NFL

Three Former Head Coaches Have Their Hands Full in New Roles

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With training camps opening in less than a month, we at Football Insiders have decided to examine some key figures who changed addresses this offseason and look at what lies ahead for them in their new locales. Over the next couple weeks we will explore different players and coaches who account for the offseason’s best pickups.

We kick off this series by looking at some prominent coaches now working for new teams. We break down three coaches in this initial segment, each of whom is a former head coach now working as a positional coach. Each of these three men takes over a unit that struggled in 2014 and is counting on a slew of young prospects to help turn things around this season.

Mike Nolan: Linebackers, San Diego Chargers 

This is the right man at the right position. San Diego’s linebackers grossly underperformed last season, especially Donald Butler, who laid an egg in the first season of his new seven-year, $51.8 million extension. So the Chargers weren’t exactly heartbroken when last year’s inside linebackers coach, Joe Barry, left to take the defensive coordinator job in Washington.

In comes Nolan, the former head coach of the 49ers (2005-2008) who spent the last three seasons as the defensive coordinator in Atlanta. Nolan also has some history with Chargers head coach Mike McCoy; in 2009, those two were together in Denver with Nolan leading the defense and McCoy coordinating the offense. McCoy got an up-close look at how Nolan turned around that defense, which finished No. 7 overall (including No. 3 against the pass) under Nolan after finishing No. 29 the season prior.

The Chargers have plenty of young, moldable talent at linebacker. San Diego has drafted a linebacker in the second round every year under GM Tom Telesco: Manti Te’o in 2013, Jeremiah Attaochu in 2014 and Denzel Perryman in 2015. Also, young pass rushers Tourek Williams (Florida International) and Kyle Emanuel (North Dakota State) have been drafted since Telesco took over. Nolan will be charged with developing all of that young talent and directing a unit that imposes it’s will rather than reading and reacting.

“I know it’s a defensive position, but in order to be good, you have to be an offensive player,” Nolan said shortly after being hired. “It’s a violent game; we all know that. And typically the players that are offensive in the way they play, and not safe, are the best players.”

Raheem Morris: Secondary, Atlanta Falcons

The reason Nolan was available, of course, is the bottom fell out of his Falcons defense last season. Atlanta ranked No. 21 against the run but No. 32 overall thanks to a league-worst pass defense that allowed 279.9 passing yards per game, a full 15 yards worse than the No. 31 ranked team.

That is why the Falcons were willing to wait as long as they did to hire former Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn as their head coach. And upon being appointed, Quinn turned his secondary over to Raheem Morris, the former head coach in Tampa Bay (2009-2011) who spent the last three seasons coaching defensive backs in Washington.

Morris interviewed for the defensive coordinator position in Washington before taking the job in Atlanta. However, the Redskins went with Barry instead, which opened up a job for Nolan in San Diego and sent Morris to Atlanta (you have to love the circular nature of life in the NFL).

Morris takes over a group that has some talent, especially at cornerback. Starting corners Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford were taken in the first and second rounds the 2013 draft, respectively. They will be joined this season by Jalen Collins, the ultra talented second-round pick from LSU whose draft stock fell because of multiple failed drug tests.

At safety, veteran starters William Moore and Charles Godfrey are backed up by three recent draftees: Kemal Ishmael (seventh round, 2013), Ricardo Allen (fifth round, 2014) and Akeem King (seventh round, 2015). If Morris can develop one of more of those late-round picks into quality starters, it will bode well for a quick turnaround in the ATL.

Doug Marrone: Offensive Line, Jacksonville Jaguars

Let’s call a spade a spade: Marrone screwed up. He opted out of his contract as head coach of the Bills thinking he would quickly land another head coaching gig, likely with the New York Jets, a team he worked for from 2002-2005. It didn’t work out that way, leaving Marrone to settle for a job as a positional coach (although it comes with the coveted “assistant head coach” title).

Marrone’s loss was Jacksonville’s gain, as the Jaguars scooped up one of the league’s best offensive line coaches to oversee a unit in dire need of development. Marrone’s top priority will be fixing LT Luke Joeckel, the former No. 2 overall pick who last season allowed 8.5 sacks and collected three holding penalties.

“I see great progress, I really do,” said Marrone of Joeckel, via ESPN.com. “Not just out of him but out of everyone. He’s put on some extra weight which has been good weight, some lean muscle mass. Obviously it’s a challenge for all of us learning a new system, but I see him progressing and getting better each day. … I’m excited with the direction that he’s going. I think he feels the same way. There’s a confidence that you see out there. There’s still a level of inconsistency, but we understand that right now. Again, it’s progressing in the right direction.”

Of course, this is not all about fixing Joeckel. Jacksonville also has to break in a couple new starters after adding Jermey Parnell (Cowboys) and Stefen Wisniewski (Raiders) as free agents. Also, South Carolina product A.J. McCann — a steal in the third round of this year’s draft — could push for playing time on the inside. A couple 2014 draftees — Brandon Linder (third round, Miami) and Luke Bowanko (sixth round, Virginia) — are in the mix, as well.

Marrone needs to succeed with this group, and fast, in order for the Jaguars to accurately gauge what they have in QB Blake Bortles (first round, 2014) and RB T.J. Yeldon (second round, 2015).

Want to talk more about these and other offseason pickups? Join Michael Lombardo for his weekly NFL Chat on Friday at 2pm EST. But you don’t have to wait until then … you can ask your question now


About Michael Lombardo

Michael Lombardo

Michael Lombardo has spent more than 10 years as a team expert at Scout.com, primarily covering the Chargers, Cardinals and Panthers. He has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and other venues.