Change it up: How new NFL coaches are shaping their team's environment

  • Article by: BARRY WILNER , Associated Press
  • Updated: July 6, 2014 - 6:12 PM
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First-year Vikings coach Mike Zimmer instructed tight end AC Leonard (89) during the team's minicamp in June.

Photo: Ann Heisenfelt, Associated PRess

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From the smooth, almost laid-back approaches of Lovie Smith and Jim Caldwell to the fiery passion of Mike Zimmer, new NFL coaches are reshaping the environments of their teams.

Some have much bigger chores than others.

Bringing in a new coaching staff usually means the previous one did too much losing. That's true times seven this year as Smith takes over at Tampa Bay, Caldwell in Detroit, Zimmer in Minnesota, Ken Whisenhunt in Tennessee, Bill O'Brien in Houston, Jay Gruden in Washington and Mike Pettine in Cleveland.

PETTINE: BEING BLUNT

Pettine might have the biggest challenge because he takes over a perennial loser: Cleveland last made the playoffs in 2002. There's been discord surrounding the franchise ever since Jimmy Haslam bought it in 2012, and he's already on his third head coach.

The son of a highly successful high school coach, Pettine is bright, self-confident and media savvy, seemingly lacking the suspicious nature of so many NFL head coaches.

He doesn't pull punches, which is critical in engineering a cultural change.

"I would say no nonsense," Pettine says. "I have been nicknamed BFT: Blunt Force Trauma. The days are too short to dance around subjects and I think guys appreciate that."

SMITH: STAYING LOW-KEY

Another necessary skill is communication. Smith, who was 84-66 in nine seasons in Chicago, yet was canned after 2012, is a master at that. After the roughness of Greg Schiano's reign in Tampa, Smith's low-key style easily won over the players.

Not that Smith doesn't know how and when to be stern; he learned under Tony Dungy, a master communicator.

"It's been a while, I can honestly say, since you've seen guys smile this much and have this much fun," says DT Gerald McCoy, among the Bucs' best players. "It's just a completely different feel around the building."

CALDWELL: STAYING CALM

Caldwell also comes from the Dungy coaching tree, and he might still be the man in Indianapolis had Peyton Manning not missed 2011 after neck surgery. The Lions needed a steadying influence as head coach after the often unpredictable Jim Schwartz regime.

To some, Caldwell was a surprise choice. To others, he is the anti-Schwartz and will bring a calm steadiness to Detroit — along with more discipline for a team that sometimes stepped beyond the bounds of NFL protocol in its on-field behavior.

Caldwell has joked about his reputation for remaining even-keeled.

"There's no need for a whole lot of cussing, screaming, yelling and all that kind of stuff," Caldwell says. "It's a mini-quiz out here. I never had any of my professors yelling in my ear when I was sitting at the desk filling out those multiple-choice questions."

ZIMMER: THE TEACHER

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NY Yankees 2
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