Every NFL Team's Best Assistant Coach
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Often in the NFL, a team's best assistant coach is just as important as its head coach.
The head coach certainly gets most the blame, but assistants are a crucial part of any team's operations. Typically, assistant coaches call the plays, and they are the ones actually coaching players.
Each team's best assistant coach was decided based on a few criteria: innovation, reputation, success and longevity.
Some NFL teams are loaded with top-notch assistant coaches. Other teams have few coaches with any actual NFL experience and basically unknown assistants. There are some obvious answers and some unexpected ones.
But just who is each NFL team's best assistant coach?
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Best Assistant Coach: Aaron Kromer, Offensive Coordinator/Offensive Line
As an offensive line coach, Kromer has an incredible résumé. In five seasons with the Saints, five offensive linemen made Pro Bowls, including Jahri Evans and Carl Nicks, two of the NFL's best guards.
Kromer's experience as New Orleans' interim head coach didn't go so well, but that shouldn't detract from an otherwise superb track record. In Chicago, Kromer may have a bit more of a challenge in front of him, but if history is any indication, he should be up to the challenge.
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Best Assistant Coach: Mike Zimmer, Defensive Coordinator
A frequently-seen name among head coaching candidates, Zimmer is one of the best defensive minds in the game. Cincinnati's defense has shown remarkable improvement under Zimmer, who has served as the team's defensive coordinator for six years.
Zimmer could find himself a head coach as soon as next year, and it would probably be overdue. For now, though, the Bengals are glad no team has picked him up.
Best Assistant Coach: Mike Pettine, Defensive Coordinator
There's no denying one thing: Mike Pettine's New York defenses were good. In fact, the Jets had a top-10 defense each of the four years Pettine served as the team's defensive coordinator.
Now in Buffalo and away from Rex Ryan, Pettine has to prove he can succeed by himself. New York didn't always have the most talented defense—especially in 2012—and Pettine deserves some credit for that.
The question is how the credit should be divvied up between Pettine and Ryan.
Jack Del Rio
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Best Assistant Coach: Jack Del Rio, Defensive Coordinator
Like many failed head coaches, Del Rio is much better off as an assistant. He lasted nine years as Jacksonville's head coach, but he was never particularly successful there.
In just one season with Denver, Del Rio has put himself back on the map as a top defensive coordinator. The Broncos' defense was No. 2 in the NFL, behind only the Steelers.
And the team's defensive prowess wasn't just a matter of talent—there are several defenses that look better on paper. Clearly, Del Rio did something that made the unit work.
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Best Assistant Coach: Norv Turner, Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks
Turner is a terrible head coach. One of the worst out there. His experience in San Diego is definitive proof of this.
But man, is he a great offensive coordinator.
Turner's offenses are consistently among the NFL's best, and he is a well-established quarterback guru. The offensive mastermind's scheme has inspired many others, including Cleveland's head coach Rob Chudzinski.
The Browns also have a brilliant defensive coordinator in Ray Horton, but Turner's experience puts him ahead.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Best Assistant Coach: Earnest Byner, Running Backs
Byner has jumped around a bit in recent years, but his running backs are always successful. In nine years as a running back coach, Byner has never failed to have a 1,000-yard rusher.
In the past, Byner has coached Chris Johnson, Maurice Jones-Drew and Clinton Portis. In 2012, he of course coached Doug Martin, who had a terrific rookie campaign, gaining over 1,900 all-purpose yards.
Perhaps Byner has merely been lucky to have coached many great running backs, but at this point, it's starting to seem like more than a coincidence.
Best Assistant Coach: John Lott, Strength and Conditioning
Since 1997, Lott has worked in the NFL as a head strength and conditioning coach, never taking a year off. Over that time frame, Lott has worked for just three teams.
It's difficult to directly attribute results to strength and conditioning. One thing is certain, though. This guy is respected around the league. He has survived complete coaching overhauls, which isn't exactly a common thing in the NFL.
If you've ever watched the bench press at the NFL Scouting Combine, you saw Lott's work. He was the spotter for 16 years before not returning in 2013.
San Diego Chargers
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Best Assistant Coach: Ken Whisenhunt, Offensive Coordinator
Unlike most former head coaches on this list, Whisenhunt was actually pretty good as the top guy. In fact, Whisenhunt was even considered for some head coaching jobs this year, just after being fired.
Whisenhunt spent three seasons as Pittsburgh's offensive coordinator, where he helped develop Ben Roethlisberger. The Steelers won the Super Bowl in Whisenhunt's final season with the team, and he was later successful working with Kurt Warner in Arizona.
It has been several years since he worked as an assistant coach, and he may not be one for long, but Whisenhunt is an excellent coach.
Kansas City Chiefs
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Best Assistant Coach: David Culley, Assistant Head Coach/Wide Receivers
Culley has been an NFL wide receiver coach since 1994, spending the past 14 seasons in Philadelphia. With the Eagles, Culley developed numerous wide receivers, including DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin.
Culley's experience is extremely impressive, as is his history of developing young wide receivers. Kansas City will be looking for him to get something out of disappointing first-round pick Jonathan Baldwin.
Whether Culley is good enough to do that will be decided soon enough.
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Best Assistant Coach: Pep Hamilton, Offensive Coordinator
Hamilton spent the past three years at Stanford, serving as quarterback coach and offensive coordinator for the past two. Hamilton was essential in developing Andrew Luck while at Stanford, and he looks to continue that process in the NFL.
Admittedly, Hamilton is a risky pick here. He has been extremely successful in the college ranks, but he needs to show he can handle the pros. He may not be able to.
Don't write Hamilton off, though. He did help produce one of the best college quarterbacks ever, and his offense should translate.
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Best Assistant Coach: Bill Callahan, Offensive Coordinator/Offensive Line
This is much more about Callahan the offensive line coach than Callahan the offensive coordinator, in which capacity he is unproven. As an offensive line coach, Callahan is terrific, as his success with the Jets clearly indicates.
Dallas' offensive line wasn't great in 2012, but that was because of the team's talent, not Callahan's coaching. It's difficult to say how things will go this year, though Callahan's résumé suggests play will improve.
Callahan will also be calling the plays in 2013, and the team could benefit with Jason Garrett now taking a back seat.
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Best Assistant Coach: Mike Sherman, Offensive Coordinator
Prior to joining the Dolphins, Sherman had spent the previous five seasons as Texas A&M's head coach. With previous NFL experience and a great record in the NCAA, Sherman was an impressive candidate.
In 2012, the Miami offense had some struggles, but rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill showed improvement and terrific ability. Sherman is a sharp offensive mind, constantly adjusting, and he has shown the ability to get the most out of his players.
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Best Assistant Coach: Ted Williams, Tight Ends
For the past 16 years, Williams served as Philadelphia's running back coach. Recently, he coached stars such as Brian Westbrook and LeSean McCoy, and his sheer longevity is beyond impressive.
Now, for the first time since 1996, Williams will be coaching tight ends. He is one of the few coaches on Philadelphia's staff with any NFL experience, and he will be doing something quite different in 2013.
It is impossible to say how Williams will adjust to coaching tight ends, but his success as an NFL coach far outweighs any other Philadelphia assistant's.
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Best Assistant Coach: Dirk Koetter, Offensive Coordinator
Atlanta's offense certainly isn't without talent, but Koetter has done a terrific job of utilizing the team's playmakers. Koetter has also faced the difficulty of having a rather lethargic rushing attack.
Under Koetter, Matt Ryan put together his best season yet, and Atlanta had the NFL's No. 8 offense. Koetter received multiple head coaching interviews over the offseason, and for good reason. He made this Atlanta offense work like it hadn't before.
San Francisco 49ers
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Best Assistant Coach: Greg Roman, Offensive Coordinator
Between Roman, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio and special teams coordinator Brad Seely, San Francisco has three brilliant coordinators. However, Roman's innovation wins him this one.
When Alex Smith was forced to the bench by injury, Roman immediately adapted the the 49ers offense to fit Colin Kaepernick. The offense emphasized zone-read principles and was immediately successful, pushing the team all the way to the Super Bowl.
Roman's offense with Kaepernick was nearly unstoppable last year, and with a full offseason to work on new plays, it could be even more dynamic this year.
New York Giants
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Best Assistant Coach: Perry Fewell, Defensive Coordinator
In the past, Fewell has interviewed for head-coaching jobs but come up short. Fortunately for the Giants, he has remained the team's defensive coordinator until the long-awaited job offer comes.
Fewell has served as New York's defensive coordinator since 2010 with measurable success. The team's defense is prolific for its pass rush and was a key component to its victory in Super Bowl XLVI.
It shouldn't be long before Fewell finally gets a chance to be a head coach, but New York wouldn't mind if it took forever.
Best Assistant Coach: Todd Wash, Defensive Line
Wash spent the past two seasons coaching Seattle's defensive line before making a lateral move, following Gus Bradley to Jacksonville. Anyone coming from the Seahawks' coaching staff should be given a close look, but this applies even more to anyone working with Seattle's defense.
Defensively, the Seahawks have been innovative, mixing up gap assignments and alignments. This scheme will carry over to Jacksonville, and it's important for the Jaguars to have someone like Wash, who was a huge part of implementing the scheme in Seattle.
New York Jets
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Best Assistant Coach: Marty Mornhinweg, Offensive Coordinator
In Philadelphia, Mornhinweg was extremely successful, implementing a unique offense for Michael Vick and company. There were some ups and downs, but on the whole, Mornhinweg's offense worked well.
In New York, the former Lions head coach will face more difficulties. The Jets have a distinct lack of talent, and Mornhinweg is coming from a team with plenty. However, he has shown the ability to adjust to personnel and could improve what was a horrific unit.
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Best Assistant Coach: Jim Washburn, Asst. Defensive Line/Pass Rush Specialist
A well-known defensive line genius, Washburn has coached numerous linemen to fame. Pupils include Jevon Kearse, Albert Haynesworth, Kevin Carter and Jason Babin.
Washburn is famous for his wide-9 defense, which certainly has its flaws but is also deadly-effective against the pass. More importantly, though, Washburn is a great teacher who has brought out the best of many players throughout his career.
With talented linemen like Ndamukong Suh, Ezekiel Ansah and Nick Fairley in Detroit, Washburn could make a huge impact.
Green Bay Packers
Best Assistant Coach: Tom Clements, Offensive Coordinator
Dom Capers is the better-known coach, and a brilliant one at that, but Clements has made a name for himself, as well, and has the more recent success to back him up.
Clements served as Green Bay's quarterback coach for six years and, more than anyone else, is responsible for coaching and developing Aaron Rodgers. Any coach who helped create an Aaron Rodgers deserves a little credit.
In 2012, Clements spent his first year as Green Bay's offensive coordinator, and the team continued to dominate. The Packers' last offensive coordinator, Joe Philbin, became a head coach, and Clements could soon follow his footsteps.
Best Assistant Coach: Pete Hoener, Tight Ends
Pete Hoener spent the past two seasons coaching tight ends for Carolina, one of the most tight end-heavy offenses in the NFL. The results have been positive, too, with Greg Olsen having his best season ever in 2012.
Before moving to Carolina, Hoener coached tight ends for San Francisco, where he helped develop one of the league's best in Vernon Davis. Another 49ers tight end Hoener coached, Delanie Walker, is now a starter in Tennessee.
New England Patriots
Best Assistant Coach: Pepper Johnson, Linebackers
From 2004 through 2011, Johnson coached New England's defensive line. During this time, the Patriots developed star linemen Richard Seymour, Ty Warren and Vince Wilfork. Surely, Johnson deserves at least some credit for this.
Now the team's linebacker coach, Johnson has again helped the team develop talent. Linebackers Brandon Spikes, Jerod Mayo and Dont'a Hightower all played at high levels.
Johnson has been with New England since 2000, and there is a reason Bill Belichick hasn't let him get away.
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Best Assistant Coach: Tony Sparano, Assistant Head Coach/Offensive Line
Sparano has always been an excellent offensive line coach. Problems have occurred when teams wanted him to be more than that.
In his role with the Raiders, Sparano is one of the league's best. He will have the team's line playing better than it ever has before, and he can surely advise Dennis Allen on what not to do as a head coach.
Don't let Sparano's recent failings fool you. He can coach offensive linemen.
St. Louis Rams
Best Assistant Coach: MIke Waufle, Defensive Line
Waufle has spent 15 years as an NFL defensive line coach with terrific success. He coached the New York Giants' terrific defensive line in 2007 (and every year from 2004 through 2009) and brought about drastic improvement in the Rams' own unit.
Last year, defensive ends Robert Quinn and Chris Long combined for 22 sacks. In fact, St. Louis jumped from No. 15 in sacks to No. 1 in just a year—Waufle's first with the team.
Best Assistant Coach: Ted Monachino, Linebackers
Think about how many great linebackers the Ravens have had: Terrell Suggs, Bart Scott, Paul Kruger, Dannell Ellerbe and Ray Lewis. That's not to say Monachino deserves full credit for all these successes, but he has to be a factor, right?
No matter who Baltimore loses in free agency, it constantly has an elite linebacker unit. A huge part of that is the incredible performance of the team's personnel department, but coaching is also an enormous factor.
Monachino has continually developed talent and coached up the old talent on the roster. Few teams have units as dominant as the Ravens' linebackers.
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Best Assistant Coach: Kyle Shanahan, Offensive Coordinator
In 2012, Mike Shanahan son's offense was simply brilliant. He did an amazing job of getting Robert Griffin III out of the pocket and utilizing his mobility while not limiting the team's passing attack.
Frequently rolling out, Griffin was presented with the option to pass or throw, and the Washington offense seemed to create open receivers out of nowhere. Often, Griffin didn't have to make a difficult play—the offense gave him a wide-open one.
How a coach uses a transcendent talent like RG3 tells a lot about him. Kyle Shanahan passed that test and then some.
New Orleans Saints
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Best Assistant Coach: Rob Ryan, Defensive Coordinator
This isn't an awe-inspiring coaching staff after Sean Payton, so Ryan gets the nod. As controversial as he is, Ryan knows how to create a pass rush, and that is a huge part of his job.
Most defensive coordinators' ideas of elaborate blitzes barely even register on Ryan's scale. He is the king of sending guys from anywhere and everywhere, which backfires at times, but comes up big at others.
That's not to say Ryan is some defensive mastermind, but he is a solid coach and certainly a memorable one.
Best Assistant Coach: Kris Richard, Defensive Backs
There may not be a more impressive position group in football than Seattle's secondary. At cornerback, there is Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner. At safety, there is Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor.
None of these guys was anything in the NFL before Richard. Many things have gone right with Seattle's innovative defense, the biggest of which is its use of lengthy defensive backs. Richard has developed that length into something more, and that is the key to the Seahawks' defensive dominance.
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Best Assistant Coach: Dick LeBeau, Defensive Coordinator
Pittsburgh has had a top-five defense each of the past six years. There have been some constants during that time frame, but none as influential as LeBeau.
The inventor of the famed zone blitz defense, LeBeau is constantly adapting to the ever-changing NFL, even now at 75 years old. His 3-4 defense is the most feared in football, and there isn't a better defensive mind in the game.
It's almost impossible to overstate LeBeau's impact on the Steelers. When he finally decides to retire, the team will realize just how important the Hall-of-Famer is.
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Best Assistant Coach: Wade Phillips, Defensive Coordinator
It doesn't seem to matter who they lose, whether it's Mario Williams or DeMeco Ryans. Houston's defense keeps dominating all the same.
Phillips was the key to the Texans' defensive turnaround. In his first year with the team, the Texans' defense jumped from No. 31 to No. 2.
Quite the leap.
It's not fair to attribute this all to Phillips—the team also drafted J.J. Watt in that timeframe—but the defensive mastermind's schematic changes did make a huge difference.
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Best Assistant Coach: Shawn Jefferson, Wide Receivers
This is the guy who coached Megatron.
Admittedly, Mr. Johnson probably didn't need much coaching, but if he did, this is the guy who was there for Johnson's early years, teaching the star wideout everything he knows, no doubt.
In Detroit, Jefferson coached Johnson while also getting some solid years out of Nate Burleson. There aren't any rags-to-riches stories here, but Jefferson didn't coach a bunch of scrubs with the Lions, either.
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Best Assistant Coach: Jeff Davidson, Offensive Line
Behind Adrian Peterson, Minnesota's offensive line was its biggest strength in 2012. Rookie left tackle Matt Kalil exceeded expectations, and the rest of the line played better than it ever had before.
Davidson has a strong reputation throughout the league, having worked as Carolina's offensive coordinator and Cleveland's offensive line coach before joining the Vikings. His offensive lines have consistently been above-average.
There isn't much flash with Davidson—he isn't a great offensive coordinator by any means—but he is a solid offensive line coach who gets results.