For what had to be a first in NFL history three offensive coordinators were fired two weeks or less before the regular season.
Each team—Chiefs, Buccaneers, and Bills—had similar issues before the moves were made. Together they combined for two wins total all preseason. With the first team offense on the field, a time when chemistry and fluidity are expected, combined they scored only two offensive touchdowns.
In the past, if a coach struggles during the early season stages the organization didn’t shy against firing for lack of results.
But when was the last time it has happened so early?
Of course firing the offensive coach doesn’t immediately fix the problems of the lifeless O’s. It can actually turn out to be the start of a chemistry building process that teams would like to have already crafted before or during preseason.
Below is a breakdown of each team’s decision and the fantasy impact it may have.
Many questions surrounded the organization before the move was made after the knee injury to their new quarterback Matt Cassel, during a 14-10 loss to the Seahawks.
The former Patriots QB is expected to miss two-to-four weeks, leaving the Chiefs with Brodie Croyle as the starter for week one. Croyle has never won an NFL game and is 0-8 in the past two seasons.
“I don’t think we’re going to be a high-powered group right now,” Chiefs coach Todd Haley said after the game.
The Chiefs scored only two offensive touchdowns combined in four games this preseason.
Haley, the offensive coordinator for the Cardinals in 2007-08, vows to do everything he can to bring the Chiefs—a team who has won only six games in the past two seasons—to respectability again.
Larry Johnson is still a threat in the backfield, but if teams stack the box he will have nowhere to run.
The loss of tight end Tony Gonzalez will hurt the Chiefs and I don’t expect much play from the Chiefs TEs.
Wide receiver Dwayne Bowe returns—the Chiefs leader with 86 receptions for 1,022 yards and seven TDs last season. Bowe is expected to have another good year as part of the third-year wide receiver theory. The Chiefs also picked up WR Terrance Copper who had 38 receptions for 511 yards with five TDs for the Saints last season.
WR Bobby Engram hopes to bounce back a season after injuring his shoulder producing only 47 receptions for 489 yards in 2008. In ‘07 Engram tallied a career-high 94 receptions for a career-best 1,147 yards with six TDs.
“A consistent message is what I’ve been sending these guys,” said Haley, “not the same message but a consistent one.”
Expect Haley to lean on his offensive assistants such as O-line coach Bill Muir who has 32 years NFL experience and was the Buccaneers coordinator for six years (2002-08).
“It’s going to be a lot busier,” said Haley.”I’m grateful that I have some former coordinators around me.”
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Buccaneers followed suit by firing their offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski on September 3, ten days before the start of the season. Similar to the Chiefs, they also have a first-year head coach in Raheem Morris, Tampa’s defensive backs coach for the past two seasons.
At 33, Morris is the youngest coach in the NFL. The final decision to fire Jagodzinski fell on the young coach’s shoulders, and many say he is way over his head.
“It was time, before the last preseason game to make the decision so that we could move on and be ready,” said Morris.
Team sources said that conflict had been building since early in training camp with coaches and players disagreeing with Jagodzinski's coaching philosophies and teaching methods.
The team may have made this decision early on as running backs coach Steve Logan, who was Jagodzinski's offensive coordinator at Boston College, was the one calling plays during the preseason.
“We’re in constant evaluation of our staff,” said Morris. We need to be more precise, we need to be more detailed, and we need to have more direction to where we’re going to go.”
Taking over the offensive coaching duties is former Rams off. coordinator in 2007-08 — Greg Olsen. Olsen led the 11th-ranked Buccaneers passing offense in the NFL in 2008, but lost QB Jeff Garcia in the offseason.
Former Jaguars QB Byron Leftwich has only played 14 games in the past three seasons and will take over the starting role for Tampa Bay. He will try to develop chemistry with TE Kellen Winslow—signed in the offseason—who hopes to bounce back to his ’07 form (82 receptions, 1,106 yards and five TDs) after a drop off from last year with the Browns (43 catches for 428 yards and three TDs).
“We’re talking about a different direction in our passing game a little bit,” said Morris, ”more vertical balls down the field.”
Always a deep threat, WR Antonio Bryant will lead the Bucs receiving corps. Last season Bryant had 83 catches for 1,248 yards (15.0 a catch) and seven TDs.
In addition to Olsen as the off. coordinator Morris intends to rely a lot on eighth-year wide receivers coach and asst. head coach Richard Mann. In his press conference the new head coach stated that the passing game was going to be an area of change.
On the other side will be Michael Clayton, who had 38 receptions for 484 yards and one TD.
Besides the names of the backs with the acquisition of Derrick Ward, who’s ranked 25 on some analysts board of top RBs,the Bucs running philosophy will remain the same. They expect a three committee approach with Earnest Graham and Carnell “Cadillac” Williams two and three on the depth chart, respectively.
“The plan has not changed,” said Morris. “We’re still a zone-blocking scheme led by Pete Mangurian and how heavily influenced he was with that running attack."
“This offense was headed on the right direction,” he said. ”Now we have to finish off the deal with some different guys.”
Schonert was said to be the culprit of the no-huddle approach, as a member of the Bengals coaching staff that won the Super Bowl in 1988, beating Bills in the AFC Championship with that same approach.
With his departure, former Bills QB and quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt was promoted to offensive coordinator. Before the move in Buffalo there was a plea for Trent Edwards to take over the offensive play-calling duties. There has to be more of a push to give him the play-calling duties now, touted by many as the way to be successful in the no-huddle as Jim Kelly was in the ’90s.
Kelly supported the Bills in the decision to promote Van Pelt.
"I think he's got everything he needs," Kelly said. "The only thing he might lack right now is the experience. But in order to get that experience, you've got to be thrown into the fire and you've got to experience it first-hand. “
Those around the league had high hopes for the Bills offense as they picked up Terrell Owens and Dominic Rhodes in the offseason. But the offense struggled to find consistency, Rhodes was released, and the no-huddle which is most effective at quick drives keeping defenses on their toes backfired, requiring the Bills defense to stay on the field more time.
Head coach Dick Jauron will be under fire all season to perform and if the Bills struggle out the gate don’t be surprised to see him go as well. The final decision for Van Pelt to go was made by Jauron, who knows his performance will determine if he stays with the Bills for a fifth-year.
It didn’t feel like we we’re progressing,” said Jauron. “You didn’t get the feel that we we’re going forward.”
Jauron mentioned that Eric Studesville will continue his duties at running backs coach. With Marshawn Lynch suspended and after Rhodes' departure, Fred Jackson and Xavier Omon will carry the load at least until week four.
Jackson ran 130 times last season for 571 yards and three TDs and Omon had a less-than mediocre preseason with 29 carries for 79 yards and one TD.
At receivers the Bills have T.O., alongside Lee Evans, with Josh Reed and Roscoe Parrish in the slot. Evans has always been a deep threat and should get more work finally able to escape the double team with T.O. on the other side.
Though Owens is turning 37 this season, he continues to be one of the hardest trained athletes in the NFL. Last season he caught 69 passes for 1,052 yards and 10 TDs.
Edwards looked like he was on the same page with Owens in the preseason opener — the Hall of Fame game — getting it to the Pro Bowl receiver with two easy receptions, but a toe injury kept Owens out for the remainder of the preseason.
The Bills third-year quarterback is not worried about the teams’ non-production in the preseason and is confident that the work the team put in during practice was enough to prepare them for the regular season.
Van Pelt won’t have much time to work with the offense as the Bills head to New England September 14 for the Monday Night opener.
“These next six or seven days might determine what they are going to do because basically we'll see how things will work under Alex,” said Kelly. “I'm sure he'll have some adjustments to make. You can't just totally overhaul your whole offense. You have to stick with a lot of similar things.”
Summing it up
Though they all had different approaches and replacements after the firings, one goal remains the same for all coaches—produce offensively.
They better mold quickly as each faces one of last season's top 10 defenses in its opener.
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