All seven NFL coaching hires this offseason come from the offensive side of the ball, and six of the seven will call their own plays. Three of those six were offensive coordinators last season, leaving three vacancies behind. Add in the Chargers jettisoning Frank Reich and you have four more teams who didn’t change their head coach but will have a new face running the offense. Here’s a look at what those new coordinators bring to the table.
CHICAGO BEARS – DOWELL LOGGAINS
Jay Cutler gets a sixth different offensive coordinator since joining the Bears in 2009 as quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains was promoted to replace Adam Gase after Gase took his head coaching talents to South Beach.
“Dowell played a critical role in our offense last year,” Bears head coach John Fox said in the statement announcing Loggains’ promotion. “He’s an excellent coach with experience as a play-caller and a broad knowledge of offensive football. He has earned the respect of our players because they know he can help them get better.”
Loggains’ work with Cutler last season—the much-maligned Bears quarterback posted a career-best 92.3 passer rating and cut his turnovers by 50 percent—was instrumental in his getting the job, as was the opportunity to provide Cutler with some continuity for a change.
“Our systems are our systems,” Fox said following Loggains’ promotion. “They’re not any individual systems; they are our systems. Our systems aren’t changing—offense, defense or special teams. You tweak, and you grow, and you adjust. You have to do that in this league because it’s a fluid league.”
Loggains’ experience has come primarily in conservative run-oriented offenses like Fox prefers, from his college days at Arkansas to his year and a half calling plays for the Titans under Mike Munchak.
“The unfortunate thing is that if you throw the ball enough, if you’re calling 44-45 passes in a game, you are going to throw interceptions,” Loggains said last season. True to form, the Bears typically ran the ball 25 or more times per game last season but threw more than 45 passes in a game just once.
In addition to Cutler’s efficiency last season, Loggains is also credited with improving his quarterback’s pocket presence, footwork and ball security. In addition, Vince Young had the highest passer rating of his career (98.6) under Loggains’ direction in Tennessee.
Loggains has a season and a half of play-calling experience, as well as a ringside seat for Cutler’s thought process last season. There will be some personnel changes in Chicago, but the Bears appear to have a succession plan for the self-inflicted departures of both Matt Forte (Jeremy Langford, Ka’deem Carey) and Martellus Bennett (Zach Miller, Rob Housler). And there’s hope that 2015 first-round pick, Kevin White, finally makes it to the field this year as well.
At the center of it all, of course, is Cutler. And after years of change and mercurial play, Cutler finally has some stability and a coach with proven success for squeezing quality play out of him. So if you get the feeling that big changes aren’t in store for the Bears’ offense, you’re probably right.
CINCINNATI BENGALS – KEN ZAMPESE
Marvin Lewis hired Ken Zampese as his quarterbacks coach in 2003. In that span both Jay Gruden and Hue Jackson have been promoted from position coach to offensive coordinator and ultimately taken a head coaching job elsewhere. Now, finally, it’s Zampese’s turn to take the first step.
Not that Zampese was necessarily passed over. “Never looked at it like that,” Zampese said after being promoted. “I felt very fortunate to work here and in the NFL, especially here when your input is valued at all times, that goes a long way.”
Family circumstances played a role in Zampese’s status quo, including passing on opportunities to interview for coordinator positions with other teams.
“I’m a little different than some other guys,” Zampese said. “Most guys want to jump at the first opportunity they can get. I like being where people have faith in me, they treat me like family. That’s what happened here. This one is different. We’ve got good players and we’ve got a guy [Andy Dalton] I helped draft and raise from a pup. This one is a little bit more personal. And it works out so well for my family.”
“I’m excited for Kenny’s opportunity to continue to grow our offense,” Lewis said when announcing the promotion. “He’s been in the offensive room over the years with our past coordinators, and he understands my vision about our future. It’s time for him to really put his hands on it now and advance the development. He has been Andy Dalton’s position coach, and Andy has just kept on getting better, so we’ve obviously got some good continuity working there.”
“Coach Jackson set a great foundation for us,” Zampese added. “We’ll take it from here and move forward using those same principles of physicality, toughness, energy, enthusiasm, passion, playing fast. Those things have been set as a foundation here, and we’ll do our best to push those forward, because that’s where our success lies.”
“The continuity is huge,” Zampese continued. “We can walk right in with the group we have right now and move forward from where we are at right now.”
All indications are the structure and verbiage of Cincinnati’s playbook won’t change dramatically from what the Bengals have been running. And after working directly with Zampese over the past five seasons, Dalton will be charged with interpreting their unique language to the rest of the offense. There is also a belief that, given his experience and relationship with Zampese, Dalton could have a larger say in the direction the offense moves going forward.
This will mark Zampese’s first opportunity to call plays. Fortunately for him, if any concerns arise his dad—Ernie Zampese, one of the co-founders of the Air Coryell offense—is just a phone call away.
“I call him all the time,” the younger Zampese said of his father. “He’s been through everything.”
Aside from replacing their depth receivers, Cincinnati’s offensive personnel won’t change dramatically either. The only stylistic tug of war could come if Zampese feels beholden to Jackson’s stubborn commitment to the running game while new quarterbacks coach Bill Lazor—who had the Dolphins skewing pass-heavy during his OC tenure there—is whispering “throw the ball” in his headset. Ultimately, the Bengals’ offense should remain largely unchanged—good news for fantasy owners who prefer a known quantity.
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS – BRAD CHILDRESS/MATT NAGY
Andy Reid let Doug Pederson call plays in the second half of games for the Chiefs’ last dozen games last season. The result was an 11-game winning streak, a narrow loss to the Patriots in the divisional round of the playoffs… and Pederson getting a head coaching job in Philadelphia.
The Chiefs elevated a pair of assistants to the co-coordinator role, but neither Brad Childress nor Matt Nagy will have play-calling responsibilities just yet; Reid is keeping those for himself.
Childress, a long-time Reid colleague who served as his coordinator in Philadelphia from 2002 to 2005, has been the Chiefs’ spread game coordinator the past five seasons. Nagy has been Kansas City’s quarterbacks coach the past three years.
“They both have a great feel for our system,” Reid said when announcing the co-promotions. “Brad lends a tremendous amount of experience and knowledge to our offense. Matt has done a nice job tutoring the quarterbacks the past three years and will continue to work with the quarterbacks, but will also take the next step in his professional growth and coordinate the offense with Brad.
Seeing as both have been on the Kansas City staff for the past few seasons, and neither will have play-calling duties, expect minimal changes to the Chiefs’ offense. As for either being able to assist with Reid’s documented clock management issues… well, there’s no evidence that Nagy doesn’t have acumen in that regard.
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS – KEN WHISENHUNT
Haven’t we seen this movie before? The Chargers relieved Frank Reich of his offensive coordinator duties, then reunited with deposed Titans head coach Ken Whisenhunt, who earned that job by virtue of his performance as San Diego’s offensive coordinator in 2013.
That season the Chargers ranked fifth in the NFL in total yards and 12th in scoring. Better still, much of the same personnel remains in San Diego for Whiz to work with.
Philip Rivers posted 22.4 fantasy points per game last season, one tenth of a point off his career best 22.5 in 2010. Rivers also notched 22.4 fppg in 2013, when Whiz was calling the shots in San Diego. The veteran obviously feels comfortable in Whisenhunt’s offense and has success operating it.
He’ll have familiar targets as well. Keenan Allen was a rookie in 2013 who saw his production decline after Whisenhunt left. Allen bounced back last year until suffering a season-ending injury; he should be good to go under Whiz as well.
One Chargers pass-catcher who didn’t necessarily benefit from Whisenhunt’s offense was Antonio Gates. While his 77-872-4 stat line ranked him ninth at the position fantasy-wise, since Gates took over as the Bolts’ full-time tight end in 2004 only 2012 was a worse season production-wise than his Whiz-helmed campaign. Gates’ advancing age, which likely means reduced snaps, won’t help either.
Parallels can be drawn between Whisenhunt’s 2012 and 2016 backfields as well. Danny Woodhead’s 9.4 fantasy points per game in 2013 was second only to his 10.2 fppg last year, while Ryan Mathews’ numbers were a tick off his career bests only because Woodhead took over such a large chunk of the passing game work.
Put another way: if Whisenhunt can get something akin to Matthews’ 285-1,255-6 out of Melvin Gordon this year, he’ll be viewed as a hero by Gordon’s dynasty fantasy owners.
By this point we have a good feel for what Whisenhunt wants to do with his offense, spreading the field both vertically and horizontally and hoping his quarterback can find the matchup advantage before his offensive line breaks down. With many of the same players in the same roles, save for the wildcard Gordon and whatever the Bolts come up with as secondary receivers there should be few surprises when it comes to projecting the Chargers’ fantasy fortunes this season.