Jay Hayes, a 26-year veteran of major college and NFL coaching, is in his 12th season as Bengals defensive line coach in 2014. He has helped to draft and develop a line that has been widely rated in recent years as among the NFL’s best.
All-Pro DT Geno Atkins, a steal in the fourth round of the 2010 draft, leads the way into 2014. He’s working to achieve a full season of action after having his 2013 campaign cut short in late October by a serious knee injury. After Atkins left the lineup, he was capably replaced by second-year pro Brandon Thompson, who’ll push for more time in ’14.
Just behind Atkins in the playmaker ratings is fifth-year DE Carlos Dunlap, signed in July of ’13 to a long contract extension, and veteran NT Domata Peko has been a rock of consistency in Hayes’ scheme. Last year’s fourth d-line starter, DE Michael Johnson, departed via free agency, but Hayes has gotten great production the last two years from free agent pickup Wallace Gilberry, and DE Margus Hunt brings great promise into his second NFL season.
Hayes joined a select group of NFL position coaches in 2012, when three of his players won the league’s AFC Defensive Player of the Week award. Since 1984, when AFC and NFC Defensive Player of the Week awards were begun, there had been only six previous instances of three different winners in one season from any position group on any NFL defense.
In 2012, the line accounted for 40 of the team’s franchise-record total of 51 sacks, led by career-high totals from Atkins (12.5) and Johnson (11.5).
Last season, despite missed time by Atkins and a lower total from Johnson, the Bengals ranked 10th in the NFL in sacks (43), with the line delivering 32.5. The line helped the defense to a No. 3 NFL ranking in fewest yards allowed (305.5), including fifth against both the run and pass. The Bengals led the AFC in net defense, and they ranked tied for fifth in the NFL in fewest points allowed (19.1 per game).
Recent NFL trends have blurred the distinctions between starters and reserves on successful defensive lines, and Hayes in recent years has employed a strategy that, when at full strength, rotates seven to eight linemen in a game.
“It’s my job to pick somebody to get a spark, so we can have chemistry and keep it running hot,” Hayes says. “We want to get after people and not let them find room to breathe. If we can continue doing that, we can be successful.”
Hayes came to the Bengals from the Minnesota Vikings, where he was special teams coach in 2002. The ’02 Vikings tied for fifth in the NFL in punt coverage.
Hayes was special teams coach for the Pittsburgh Steelers from 1999-2001. In 1999, under Hayes’ direction, Steelers rookie kicker Kris Brown set an NFL record for most consecutive FGs made to start a career (13).
Before entering the NFL coaching ranks with the Steelers, Hayes coached 11 years at the major college level — at Notre Dame, California and Wisconsin.
Hayes played DE at the University of Idaho and earned all-conference honors in 1980 and ’81. He spent some time in NFL camps before moving on to play professionally in the United States Football League, for the Michigan Panthers in 1984 and the Memphis Showboats in ’85.
Hayes’ younger brother, Jonathan, is Bengals tight ends coach.
Hayes was born March 3, 1960 in Pittsburgh and attended South Fayette High School. He and his wife have three children. His son Jesse is a linebacker at Wisconsin, and his daughter Jazmin plays basketball at Lafayette College (Easton, Pa.).
Playing and coaching history: 1978-81—Played defensive end, Idaho. 1984—Played defensive end, Michigan Panthers (USFL). 1985—Played defensive end, Memphis Showboats (USFL). 1988-91—Assistant coach (AC), Notre Dame. 1992-94—AC, California. 1995-98—AC, Wisconsin. 1999-2001—AC, Pittsburgh Steelers. 2002—AC, Minnesota Vikings. 2003-present—AC, Cincinnati Bengals.
Head coach Marvin Lewis, defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer and defensive line coach Jay Hayes marvel at the athletic skills of second-round pick Margus Hunt.