Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Connecting the Dots

by: Michael Steffes

I heard that there was an opening for a writer around here with Sully on the move, so I thought I might chime in. First, let me say thanks to all those who left me kind words on my way out, it was very touching.

The season burned me out pretty good, but lately I have been back to my old tricks and I have a lot of stuff to share. What interests me most is the shaping of the 2009 Hawks that is going on right now through the coaching search.

While Jim Mora is yet to speak, the information that has been leaked tells quite a story.


To begin with, it is clear that the front office is taking a role finding the coaching staff. This can be seen as a good thing or a bad thing depending on how you view the front office. However, one thing that is promising is that there is one direction that the organization is heading. Lately the Hawks have suffered under two separate approaches, the offensive minded coach and the defensive minded front office. Now the front office has a chance to put the defense in that they have been acquiring players for since 2006.

This will disappoint many fans, but the Hawks are sticking with the 4-3/Tampa 2. It is clear by the defensive coaches they are looking at. Both of the two coaches that have been brought in, Rod Marinelli and "Gus" Bradley are well schooled in this defense. The Hawks are seemingly only a piece or two away from having the right personnel to run the Tampa 2 effectively, and when run effectively it has been proven to work, even with undersized players. Mike Sando says that John Marshall and Dwaine Board have been given the chance to follow other opportunities. They won't be back.

This leaves openings for a defensive line coach and a defensive coordinator. However, expect the Hawks DC to be more like a position coach or supervisor. Mora will be in charge of the defense. Marinelli is the logical choice, as he could handle the d-line and be the coordinator. Hiring Bradley is a bit more intriguing, as he would be the third linebackers coach in the building. Chris Beake, Mora's former linebackers coach, was brought in with no position last year, and Zerrick Rollins appears to be staying. It is possible that Rollins, a DE in college, could take over the D-line, with Marinelli as the coordinator and Beake coaching linebackers. That makes the most sense to me.

Also, today it was reported the Hawks are looking at special teams coaches. I say great! Despite the success the return games had this year, rarely did they scare anybody. And the early season struggles of the special teams are an ongoing problem. By requesting to interview New England's special teams coach, the Hawks are showing another change in philosophy. Brad Seely and NE have never shied away from playing their best players on special teams, despite their status as starters. They emphasize the importance of this phase of the game, something that hasn't happened in Seattle for quite some time.

Another name to watch here is Joe DeCamillis. When Dallas fired Bruce Read, his name came up as an option for the 'Boys. Well, he hasn't signed, and Decamillis and Mora worked together in Atlanta. He was the lone holdover from the previous staff. Assuming they got along, he could be interested in a job here as well. I think many coaches will look skeptically at the Cowboys this offseason. DeCamillis is one of the top ST coaches around.

Finally, let's look at the offense. While there haven't been any interviews leaked from the offensive side of the ball, it is still worth talking about. First off, Mike Sando also mentioned that Keith Gilbertson has been given the opportunity to leave, which is not surprising given the way the receivers struggled this year. Look for Kasey Dunn, a standout WR in college and current running backs coach to take that spot. This opens a hole for the oft-rumored Tom Rathman. Getting Rathman would be huge. He is generally considered the top RB coach around, especially when it comes to blitz pickups. Of course, Gregg Knapp might come with him.

One of the reasons we have yet to hear much about the offensive side of the ball is that the Raiders' coaches are still under contract until Jan 13th. Hey, if Al disrespects Tom Cable, he could end up here too. It has long been rumored Knapp, Rathman, and Cable would end up with Mora. We shall see, but the shine certainly wore off the star of Knapp this year, and that could lead to different options being examined.

I sent the staff here a tip to look into Jeff Jagodzinsky. It would appear that he has done his best to escape his gig at Boston College. He clearly was not high on the Jets list, but risked his job at BC by interviewing anyway. Now Newsday is speculating he wanted out anyway to get back into the NFL. Well, his backup plan could easily have been the Hawks. Mora and Ruskell saw him as a rising star in Atlanta, promoting him and then recommending him for an OC job in '06. Also, he worked with Hasselbeck in his senior year at BC, another interesting tie to the Hawks. He is going to be mentioned for a lot of OC jobs when the dust settles, and the Hawks will be lucky if he chooses the NW. He is a star in the making.

For the first time in a long time, the Hawks are looking for assistant coaches at the right time instead of picking from the scrap heap. Getting the right people in the organization is key for a quick rebound. Expect most of the new blood brought in to stay, but a lot of the older staff to leave. Marmie, Haskell, and DeHaven will be the next names to go.

Clearly, Mora and Ruskell are going to have their guys in place, and hopefully soon. Let's just hope they are of one mind, because they last thing we need is the coach and GM to working towards different ends again. I doubt that will be the case though, or Ruskell wouldn't have brought Mora along the way he did.

The best part of all this is that the Hawks are looking at top assistants instead of being caught up in the whirlwind of head coaching searches going on right now. The names being interviewed around the league don't inspire near the amount of confidence as Jim Mora, a guy who took his team to the NFC Championship game in his first year ever. When you watch the struggles of coaches like Tony Sparano and Mike Smith in the Wild Card round, you get a sense how difficult that must have been.