Justin Rascati

NFC Coaching Updates: Falcons, Vikings, Garcia, Glenn

As the offseason chugs along, teams continue to reconstruct their coaching staffs. The Falcons made a number of moves just before the weekend, according to Michael Rothstein of ESPN. The staff continues to take shape under new head coach Raheem Morris.

On offense, two announcements were made on assistants looking to hold over from Arthur Smith‘s staff last year. Rothstein reports that assistant offensive line coach Shawn Flaherty and offensive assistant Patrick Kramer, who each came to Atlanta last offseason, will be retained in their previous positions.

A new hire was announced, as well, with the team naming Jacquies Smith as their new outside linebackers coach. Formerly a seven-year NFL defensive end, the former undrafted player out of Missouri will now accept his first NFL coaching position. After disappearing from the NFL-world for a spell and making an appearance in the XFL, Smith worked with draft-eligible players in pre-draft training. He most recently spent the 2023 season as an assistant edge coach for the Texas Longhorns.

In the front office, the team announced the hires of John Griffin as director of player performance and Rob Dadona as manager of coaching operations. Griffin follows Morris after spending the past three years with the Rams. Dadona replaces Brian Griffin, who departed to serve as Chief of Staff at the University of Maryland. Dadona spent the past five seasons with the Jets, serving as assistant to the head coach for the last three.

Here are a few other staff updates from around the NFC, starting with a couple out of Minneapolis:

  • The Vikings announced two staff additions this weekend, naming assistant offensive line coach Shaun Sarrett and assistant to the head coach Henry Schneider IV. Sarrett replaces Justin Rascati, who departed for Los Angeles to serve as the Chargers pass-game coordinator. The two essentially swapped places, as Sarrett spent the past three years in the assistant offensive line coaching role with the Chargers. Schneider spent the last five years with the Raiders, most recently as the manager of coaching operations.
  • The Cowboys added a hot, young name out of Washington to their defensive staff this weekend. Cristian Garcia, who spent part of last year as the Commanders interim defensive backs coach, will head to Dallas as a defensive quality control coach, per Michael Gehlken of the Dallas Morning News. Garcia was a name that former Commanders head coach Ron Rivera turned to for leadership after firing defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio. Now he’ll join the NFC East rival.
  • Washington added their own coaching assistant last week. According to ESPN’s John Keim, John Glenn will join the staff as the Commanders’ new assistant special teams coach. Glenn replaces Ben Jacobs, who had served in the same role since following Rivera from Carolina in 2020 but was not retained by the new staff. Glenn changes roles a bit after spending the past six seasons as the Seahawks linebackers coach.

Bengals Block Chargers Interview Request, Add Pass-Game Coordinator

Brian Callahan‘s departure to become the Titans’ head coach marked the first major shakeup among Zac Taylor‘s top offensive assistants during his five-year tenure. The Bengals will bring in an outside hire to help compensate for Callahan’s Nashville exit.

Cincinnati is hiring former Minnesota assistant Justin Rascati as its pass-game coordinator, the team announced Thursday. Rascati previously worked as the Vikings’ assistant offensive line coach. He will join new OC Dan Pitcher among Taylor’s top assistants.

While this is a common position across the NFL, the Bengals did not utilize it previously. Rascati will also work with new Bengals quarterbacks coach Brad Kragthorpe, whom the team promoted from assistant QBs coach to fill the void Pitcher left when he moved up the ladder. Like Pitcher, Kragthorpe has been with the Bengals throughout Taylor’s tenure. These two figure to be natural candidates to become Cincy’s OC in the event Pitcher — a popular OC candidate over the past two years — becomes part of the 2025 HC carousel.

The Bengals also made an effort to retain assistant Jordan Kovacs on defense. The Chargers wanted to interview Kovacs, but NFL.com’s Mike Garafolo notes the Bengals blocked that request. Kovacs is a Michigan alum who served as an assistant under Jim Harbaugh from 2017-18. Kovacs has been with the Bengals since Taylor’s 2019 arrival, moving to assistant linebackers coach in 2022. The Bengals are promoting him, assigning him as their secondary coach/safeties for 2024.

Kovacs’ promotion also came about because previous Bengals secondary coach, Robert Livingston, left to take a job on Deion Sanders’ Colorado staff. Livingston met with Sanders about the position Wednesday, NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport tweets. The Buffaloes are finalizing a defensive coordinator agreement with Livingston, according to the Associated Press.

Although Livingston was not on the coordinator level in the NFL, his departure will be an adjustment for the Bengals. He spent the past 12 seasons with the team, arriving as a scout during Marvin Lewis‘ tenure. Taylor retained Livingston upon arriving, keeping him in place as the team’s secondary coach — a position he took over in 2018. With Lou Anarumo failing to land a head coaching job in recent years, Livingston did not have a path to move up in Cincinnati. He will take an opportunity to reach the coordinator tier with Colorado, which received considerable attention last year thanks to Sanders’ arrival as HC.

Vikings Notes: Coaching Staff, Scheme, O’Connell

With new head coach Kevin O’Connell in place, the Vikings made a number of announcements at his inaugural press conference. Among those was the confirmation of several assistants on his staff, as reported by ESPN’s Courtney Cronin (Twitter link). 

One of the most notable names on the list is that of Mike Pettine. The 55-year-old was reported to be joining the team’s staff earlier in the week, albeit not as the defensive coordinator as was originally thought by some. The team unveiled that his title will be assistant head coach, the highest-ranking position he’ll have had since his time in Cleveland in 2014-2015.

In addition, Ed Donatell was confirmed as the team’s new defensive coordinator, giving first-time HC O’Connell a vastly experienced staffer on the defensive side of the ball. Several assistants were also announced, each in the roles they were initially reported to be filling: Chris Rumph as defensive line coach, Chris O’Hara and Jerrod Johnson to work with the team’s quarterbacks, Chris Kuper and Justin Rascati to coach the offensive line, as well as Brian Angelichio and Curtis Modkins to serve as offensive pass and run game coordinators, respectively.

Here are some other Vikings notes, including further announcements from the presser:

  • As Ben Goessling of The Minneapolis Star Tribune writes, the Vikings will switch to a 3-4 base defense, something that hasn’t been seen in Minnesota since the 1980s. With that said, the team, like almost all in the NFL now, will still principally deploy its nickel package, and they plan to switch between three- and four-man fronts within drives and games.
  • In a widely expected announcement, O’Connell confirmed that he will call plays on offense. That will make him the first Vikings HC to do so since Brad Childress, and keep him in line with the structure he is leaving under the Rams and Sean McVay. O’Connell added that he plans to include the “up-tempo offensive concepts” he developed in L.A. within Minnesota’s offense.
  • One assistant coach who will not be following O’Connell to the Vikings is Jonathan Cooley. The Rams’ assistant defensive backs coach has been blocked from interviewing with Minnesota (Twitter link via Jourdan Rodrigue of The Athletic). Especially given the loss of Ejiro Evero earlier this offseason, keeping Cooley would be particularly important for the Rams.


NFC Coaching Notes: Nielsen, Vikings, Giants

The Saints promoted from within to fill their head coach position and halted their offensive coordinator search to keep Pete Carmichael in that role. Their other top staff job may involve a similar process. Defensive line coach Ryan Nielsen is a candidate to take over as defensive coordinator, Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com notes. Nielsen, 42, has been with the Saints for the past five seasons, each as the team’s D-line coach. Nielsen has DC experience, but it came at the mid-major (Northern Illinois) and Division I-FCS (Central Connecticut State) levels. The Saints also have a former NFL defensive coordinator on staff, in secondary coach Kris Richard. The former Seahawks DC should receive a look as well. He met with both the Ravens and Steelers about their DC vacancies last month. The Saints have met with multiple outside candidates, Michael Wilhoite and Aubrey Pleasant, for the position as well. Wilhoite began his coaching career in New Orleans, working as a lower-level assistant from 2019-20.

Here is the latest from the NFC’s coaching ranks:

  • New Vikings HC Kevin O’Connell is interested in more Rams assistants. Minnesota requested permission to interview Los Angeles assistant DBs coach Jonathan Cooley, per Jourdan Rodrigue of The Athletic (on Twitter). The Vikes are eyeing Cooley for their secondary coach/passing-game coordinator position. After gigs at multiple MAC schools from 2018-19, Cooley joined the Rams in 2020. The Rams are already lost their top secondary coach, Ejiro Evero, to the Broncos. They are also expected to lose tight ends coach Wes Phillips and offensive assistant Chris O’Hara to the Vikings, who are interviewing Rams running backs coach Thomas Brown for their OC job.
  • The Vikings are poaching another assistant from the Broncos, being poised to hire Justin Rascati as their assistant offensive line coach, Mike Klis of 9News tweets. Rascati served as an offensive quality control coach in Denver last season. O’Connell is already bringing ex-Broncos staffers Ed Donatell and Curtis Modkins to Minnesota.
  • Bryan Cox is back on an NFL staff. The Giants are hiring the former NFL linebacker, per Aaron Wilson of ProFootballNetwork.com. Cox will be the Giants’ assistant D-line coach under Don Martindale. This will be Cox’s first NFL gig since the Falcons fired him following Super Bowl LI five years ago.
  • The 49ers are promoting offensive quality control coach Brian Fleury to their tight ends coach spot, Matt Barrows of The Athletic notes. Fleury, who will replace new Dolphins tight ends coach Jon Embree in this role, has been with the 49ers for three seasons.

AFC Coaching Notes: Bieniemy, Raiders, Broncos, Jaguars, Bills, Ravens

Another coaching cycle has come and gone without Eric Bieniemy getting a head coaching job, but that doesn’t mean the Chiefs offensive coordinator will automatically return to Kansas City. According to NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero (via Twitter), Bieniemy‘s contract is expiring.

While the accomplished offensive coordinator could (and probably will) ink a new contract with the Chiefs, Pelissero warns that he would be a “hot free-agent OC target elsewhere.” You could make an argument that Bieniemy could improve his chances for a HC gig if he succeeds out of Andy Reid’s and Patrick Mahomes‘ shadows. Of course, if Bieniemy struggles without his elite offense, that would surely compromise any lingering chances he has of securing that elusive promotion.

Following a five-year stint as the Chiefs RBs coach, he earned a promotion to OC in 2018. Considering the Chiefs’ success, Bieniemy was a popular name in the coaching circuit in both 2019 and 2020. However, the 52-year-old didn’t generate as much interest during this year’s coaching cycle, as he was connected to only a pair of jobs (Saints, Broncos).

More coaching notes out of the AFC…

  • Broncos special teams coordinator Tom McMahon will join the Raiders in the same role, reports Mike Klis of 9News in Denver (via Twitter). The 52-year-old has been a ST coordinator in the NFL since he was hired by the Rams in 2009, and he worked alongside Josh McDaniels during his final season with the organization. McMahon has since served as the ST coordinator for the Chiefs, Colts, and Broncos.
  • The Broncos natural replacement for McMahon, special teams assistant Chris Gould, was let go by the organization, reports Klis (on Twitter). The older brother of kicker Robbie Gould, Chris Gould had spent seven years with the Broncos organization. The 36-year-old had a brief career in the AFL before transitioning to coaching.
  • More Broncos coaching notes: Broncos DL coach Bill Kollar is moving to a consultant-type role (via Klis on Twitter), while WR coach Zach Azzanni and offensive assistant Justin Rascati are sticking around (via Ryan O’Halloran of The Denver Post on Twitter). Azzanni actually had a second interview with the Falcons today, but Nathaniel Hackett “stepped up” to retain his WR coach (via Klis on Twitter).
  • The Jaguars are hiring Mike McCoy as their QB coach, reports Pelissero (via Twitter). The former Chargers head coach was the Broncos OC in 2017 and Cardinals OC in 2018, but he’s been out of the NFL since that time.
  • The Bills announced that they have hired Aaron Kromer as their new offensive line coach. This is Kromer’s second stint as the Bills OL coach, having served in the role in 2015 and 2016. The veteran coach was with the Rams between 2017 and 2020, but he wasn’t retained for 2021. Previously, Kromer was the Saints’ interim head coach in 2012 and the Bears offensive coordinator from 2013 to 2014.
  • Zach Orr is joining the Ravens as their new linebackers coach, tweets Clarence Hill Jr. of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Orr played for Baltimore for three years, including a 2016 campaign where he earned a second-team All-Pro nod. He also got his first coaching gig with the Ravens. After serving as a defensive analyst from 2017 to 2020, Orr joined the Jaguars to be their outside linebackers coach in 2021.

Broncos Notes: Paradis, Keenum, Foles, Staff

One of the NFL’s top centers over the past four years, Matt Paradis is a month away from free agency. The four-season Broncos starter continues to rehab a broken fibula sustained in November, and Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets Paradis is ahead of schedule. Prior to going down midway through this season, Paradis had not missed a snap since debuting in the Denver starting lineup at the 2015 season’s outset. He is probably the Broncos’ top in-house priority, with the Bradley RobyShaquil BarrettShane Ray defensive troika likely set to depart. But Paradis is believed to want to test the market rather than re-signing to stay in Denver before hearing other teams’ pitches. If the 29-year-old snapper does hit free agency, there is a reasonable chance he will become the NFL’s highest-paid center. Ryan Jensen, a free agent last year who struggled in 2018, holds that distinction presently with a $10.5MM-per-year deal.

Here is the latest from Denver:

  • Case Keenum‘s first Broncos season did not do much to dispatch the notion his Vikings emergence was a fluke. He finished 31st in Total QBR, 29th in DYAR and 28th in quarterback DVOA. Keenum led the NFL in DVOA in 2017. But the $10MM dead-money hit the Broncos would take if they jettisoned their 2018 starter, coupled with the team’s hope Keenum can improve under new OC Rich Scangarello, points to the 30-year-old passer having a decent chance at sticking around for 2019, Nicki Jhabvala of The Athletic notes (subscription required). Keenum is on the Broncos’ books at $21MM for next season.
  • John Elway going after another veteran, thus further delaying a long-term plan the Broncos whiffed on with Paxton Lynch, would not be out of character given the GM’s stance on rebuilding. If the Eagles do not follow through on franchise-tagging Nick Foles, whom the Broncos bypassed in the 2012 second round to select Brock Osweiler, Jhabvala can envision Elway considering the Super Bowl LII MVP to replace Keenum. The Broncos would obviously run the risk of gambling on one system-dependent quarterback to potentially doing the same thing a year later, but if they do not have to surrender a third-round pick to the Eagles, it would make more sense than giving up assets and Keenum dead money for Foles. The Jaguars’ situation and John DeFilippo hire make them a more logical Foles destination, but the Broncos hold far more cap space.
  • Denver passed on double-dipping in quarterback investments last year. After signing Keenum, they selected Bradley Chubb over Josh Allen and Josh Rosen. But Jeff Legwold of ESPN.com’s bold prediction is the Broncos both signing a UFA passer and using a high pick to bring in a rookie. This scenario would lead to an astounding number of Broncos quarterback solutions conjured up post-Peyton Manning.
  • The Broncos added a pair of entry-level coaches recently, appointing Justin Rascati and Mike Hiestand to their staff as offensive and defensive quality control coaches, respectively, Jhabvala tweets.