You Can Get Good Help These Days They're not household names, but they've done some of the best coaching in the NFL this season. Here are five top assistants who have made a difference.

November 17, 2003

1. SCOTT O'BRIEN, assistant head coach-special teams coach, Panthers

Remember the three kicks that Carolina blocked in its 12-9
overtime win against the Bucs on Sept. 14? That was the payoff
for the 46-year-old O'Brien, who exploited Tampa Bay's weak
middle by lining up 315-pound defensive tackle Kris Jenkins
across from center. Jenkins blocked a field goal and an extra
point. A player has returned two punts for touchdowns in a game
11 times in NFL history, and three of those players were coached
by O'Brien: Steve Smith (2002, Panthers), Jermaine Lewis (1997,
Ravens) and Eric Metcalf (1993, Browns). This year Carolina has
blocked five kicks and is in the top 10 in punt and kickoff

2. JIM SCHWARTZ, defensive coordinator, Titans

The overhauled Tennessee run defense was second in the NFL last
year (89.0 yards per game) and is first this fall (73.6), thanks
to the youngest coordinator in the league. At 37, Schwartz looks
everywhere for an edge, even scouring Moneyball, Michael Lewis's
best-seller about Oakland A's G.M. Billy Beane, for parallels in
building baseball and football teams. "He's as smart as anybody
I've ever been around," says Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who
had Schwartz on his Cleveland scouting staff a decade ago.

3. SCOTT LINEHAN, offensive coordinator, Vikings

Last year, in his first season as an NFL assistant, he watched
his quarterback, Daunte Culpepper, have one of the sloppiest
seasons in NFL history: 23 interceptions and 24 fumbles. So
Linehan asked Culpepper, who lived in Florida, to spend more time
in Minnesota in the off-season. Culpepper bought a home in the
Twin Cities area and spent endless hours going over game tape
with the 40-year-old Linehan. The result: The Vikings lead the
league in passing, and Culpepper has thrown three interceptions
in seven games. He has fumbled six times, which is still an area
of concern, but Culpepper isn't being as careless with the ball
as he had been.

4. ROMEO CRENNEL, defensive coordinator, Patriots

Just as Belichick had to toil for eight years under Bill Parcells
before getting his shot as a head coach, so too has the
56-year-old Crennel had to work in the shadow of a boss who's
known as a mastermind. But Belichick gets Crennel heavily
involved in defensive game-planning and allows him to mix and
match schemes. Look at the job Crennel has done this year: After
New England cut ties with both safeties (Lawyer Milloy and
Tebucky Jones) for salary-cap reasons, and injuries caused five
prominent starters (Richard Seymour, Ted Johnson, Willie
McGinest, Ted Washington and Mike Vrabel) to miss a total of 20
games, the Patriots are sixth in the league in points allowed and
11th in total defense with Crennel turning rookies and bit
players into important contributors.

5. LARRY MARMIE, defensive coordinator, Cardinals

Take away Arizona's best player in the secondary (corner Duane
Starks) and best defensive lineman (end Kyle Vanden Bosch)--both
of whom are out for the year with injuries--and most fans would
be hard-pressed to name three Cardinals defenders. Yet this unit
held the high-powered Packers and 49ers to 13 points each. "Those
weren't flukes," says Rams coach Mike Martz. "They've got a heck
of a defense." It's led by outside linebacker Ray Thompson, whom
Marmie has developed into a pass-rush specialist. Who'd have
thought that the 61-year-old Marmie, working on the same field as
when he was coach at Arizona State from 1988 through '91, would
have his no-name defense ranked ninth in the NFL? --P.K.