Johnny Holland

49ers Hire Ken Norton Jr.

The 49ers announced they have hired Ken Norton Jr. to the coaching staff. He’ll carry the title of Assistant Head Coach – Defense as well as inside linebackers coach. Ken Norton (vertical)

Norton was a popular figure in the Raiders’ locker room over the last three years, but poor on-field results led to his firing in November. At the time of his dismissal, the Raiders ranked 32nd in defensive DVOA. Of course, head coach Jack Del Rio was the one calling plays on defense, so it’s not necessarily fair to pin everything on Norton.

It’s a great fit for Norton on multiple levels. For one, he doesn’t have to move from his Bay Area home. The deal also marks a homecoming for Norton since he spent seven seasons with the Niners and played on three consecutive Super Bowl-winning teams.

In related news, Johnny Holland is the team’s new run game specialist/outside linebackers coach.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

West Notes: Broncos, 49ers, Raiders, Vegas

The Broncos could express interest in left tackle Branden Albert and defensive tackle Earl Mitchell, each of whom played for the Dolphins in 2016, per Mike Klis of 9NEWS (Twitter links). Mitchell was released on Thursday and could be a fit with Denver thanks to his relationship with Broncos head coach Vance Joseph and defensive line coach Bill Kollar. Albert was also thought to have been released, but Miami is now close to trading the 32-year-old to Jacksonville. It’s unclear if Denver would still be interested in Albert if forced to sacrifice draft compensation.

Here’s more from the NFL’s two West divisions:

  • In addition to confirming several previously-reported hires, the 49ers announced another wave of coaching staff additions tonight. The list of new coaches includes Jeff Hafley (defensive backs), Johnny Holland (linebackers), Jason Tarver (senior defensive assistant) and Bobby Slowik (defensive quality control). Tarver, a former coordinator at the NFL level, is a holdover but is shifting away from LBs coach in order for San Francisco to add Holland, a former Cleveland coach.
  • The Broncos have granted the 49ers permission to interview John Benton for their vacant offensive line position, as Klis reports in a separate piece. Denver hired Benton as its assistant offensive line coach last month, but obviously he hasn’t actually worked with any Broncos players as of yet. Benton has worked with new San Francisco head coach Kyle Shanahan in the past, as the pair was employed by Houston from 2006-09.
  • Although previous reports have indicated the Raiders‘ plan to relocate to Las Vegas is “dead,” Oakland executive Mark Badain recently told the NFL the club has financial backing from two banks willing to loan the Raiders money for their move, tweets Jason Cole of Bleacher Report. The Raiders last month lost the support of casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who was planning to put $650MM towards a Vegas stadium, but reportedly still had “high hopes” of moving to Nevada.

Coaching Rumors: Bills, Jags, Raiders, Ravens

Although Anthony Lynn has long been viewed as the favorite to take over as the Bills‘ head coach, team ownership has been extremely impressed by Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott, according to Jason La Canfora of (Twitter link). Indeed, Buffalo is now in something of a “holding pattern” as Lynn and McDermott interview elsewhere, tweets Vic Carrucci of the Buffalo News. Lynn has been linked to every head coaching job that remains open, while McDermott has drawn interest from the Chargers and 49ers in addition to the Bills, as PFR’s 2017 Head Coaching Search Tracker shows.

Here’s more on the 2017 hiring cycle:

  • The Jaguars will retain defensive coordinator Todd Wash under new head coach Doug Marrone, but nearly every other member of the defensive staff is being let go, reports Michael DiRocco of Defensive assistant Mike Rutenberg is the only other defensive coach who will remain on board. Jacksonville had 24 coaches on staff at the end of the regular season, and that number figures to be reduced, tweets Ryan O’Halloran of the Florida Times-Union.
  • Ken Norton Jr. will remain the Raiders‘ defensive coordinator, per Ian Rapoport of (Twitter link). Head coach Jack Del Rio assumed play-calling duties midway through the 2016 season, and Oakland ultimately finished 23rd in defensive DVOA. While Norton Jr. will stick around, defensive backs coach Marcus Robertson has been fired, according to Alex Marvez of the Sporting News (Twitter link).
  • Former Buffalo offensive coordinator Greg Roman could potentially join the Ravens staff in some undefined role, per La Canfora (all Twitter links). Baltimore recently announced that offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg will return for the 2017 campaign, so Roman — who has remained in contact with head coach John Harbaugh — could join the Ravens in a run-game director capacity.
  • The Eagles have fired wide receivers coach Greg Lewis, tweets Charles Robinson of Yahoo! Sports. Lewis spent just one season as a coach with Philadelphia (after having spent the 2003-08 seasons with the club as a player). Current Bills WRs coach Sanjay Lal is of “strong interest” to the Eagles, reports Adam Caplan of (Twitter link).
  • The Browns announced that they’ve begun to restructure their defensive staff under new coordinator Gregg Williams, parting ways with defensive backs coach Louie Cioffi, inside linebackers coach Johnny Holland, assistant defensive backs coach Cannon Matthews, and outside linebackers coach Ryan Slowik. Cleveland also fired offensive line coach Hal Hunter.

AFC North Rumors: RG3, Browns, Ravens

Here’s the latest on the AFC North as we wrap up one of the final Sundays without football on the 2016 calendar.

  • Reports pegged Robert Griffin III‘s first offseason in Cleveland as a hit-and-miss endeavor, and Josh McCown remains on the Browns‘ roster after being the team’s most effective starter during 2015. But Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer still expects RG3 to win the job. The longtime Browns reporter notes the team will not be in a hurry to bestow that starting distinction upon Griffin, wanting the fifth-year passer to truly earn the job rather than allow his contract status — he’s signed on a three-year, $21MM deal, while McCown is signed for three years and $14MM — provide the difference.
  • The Browns do not have a deep depth chart at running back, but the rebuilding team won’t look to sign a veteran, Cabot writes. She categorizes the desire to supplement Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson as a low priority, pointing to Terrell Watson and Glenn Winston as players they’re eager to see in training camp. Despite the Browns also losing Mitchell Schwartz and Alex Mack in free agency, Cabot characterizes the Browns as set to be a force on the ground thanks to improved blocking schemes.
  • Browns inside linebackers coach Johnny Holland told Dan Labbe of the Plain Dealer the team will attempt to further develop Christian Kirksey as a pass-rusher entering his third season. Describing Ray Horton‘s system as one that will benefit a player who’s expected to lock down a starting job at inside linebacker after being a part-time cog in that role the past two years, Holland notes Kirksey’s athleticism will enable this multifaceted approach. Kirksey has 5.5 sacks in his first two years, which have included 13 total starts.
  • The Ravens like rookie second-round pick Kamalei Correa‘s versatility, and Clifton Brown of said the former Boise State linebacker could see time at both inside and outside linebacker as a rookie. Correa served as primarily a pass-rusher in Idaho over the past three seasons, registering 19 sacks, but received reps on the inside in the Ravens’ 3-4 scheme during the offseason.
  • Bengals director of player personnel Duke Tobin addressed the team’s pass-catching situation, their potential to add another free agent and his own status in Cincinnati.

Browns Add Eight To Coaching Staff

The Browns continued to fill out their coaching staff Monday, with Hue Jackson announcing the hiring of eight coaches to work for him during his first season in Cleveland, according to a report on the team’s website.

All of which are position coaches or other assistants after the Browns announced more than two weeks ago the additions of Ray Horton, Pep Hamilton and several others.

Here’s the full list of coaches and their respective titles.

  • Rock Cartwright, offensive quality control
  • Louie Cioffi, defensive backs
  • Ken Delgado, assistant defensive line
  • Johnny Holland, inside linebackers
  • Cannon Matthews, assistant defensive backs
  • Robert Nunn, defensive line
  • Eric Sanders, defensive quality control
  • Ryan Slowik, outside linebackers

Cioffi served in the same position under Horton during his previous one-year stint as the Browns’ defensive coordinator in 2013. Cioffi’s worked with Horton in 10 of his 21 seasons.

Nunn was the Giants’ defensive line coach from 2010-15, collecting a Super Bowl ring in guiding the NASCAR package-powered team to the 2011 championship.

Slowik served as the Jets’ defensive line coach last season.

Coaching Notes: Cowher, McDermott, Hirings

With CBS broadcasting this year’s Super Bowl, Bill Cowher is in San Francisco to cover the game for the network. But just because he’s on the media side of things now doesn’t mean he can avoid questions about a potential return to coaching.

Asked on Monday about that possibility, Cowher said that he didn’t have any contact with the Giants about their head coaching job after Tom Coughlin resigned, but the former Steelers head coach didn’t rule out a return to an NFL sideline, as Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News details.

“You know what? I’ve never shut a door,” Cowher said. “I don’t think you need to shut a door that you don’t need to. I’m very happy at CBS. I love what I’m doing. I’m 58 years old. I feel young. I still feel involved in the game. But this element of the game gives me a life that I was never able to experience before…. I never say never, but I’m very, very satisfied with where I’m at.”

Here are several more coaching-related updates from around the NFL:

  • Speaking to the media on Monday night, Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott confirmed that he spoke to Howie Roseman about the Eagles‘ head coaching opening, despite not having a formal interview with the team, writes Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer. “We had some preliminary talks,” McDermott said. “It was clear from the beginning they wanted to go offense.”
  • The Cowboys are looking to hire a replacement for defensive backs coach Jerome Henderson, who joined the Falcons, and the next coach Dallas is talking to is former 49ers head coach Mike Nolan, tweets Ian Rapoport of
  • Alex Marvez of FOX Sports has the details on a couple additions to the Browns‘ coaching staff, reporting (via Twitter) that the team has hired Johnny Holland and Eric Sanders. Holland, who had been working in the CFL, resigned from the B.C. Lions last month because he knew he would have a position on Hue Jackson‘s staff, according to Marvez, who adds that Holland will be the Browns’ inside linebackers coach (Twitter links). Sanders, a Stanford defensive assistant, will join the Browns in the same capacity.
  • The Chargers have hired former Titans quarterbacks coach John McNulty as their new tight ends coach, according to Marvez (via Twitter). McNulty has a longtime connection to former Titans head coach Ken Whisenhunt, who has now returned to the offensive coordinator role in San Diego.
  • The Titans have completed their coaching staff, hiring Keith Willis as the team’s assistant defensive line coach and Brandon Blaney as a defensive assistant, the club announced in a press release.