The Bengals' defensive staff will be seeing a major turnover in 2016. And maybe it's for the better.
Consider the coaches the Bengals have hired to replace their talented group of exiting staffers. The most eye-catching coaching hire of this offseason has been former Saints, Rams (interim), and Tuskers (UFL) head coach, Jim Haslett as linebackers coach. Before rising to the ranks of defensive coordinator with the Saints in 1996, Haslett cut his teeth as a linebacker coach from 1991-1995. Not to mention, he was an NFL linebacker from 1979-1987. Haslett fills in for Matt Burke who left the team to join Vance Joseph (more on him later) in Miami.
Jay Hayes joined the Bengals as part of Marvin Lewis's original coaching staff in 2003 and has served as a fantastic defensive line coach since. He helped to develop talents like Geno Atkins, Michael Johnson, Carlos Dunlap, Wallace Gilberry, Domata Peko, Justin Smith, Robert Geathers, John Thornton, and many more great Bengals defensive linemen of the last 13 years. Unfortunately for the Bengals, Dirk Koetter lured him away to Tampa Bay to serve in the same role down south, and Jacob Burney was hired in his place.
Who is Burney, you ask? He's been a defensive line coach in the NFL for 21 years. Lewis originally worked with him when he was a defensive line coach back in 1996 with the Baltimore Ravens when Lewis was defensive coordinator. He also coached under Bill Belichick from 1994-1995 with the Cleveland Browns. If you're looking to replace Hayes' years of experience as an NFL position coach (27 years), Burney is a pretty good pick.
Finally, there's the prodigal son. Kevin Coyle was Vance Joseph before there was Vance Joseph. Not only did he coach the Bengals' defensive backs from 2003-2011, but he did so with a certain level of consistency and effectiveness that is rare for a coach tenured that long at the same position. Like Joseph, other teams caught on to his effectiveness and started thinking about him for their vacant coordinator positions.
Also like Joseph, the Bengals denied their requests to interview him a few times before eventually letting him leave for a defensive coordinator spot. Once again, like Joseph, that spot was the vacant defensive coordinator spot with Joe Philbin's Miami Dolphins. Philbin's successor, Adam Gase, got the jump on Joseph this year to replace Coyle with his Cincinnati successor. So, the Bengals figured why not utilize the reverse strategy.
Given Coyle's fantastic run of success as a DB coach with the Bengals, as well as his new experience as a defensive coordinator, Coyle returned as the new DB coach. To somewhat replace the role that Mark Carrier played as co-defensive backs coach to Joseph, Guenther plucked the young Robert Livingston straight out of the assistant special teams and defensive quality control spot to serve as an assistant coach. Coyle was a one man team when he was last in Cincinnati, but the Joseph/Carrier tandem worked so well over the past couple of years, why fix what's not broken?
While many would be scared about such an abundance of coaching changes, Bengals defensive coordinator Paul Guenther recently told the Cincinnati Enquirer that he's comfortable with the turnover.
"I’m excited," Guenther said. "It’s more of an exciting time. We have guys that have gone through it as coordinators. They may bring ideas to the table. Some of them I may like and some of them, no, ‘this is our system, we know what works.’ It’s proven and if there’s something they can add that fits what we’re doing. We’re not going to go out to left field and say hey, let’s put all this stuff in. We’re not going to do that. I’m kind of happy how it went."
Guenther understands that team chemistry is an important part of the equation for any competitive team, but he still insists that "I didn't care if I didn't know the guy prior. I just wanted the best coaches for our players."
If they were looking for a proven track record, that's what they got. Haslett, Coyle, and Burney have a combined 56 years of combined NFL coaching experience, and that's not even counting coaching at different levels or their playing careers.
"I feel comfortable," Guenther said via the Enquirer of the changes. "You don't have quite the recall (of past games). But those things happen. When you have guys that have experience they kind of get it faster. I think. Time will tell. I don't have any worries about that at all. Not at all."
Guenther expressed that the spring will be important as the new coaches learn the Bengals' defensive playbook and get adjusted to the team. "There's going to be some things that come up that the players know that the coaches may not. That's OK. That's all part of it. There may be some things that these guys will teach the players that they haven't heard before. It'll work hand in hand."
There's also the interesting caveat that Marvin Lewis has experience with most of these coaches. Coyle and Burney alone combine for 14 years of experience with Lewis, while Haslett has always been a bit late to the Marvin Lewis party. After 1995, Lewis left as the Pittsburgh Steelers linebackers coach to become the Baltimore Ravens' defensive coordinator in 1996. A year later, in 1997 Haslett was hired in Pittsburgh to assist Lewis's replacement, Mike Archer. In 2009, Haslett hired Lewis's former DC in Cincinnati, Chuck Bresnahan, to coach the linebackers for the UFL's Florida Tuskers.
If Guenther's perspective is to be accepted on this matter, there doesn't seem to be any reason to be worried about the Bengals changes to their coaching staff. The sheer amount of experience coming into this group should prove useful as the team looks to pick up where they left off last season, rather than get stuck in a year-long learning curve. If anything, the changes to the coaching staff could be just what the Bengals need as the previous group wasn't able to help the team to shed their playoff woes.
"I think we can even get it better," Guenther told the Enquirer. "That’s what I told Marvin. My whole thing is I want to get it better than I had it a year ago and bringing in new guys with experience will help that."