The Miami Dolphins started a rippling effect throughout the NFL when they hired former San Diego Charger offensive line coach, Hudson Houck. Houck was the architect of a unit who replaced all five starters from the previous season. The changes in his particular unit became one of the direct causes which helped the Chargers improve dramatically from 4-12 last season to 12-5 overall this season. Needless to say when Houck's contract expired at the end of this *miracle* turnaround season, his services were in high demand. Miami wined and dined the venerable offensive line coach and was the team who gained Houck's services.
Rumors began to spread in Mobile Alabama during Senior Bowl week of Houck's imminent departure from San Diego even before his deal with the Dolphins was complete. For those of us who attended Senior Bowl week, the name Karl Mauck began to pop up as a hot commodity. The Cleveland Browns were apparently on the short list inquiring about Mauck's services. Not knowing how interested the Browns really were and without a head coach in place, it was the San Diego Chargers who quickly inked Mauck to become their new offensive line coach.
The one curious aspect of the apparent strong courting of Mauck lies in the fact Karl was out of professional football this past season. His most recent coaching experience was in Detroit with Steve Mariucci two seasons ago. At least to me, it would seem surprising Mauck would be out of a coaching job for a year when you take into account his previous two seasons in Detroit saw his unit yield the least amount of sacks for any team in the NFL. Add to the fact, Mauck is a 33 year coaching veteran of the NFL as well and yet was out of football for a season.
If Mauck, who was not even in the NFL last season, was the hottest offensive line coach prospect after Houck, in which direction does a team who has yet to even hire a head coach and then have to put a staff together go? Especially when said team is the Cleveland Browns who generally have been regarded as having the most porous offensive line in the NFL for a few years running?
The answer itself would seem to lie in the college ranks.
Okay, okay, I can hear the sneering reaction of some even as I write this article. But if the "hot" NFL properties are off the board, it is the next logical step in finding a coach, especially a position coach. It is understood in recent Browns history the hiring of Larry Zeirlein from the same ranks was not successful and only compounded the situation. But in all honestly what other avenues can be checked? Finding quality assistants is exactly one of the conundrums a team faces when they decided to wait for their head coach.
So rifling through profile after profile looking for those who are most qualified/most likely to come to Cleveland this is the list I have surmised:
1. Reese Morgan Iowa
The past few seasons, Iowa has been known for churning out NFL offensive lineman. Most give credit to Kirk Ferentz, Iowa's head coach. But who exactly is the offensive line coach? The answer is obviously Reese Morgan. Morgan is still relatively new to the college coaching realm, having a total of five years of experience.
Only the past two seasons were spent as Iowa's offensive line coach. Still in those two years Morgan has had 4 senior offensive linemen, three will have been drafted or have received NFL contracts after this April's draft. Morgan oversaw Robert Gallery's senior season, where Robert won the Outland Trophy for best interior lineman and was named an All American in every publication which awards the achievement. Gallery was also quoted one time to say that he never truly felt comfortable playing offensive tackle [Robert being recruited as a tight end] until his senior season. Last season Gallery was the number two overall pick by the Oakland Raiders.
Before serving as Iowa's offensive line coach, Morgan was the position coach of what some call the extension of the offensive line, tight ends. There again Reese oversaw a future first rounder in Dallas Clark. Also factoring in tight ends keep close relation to the offensive line and Reese has had a hand with all the successes Iowa's most famous unit, their offensive line, has experienced the past few years.
Along with Morgan's quick success at the college level, one other factor weighed heavily on him receiving the top spot on this list. Morgan is a native Ohioan originally from Lorain. Would it be out of the question Morgan would want to come back to his home state?
Phil Savage is close friends with Kirk Ferentz. Kirk puts in a good word for Morgan, and the Browns could land a real up and comer to help its most woeful unit.
A very similar formula will appear between the previous coach and the next coach on the list…..
2. Don Horton Boston College
Boston College has been known for years as an assembly line for NFL offensive line talent. Don Horton is the latest to take up the reigns to keep the tradition going.
Horton has been with the Eagles for eight years, but has only been the offensive line coach for two seasons. The previous six he was BC's tight end coach.
While Horton has yet to oversee a player of Gallery's caliber, his early claim to NFL fame would be Chris Snee and second round selection just a year ago. It should also be of note there is some good young talent on that unit currently which will make it to the NFL in a year or two with the help of Horton.
Horton also has Ohio ties playing and coaching for Division III Wittenberg University, serving as a graduate assistant at The Ohio St. University, and making a stop in Athens as Ohio University's offensive line coach in the mid 1990's.
3. Art Kehoe Miami
Kehoe is arguably the very best offensive line coach in all of college football. When you look at his resume and what he has accomplished at Miami, theoretically he should easily be number one on this list. Here let Miami's official site put it all into context:
"In 19 seasons working with the offensive line at UM, Kehoe has produced six players (Brett Romberg in 2002, Bryant McKinnie in 2001, Joaquin Gonzalez in 2000, Richard Mercier in 1999, K.C. Jones in 1996 and Leon Searcy in 1991) who have received first-team All-America honors, plus 16 more that went on to play professionally, 14 All-BIG EAST honorees, one Outland Trophy winner and the 2002 Rimington Award winner. Kehoe has been on the staff of all five UM football national championship teams. Two Heisman Trophy winners and six of Miami's eight 1,000-yard rushers passed or rushed behind the blocking of Kehoe's offensive linemen. His 2000 and 2001 units are widely considered among the finest offensive lines in recent college football history and the 2002 unit was considered the nations finest by many observers."
With all that in mind, when one reads his biography from the official site and Art is described as "Mr. Miami Football", odds of him leaving said school seems to be unlikely. Kehoe has been at the University of Miami for twenty six seasons. Is it time for Kehoe to make the jump? He certainly has the credentials to make the leap to the NFL.
4.Mike Devlin Toledo
Toledo usually is not a school which comes up in discussion for offensive line factories in college. Truth be told while Toledo regularly sports a very good running game and offensive line play, this will be its first year with a truly top notch prospect in Nick Kaczur (who will still likely go round three at the earliest).
Devlin is obviously the dark horse of this group. Why does he then make the list? Even though currently at Toledo, Devlin has the best NFL background of any of the prospective coaches on this list. Mike played three seasons with the Bills in the early 1990's and then went on to play for Arizona. After his playing career was over, Devlin spent the next 4 years of his life as Arizona's assistant offensive line coach. With the turnover Arizona had with Denny Green coming in, Devlin was forced out and took the job at Toledo.
One of Arizona's perceived strengths in all those abysmal years was their offensive line. Toledo had a great year with Devlin leading his unit. Now if the Browns could only get him to move east a little bit.
5. Jim Bollman Ohio St.
As soon as Bollman's name appears in this article, some Buckeye fans might immediately say, "Ohio St.'s offense has been terrible the past two years, and one of the biggest problems was the continuity with the offensive line." All true, and Bollman is the lone proprietor of these transgressions serving as both offensive coordinator and offensive line coach.
What Bollman has done is produce some talent for the NFL. Guys like LeCharles Bentley, Alex Stepanovich, Shane Olivea, Adrien Clarke, and Robbie Sims all were drafted or signed to NFL contracts under Bollman's watch.
Three things truly make Bollman an intriguing prospective coach. One, again, Bollman is a native Ohioan. Two, he has NFL experience [a season with the Bears and Eagles as tight end coach]. And lastly the current situation at Ohio State with possible recruiting sanctions on the way.
While it's certain there are quite a few fans in the state of Ohio who are not the highest on Bollman, his legitimacy as a good NFL offensive line coach speaks for itself.
The hiring of Romeo Crennel as Cleveland Browns head coach just might be the worst kept secret in the history of the franchise. With the head coach FINALLY in place, the rest of the staff must be built. While waiting for the "right guy" seems to be the right avenue for the Browns to pursue, finding good assistant coaches will be hard this late in the game. Dipping into and perusing the college ranks, there certainly are some solid candidates who can be brought in to help and hopefully solidify the Browns most desperate area of concern. Who knows, maybe the Cleveland Browns might finally land the next "hot property" by treading this route.