Monday, January 11, 2010

Dolphins defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni fired: Who will replace him?

Less than a week after losing two linebackers coaches to the college ranks, the Miami Dolphins have made their first voluntary coaching change of the offseason, firing defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni.

Pasqualoni gets the axe two years into his stint with the Dolphins after being hired upon Bill Parcells' arrival as the team's vice president in 2008.

Before to joining Tony Sparano's staff in Miami, Pasqualoni served as an assistant for the Dallas Cowboys with Sparano from 2005 to 2007. He was Syracuse University's head coach for the 14 years prior to joining the NFL ranks.

Both Sides of the Coin

Although this move comes as a bit of a surprise, there some arguments for Pasqualoni's termination.

The defense certainly took a step back in 2009, falling from a 15th ranked unit in terms of yards allowed in 2008 to a 22nd ranking this season. The defense also ranked 25th in points allowed in 2009, down from a ninth-place finish last year.

Although the defensive line held up fairly well, the linebackers struggled to consistently make plays against the run and cover tight ends, and the secondary was a problem, to say the least, for much of the season.

In Pasqualoni's defense, his unit did suffer a few significant injuries to key players—nose tackle Jason Ferguson, linebacker Channing Crowder, cornerback Will Allen—and, in some cases, just plain lack of talent. Yes, Gibril Wilson, I'm looking at you.

I'm inclined to say that Pasqualoni did a fairly good job installing the 3-4 scheme in Miami and got a lot out of the talent he was given. However, it's hard to stay at a position long when you're not having success, and someone had to take the fall.

Possible Replacements

Now that Pasqualoni is gone, the speculation on who will be his replacement begins.

Some of the most popular names being tossed around are current Dolphins secondary coach/assistant head coach Todd Bowles, former Cleveland Browns head coach Romeo Crennel, former Virginia Cavaliers head coach Al Groh, and current Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer.

A candidate for some head coaching jobs last offseason, Bowles is thought by some to be an unlikely choice for the job due to the poor play of the Dolphins' secondary in 2009.

Personally, I'd say that judging a coach on his unit's performance with two rookie cornerbacks and the human wasteland that is Gibril Wilson at free safety isn't really fair. Still, it seems unlikely the team promotes from within given that a fresh face and perspective are probably preferred.

Crennel would make sense due to his experience with Parcells with the Giants, Patriots and Jets. However, he is reportedly close to taking the same job in Kansas City, and Parcells would essentially be poaching him away from his son-in-law, Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli.

Zimmer has experience with Parcells as well from their time in Dallas and is a popular name due to his Top-10 defense in Cincinnati, but it's unclear if he'd be interested in making a lateral move to Miami and he has run the 4-3 scheme for most of his career, while Miami runs a 3-4.

One of the most likely candidates, and the guy I have my money on right now, is Al Groh.

Reports have Groh being close to taking the defensive coordinator position at Georgia Tech, though that was before this job in Miami opened up.

Groh has a long history with Parcells dating back to their time at Air Force in 1978. He later served as a linebackers coach or defensive coordinator during Parcells' stints with the Giants, Patriots and Jets.

When asked about potentially landing in Miami, Groh didn't shut the door on such a reunion, which obviously makes it a legitimate possibility.

My guess is that Groh ditches the Tech job for an NFL defensive coordinator job in Miami by the end of this week, and I'm all in favor of the hiring as an experienced coach with a good track record and someone that Parcells trusts.