Who are the best coordinators in the NFL? Over on www.footballrelativity.com, we spent plenty of time and bandwidth trying to figure out which NFL team has the best combination of offensive and defensive coordinators. You can check that post out over there, but we wanted to take some of what we learned in the research for that post to create a list of some of the best and most important coordinators in the NFL in 2009.
So here are our votes for the best coordinators in the NFL, in a few categories:
Best Offensive Coordinator - Mike Mularkey, Falcons. Mularkey, who was once the Bills' head coach, had a great season for the Falcons last year. He rode the legs of Michael Turner, set rookie QB Matt Ryan up for success, and continued the ascension of Roddy White as a true No. 1 receiver. Now he has a new toy to play with - TE Tony Gonzalez, one of the best red-zone threats ever. Another good season like that, and Mularkey will be interviewing for head-coaching jobs once again.
Honorable mentions: Scott Linehan (Lions) returns to the coordinator ranks after a failed tenure as Rams head coach. He's had great success in this position before. Cam Cameron (Ravens) had a good season last year, reinforcing his coordinator chops. Jason Garrett (Cowboys) had a rough '08 season but is still considered a rising star as an offensive tactician.
Best Defensive Coordinator - Dick LeBeau, Steelers - The creator of the zone-blitz scheme is still going strong in his 70s. He is a master technician who has created a scheme that has been in place in Pittsburgh for so long that it's second nature for the team to find the personnel that fits. That lets the Steelers find guys who might not fit on other teams - James Harrison, Lamarr Woodley, Aaron Smith - and utilize them as big-time playmakers. Plus, players love playing for LeBeau. He's a great asset to the Steelers and to the NFL as a whole.
Honorable mentions: Dom Capers (Packers) and Mike Nolan (Broncos) are former head coaches who are stepping into new situations to try to implement the 3-4 defense. Both are specialists in that scheme, and both have a track record of success as coordinators. Leslie Frazier (Vikings) does his job quietly but effectively. He has a beast of a unit in Minnesota, and he knows how to use his talent well. His head-coaching chance is coming, and it's coming soon.
Best legendary offensive coordinator - Dan Henning, Dolphins - Henning's solid schemes are creative enough to allow for new ideas, and he is open-minded enough to let ideas like the Wildcat into his offense. Henning was successful as a coordinator in Washington in the 1980s, and after a few head coaching stops, he's had success in Carolina and then in Miami in this decade. That's a really good run for any coach.
Best legendary defensive coordinator - LeBeau
Best up-and-coming offensive coordinator - Jeff Davidson, Carolina - Davidson isn't the kind of coordinator who gets a lot of attention for designing a multifaceted passing game that lights up the scoreboard and makes fans ooh and aah. (Think of new head coaches like Josh McDaniels or Todd Haley.) But Davidson is brutally effective in designing a running game that can work. First in Cleveland and for the last two years in Carolina, he's had teams that can run the ball effectively. His scheme fits the Panthers' personnel perfectly, and if he continues to have the kind of success calling running plays that he has had, he'll become a hot name in head-coaching hunts in a few years.
Best up-and-coming defensive coordinator - Ron Rivera, Chargers - Rivera took over for Ted Cottrell in San Diego midway through last season, and the difference was apparent immediately. He has an aggressive, blitzing style that echoes his former coach Buddy Ryan as well as his former mentor Jim Johnson. This is Rivera's second coordinator job, and if he can maximize the Chargers' talent this year, Rivera will become a prime head-coaching candidate quickly.
Best rookie offensive coordinator - Pete Carmichael, Saints - Talk about a prime situation - Carmichael takes over the reins of an offense that is loaded with talent. Head coach Sena Payton is the playcaller, but Carmichael will still get the luster of helping to run an offense that looks to be a powerhouse again in '09.
Honorable mention: Mike McCoy (Broncos) is a bright coach who will work with McDaniels, which should allow him to develop a good tactical reputation pretty quickly.
Best rookie defensive coordinator - Chuck Cecil, Titans - It's a strong class of rookie defensive coordinators this year, and Cecil should be the cream of the crop. He's been an assistant in Tennessee for eight years, and now he takes over for Jim Schwartz as coordinator. The former big-hitting safety should continue the physical style of defense that has made Tennessee a consistent contender over the last decade.
Honorable mention: Sean McDermott (Eagles) takes over for the late Jim Johnson after assisting him for most of the decade. He'll continue Johnson's innovative and incessant blitzing. Mike Pettine (Jets) is Rex Ryan's hand-picked choice to implement Ryan's version of the 3-4 defense with the Jets. Ryan raves about Pettine, but the new head coach has been prone to hyperbole. Still, Pettine is a prospect to watch. Bill Sheridan (Giants) takes over for Steve Spagnuolo but should continue the defensive scheme that empowered one of the league's best front fours to attack, attack, attack.