Showing posts with label to whom it may concern. Show all posts
Showing posts with label to whom it may concern. Show all posts

Todd Bowles Coaching Resumé: To Whom it May Concern

>> 1.14.2009

todd_bowles_detroit_lions_coaching_search

Todd Bowles has snuck under the radar for quite some time.  While I've attempted to profile all serious candidates, I found myself finding reasons to put Bowles's piece off.  It's strange, because there ISN'T a good reason to.  He's a position coach with 'assistant head coach' appended to his title, which seems to mostly be a device for to keep other teams from hiring good coaches away.  He's known as an excellent motivator and teacher.  He comes from a great coaching pedigree, one that has spawned many excellent coordinators and skippers.

Oh wait, I know why I've mentally marginalized him: he's got Rod Marinelli's resume.  He seems to be cut from almost exactly the same cloth, a 'star' position coach with a great track record of making players and units he coaches better--but no coordinator experience at the NFL level, and not much at the college level either.  Like first interviewee Jerry Gray, Bowles played with Martin Mayhew in Washington, so it's been tempting to think the Lions interest in Bowles is on a similarly superficial level.

So what was Todd Bowles doing in Allen Park, addressing the media from the Lions' podium?  Yes, just like Jim Schwartz--the only other candidate to be invited back to meet with Big Willie Style--Bowles did a pre-interview presser to introduce himself to the media, as well as lift up a corner on the sheet covering his plan for turning the Lions around.  Bowles spoke energetically, explaining why he'd have it all under control:

"I've done this before. I know the blueprint of turning a team around," Bowles said. "The blueprint we have is to change the culture. The first thing you have to do is condition. You have to condition the players mentally. They have to buy into the system.

It's astounding; he really does seem to be channeling Marinelli with this quote.  It would be hilarious--if he hadn't just done it on the field.  He is a vital part of the Tuna-picked staff that came over from the Cowboys, and turned the Miami Dolphins from a team that needed an overtime miracle to avoid pulling an 0-fer themselves, to an 11-5 squad that wrested the AFC East crown from the preseason darling Patriots, Jets, and Bills.  Lions fans have already marveled at how perennial disappointment Andre Goodman has metamorphosized into a solid starting cornerback--well Bowles presumably played a big part in that.  In fact, the Fins started Goodman and Will Allen at corner this year--two players that were written off and released by the teams that drafted them.  Goodman and Allen each got every opportunity to start in Detroit and New York, both were high draft picks at positions of need, yet both were sent packing after their original team just couldn't get starter production out of them.  Under Bowles, however the secondary was decent even with those two guys starting.  The obligatory rundown:

* The Dolphins were the NFL's 9th-ranked scoring defense, and 15th-ranked yardage defense.

* The Dolphins picked off opposing quarterbacks 18 times, 8th best in the NFL.

* Despite losing Jason Taylor, the Fins still managed 40 sacks, also 8th best in the NFL.

* QBs facing the Dolphins posted a passer efficiency rating of just 77.0--to put this into perspective, opposing QBs facing the Fins played like Jamarcus Russell this year (77.1), whereas QBs facing the Lions played like Steve Young in his prime (average of 110.9).

* Despite that, the Fins were ranked only 25th in passing yardage defense, allowing 3,644 yards through the air.  I was curious how opposing QBs could be rated so poorly, and yet move the ball well against the defense.  Part of the answer is that the Fins were susceptible to the deep pass, allowing 49 20+ yard pass plays--tied for fifth worst in the NFL. 

It sounds like the Fins' DBs managed to hold down the fort very well from within 20 yards, forcing bad throws, picking them off, getting coverage sacks, and defending passes.  However, I don't know if it's corners getting beat or bad safety play, but the Dolphins secondary DID give up a lot of big plays.

To be perfectly frank, there's not a lot of information on Bowles.  He's obviously well respected around the League: he also interviewed for the Broncos gig.  He has the Parcells stamp of approval--witness this quote from his presser:

“From the time I got to the Jets, he told me I’d be a head coach in this league, and he taught me accordingly. I mean, he kept me by his side. He taught me step-by-step the structure of how to put a team in place and keep a team in place and not be a one-hit wonder. … Parcells has taught me more about, from the first guy on the roster to the last guy on the roster, how he fits in the system, why he fits in the system, why we want him on this team, why we do not want him on this team, and he taught me how to learn players.”

Taught him how to learn players, he did.  Like Candidate 1A and the Grandmaster, Bowles spent a year as a scout before getting into coaching.  In his case, he worked under Ron Wolf and the Packers for the '95-'96 season.  Out of curiosity, I looked up how the Pack drafted in 1996.  In the first round, they selected OT John Michels--he made the all All-Rookie team, but his career was devastated by injury.  Mike Flanagan, the stalwart center, came in the third, and they picked up Marco Rivera, the future-HoF guard, in the sixth.  If the Lions could duplicate that kind of success for this draft, a worst-to-first turnaround wouldn't be so farfetched.

“My philosophy on offense is to first run the ball, especially in the NFC North, when it gets cold in the wintertime. Although two of you have domes, you have to run the ball because that keeps the defense off the field, that gets time of possession correct, that makes us wear the other team down, and that wins ballgames. Passing game looks nice. Calvin’s a great receiver. You have to get him the ball. You have to have a great complementary passing game, but at the same time, you must be able to run the ball in this league to get by.”

This philosophy is exactly the kind of team that Lions fans would love to root for: punish them with a grinder like Kevin Smith, then kill them with Calvin Johnson over the top.  And what about the defense?

“Defensively, I come from a 3-4 scheme. I’ve been in a 4-3 scheme. You want to have the personnel to kind of fit what you do. If you don’t, you can have a hybrid version of a 4-3 until you can get a 3-4 scheme in place. … If Ernie (Sims) or (Cliff) Avril or those guys don’t fit a 3-4, we’ll play a 4-3. . . . I would be working towards [a 3-4] as long as I have the personnel. … Without having the defense in place here, you have to see what the personnel looks like on the other side of the ball, and you have to draft and do free agency accordingly.”

I've said before that the transition to the 3-4 is going to take a pretty huge roster overhaul.  We have the bodies for the 3-4 defensive ends, and a perfect 3-4 pass-rushing OLB in Cliff Avril.  However, the other linebackers are all all about 25 to 30 pounds too light to play in the 3-4, and we lack the centerpiece of the 3-4, the lynchpin, the key at the point of attack: the nose tackle.  A 3-4 NEEDS a physically dominating two-gap nose tackle--and not only are they really hard to come by in general, there's only one to be had in this draft: Boston College's B.J. Raji.  He might be available with the 20th pick . . . but even with him, you are looking at a two- or three-year reclamation project before this defense is even 'good', let alone 'great'.  Would Bowles have that long?

It all remains to be seen.  Bowles has been brushed under the rug by those talking Lions football, but as of right now he is one of two candidates to have met with Big Willie Style himself, and as of right now there are no others scheduled.  There are a lot of positive indicators around Bowles, but I'm not convinced that he's ready, or that now is the right time.  If Bowles is the hire, I will definitely be biting my nails until I see his Lions take the field in September.

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Jim Schwartz Coaching Resumé: to whom it may concern

>> 1.07.2009

jim_schwartz_titans Titans Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz's name has come up a lot lately.  He was a finalist for the Redskins, Dolphins, and Falcons jobs last year, and was reportedly the runner-up to former San Francisco coach Mike Nolan several years ago.  It's not surprising--the Titans have been a consistently good team despite having inconsistently good talent for over a decade.  It's true that head coach Jeff Fisher deservedly gets a lot of credit for this--but while the Titans have cycled through offensive coordinators (Mike Heimerdinger, then Norm Chow, then Heimerdinger again), Jim Schwartz has been the DC in Nashville for the past six straight seasons, was the linebackers coach the year before, and a defensive assistant the year before that.

In researching Jim Schwartz, the first thing that struck me was not his consistent success, nor his impressive rise through the Browns/Ravens organization, nor his Honored Economics Graduate award from his alma mater, Georgetown.  It wasn't his work as a scout and film analyst for the original Browns, under Bill Belichick.  It wasn't even Schwartz’ unique and detailed approach to stats and analysis.  No,  it was the fact that he's an avid chess player.

Before I start this paragraph, go click that link about stats and analysis--it's an outstanding article by the New York Times' Judy Battista about Schwartz's Billy Beane-esque understanding of the game of football.  Any attempt to summarize on my part would be wasting my time and yours.

Okay, have you finished reading?  Great.  If you are a Lions fan, you now probably want to see Schwartz roaming the sidelines at Ford Field at least half as badly as I do.  Where was I?  Oh yes--chess.  Schwartz himself notes in that Times article that the frequent comparison of two football coaches' teams squaring off to a 'chess match' is a false one:

"People talk about the chess match between coaches and coordinators,” Schwartz said. “Anybody who plays chess knows your rook never falls down, your rook never stops one spot short. There’s human nature to football that will never make it into a game of numbers.”

Still, having known some very serious chess players in my life (my brother won the K-8th grade division Supernationals while in 5th grade), I can say with confidence that it takes a certain type of analytical, logical mind to not just 'play' chess or 'be good' at chess, but truly enjoy it and pursue it as a hobby.  Schwartz shows through his research that he understands the game of football at a deeper level than most.  Imagine going from a coach who has literally no idea why his team cannot win a game, to a coach whose understanding of how the game really works is so profound that he stands out wherever he goes, even while working for some of the most knowledgable coaches to ever wear a whistle?

How many times did Rod Marinelli say "I don't know, I don't have the answers.  I just have to work harder, we just have to keep doing what we're doing"?  Rod Marinelli truly believes that if you show up, execute fundamentals well, and leave it all on the field, then you are doing everything you can to win a football game.  The fact that he and his staff were consistently outcoached in Xs and Os—on both sides of the ball—reflects this.  Sure, I bet from his perspective, it seemed like the Buccaneers teams he coached could simply show up and play hard and win games--but consider the difference in scheming and playcalling ability between Jim Colletto and Jon Gruden.  Consider the difference in scheming and playcalling ability between Joe Barry and Monte Kiffin.  The great ones--Belichick, Parcells, Walsh--have always stood out, if not in pure darkroom-brainiac X-and-Os, than at least in preparation, gameplanning, and adjustments.  Listen to how defensive end Kyle Vandenbosch explains (in the above Times piece) how Schwartz's preparation makes it much easier for him to be effective:

“Especially from a defensive lineman standpoint, we don’t usually pay attention to formations and down and distance. He has that broken down for us. We know what to expect out of certain formations, and what plays they can run. It’s unusual for a defensive line. But we have a quiz in front of the whole defense on Friday, and he expects everybody to know that."

This reminds me of Cal head coach Jeff Tedford, whose offensive system is designed to allow the quarterback to make a presnap decision based off of only one or two defensive keys.  It allows the quarterback to worry less about decision-making and more about execution--which resulted in excellent college careers for a lot of quarterbacks who then had slow or difficult transitions into the NFL (Trent Dilfer, Joey Harrington, Kyle Boller, Aaron Rodgers, etc.).   Taking the read-and-react burden off of the front seven could go a long way towards unleashing the effectiveness of some of the younger, more talented players on the Lions defense.  Finally, Schwartz doesn't adhere to any kind of strict system--he appears to prefer a 4-3 to a 3-4, and prefers to get pressure from the front four alone, but isn't afraid to blitz when that isn't working.  But beyond that, he seems to be highly adaptive to whatever the situation calls for.

Where I have been throwing out NFL rankings in yardage allowed as proof that Defense X or Defense Y is good, Schwartz understands that scoring defense is what matters--and furthermore doesn't just look at totals and averages, he accounts for garbage time and wasted efforts (like hail mary passes at the end of a half).  Nevertheless, for the sake of argument, let's look at how the Titans stack up on regular season defense:

  • The Titans were ranked 6th in the NFL with 293.6 yards allowed per game.
  • They ranked 2nd in scoring defense, allowing a miniscule 14.6 points per game!  For the record, the Titans are one of only three teams whose defense allowed fewer points than the Lions' offense scored (the Steelers and Ravens are the others).
  • The Titans allowed only 1,502 yards on the ground (3.7 ypc), the 6th best in the NFL.
  • The Titans sacked the quarterback 44 times, which slots them as the 5th best.

    So where does this leave us?  Schwartz is definitely one of the frontrunners for the job--in fact Tom Kowalski said yesterday on WDFN that Schwartz is THE frontrunner.  I think it would be an outstanding fit on paper, and yet--and yet, I wonder.  Schwartz is obviously a veteran coach with a LOT of success, but I really wonder if his talents and style will be the best fit for a defense that desperately lacks direction.  IMO, if Schwartz is the pick, he's going to need a defensive coordinator with a lot of fire and motivational ability.  He needs to win over the locker room immediately, and I wonder if he can do that with a reputation as a 'stat guy'.  Still, if Schwartz comes here, than the Lions will have gotten an oustanding football coach, and I will be thrilled.


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    Leslie Frazier Coaching Resumé: To Whom it May Concern

    >> 1.05.2009

    leslieLeslie Frazier is a name that elicits groans from most of the Lions faithful.  He's an assistant, and moreover not a 'hot' assistant--he's moved both up AND down the coaching ladder in his career.  He's currently coaching for the Minnesota Vikings, which causes a little division-rival bile to rise in the throats of Lions fans--as well as conjure nasty thoughts of the ineffective milquetoast currently wearing the whistle there. The final nail in the coffin is Fraizer's coaching of the Tampa 2 defensive system, made infamous by Rod Marinelli's implementation of it over the past three seasons.  Leslie Frazier, it's assumed, must be a washed-up retread, brought in just because he fits the 'system' so lamely in place.  Don't be so sure.

    Leslie Frazier broke into the NFL as the defensive backs coach for the Philadelphia Eagles in 1999, coaching under coordinator Jim Johnson.  While there, Frazier coached Troy Vincent, Bobby Taylor, Brian Dawkins, Al Harris, Lito Sheppard, and Sheldon Brown--all of whom but Brown have been Pro Bowlers either during or since Frazier's tenure (and he's arguably been snubbed a few times).

    After three years of being a top assistant on one of the best defenses in football, Frazier got his big break: being hired away to be Marvin Lewis' defensive coordinator in Cincinnati.  Who did the Eagles promote from 'defensive assistant' to take Frazier's place?   None other than Candidate 1A himself.

    In Cincinnati, Frazier came in with Lewis to turn the Bengals around--and that they did, immediately elevating the Bengals to two straight 8-8 seasons after over a decade of sub-mediocrity.  Rookie DE Robert Gaithers, rookie S Madieu Williams, and rookie OLB Landon Johnson all stepped in and not only started, but played like impact players.  It seemed as though Frazier's guidance of the defense was going to give the increasingly explosive offense the compliment it needed to be a real power in the AFC.

    However, cracks in the relationship between Frazier and Lewis became apparent almost immediately.  The two came from different defensive philosophies: Lewis ran a coventional two-gap 4-3 base defense in Baltimore, but Frazier was a disciple of Jim Johnson's aggressive one-gap 4-3 scheme, which calls for a lot of outside linebacker, corner, and safety blitzes mixed with an agressive upfield push from the line.

    This was very similar to the dichotomy between Rod Marinelli's Tampa Two, which relied on a one-gap front four and rarely blitzed, and Donnie Henderson's blitz-heavy 4-3, which led to Henderson's dismissal after just one season.  Not only that, the two men's coaching styles were different as well: Frazier favored the stoic, walk-softly/big stick approach, but Lewis liked to get fired up. This all culminated in Lewis wresting playcalling duties away from Frazier during an embarassing 2004 loss to the rival Browns.

    After the '04 season, Lewis chose not to renew Frazier's two-year contract; the fast-track career of Leslie Frazier was derailed.  Interestingly, former Cincy LB phenom Landon Johnson was just released this offseason, and now plays a backup role with Carolina.  Robert Gaithers has managed only six sacks in the last two seasons combined.  After being forced to play linebacker due to the position being mauled by injuries last year, Madieu Williams left Cincy and signed a big free agent deal . . . to play for Frazier in Minnesota.  Marvin Lewis is now on his third defensive co-ordinator, and likely won't get the opportunity to hire a fourth.

    Tony Dungy immediately saw the value in Frazier, and signed him to coach DBs in Indy.  Frazier was also given the title "Special Assistant to the Head Coach"--presumably he was a sounding board for Dungy in gameplanning and defensive strategy--and during this time learned the Tampa 2 defense from the master himself.  While in Indianapolis, Frazier guided Bob Sanders to the 2005 Pro Bowl in his rookie season.  In the playoff run in 2006, with Sanders back from injury, the Colts defense had the swagger and mojo to match its offensive firepower--and Leslie Frazier earned a 2006 Super Bowl ring.

    When Tampa 2 disciple Mike Tomlin was hired away from the Vikings, they hired Leslie Frazier to step in and run the defense.  That he did, and more.  After the '07 season, Frazier had the responsibilities and title of "Assistant Head Coach" added to his nameplate.  His mission for 2008 was maintaing the defense's effectiveness against the run, while improving the pass defense.  He did that, bringing in fearsome DE Jared Allen and mixing in more man-to-man coverage to maximize CB Antoine Winfield's considerable shutdown skills.  The results in 2008?

    • The Vikings ranked 6th in yardage defense, with 292.4 yards allowed per game.
    • The Vikings ranking 13th in scoring defense, allowing 20.8 points per game.
    • The Vikings had the stingiest rushing defense in football, allowing only 1,240 yards (3.3 ypc).
    • The Vikings racked up 45 sacks, fourth-most in the NFL.

    It's true that a lot of this production comes from the monster DT team of Pat and Kevin Williams.  And yet, everywhere he goes, we see a pattern: young players bloom quickly, defenses get nasty, safety play is top-notch.   Cincinnati observers see that they missed out, and Broncos fans want him.  Keeping the T2 (or a more agressive hybrid of T2 and the blitzing 4-3 style) would save having to turn over quite so much of the roster, and allow more of the 'foundation' Marinelli laid to stay in place.

    While Spagnuolo is still my favorite candidate, he is definitely the belle of the ball right now. Frazier--to me--is a candidate with an equally impressive resume, who would probably already be a head coach if it weren't for the clash with Lewis.  If the Lions "settle" for Leslie Frazier, we might just end up with one hell of a coach.


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    Steve Spagnuolo Coaching Resumé: to whom it may concern

    >> 1.03.2009

    spags Yikes!  Ol' Spags kinda jumps off the page at you there, doesn't he?  If this is what happens when you ask Steve Spagnuolo to "smile", then I think he'll be just fine as the Lions' next head coach.  For all the official-bio stuff, click the picture.

    Spags comes from an excellent lineage, most notably spending seven years with the Philadelphia Eagles and studying under the master of the hyperaggressive 4-3, Jim Johnson.  Spagnuolo has been a defensive line, linebackers, and defensive backs coach and a defensive coordinator at the NFL Europe level or higher.  Intriguingly, he broke into the NFL as a player personnel intern with the Redskins in 1983.  Before you ask, Martin Mayhew was drafted by the 'Skins in 1988, so no, Spags didn't evaluate Mayhew as a player twenty years before interviewing with Mayhew for the Lions gig.  Spags also served as a scout for the Chargers in 1993 . . . if he hadn't left to take the DC gig at the University of Maine, he might have scored a AFC Championship ring from Bobby Ross' 1994 squad.

    Since we just looked at the absolutely disgusting team defense stats of the Lions this year, let's cleanse our pallette by looking at the stout performances of Spag's Giants squad:

  • The Giants were ranked fifth in scoring defense, allowing just 18.4 points per game.  What I'm about to do just screams "internet football nerd who doesn't get it", because football is way too complex for a simple translation like this to have any real meaning, but . . . the Lions' offense mustered 16.8 points per game.  If they'd allowed an average of anywhere near 18.4 ppg, instead of the hellacious 32.3 they really did allow, they might could have got a win or two.  God, we allowed twice as many points as we scored . . . no wonder we went 0-16.
  • The Giants were also fifth in yardage defense, allowing only 292 yards per game.
  • New York also finished sixth in sacks with 42, compared to the Lions' 30.  Amazingly, this was accomplished despite losing franchise DE Michael Strahan to retirement, and heir apparent Osi Umenyiora (who's lead the Giants in sacks the last four years running).

    That Spagnuolo's defense could simply plug in Justin Tuck and Matthias Kiwanauka and still be a fear-inspiring, quarterback-eating, Top 5 defense, speaks highly of the Giants' drafting, Spagnuolo's football teaching abilities, and Spags' scheming and system as well.  It's worth comparing his system to his mentor Jim Johnson's in Philly: lots of good, decent, and/or okay DEs and LBs have rotated in and out of Johnson's defenses in the past decade, yet the Philly defense is always amongst the leagues' best (this year the Eagles were ranked 4th, 3rd, and 3rd in the categories above, respectively).

    I think that Spagnuolo's system is an ideal fit for the defensive talent we have--lots of one-gap pass rushers up front, lots of fast and aggressive linebackers (IMAGINE Ernie Sims blitzing every down instead of playing a short zone!).  The Lions' secondary doesn't match up to the perennially star-studded defensive backfield the Eagles boast, but in terms of talent back there, the Giants frankly don't have much the Lions don't also.  Their two starting corners are Corey Webster, a fourth-year second-round pick, whose three INTs more than doubled the two he racked up in his first three seasons, and a second-year first round pick in Aaron Ross.  Yeah, they are highly-drafted guys, but corner is the defensive mirror of WR: most CBs take several years to master technique and get burned enough to learn when to gamble and when to not gamble.  The Giants boast 17 INTs as a team, but no more than 3 by any one player (10 different players have at least one).  This suggests that the defense is working the way the Tampa 2 is supposed to: the pressure up front is creating rushed, panicked throws.  This shortens the field for the corners and safeties and prevents the defense from getting beaten deep.

    Spagnuolo's teaching ability and experience at every level (line, linebackers, DBs, coordinator) of the defense is apparent.  His system would not only be a good fit for our talent, his aggressive style will make for a quick "buy-in", too.  Sims sees himself as the leader of the defense; don't you think he will react well to getting the leash taken off him and being told "Kill, Ernie!  KILL!"?  Spags is highly respected around the league, and highly sought after by other teams (he will interview for the Broncos' coaching gig today, and has already talked to the Browns).  With his background in scouting and player personnel, he will be a great help for Mayhew in finding the right defensive talent to aid a quick turnaround.  Spags is my #1 choice for the next Lions head coach--and he ought to be yours, too.

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