Ken Zampese is the Bengals new OC.
Ken Zampese, who has coached the two best passing seasons in Bengals history, replaced Hue Jackson as offensive coordinator Friday in a move embraced by both offensive captains for the sake of continuity with an experienced coach that has been with quarterback Andy Dalton for every turn in his development.
The club also announced Friday that former NFL and UFL head coach Jim Haslett is the club's new linebackers coach, replacing Matt Burke, in what looks to be the beginning of the biggest facelift to the defensive staff since head coach Marvin Lewis took over in 2003.
They are still looking to replace secondary coach Vance Joseph, the new Dolphins defensive coordinator who took Burke with him to Miami, and there look to be other positions to fill as new NFL head coaches begin combing staffs of the league's best teams. Word is defensive line coach Jay Hayes is headed to Tampa after 13 seasons in Cincinnati and sending two players (Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap) to the Pro Bowl this season.
Zampese, the quarterbacks coach heavily involved in the drafting and development of both Dalton and Carson Palmer, oversees an offense trying to keep the momentum of a season Dalton set the Bengals' single-season passer rating at 106.3 and featured three players with at least 10 touchdowns for the first time in history.
Dalton blossomed this past season, blistering to the AFC passing title with career bests at 8.4 yards per throw and at a 66.1 completion percentage before breaking his throwing thumb and ending his season on the first drive of the 13th game.
"To have a guy like Zamp who's been here for a long time and has been in this offense ever since I've been in it is great," Dalton said. "He understands our players, he understands me. I think it's a perfect transition for us."
The playbook that Zampese is going to use isn't even closed from Saturday night since it's the same one they've been using. The key thing is the West Coast language is going to stay.
"The continuity is huge. We can walk right in with the group we have right now and move forward," said Zampese, who has spent game day in the press box but it sounds like he's leaning to calling plays on the field like Jackson and Jay Gruden before him.
Dalton and his fellow long-time offensive captain, Andrew Whitworth, like the idea of continuity. Plus, Zampese got Andy Dalton ready in time to become the first Bengals quarterback not to throw an interception in his first three starts last month in the middle of a play-off run. McCarron led a 16-point fourth-quarterback comeback last Saturday night in his first post-season start.
"I'm happy for Zamp," Whitworth said. "I have watched him work as hard as anybody for ten years. Always waiting patiently for his opportunity.
"It keeps what Andy has been taught consistent. It's Andy's team and I think that helps put us in position to just keep moving forward."
Dalton played so well in 2015 that the Bengals didn't want to take a chance and back-slide with a new system and/or a new coach.
"When you have a group like we have and has been around for a while, that makes it easier and you continue to build on what we've been doing rather than starting from square one," Dalton said.
Zampese has a different style than Jackson when it comes to commanding a room. But both guys are smart and can use their intelligence to build a following with players.
"I think that's the first thing you'll hear when you ask somebody about (Zampese). How smart he is. How much time he has put in to what he does," Dalton said. "I think that's going to be a big thing for us. We've got a coach that understands so much about the game of football."
Dalton thinks that intelligence is going to mesh nicely with the aggressive and cerebral take-no-prisoners style of Jackson that Zampese helped contribute to the last couple of years.
"The kind of mentality Hue brought to the team and to the offense, I don't think that's going to go anywhere," Dalton said. "I think the two years we had with Hue are going to carry over to what we do."
Because what Zampese is going to do, according to Lewis' charge, is put his own stamp on the same system and he has nearly 20 years of NFL schemes of which to draw on. They range from the coordinators he's had here Jackson, Gruden, Bob Bratkowski to his head coach for the Greatest Show on Turf for the turn-of-the-century Rams, where he worked for three seasons.
Indeed, Mike Martz recommended Zampese to Lewis even before Lewis got a head coaching gig. But the vision of Zampese's identity seems pretty clear cut from that diverse background.
"When you watch a game and you feel the energy from the team, how fast they play, that's the trademark of what we want to be," Zampese said. "When you do that, you get the most out of the talents of everyone in the room, when they can play fast. The kicker for us as coaches is to take a player where they can't go. That only comes through the speed, effort, enthusiasm and energy we can bring to them and pull out of them and pull out of them on a daily basis that will show up on Sundays."
Twice before, when he replaced Bratkowski and Gruden, Lewis bypassed Zampese for offensive coordinator. But Zampese said he didn't take it as a slight.
"I never looked at it like that. I felt very fortunate to work here and work in the NFL," Zampese said. "When your input is valued, that goes a long way and it's always been that here. When you've had the support of the organization at all times the way the Brown family and Coach Lewis does it, I never looked at it that way."
Lewis' in-house promotions have paid off. Two years ago he moved Jackson from running backs coach to offensive coordinator and Paul Guenther from linebackers coach to defensive coordinator and he saw the NFL's No. 7 scoring offense team with the No. 2 scoring defense this season to produce a franchise-tying 12-4 record.
In addition to head coaching the Saints from 2000-2005 and the UFL's Florida Tuskers in 2009, Haslett has served as a defensive coordinator for four NFL teams.
"Jim is just a very outstanding and thorough football coach," Lewis said in a news release. "He has a tremendous background, including both as a head coach and a coordinator. It's a wealth of expertise and ideas that he's going to bring to a position group that has to be successful for us to succeed as a team."
Haslett, 60, out of Avalon High School, is a Pittsburgh contemporary of Lewis, 57, out of Fort Cherry High School. By the time Haslett became the defensive coordinator of the Steelers in 1997, Lewis had left the Steelers and was the defensive coordinator in Baltimore. They spent a lot of time talking five years ago, when Lewis hired Gruden, Haslett's one-time offensive coordinator with the Tuskers
"We've got mutual acquaintances and I've admired his work," Haslett said via Friday's conference call.
Haslett flashed back to his third of eight NFL seasons, seven of them as an inside backer for the Bills. It ended in a 1981 divisional playoff game at Riverfront Stadium in a 28-21 loss to the Bengals, where Cincinnati's No. 2 offense bested Buffalo's No. 7 defense.
"We should have won," Haslett said. "They hit us with a delay of game penalty . . . That was a good game . . . That year they had a good offense and we had a good defense."
Haslett played in nearly 100 NFL games in a career that started as the 1979 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. Those games, he says, are his biggest coaching assets in a pro career that has touched five decades.
"Being in the league as long as I've been, I think I can help these guys out . . . Don't get me wrong. I don't know how much help they need," Haslett said of WILL backer Vontaze Burfict and middle linebacker Rey Maualuga. "They're good ballplayers. They've got great noses for the ball. They're powerful guys that can run and you can tell they love the game. From what I can see on film, they're a good group.
"I'm not a screamer or yeller. I like coaching," Haslett said. "I see the game through a linebacker's eyes. I know what they're looking at. I know why they do certain things. Why he went back door instead of over the top. I think I've got a better perspective than most coaches because I've been in those cleats and I've seen it with their eyes."