Chiefs confident Solari can lead offense


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Jan 22, 2006
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Chiefs confident Solari can lead offense
Longtime assistant praised
The Kansas City Star

There’s little debate at Arrowhead Stadium or anywhere in the football world about Mike Solari’s ability as an offensive-line coach.

Solari is widely considered to be one of the best at the craft. The Chiefs built a powerful offense around what is considered the NFL’s best line and one that was molded by the 51-year-old Solari.

Chiefs president/general manager Carl Peterson said each of the five candidates he interviewed to become head coach, including Herm Edwards, indicated a desire to retain Solari.

But do his considerable skills as an offensive-line coach mean he’s ready to be the Chiefs’ offensive coordinator? Can the ability to teach sometimes-arcane blocking techniques to a 300-plus-pound lineman be the proper training to design game plans and call plays?

The Chiefs obviously think so. They promoted him to coordinator recently after nine seasons as their line coach.

“This guy knows everything about our offense that he needs to know, including the passing game, the pass protections and routes,” Peterson said. “I don’t think there’s a more deserving guy to take this next step.

“He understands and knows this offense as well as anybody I’ve ever been around. He’s a magnificent teacher and communicator.”

Those are qualities any team would desire in an offensive coordinator. Still, in Solari’s impeccable 29-year coaching career that began in 1977 when he coached the offensive line at Mission Bay High School in San Diego, he has directed an offense only once.

That was in 1986 at the University of Pittsburgh while he also coached the line.

The Chiefs are going against prevailing wisdom that says line coaches don’t make good coordinators. Only three of this season’s 31 NFL offensive coordinators — the Patriots didn’t designate one — have roots as offensive-line coaches. One, Tampa Bay’s Bill Muir, works for a head coach who calls his own plays.

“People say, ‘He’s never called a play,’ ” said Edwards, who as Jets coach tried to hire Solari as his offensive coordinator. “Well, I was never a head coach and never walked in front of a team until I had to do it. I just think you give people the opportunity to do that and you’d be surprised what can happen. Mike is ready for it. He’s been a very good coach in this league, and it’s his turn.

“I go on instinct, and I go on watching how a guy goes about preparing his players.”

Most coordinators have been coaches of quarterbacks or receivers or occasionally running backs.

“The obvious concern is always the passing game,” Peterson said. “Do they really understand quarterback play, the mechanics of it, and also receivers and the mechanics of that and patterns and routes and releases and attacking coverages? There are those who have struggled with it and those who have had great success.”

It doesn’t have to be a big adjustment for Solari, who will have help in the passing game from a veteran staff that includes quarterbacks coach Terry Shea and wide receivers coach Charlie Joiner.

“I don’t think it’s that big of a leap because he’s doing most of the hard work anyway,” CBS analyst Phil Simms said. “I don’t think you can be that successful of a line coach if you can’t see the big picture. He can always get somebody to help him with the passing game. The most important thing about passing the football is the schemes you use protecting the quarterback. Their offensive-line play and the designs of their runs are the best in the NFL.

“I would think he’s ready to make the move up to coordinator. I just go by what other coaches tell me and how highly thought of he is in the NFL. I hear of three or four different line coaches in the league, and he’s always one of them.”

Former Chiefs coach Dick Vermeil was almost faced with the need to hire a coordinator two years ago when Al Saunders came close to taking the head coaching job at the University of Nebraska.

Vermeil indicated he would have become the coordinator himself had Saunders departed, but said that was no reflection on Solari.

“Mike is one of the most capable individuals I’ve ever worked with,” Vermeil said. “He’s a full professor. His attention to detail is tremendous. He has no limitations. Some coaches are great on the practice field or great in meetings or great motivators. I think he’s got all the components wrapped up in one package.

“Any offensive-line coach moving to coordinator would also want somebody to work with him side by side in the passing game. Offensive-line coaches are so zeroed in on the line play and pass protection and the running game that they don’t have time to be a master of it all.”

Tackle Willie Roaf played in his first Pro Bowl long before he joined the Chiefs or began working with Solari in 2002. Roaf was enthusiastic when he heard of Solari’s promotion.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been around another line coach who understands the offense like Solari,” Roaf said. “He understands what our running game plan is, designing the running game plan and figuring out plays are going to work week to week against different defenses and different formations.

“The first few weeks, it would probably be somewhat different for him because I don’t think he’s ever been a coordinator. I’m sure it would be an adjustment for him. But he understands defenses well enough. He’ll do a good job.”
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