. The Giants went from having one of the best defenses in 2008 to having a subpar one in 2009. That they appeared to get worse by the week only made things worse. Clearly it wasn't all Sheridan's fault, but as the saying goes it is easier to fire one coach than 11 players.
The next cause for change is the worst kind -- the scapegoat factor. That happens when a head coach gets rid of one of his assistants, usually a coordinator, in a desperate attempt to buy himself an extra year while appeasing the media and the fanbase. Happens all the time.
Though some people may disagree, it seems to me that Ron Turner was a victim of this when he lost his job as the offensive coordinator in Chicago. I'm not saying he did a great job, but I am not so sure he should take all of the blame for Jay Cutler's propensity to, you know, throw the ball to the guys in the other jerseys.
The last two reasons for assistant coach movement are philosophical differences and the simple desire for an upgrade or improvement. Mike Nolan's decision to part ways with Josh McDaniels seems to be a clear-cut example of colleagues who had a different vision for how things should take place. The Eagles recent hiring of special teams whiz Bobby April, however, was more of a desire on Andy Reid's part to upgrade his staff and take advantage of the fact that April was a sought-after coaching free agent who had already interviewed with Pittsburgh and San Francisco.
2. What things assistant coaches consider when taking a job. There is a lot to consider for an assistant coach when determining whether he wants to become the next offensive or defensive coordinator for the Chicago Bears, as an example. It is not simply about the money and length of his contract.
Among their chief concerns is the relative job security of the head coach. That's likely one reason April spurned other offers to join Reid and is almost certainly why new Seahawks offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates followed Pete Carroll to Seattle as opposed to taking the Bears coordinator's job. Lovie Smith's hold on his head coaching job in Chicago is tenuous at best and assistants like Bates and new Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell likely knew that when turning down the Bears.
Assistants also look at the personnel they will have at their disposal and the unit's room for improvement, both pivotal in possible future promotions. There is no doubt that April was enticed by working with the likes of Pro Bowl returner DeSean Jackson while Fewell realizes he can be a hero in New York if he finds a way to turn around Big Blue's defense.
3. How it affects other assistant coaches and, more importantly, players. These assistants may not be household names but the players they are going to be working with are. And more often than not, position coaches and coordinators play a huge factor in how much playing time a player gets or what his role may be.
That's why players keep a keen eye on the assistant coach movement. They realize more than anyone else how greatly that affects them. You can bet unsung players who grew into starting roles under Nolan in Denver, like defensive end Ryan McBean and outside linebacker Mario Haggan, are wondering how this change may impact them. Heck, the only reason Broncos nose tackle Ron Fields was in Denver in the first place is because of the impression he made on Nolan while he was the head coach in San Francisco.
That's the other side of coaching movement. Though it may impact a player's career negatively when his coach moves on or is let go, that coach can eventually become a lifeline of sort for the player once that coach lands on his feet elsewhere. If that player gets cut or is available as a free agent, his previous coach may tell the new organization that he is the exact type of player that can help them win. In other words, don't be surprised if you see Fields wearing a Dolphins jersey at some point.