Commanders coaching staff reset: Taking a look at the coordinators and assistants


The Dan Quinn era with the Washington Commanders will eventually be defined by wins and losses. Days after being hired as former head coach Ron Rivera’s replacement and with player acquisitions weeks away, assessments of Quinn center on the formation of his staff.

All three coordinator roles are filled with the offensive (Kliff Kingsbury) and defensive (Joe Whitt Jr.) hires official. The Athletic reported or confirmed with team and league sources on four other coaches who have agreed to terms with the Commanders. Washington is expected to announce the full staff this week. Here’s what to know about Quinn’s coaches for the 2024 season. We will continue to provide updates following additional reports.

Coordinators

Kliff Kingsbury, offensive coordinator

Kingsbury is the best-known and most polarizing of the assistant hires. He earns points for his creative play designs during his time as head coach of Texas Tech, where he mentored Patrick Mahomes, and for four seasons running the show with the Arizona Cardinals from 2019 to 2022. Last year was spent at USC with quarterback Caleb Williams, the projected No. 1 pick in the 2024 class.

Quinn hired Kyle Shanahan as his offensive coordinator with Atlanta in 2015; the Falcons won the NFC the following year. He found similarities when tangling against Kingsbury’s teams and kept mental notes should he ever be positioned to hire coaches again.

“In the same way … I wanted to hire Kyle years ago,” Quinn said at his Feb. 5 introductory news conference. “(Kliff) was hard to go against. He would stretch the field horizontally and vertically. (You knew) this is going to be tough, matchups, formations, speed, shots down the field, aggressiveness, boldness to go. … If I get that shot, this is somebody I would want to talk to.”

The wonder is whether the perception of production from Kingsbury’s fast-paced scheme outkicks reality. Arizona never finished higher than 11th in points scored in his four-year tenure. Kingsbury helped Kyler Murray’s successful transition into the NFL as the No. 1 draft selection in 2019. Still, the quarterback plateaued and perhaps declined slightly in 2022, leading to Kingsbury’s firing after a 4-13 record. Unlike those past stops, he can focus solely on the offense without other responsibilities.

2023 offensive coordinator: Eric Bieniemy

go-deeper

GO DEEPER

Jones: NFL’s next step in improving diversity? Look at the offensive coordinators

Joe Whitt Jr., defensive coordinator

Having assistants capable of spreading the head coach’s message is critical, but it also takes a proper understanding of said message and approach. Washington is Whitt’s third stop with Quinn dating back to 2020, all of which as the secondary coach and pass-game coordinator. Dallas ranked first, seventh and eighth in interceptions over the previous three seasons. Two corners — Trevon Diggs in 2021 and DaRon Bland in 2023 — led the league in interceptions during that stretch.

Significant holes exist at all three levels of Washington’s defense. Expect extra input for the secondary. Dallas finished fifth in points, overall yards and passing yards allowed this past season. Challenges ahead include teaching 2023 first-round cornerback Emmanuel Forbes Jr., who’s coming off a frustrating rookie season, pushing the right buttons with linebacker Jamin Davis, and gauging whether second-year edge rushers KJ Henry and Andre Jones Jr. are ready for rotation reps.

2023 defensive coordinators: Jack Del Rio/Ron Rivera

Larry Izzo, special teams coordinator

The name may sound familiar to longtime NFL fans. Izzo is recognized as the all-time leader in special teams tackles (298) following a 14-year career with the Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots and New York Jets. His stint with New England (2001 to 2008) overlapped with new Commanders general manager Adam Peters and concluded with three Super Bowl rings. Izzo’s coaching career began with the New York Giants in 2011 before two years as the Houston Texans’ special teams coordinator.

go-deeper

GO DEEPER

With a GM in place, Commanders are poised to handle coaching drama

He joined the Seahawks in 2018 and became a full-time coordinator in 2021. When new Seattle coach Mike Macdonald hired Jim Harbaugh’s son as his special teams coordinator, Izzo interviewed around the league before agreeing to terms with Washington. Nate Kaczor and running backs coach Randy Jordan were Jay Gruden’s assistants retained by Rivera. Both are moving on — Jordan maintains the same title with the Tennessee Titans — after Quinn’s arrival.

2023 special teams coordinator: Nate Kaczor

Assistant coaches

Tavita Pritchard, quarterbacks coach

The first known holdover is another teacher for a young quarterback. According to a team source, Pritchard impressed Quinn and Kingsbury in his interview. That’s unsurprising to those familiar with the engaging coach and Stanford’s starting quarterback before Andrew Luck.

Pritchard, who turns 37 on Feb. 20, joined last year’s staff to help develop Sam Howell. We know how the season concluded — an eight-game losing skid and Howell’s performance declining — but getting the 2022 fifth-round pick prepared to start all 17 games was an accomplishment.

Rivera took a significant risk in January 2023, naming Howell QB1 entering the offseason program. The kid with one career NFL start avoided sustained missteps throughout training camp, thus keeping backup Jacoby Brissett holding a clipboard until deep into the campaign. The coaching staff, including, if not primarily Pritchard, deserves credit for Howell’s initial growth.

Pritchard is part of a new staff set to prep a likely quarterback selection at No. 2 overall. Perhaps Howell remains in the starting mix or as Washington’s primary backup, but, for now, don’t read much into his future because Pritchard stayed. It’s reasonable to consider if the quarterbacks coach is a future offensive coordinator now that two staffs — and other teams this cycle — wanted him on their side.

2023 quarterback coach: Tavita Pritchard

Brian Johnson, offensive assistant

Life moves fast as an NFL coach. Johnson’s recent journey is quite an example. He became an apparent assistant on the rise as Jalen Hurts’ quarterbacks coach for Philadelphia’s 2021-22 seasons. That led to an offensive coordinator promotion before the 2023 season. The Eagles’ 10-1 start thrust the former University of Utah quarterback onto the list of potential 2024 head coach hires. Philly then lost six of its final seven games, including a wild-card playoff contest against Tampa Bay, and Johnson lost his job.

League-wide intrigue remains; Johnson interviewed for the Falcons’ and Titans’ head coach openings plus offensive coordinator opportunities before landing with Washington for a yet-to-be-determined title. Kingsbury’s NFL offenses rushed the ball more than assumed — the Cardinals were top-seven in carries in 2020 and 2021 with the mobile Murray — which may slot Johnson (his 37th birthday is Friday) into passing-game coordinator duties.

Bieniemy, Pritchard and senior offensive adviser Ken Zampese, now with Atlanta, were the primary quarterback tutors last season. Now it’s Kingsbury, Johnson and Pritchard.

2023 offensive assistant: Ken Zampese

Jason Simmons, secondary/pass-game coordinator

Intended or not, Quinn’s first two defensive coaching hires — Whitt and Simmons — have primarily focused on the secondary. This unit is patient zero for whether new coaches get more out of any returning players. The promise from a solid 2022 evaporated under first-year defensive backs coach Brent Vieselmeyer, who was fired the day after Thanksgiving with Del Rio. Whether free agents Kamren Curl and Kendall Fuller re-sign, there’s enough food-for-thought potential for Quinn, Whitt and Simmons to nibble on during planning meetings.

go-deeper

GO DEEPER

Ranking the Commanders’ top free agents: Will Kam Curl, Curtis Samuel be re-signed?

There’s the NFL playing experience for Simmons (121 games at defensive back with Pittsburgh and Houston from 1998 to 2007). Also, he had previous coaching reps with Whitt at Green Bay (2011 to 2018) and Washington senior personnel executive Marty Hurney in 2020, the GM’s last season in Carolina.

The Panthers ranked fourth in passing yards allowed during the 2021 season, Simmons’ last year in Carolina. With Las Vegas the past two seasons, Simmons’ 2023 secondary finished in the top 12 in passing yards and touchdowns allowed.

2023 secondary/pass-game coordinator: Brent Vieselmeyer/interim Cristian Garcia

(Photo of Brian Johnson: Mitchell Leff / Getty Images)





Source link

About The Author

Scroll to Top