Al Holcomb

Browns Hire Ex-Cardinals DC Al Holcomb

The Browns have hired former Cardinals defensive coordinator Al Holcomb as run game coordinator/linebackers coach, according to Tom Pelissero of NFL.com (Twitter link).

Cleveland hired ex-Arizona head coach Steve Wilks as its new defensive coordinator earlier this week, so it’s no surprise to see Holcomb follow him to the Browns’ staff. Wilks and Holcomb’s history together dates back to 2013, when Wilks served as the Panthers’ assistant head coach/defensive back while Holcomb was Carolina’s linebackers coach. Holcomb continued to work under Wilks when he was promoted to the Panthers’ DC role in 2017, and followed him to the desert last season.

In Cleveland, Holcomb will helm a linebacker group that’s high on talent but lacked results last season, at least in the run game. While the Browns ranked 11th in Football Outsiders‘ adjusted line yards (meaning their defensive line was productive), the club finished next-to-last in second level yards, an indication that opposing running backs weren’t being tackled by Cleveland’s ‘backers. Joe Schobert, notably, tied for third among all defenders in missed tackles in 2018, but ranked second among linebackers in Pro Football Focus‘ pass coverage grades.

The Browns will also add Alabama defensive coordinator Tosh Lupoi to their staff as defensive line coach, tweets Bruce Feldman of FOX Sports. Lupoi — who’d been with the Crimson Tide since 2014 — led a number of future NFLers at Alabama, but this will mark his first coaching gig in the pro ranks.

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AFC Coaching Notes: Browns, Bengals, Bills

Freddie Kitchens‘ first Browns staff has some big names, and it will include a high-profile coach from north of the border. Sascatchewan Roughriders head coach Chris Jones will step down from that post and join the Browns’ defensive staff, according to CFL News (Twitter link). Mary Kay Cabot of cleveland.com confirmed (via Twitter) Jones will trek to Cleveland with the title of “senior defensive specialist.” An NFL out clause existed in Jones’ Roughriders contract. Jones has been part of four Grey Cup-winning staffs, including a 2015 championship as head coach of the Edmonton Eskimos. He was also a graduate assistant under Gene Stallings at Alabama in 1997, when Kitchens was a Crimson Tide quarterback. Jones was the Roughriders’ coach for three seasons, completing two winning campaigns in his final two years there. He will join a Browns staff that now features coordinators Steve Wilks and Todd Monken.

More out of Cleveland and the latest from the AFC side of the coaching carousel:

  • The Browns also may be on the verge of reuniting Wilks and Al Holcomb, the Cardinals’ 2018 DC and former Panthers linebackers coach. Holcomb will interview for an unspecified role with the Browns on Wednesday, Joe Person of The Athletic notes (on Twitter). Multiple teams covet Holcomb, per Person. This marks the first known interview for Holcomb, who’s worked with Wilks for the past six seasons.
  • Ed Donatell and the Broncos are close on a deal that would bring the longtime Vic Fangio coworker to Denver as defensive coordinator, Dan Graziano of ESPN.com tweets. This deal figures to get done soon, with Mike Klis of 9News suggesting (via Twitter) this could be more of a formality. The Bears are trying to retain Donatell to coach their defensive backs, after giving Chuck Pagano Fangio’s old job, Klis adds. But with Donatell interviewing for a DC role — a job title he has not held in 11 years — with Fangio, it points to the Bears losing another key defensive staffer.
  • The Bills interviewed veteran offensive line coach Joe Philbin recently but will instead name Bobby Johnson as their new O-line coach, Adam Caplan of Sirius XM reports (on Twitter). This will be Johnson’s second stint in Buffalo, the first coming under Chan Gailey. Johnson’s last role in Buffalo was assistant O-line coach. In 2018, he served in that role under since-jettisoned Colts offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo. Johnson will relocate quickly. DeGuglielmo remains unattached.
  • A higher-profile Buffalo staff vacancy will be filled as well. The Bills are hiring former Panthers assistant Heath Farwell to run their special teams, Jourdan Rodrigue of the Charlotte Observer tweets. The 10-year NFL veteran served as an assistant ST coach with Seattle and Carolina, his Panthers tenure coming after Brandon Beane and Sean McDermott had already departed for Buffalo.
  • After Paul Alexander‘s 20-plus-year run as Bengals offensive line coach, the franchise will soon have three O-line instructors in three years. Frank Pollack is out after one season, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer. Pollack was previously the Cowboys’ O-line coach, and under his stewardship, the Bengals made the biggest single-season improvement in yards per carry in franchise history. Cincinnati rushers collectively averaged 4.69 yards per carry last season.

Cardinals To Fire Byron Leftwich, Al Holcomb

Byron Leftwich stayed on from the Bruce Arians regime but will not be sticking around with the Cardinals with a third coaching staff.

The Cardinals fired both Leftwich, their interim OC, and DC Al Holcomb, Josh Weinfuss of ESPN.com tweets. While Leftwich was viewed as a rising talent with Arians, and ascended to OC in merely his second season as a full-time coach this year under Steve Wilks, but was not expected to be back had Wilks kept his interim job, Albert Breer of SI.com reports (on Twitter).

Both firings could have been expected, with the Cardinals completing a 3-13 season and making a head coach a one-and-done for the first time in more than 60 years. Holcomb came over with Wilks from Carolina, having served as a position coach there. This marked his first season as an NFL DC.

Leftwich became a full-time coach last year and was named quarterbacks coach this offseason. After Mike McCoy‘s in-season ouster, Leftwich rose to Arizona’s OC job. He will now be on the market to continue his coaching career. Under both McCoy and Leftwich, the Cards featured a historically bad offense. They ranked last in both points and total yards this season.

 

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West Notes: Smith, Cardinals, Broncos

During an appearance on the Dan Patrick Show, Alex Smith fielded questions about his future with the Chiefs. The 14th-year quarterback wishes he had more control in this process. He could well be traded for the second time in his career.

I wish I knew,” Smith said about his future (video link). “I’ve got a year under contract there in Kansas City. I wish I was in control of this thing. I wish I was the one who got to do this. That’s just not the reality. … I love where I’m at. I feel like we underachieved. Offensively, last year, I felt we did some awesome things. Who knows? I’ve been through this before, the trade deal. A lot of crazy stuff can happen.”

The conversation pivoted to the Browns, a proposition that has been mentioned recently. A team that has lost 31 of its past 32 games does not sound like an ideal place to go for a veteran quarterback that’s been to the playoffs four times in the past five years, and Smith seemed to confirm as such during his interview.

I haven’t even thought about that,” Smith said about a Cleveland trade. “They’ve got nowhere to go but up. One and 31 over the past two years just sounds amazing. If that’s the case and you’re going somewhere, yeah, you want to go somewhere where you have a chance to have success.”

The soon-to-be 34-year-old passer has one year left on his Chiefs contract, and it seems likely Kansas City (as of now projected to be $9MM-plus over the 2018 cap) will pull the trigger on a deal.

Here’s more from the West divisions.

  • Steve Wilks will not be calling plays and running the Cardinals‘ game-day operations this season, with Darren Urban of AZCardinals.com (on Twitter) revealing new DC Al Holcomb will call plays. This will be new territory for Holcomb, the Panthers’ linebackers coach the past five years.
  • The Cardinals’ running backs coach during Emmitt Smith‘s farewell season in 2004, Kirby Wilson is close to a deal to return to the desert. Alex Marvez of the Sporting News reports Wilson interviewed for the job and is considered a strong candidate to again fill that role. Wilson coached Arizona’s backs from 2004-06 before moving on. He spent the past two seasons as the Browns’ run-game coordinator. Wilson’s coached seven teams’ running backs, dating back to 1997. One of Wilson’s stops was in Minnesota, where he oversaw Adrian Peterson‘s third rushing championship season in 2015.
  • If the Broncos are going to pursue Kirk Cousins and what could be a record contract, they might have to part ways with one of their Pro Bowl wide receivers because of cap considerations, Mike Klis of 9News writes. While noting it would be a surprise if John Elway parts ways with both, Klis writes one could be jettisoned. The Broncos, though, have experienced consistent issues finding supporting-cast wideouts; everything has funneled through Thomas and Sanders since 2015. And Denver’s revolving door at quarterback has contributed to the 30-year-olds’ statistical regression. The Broncos must decide between Feb. 10 and March 14 if they want to pick up the $4MM option that buys back the final two years of Thomas’ deal, which calls for a $12.1MM cap hit in 2018. Cutting Sanders ($10.94MM 2018 cap number), though, would cost $5.375MM in dead money.

Cardinals Hire Al Holcomb As DC

The Cardinals have officially hired former Panthers linebackers coach Al Holcomb as their new defensive coordinator, according to Mike Garafolo of NFL.com (Twitter link). The addition was widely expected after Arizona hired former Panthers DC Steve Wilks as their head coach earlier this week.Al Holcomb (Vertical)

Holcomb spent the past five seasons coaching under Wilks in Carolina, and led one of the best linebacking units in the league during that time. Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis, and Shaq Thompson are among the NFL’s premier linebackers, and Holcomb also coached ex-Panthers backup A.J. Klein, who landed a significant deal with the Saints last offseason.

In Arizona, Holcomb will take over a defense that ranked fourth in DVOA under former coordinator James Bettcher (notably, three spots higher than the Panthers). The Cardinals ranked fourth against the pass, but were even better against the run, as they ranked first overall in run defense DVOA. Stars such as Patrick Peterson, Chandler Jones, and Tyrann Mathieu will now work under Holcomb’s leadership.

The Cardinals are still searching for an offensive coordinator, and the search is expected to come down to former Vikings OC Darrell Bevell or former Broncos OC Mike McCoy.

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Cardinals Expected To Hire Panthers’ Al Holcomb

New Cardinals head coach Steve Wilks is quickly working to get his coaching staff in place, and he’s apparently looking at one of his former staffers with the Panthers to help lead his defense. Panthers linebacker coach Al Holcomb seems primed to follow Wilks to Arizona to become the team’s next defensive coordinator, according to Adam Schefter of ESPN.com (Twitter link).

Al Holcomb (Vertical)

The team will move on from former Cardinals defensive coordinator James Bettcher after he was passed over for the head coaching job. This opens up an opportunity for Wilks to bring in someone that he’s familiar with to help translate the success he had in Carolina to the desert.

Holcomb has spent five seasons primarily coaching the Panthers linebackers. He’s worked with Wilks every year since he was hired by the Panthers back in 2013. Under Holcomb’s guidance, the Panthers have formed one of the best inside linebacker combos in the league with Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis. It’s unsurprising that Wilks would bring over a familiar face, especially on the defensive side of the ball, with the Panthers finishing as the seventh best total defense in the league last season.

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Cardinals Hire Steve Wilks As Head Coach

The Cardinals have officially hired Steve Wilks as their new head coach. The news was first reported by Mike Garafolo and Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (Twitter link). Per the team’s announcement, it’s a four-year deal with a club option for year five.Steve Wilks (vertical)

Wilks has reportedly made a “very strong impression” on Cardinals ownership during the search process. Last week, Patriots linebackers coach Brian Flores, Falcons special teams coach Keith Armstrong, Eagles quarterbacks John DeFilippo, and incumbent defensive coordinator James Bettcher were all said to be in the mix, but Wilks came out on top.

This is not really a rebuild, this is a retool,” Wilks told the team website. “We have the culture of winning here. We just have to be able to sustain it. It’s all about trying to get to the next level and the consistency you need to get to the next level. I believe building a culture based on three things: Trust, commitment and accountability.

Wilks just finished his first year as a defensive coordinator with the Panthers, but has eleven previous seasons of experience as an NFL assistant. Both the Giants and Titans considered Wilks for their head coaching vacancies this year before choosing to hire Pat Shurmur and Mike Vrabel, respectively. Despite his relative lack of coordinator experience, it’s clear that Wilks is highly respected around the NFL.

DeFilippo missed out on the head coaching job in Arizona, but he could potentially become the team’s new offensive coordinator. Previous reports have indicated that Wilks would like to have the Eagles QBs coach as his OC, but Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com (on Twitter) notes that the team also plans to talk to other candidates including Mike McCoy and Darrell Bevell.

Meanwhile, Wilks could already have a defensive coordinator in mind. Panthers linebackers coach Al Holcomb is a candidate to follow Wilks from Carolina to Arizona, according to Garafolo (on Twitter).

Wilks will have some serious tools to work with, including edge rusher Chandler Jones, linebacker Haason Reddick, cornerback Patrick Peterson, and safeties Tyrann Mathieu and Budda Baker. The return of David Johnson will bolster the team on the other side of the ball, but the Cardinals will have to address their quarterback situation in the wake of Carson Palmer‘s retirement. Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald is also thinking about calling it a career and he has indicated that the team’s head coaching hire will weigh heavily in his decision. With that in mind, a call to Fitzgerald might be one of the top items on Wilks’ to-do list.

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Leslie Frazier In Running For Bills’ DC Job

The Bills named Sean McDermott as Rex Ryan‘s successor and are now in the process of determining who will be McDermott’s top defensive assistant. While the team has discussed bringing Panthers linebackers coach Al Holcomb to Buffalo as DC, Leslie Frazier‘s name is in the mix as well.

Frazier has emerged as the “name to watch” in this hiring process, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com reports (on Twitter). The 57-year-old Frazier spent this season coaching the Ravens’ defensive backs.

The former Vikings HC has history with McDermott, with each coach being on Andy Reid‘s staff with the Eagles from 1999-2002. McDermott served as a scouting assistant during Frazier’s Philadelphia tenure, and Frazier coached the Eagles’ DBs during that span. Frazier then moved on to become the Bengals’ DC.

Stints as DC in Minnesota and Tampa Bay sandwiched Frazier’s three-year HC tenure in the Twin Cities. Frazier’s final Bucs’ defense ranked as the league’s No. 10 unit in 2015.

Holcomb worked with McDermott for four years as well, serving as Carolina’s linebackers coach since the 2013 season.

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Bills To Hire Sean McDermott As Head Coach

It’s a done deal. The Bills are hiring Sean McDermott as their next head coach, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com tweets. Vic Carucci of The Buffalo News (on Twitter) hears that McDermott will receive a five-year deal.Sean McDermott (vertical)

[RELATED: 2017 NFL Head Coaching Search Tracker]

Initially, interim head coach Anthony Lynn appeared to be a shoo-in for the job, but amidst Lynn’s own reported trepidation about the partnership, the Bills conducted a thorough coaching search. Cardinals OC Harold Goodwin and Seahawks DC Kris Richard interviewed for the job while new Broncos head coach Vance Joseph and Eagles OC Frank Reich were named as candidates.

McDermott, meanwhile, was also a candidate for the Niners and the Chargers were looking to bring him in for a second interview. The Bills are crushing hard on the defensive guru they did not want to risk losing him to another team.

Meanwhile, McDermott has a solid relationship with former Chargers head coach Mike McCoy and Carucci hears hears that he would hire him as his offensive coordinator. McDermott’s likely DC in Buffalo will be Carolina linebackers coach Al Holcomb, a source tells Adam Schefter of ESPN.com (on Twitter).

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