While I appreciate the Broncos having a sense of urgency in filling their Head Coaching position, this decision is far too important to be hasty. There are some excellent coaches whose teams are still in the playoffs.
I admit that I have been so dismayed by the Broncos lack of a defense for many years now, that I am compelled to lean towards a coach with a defensive pedigree. Of course, a good DC to accompany a new HC could also help repair the mess on that side of the ball. Continuity is the key here, so whomever the Broncos hire - HC and all coordinators - the team needs them to be 3-5 year coaches at least. Otherwise we'll continue to see this cycle of tear it down and build it back up again.
When I think of teams with stout defenses, these are the ones that immediately come to mind:
Pittsburgh Steelers: Dick LeBeau and Steelers defense are synonymous. However, LeBeau is a Steelers lifer at this stage. However, John Mitchell actually is the right-hand man to Mike Tomlin, and is Asst Head Coach/Defensive Line.
John Mitchell is in his 16th season as the Steelers defensive line coach, ranking him as the longest-tenured member of the Steelers coaching staff. He remained with the team following Mike Tomlin’s hiring in January, 2007, and was promoted to assistant head coach. Mitchell, who joined the Steelers’ coaching staff Jan. 31, 1994, is in his 37th season of coaching, including 16 years at the college level and two in the United States Football League. This is his 19th season as an NFL coach.
Mitchell has been instrumental in the development of the Steelers defensive linemen, including three-time Pro Bowl nose tackle Casey Hampton and defensive end Aaron Smith, who earned his first Pro Bowl appearance in 2005. He also helped develop starting defensive end Brett Keisel and nose tackle Chris Hoke, who filled in sensationally for an injured Hampton during the 2004 season.
Under his guidance, Pittsburgh’s defensive front helped the Steelers lead the NFL in run defense four times and finish in the top three on 10 separate occasions. In 2006, the team did not allow a single 100-yard rusher all season and allowed just 88.3 rushing yards per game.
Baltimore Ravens: How can one think of the Ravens and not immediately associate this team with ferocious defense? With Joe Flacco they are far from the team that wins on the basis of defense only. Still, defense defines this franchise. Greg Mattison has been the Ravens DC for the past three years, following the departure of Rex Ryan, but his history is all about defense.
Greg Mattison was named the Ravens’ defensive coordinator prior to the 2009 season, after originally joining John Harbaugh’s staff as linebackers coach in 2008, his first year in the NFL. Ravens continued their staunch reputation as one of the NFL’s best defenses again in 2009, finishing as the No. 3 overall unit. It was Baltimore’s seventh-straight top six finish. In 2009, the Ravens were the NFL’s stingiest in average yards per rush allowed (3.4), third in points allowed per game (16.3) and were fourth-best in turnover ratio (+10). Mattison’s stout resume includes 39 years of total coaching experience, including many years at some of the most productive big-name college football programs. Mattison has 12 years of defensive coordinator experience at the collegiate level.
New York Giants: Perry Fewell has lead the Giants D for only the past year, but his ties to top Coughlin and the defensive side of the ball are deep. This is my personal favorite of the Broncos Head Coaching candidates confirmed to be interviewed to date.
Tom Coughlin reached into his past for a coach to lead his defense into the future when he hired Perry Fewell as the Giants' defensive coordinator on Jan. 14, 2010. Fewell once spent five seasons as Coughlin's secondary coach in Jacksonville. He is a 25-year coaching veteran who is in his 13th season as an NFL coach.
Prior to joining the Giants, Fewell spent four seasons as the Buffalo Bills' defensive coordinator and was the team's interim head coach for the final seven games of the 2009 season. The Bills were 3-4 under his direction. Fewell was brought to Buffalo by Dick Jauron, who was Coughlin's defensive coordinator in Jacksonville for four seasons. Fewell and Jauron spent the 1998 season together with the Jaguars.
Buffalo's defense under Fewell allowed only 14 touchdown passes in each of the last two seasons. In 2009, that tied for the second-best total in the NFL and was eight below the league average. The Bills were tied for fifth in the NFL with 33 takeaways. Their 28 interceptions were exceeded only by Green Bay's 30. The Giants had 24 takeaways and 13 interceptions in 2009. Buffalo's turnover differential improved from minus-eight in 2008 to plus-three in 2009. Bills rookie safety Jairus Byrd tied for the NFL lead with nine interceptions in only 14 games. The nine interceptions were five more than any other rookie had. Byrd was placed on injured reserve with a groin injury and missed the final two games but became the first Bills rookie to be selected to the Pro Bowl since Greg Bell in 1984.
The team that I believe will come out of the NFC to play in the Super Bowl, a big part of their success has been the steady improvement of their defense. The man responsible for this is Brian Van Gorder. He's not likely to garner serious consideration due to his lack of any head coaching experinece at any level, but this guy can coach defense.
Now entering his third season as Defensive Coordinator, Brian VanGorder has seen improvement in his defensive unit following his ﬁrst two seasons with the Falcons. Last year, Atlanta’s rush defense ﬁnished tied for 10th best in the NFL (sixth in the NFC), allowing an average of only 106.8 yards per game. The ranking was 15 spots better than the previous 2008 campaign. From Week 10 to the season ﬁnale, the Falcons improved their rush defense from 26th in the NFL to 10th and in the last two weeks alone, jumped 10 spots.
Under VanGorder’s leadership, the Falcons 2009 rush defense only allowed one 100-yard rushing all season (Fred Taylor, Week 3) and posted a streak of 10 consecutive quarters without a touchdown allowed from the second quarter of Week 15 to the fourth quarter of Week 17. In the last two seasons, the Falcons defense has also contributed to a 6-0 record when holding opponents to under 300 net yards and an 11-2 record when opponents rush for under 100 net yards.
Around the time the Broncos hired Mike Nolan to be their DC under Josh McDaniels, the Packers were handing the same position to Dom Capers. Capers has done wonders in Cheese Country. Given his head coaching experience, the Broncos are not likely to find a more qualified candidate, if they are prepared to wait for the Packers to be eliminated. Considering GB has to go to Atlanta to play next week, Capers could be available within the week. Elway and Company would be well served to wait. This guy is exactly what the team needs as head coach.
• Joined Packers Jan. 19, 2009.
• Named “Coordinator of the Year” by Sporting News in 2009 after he helped lead the Packers to a No. 2 overall defensive ranking.
• Has nine years of experience as a head coach in the NFL, serving as the first head coach for two expansion franchises (Carolina, 1995-98; Houston, 2001-05).
• Also served as a defensive coordinator for three other teams, first with the Pittsburgh Steelers (1992-94) as well as the Jacksonville Jaguars (1999-2000) and Miami Dolphins (2006-07).
• Won every major Coach of the Year award in 1996 with the Panthers, and also earned the Pro Football Weekly/PFWA Assistant Coach of the Year award in 1994 with Pittsburgh and 1999 with Jacksonville.
• Began his coaching career by spending 12 seasons at the collegiate level.
Entering his 25th season in the NFL, Dom Capers enters his second year with the Packers in 2010 as the club’s defensive coordinator.
Named to his position on Jan. 19, 2009, by Head Coach Mike McCarthy, Capers is one of the most experienced coaches in the league, spending time with seven different franchises before coming to Green Bay.
In his first season running the defense in ’09, Capers led one of the biggest statistical turnarounds in franchise history as the Packers improved to a No. 2 overall defensive ranking and No. 1 ranking against the run after finishing No. 20 and No. 26 in those respective categories in 2008.
Guiding the defense as it transitioned to the 3-4 scheme, Capers helped the Packers lead the NFL in rushing defense for the first time in franchise history, and the average of 83.3 rushing yards per game set a team record for any season.
The Packers defense led the league with 40 takeaways and also led the NFL with 30 interceptions, the first time Green Bay led the league in INTs since 1965. The Packers also posted 141 points off of takeaways, tied for the No. 1 ranking in the league with the Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints.
Under Capers’ tutelage, veteran CB Charles Woodson posted perhaps his finest all-around season as he was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year by The Associated Press and was selected to virtually every All-Pro team. It was the third time in Capers’ career as a defensive coordinator that one of his players earned the top defensive honor from AP, as Woodson joined Miami DE Jason Taylor (2006) and Pittsburgh CB Rod Woodson (1993).
Capers was honored with an award of his own in ‘09 as he was named “Coordinator of the Year” by Sporting News in a vote conducted by 53 current NFL head coaches and league executives.