Another offseason is here and once again Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus is drawing head coaching interest. This year does feel different for ‘Flus as he is a finalist for multiple head coaching jobs. If that happens this season, or next, who will take over for the defensive play caller when he eventually leaves?
There is always a chance they bring in someone from outside of the organization but Frank Reich has said in the past that he wants coaches that want to climb the ranks and become head coaches some day. It’s tough to say that and then skip over those guys who want to advance their careers. We saw last year when offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni left to take the Philadelphia Eagles head job, Frank Reich promoted from within the organization. He tabbed then quarterbacks coach Marcus Brady for the OC position.
Internal promotion is part of the organizational identity Frank Reich has and is building in Indianapolis. So the question becomes do the Colts have any position coaches who can step into the role and succeed?
Option One: Dave Borgonzi
When Flus came to Indy from the Dallas Cowboys he brought with him Dave Borgonzi. Borgonzi and Eberflus worked together with Dallas from 2011-2013 when Borgonzi left for Tampa Bay. While in Tampa, he worked under former Tony Dungy assistant Leslie Fraizer. Once Flus was in Indy, he brought Borgonzi along and made him his linebackers coach.
When Nick Sirianni left for Philly, many people believed Borgonzi would go with him to become the Eagles defensive coordinator. Instead Sirianni took the Colts cornerbacks coach Jonathan Gannon instead.
Option Two: James Rowe
James Rowe has only been in Indianapolis for a year but his impact is undeniable. Over the first half of the season, the Indianapolis secondary was decimated by injury, and Rowe’s cornerbacks stepped up in a big way. We saw Isaiah Rodgers go from a special teams contributor to a legitimate outside corner, while Rock Ya-Sin finally looked like the player Chris Ballard thought he was getting when he took Ya-Sin 34th overall in the 2019 NFL draft.
Those things happened under Rowe’s tutelage, but that’s not what makes me believe he’s qualified for the the job.
That was actually Zach Hicks after I re-read his article on James Rowe from 11 months ago. It’s a good article, and you should read it, but here’s the $0.10 version:
Over the past month, I called around multiple places trying to get a feel for what newest Colts CB coach James Rowe brought to the team. What I discovered was a man who is a genius in the film room while also being the ultimate players coach. https://t.co/52ZM8iJ8NY— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) February 19, 2021
And it wasn’t like Zach called up people that wouldn’t know about James Rowe. Here’s the list of players and coaches he talked to for that piece:
Huge shoutout to everyone who wanted to talk about Coach Rowe for this piece:— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) February 19, 2021
Kenny Moore II (@KennyKennyMoe3)
Shemar Jean-Charles (@sherm_ftc)
Ryan Huff (@Ryanhuff21)
Gary Goff (@CoachGGoff)
Dale Jones (@DaleJones54)
Between him being described as a super-intelligent coach in the film room coupled with the performance and production he got from his players this season, and the only conclusion left is that if the Indianapolis Colts don’t hire him as their defensive coordinator, it won’t be long before someone else does.
Rowe was also named a head coach of the 2022 Shrine Bowl’s East Team, so while the Shrine Bowl isn’t a premier all-star game, the fact that he was chosen seems to indicate his career arrow is pointing up in circles around the league.
Scroll back up and check out the size of Rowe’s head. This guy obviously has a massive brain.
Option Three: Alan Williams
Alan Williams has spent a lot of time coaching in Indianapolis. He came with Tony Dungy as a the team’s defensive backs coach in 2002 and stayed until 2011. In 2012 he was hired as defensive coordinator of the Minnesota Vikings under then-head coach Leslie Frazier. In 2012 he oversaw a firmly league-average defense, and in 2013 his defense became possibly the worst in the league, which marked the end of his career as the Vikings DC. He then spent four seasons under Jim Caldwell as the Lions’ defensive backs and safeties coach.
That’s hardly the entire story of Williams’s coaching career, and one failed stop as DC doesn’t mean he would fail again if given another chance. He’s had a decade to learn, grow and think about what he would do differently if he ever gets the chance again.
Ultimately Frank Reich and the Colts might value his experience more than what their other options bring to the table.
Between these three, which do the Colts pick?
I believe that will come down to who remains in Indy when Matt Eberflus eventually takes a head coaching job. It seems logical that Dave Borgonzi would once again follow Eberflus to his next stop to be his defensive coordinator, or the DC in waiting if ‘Flus tapped his 71 year old former mentor Rod Marinelli to ease Borgonzi into that role, while giving Borgonzi a promotion to passing game coordinator- a position Eberflus held with the Cowboys before coming to Indianapolis.
Either way, I believe Borgonzi is likely to follow Eberflus to his next stop. This isn’t to say that Rowe or Williams would be the teams second choice. If, for some reason, ‘Flus doesn’t want Borgonzi, Rowe or Williams (this seems very unlikely) with him at his next stop the Colts would have a choice to make. Borgonzi might represent a more seamless transition, but Rowe is a rising star in the coaching world, and Williams’ experience might make the difference no matter what.
It wouldn’t be that surprising to see any of them promoted to DC and another promoted to an assistant DC or passing game coordinator, as well.
If the worst-case scenario happens and Eberflus takes everyone with him, what do the Colts do? This is obviously all speculation, but if we look back at the 2018 hiring cycle and look at who Chris Ballard was interviewing for the then open head coaching vacancy, he put in requests for both Steve Wilks and Kris Richard. Both Wilks and Richard would be available to come to Indy. Richard spent last season as the defensive backs coach of the New Orleans Saints. Wilks spent 2021 as the defensive coordinator of the Missouri Tigers.
Outside of these two options, I could see Chris Ballard’s relationship with former Colts executive and current Jets Assistant General Manager Rex Hogan come into play and someone like current Jets senior defensive assistant and cornerbacks coach Tony Oden getting a chance to run the Colts defense.
In the NFL since 2004 Oden has established himself as a very good defensive coach, working directly to help develop players like Darius Slay, Xavien Howard and Minkah Fitzpatrick. While it seems easy to help elite talent “develop” Oden showed in 2021 that he wasn’t just relying on the physical gifts of high draft picks when he was able to get solid performances out of players like former 5th round pick Bryce Hall, former 3rd rounder Ashtyn Davis and former UDFA Javelin Guidry.
Beyond that Oden worked with safeties coach Alan Williams during their four year run working with the Lions. This relationship could prove very valuable if the team want’s to retain Williams without putting him in charge of the entire defense.
Between his performance, Ballard’s relationship with Rex Hogan, Ballard’s past moves indicating he likes the scheme Oden comes from, and Oden’s relationship with current safeties coach Alan Williams and it wouldn’t surprise me to see a DB coach from a 4-13 Jets team earn an interview if the team ends up looking outside of the organization.
At first glance, there seem to be a lot of good options if the Colts do have to move on from Eberflus. You probably have your favorite for the position but mine is without a doubt James Rowe. Rowe is a young, ascending coach whose best days are clearly ahead of him, it seems that the only question with Rowe isn’t “if” he will be a coordinator, it’s when he’ll get the opportunity.
Colts fans won’t have to wait much longer to learn the fate of defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus, but if he is hired elsewhere, who do you hope to see take over the defensive play-calling of the Indianapolis Colts?
Assuming Matt Eberflus leaves, who should replace him as the Indianapolis Colts defensive coordinator?
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