In the NFL offseason, I often use the word “structure” when it comes to coaching staffs — and how it directly affects the players in the locker room. I wrote about the loss of structure in Denver with the Mike Nolan situation, in Seattle with Pete Carroll and his decision to keep Gus Bradley as defensive coordinator, and now I’m seeing some solid moves by new Redskins coach Mike Shanahan.
Shanahan has kept three holdovers from Jim Zorn’s staff in D.C. Three holdovers who I believe will be influential in the former Broncos coach’s success in his first year coaching in the NFC East.
Staying put in Washington are special teams coach Danny Smith, safeties coach Steve Jackson and former linebackers coach Kirk Olivadotti — who is a jack of all trades when it comes to game planning, relating to the players and knowing the defensive side of the football.
I was with all of them when I played in Washington during my career, and although I will admit that I’m still biased in my interest toward the Redskins, it’s still important to address them — because they can all coach.
Just as popular and successful as Bobby April was to the Bills — and now will be to Philly — Smith is an excellent special teams coach.
I like this move because special teams coaches are crucial to winning franchises. They have a big say in roster moves, and they command such a wide variety of players in their daily meetings that they act as the foundation of an entire organization. Smith is talented, he knows how important field position is to winning, and Shanahan needs a coach who knows the roster inside and out — and a coach who can get production and encourage players to treat special teams with the same importance as offense and defense.
In Jackson, Shanahan now has a veteran coach who has experience as a player in the NFL. Jackson played on the Titans’ Super Bowl team, and I can honestly say he’s one of the best secondary coaches I’ve seen in the league. Plus, he has ties to Gregg Williams as both a player and a coach. Jackson is the type of position coach we’ll soon see moving up to becoming a coordinator.
With Olivadotti (or “K.O.” as he's known in the building), Shanahan will have a voice with the players and a coach who can be used in a variety of ways. I said above that K.O. is talented when it comes to putting together a game plan, and we still need to discuss how he relates to players — because that doesn’t happen too often at the NFL level. A smart move on Shanahan’s part.
But the bottom line is the players. They need some sense of continuity during coaching changes. By not dismissing the entire staff in Washington, Shanahan is giving a sense of structure to the locker room and the meeting room. Players don’t like change — in fact, they despise it — and with an entirely new philosophy descending on Redskins Park in Virginia, the players will have something they know when the new playbooks are handed out.
Will it still be a challenge? Of course, and with a new defensive coordinator in Jim Haslett, everything from practice to schedules will change — as usually happens when the team brings in a new head coach.
But this is a start for Washington and Shanahan.
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