If the four 2013 AFC West head coaches were put together for a group photo, folks would wonder why the big guy from Philadelphia crashed the Denver reunion.
The AFC West is undergoing a major change at the top: The division is now headed by a fascinating group of coaches. After just two seasons in Denver, John Fox is the dean of AFC West coaches. Oakland’s Dennis Allen -- who, in his second season, is still the youngest coach in the NFL -- is second in seniority in the AFC West.
When San Diego fired Norv Turner, who was previously the senior AFC West coach with six years in the division, and Kansas City jettisoned Romeo Crennel after one season as the permanent coach, two interesting head-coaching doors opened.
The Chargers followed the stale Turner era with former Denver offensive coordinator Mike McCoy, and the Chiefs kicked off the 2013 NFL coaching season by making a big splash in the form of Andy Reid, who was fired after a 14-season stay in Philadelphia.
Both hires were met with rave reviews. Reid was the most accomplished coach available, and McCoy -- who was on virtually every short candidate list in 2013 -- was considered the most desirable of the available coordinators. Along with former Oregon coach Chip Kelly's hiring in Philadelphia, the Reid and McCoy hires are the most anticipated of the eight new hires in the NFL.
Making the new division coaching lineup even more intriguing is that both McCoy -- the second-youngest head coach in the NFL -- and Allen are direct branches on the Fox coaching tree. Allen was hired by Oakland in 2012 after one season as Denver’s defensive coordinator. Then, San Diego did the same thing with McCoy after the 2012 season.
"There's only 32 of these [jobs], so it's a little unusual that it would be two years in a row that a coordinator [from the same team] would get a head-coaching job [in] the same division,” Allen said.
The changing power structure in the division was a major topic at the NFL combine in Indianapolis last month.
“I’ll tell you it’s a pretty good division,” Reid said. “[Denver has] a lot of good players, and they’ve got a phenomenal coach. You see what happened in San Diego with the hiring there. Mike is a heck of a football coach, great offensive mind. He’s got a quarterback that is a good football player, and he’s got a good surrounding cast. Then, you look at Oakland, they’re a good football team. [General manager] Reggie [McKenzie] is building that thing up and doing a nice job there, so I think there is great competition in there. Obviously, we didn’t do very well last year, so we’ve got our work cut out for us.”
The reason there has been so much change in the AFC West in the past few years is that the division has been among the weakest in the NFL. In 2012, Denver won 13 games, and the other three teams won a combined 13 games.
These changes have people thinking the division can get better quickly.
“Mike McCoy, Dennis Allen and then Andy Reid in Kansas City -- you’re looking at with me really knowing two of them and then Andy Reid and his reputation and what he’s done in this league, we know we’ve got our hands full,” Denver vice president John Elway said. “So we have to continue to get better and hopefully stay ahead of them.”
McCoy acknoweldged that getting his first job in the division where he's spent the past four seasons is a head start. He knows the personnel of his three opponents well. McCoy can focus on getting his new team to compete better within the AFC West.
Still, McCoy is aware that the Broncos will know his traits, as they knew Allen’s when he went to Oakland.
“You got to look at it that you still have to go out and play between the lines,” McCoy said. “You can give the players so much information, but if you give them too much information, you might hurt them to a certain extent. Obviously, knowing the Broncos inside and out, we’ll have a good idea on what they want to do. But they’re going to change also. With Peyton [Manning], he’s going to change code words and all those things. So sometimes, I think there’s too much made of that.”
We’ll find out the answer to that question soon enough in the new-look AFC West.