Jay Hayes, a 27-year veteran of major college and NFL coaching, is in his 13th season as Bengals defensive line coach. He has helped to draft and develop a line that has been widely rated in recent years as among the NFL’s best, helping the Bengals become one of only four teams to make the playoffs each of the last four seasons.
In 2014, the line was a major presence as the Bengals marched into the playoffs. The line provided the muscle and technique up front to allow an average of only 82.0 rushing yards over the final seven games, second-best in the NFL for that span.
Hayes’ signature player development effort has been with DT Geno Atkins, who has gone to three Pro Bowls since his acquisition as a fourth-round draft pick (120th overall) in 2010. Atkins went to his third Pro Bowl last season, starting every game after missing the second half of 2013 with a major knee injury. Atkins still was not at 100 percent in all aspects of his game after returning from the injury, but hopes in 2015 to regain the form that saw him lead all NFL interior linemen in sacks (20) over the ’11-12 seasons.
Hayes has helped DE Carlos Dunlap, another 2010 draftee, to status as a top playmaker, and veteran NT Domata Peko has been a rock of consistency in Hayes’ scheme. Hayes helped develop another top Bengals DE in Michael Johnson, over the 2009-13 seasons, and for 2015 Johnson chose to return to Cincinnati after spending 2014 as a free agent signee with Tampa Bay.
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).
In 2013, 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 employs 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. 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, his daughter Jazmin played basketball at Lafayette College (Easton, Pa.), and his son Miles is set to play football in 2015 at William & Mary.
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.