Zac Taylor’s coaching staff is a reflection of the new direction the Cincinnati Bengals have moved in since parting ways with Marvin Lewis after 16 seasons. Taylor’s staff is youthful and doesn’t have much experience compared to previous Bengals coaching staffs. Taylor, 35, has never been a coordinator or head coach at the NFL level, while coordinators Brian Callahan (offense) and Lou Anarumo (defense) are also first-time NFL coordinators.
Anarumo has coached in the NFL since 2012 and was previously in the college ranks. He was most recently the defensive backs coach for the Giants, where they ran a 3-4. Anarumo didn’t commit to a particular type of defense, but just said he planned to run multiple fronts. As for the experience concern, he pointed to a 30-year span as a coach.
“I think there's always going to be some things, 'Hey, maybe I would've done it this way' or maybe you'd lean on somebody. But to be quite honest, I've been coaching since 1990,” Anarumo said. “I certainly don't have all the answers. I don't mean to say it that way. What I'my saying is I've been coaching a long time around a lot of great coaches, so I have some things I can go to based on experiences and guys I can call if there's something I need to. But I feel pretty confident in my ability to get this done and get these going and be really good.”
It hasn’t been the easiest of starts for Taylor and his coaching staff, as finding a defensive coordinator was a challenge. Taylor was already the last head coach hired due to his previous team being in the Super Bowl, and the Bengals went through a lot of coordinator candidates before hiring Anarumo.
The Bengals still have some pieces to put in place on defense but wanted to wait until the coordinator was set before hiring the rest of the assistants.
Here is a look at the Bengals’ new staff:
Brian Callahan (offensive coordinator): Callahan, 34, lacks experience at the coordinator level, but he has been around football his entire life because of his father, Bill Callahan, a former Raiders coach and current Redskins offensive line coach. Brian’s father coached Zac Taylor at Nebraska, which is how the two got to know each other. Callahan has coached in the NFL for nine seasons. He started his career as an assistant with the Broncos and has had stops with the Lions and Raiders as quarterbacks coach.
Jemal Singleton (running backs): Singleton, 43, comes from the Raiders’ coaching staff where he spent one season as running backs coach. He was with the Colts’ from 2016-17. The Colts had a lot of success under Singleton with Frank Gore, who rushed for 1,986 yards in those two seasons. Singleton and Callahan were both on the same staff in Oakland during the 2018 season. Singleton replaces Kyle Caskey, who oversaw Joe Mixon become the leading rusher in the AFC in 2018.
Jim Turner (offensive line): Turner’s hire caused the first controversy of Taylor’s young career with the Bengals. The Bengals are the first team to give Turner a job in the NFL since he was fired from the Dolphins’ staff after he was named as a participant in the team’s bullying scandal in 2013. Taylor actually hired Turner as the running backs coach during his lone season as the University of Cincinnati’s offensive coordinator in 2015, but Turner elected to go to Texas A&M. Turner was also suspended from A&M for several weeks for showing PowerPoint slides with offensive language at a women’s football clinic in 2016. Taylor and Turner’s relationship goes back to 2008, when they both worked at Texas A&M. He replaces Frank Pollack, who was well regarded in his one season in Cincinnati.
Bob Bicknell (wide receivers): Bicknell is a holdover from Marvin Lewis’ staff and will return for his second season. Bicknelll’s NFL experience dates to 2007. While it’s hard to give him a fair judgment due to numerous injuries on offense, it was clear that Tyler Boyd took a giant step forward in 2018, making himself a solid No. 2 receiver in his third season.
Ben Martin (assistant offensive line): Martin, 35, has spent the last three seasons coaching college football, mostly recently as the offensive line coach at Brown. Martin’s connection to Taylor came through their shared time on the Dolphins' staff, where Martin was an offensive assistant from 2014-15. He also worked with Taylor at Texas A&M as a quality control coach.
James Casey (tight ends): Taylor seemed most excited about the hiring of Casey, noting that he had tried to keep it a secret for as long as possible so another team wouldn’t try to hire him. Taylor called him a “home run hire.” Casey was a fifth-round draft pick who played in the NFL from 2009-15 before moving on to the University of Houston as an offensive assistant and tight ends coach. He has never coached in the NFL and didn’t know Taylor but was recommended by several people in the NFL and college ranks.
Alex Van Pelt (quarterbacks): Andy Dalton appeared to be well one his way to one of the best seasons of his career in Van Pelt’s first season last year. But whether it was injuries, the scheme, or the play of the offensive line, Dalton’s play tailed off along with the rest of the offense prior to his season-ending injury on Nov. 25. But considering the work Van Pelt did with Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay, it’s clear the Bengals think he has the ability to get the best out of Dalton as well. It’s no surprise Van Pelt is one of the few offensive holdovers from the previous regime.
Anarumo (defensive coordinator): Anarumo, 52, has never been a coordinator at the NFL level. Anarumo worked with Taylor for several years on the Dolphins' coaching staff and was interim defensive coordinator for the second half of the 2015 season after Kevin Coyle was fired. Anarumo was hired just before the NFL scouting combine after an extensive search that included Jack Del Rio, Saints DC Dennis Allen, Ohio State DC Jeff Hafley and Florida DC Todd Grantham. Anarumo noted the physical nature of the AFC North and said his philosophy is to stop the run first.
"At the end of the day, you have to start with stopping the run and being tough and stout up front. And then everything works from there," he said.
Daronte Jones (Secondary/cornerbacks) Jones is going into his fourth season as an NFL assistant and his second season in Cincinnati. He was with the Dolphins as assistant defensive backs coach from 2016-17. Although the Dolphins were able to record 16 interceptions in 2016 (tied for third that season), the Bengals didn’t have that success in 2018 despite an increased emphasis, recording only 12 interceptions.
Robert Livingston (Secondary/safeties): Livingston started as a Bengals scout from 2012-14 before moving onto the coaching staff. He’ll coach the secondary for the fourth straight season, provided Taylor doesn’t make any changes. While the defense struggled as a whole in 2018, rookie safety Jessie Bates showed that he has a bright feature, starting 16 games with three interceptions (one for a touchdown) and seven pass deflections.
TBA (defensive line): The Bengals have not made the move official, but they are planning to hire Vanderbilt defensive line coach Nick Eason to coach their defensive line, according to the NFL Network. Eason, 38, played in the NFL for nine seasons, including seven seasons in the AFC North with the Browns and Steelers. Eason’s main NFL experience comes from three seasons as the Titans' defensive line coach.
TBA (linebackers): The linebackers coach is essentially the final piece of the puzzle for the Bengals’ coaching staff after they parted ways with Jim Haslett. Linebackers and offensive line were one of the most porous groups on the team, so the Bengals need a home run hire here to turn the unit around.
Darrin Simmons (special teams coordinator): Simmons is one of the most trusted members of the Bengals' coaching staff, so it’s no surprise that he’s one of the holdovers from Lewis' tenure. Simmons will return for his 17th season in Cincinnati and his seventh season as special teams coordinator. Simmons will make the special teams unit one of the most stable groups on the team, as punter Kevin Huber and long snapper Clark Harris have been on the team since 2009.