NFL head coaches get the big money and the glory. But most head coaches are only as good as their staffs. There are some great coaches in coordinator capacities in today’s NFL and that’s the subject of our weekly Talk of Fame Network poll — who was the best assistant coach in the NFL this season? Plenty of good options on offense, defense and special teams:
Dennis Allen, DC, New Orleans. Once upon a time the Saints were all about Drew Brees. They needed him to make all the plays to win all of the games. But that all changed in 2017 when New Orleans started to major in running the football with Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara and playing defense. The Saints became a Top 5 rushing team and the defense made a quantum leap under Allen from 27th in 2017 to 17th this season. More important than the yards allowed, though, were the points allowed. Allen’s scheme shaved 128 points off the 2016 total — and the Saints rode their new identity to an 11-5 record and another NFC South title. New Orleans also collected 12 more sacks than a year ago and scored three touchdowns on fumbles and interceptions.
John Fassel, ST, LA Rams. The Rams fielded the NFL’s best special teams, sending their kicker (Greg Zeuerlin), punter (Johnny Hekker) and kick returner (Pharoah Cooper) all to the Pro Bowl. That’s dominance. The Rams also blocked a league-leading five kicks. Zeuerlein kicked a pair of 56-yard field goals, Hekker led the NFC with a net average of 44.3 yards and Cooper ran a kickoff back 103 yards for a touchdown against Jacksonville. Zeuerlein also led the NFL with 73 touchbacks.
Wade Phillips, DC, LA Rams. First-year head coach Sean McVay brought in coaching sack master Wade Phillips, who converted the Rams to a 3-4 scheme. Los Angeles promptly collected 17 more sacks than in 2016, finishing fourth in the NFL with 48. The Rams also finished fifth in the NFL in takeaways on the way to an 11-victory season and an NFC West championship. The Rams improved from 16th against the run in 2016 to eighth this season, and also shut out the Arizona Cardinals.
Jim Schwartz, DC, Philadelphia. In Schwartz’s second season as coordinator, the Eagles vaulted from 13th in the NFL in defense in 2016 to fourth in 2017 and also finished third with 31 takeaways. A Schwartz defense is built to win up front and the Eagles were suffocating, finishing third against the run and fourth in scoring defense. Philadelphia controlled the line of scrimmage with its tackle tandem of Fletcher Cox and Timmy Jernigan and also brought the heat off the edge with Brandon Graham, Chris Long, Vinny Curry and first-round pick Derek Barnett.
Pat Shurmur, OC, Minnesota. The Vikings lost starting quarterback Sam Bradford in the season opener, then lost their running back Dalvin Cook in the fourth week. But with a backup quarterback (Case Keenum) and a backup runner (LaTavius Murray), the Vikings still finished 10th in the NFL in scoring and 11th in yards on the way to 13 victories and an NFC North title. Shurmur is now the front runner for the New York Giants head-coaching vacancy.
Dave Toub, ST, Kansas City. The Chiefs fielded the AFC’s best special teams, helping KC repeat as AFC West champions with a 10-6 record. When the Chiefs lost kicker Cairo Santos in the third week of the season with an injury, they signed Harrison Butker off the Carolina Panthers practice squad. What a signing. After missing his first field goal try, a 46-yarder, Butker went on to convert 38 of his next 41 attempts to finished fourth in the NFL in scoring with 142 points. Tyreek Hill also returned a punt for a TD and the Chiefs didn’t allow a single point on special teams.
Todd Walsh, DC, Jacksonville. Twos were wild for the Walsh defense this season. The Jaguars allowed the second fewest points in the NFL this season and also collected the second-most sacks and second-most takeaways. Jacksonville scored seven touchdowns on defense, powering the Jaguars to 10 victories and an AFC South championship. There were two 10-sack games in the NFL this season and the Jaguars owned both of them. Jacksonville also posted a shutout of the Colts.