The Detroit Lions surprised many this offseason by letting go of special teams coordinator John Bonamego. Bonamego had been a local favorite, and the Lions’ special teams unit in 2019 wasn’t perceived as a big weakness (ranked eighth by Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric).
Nonetheless, the Lions made the move, and in his place they hired youngster Brayden Coombs, who had spent ten years with the Cincinnati Bengals organization. Coombs has “rising star” written all over him, as his coaching career is just starting to bloom in the NFL. So let’s get to know the Lions’ new special teams coordinator a little better.
Previously: Offensive line coach Hank Fraley
2009: Bengals coaching intern
2010-11: Bengals coaching assistant
2012: Offensive assistant
2013-15: Assistant special teams coach/quality control coach
2016-17: Assistant special teams coach/defensive quality control coach
2018: Assistant special teams coach/offensive quality control coach
2019: Assistant special teams coach
It didn’t likely have anything to do with his hiring, but Coombs will reunite with Lions running backs coach Kyle Caskey, who served as the Bengals running backs coach from 2014-18. He also had some direct overlap with Coombs in 2012 as the team’s offensive quality control coach when Coombs was an offensive assistant.
Additionally, it appears he’s somewhat close to Marvin Jones Jr., who played for the Bengals from 2012 to 2015.
Here’s Coombs reacting to the tragic news about Jones’ infant son’s death late last year:
Utterly heartbroken for my friend @MarvinJonesJr right now .. From the day I found out I was expecting my first, Marv inspired me to be a better dad- because of how effortlessly good he was at it, and because of how much he loved it, how proud he was to be a dad ..— Brayden Coombs (@BraydenCoombs) December 29, 2019
Coombs played for the Miami (OH) Redhawks in college as a wide receiver. However, he did not play much on offense until his senior year when he tallied 40 catches for 392 yards. He was active, however, on special teams which included him getting some work as Miami’s kick returner in 2009.
Immediately after graduating from Miami with a business degree, Coombs pursued his coaching career by joining the Bengals coaching staff as an intern. From there, the next 10 years would be filled with promotion after promotion.
For Coombs’ entire coaching career in Cincinnati, the Bengals had Darrin Simmons as their special teams coordinator. In 2013, Coombs began learning from the special teams guru as a special teams assistant. From there, his responsibilities only grew.
And as a credit to both Coombs and Simmons, the two survived a regime change when the Bengals finally moved on from long-time head coach Marvin Jones. Only seven coaches were given the opportunity to stay.
It’s hard exactly to parse what Coombs’ reputation is since he spent most his time in the shadow of Simmons, who is the gold standard of special teams coaches. However, during the Senior Bowl—where Coombs was with Detroit, and Simmons, the man who taught him “95 percent of what he knows about the kicking game,” was there coaching the South with his old team—the two got to reunite shortly after the hire.
“He’s worked here for a long time, and it’s good to see him get an opportunity to spread his wings and do his own thing,” Simmons said of Coombs earlier this year. “I think he’s been ready for a couple of years. But I think he made a lot of big strides this year with a lot of things. You always look back and see the path that I took to get to this role and see various things along the way that lead you to believe that he can handle this. This year, I thought he took a lot of big strides in that direction.”
One thing is for certain, the Bengals special teams units have been very good under both Simmons and Coombs. Here’s a look at their DVOA rankings per Football Outsiders:
That’s four top-10 performances in Coombs’ seven years as special teams assistant.
Interestingly enough, Coombs’ father, Kerry, is a local coaching legend. Here’s Bengals Wire’s Chris Roling on the Coombs legacy:
His father, Kerry, is something of local-area legend for his work at the high school level (Colerain) before going on to Ohio State, then the Tennessee Titans.
Here’s an interesting tidbit from The Athletic’s Chris Burke from the Senior Bowl:
“And on his current trajectory, Brayden Coombs’ coaching path probably doesn’t end as a special-teams coach. I heard more people talk up the Lions’ hire of Coombs than the move for Undlin, and that’s not a knock on Undlin.
No telling how it works out, or where the staff as a whole stands a year from now, but Detroit snagged one of the coaching profession’s rising stars in Coombs.”
In his own words:
On what he wants for his special teams units (via this interview with Dan Miller):
“Toughness, competitiveness. That’s kind of where it’s going to start for us. There’s a lot of characteristics we’re looking for, but I told the (Senior Bowl) North team last night, ‘If you don’t check these two boxes—toughness and competitiveness—that’s kind of the eliminator for us.’
“Other than that, fast, aggressive, smart, situationally-aware. We want to always be the aggressor on Sunday. We don’t want to be reacting, we want to set the tone, and take on the personality of our team. Make a difference every Sunday, control field position, make the explosive plays.”
On his similarity to what Matt Patricia wants (via Freep):
“Matt knows what he wants (the kicking game) to look like and a lot of that comes from the coaching tree that I come from is Scott O’Brien, That’s where Matt learned the kicking game, that’s where Darrin learned the kicking game, so by trade that’s where I learned the kicking game. Scott’s one of the best special teams coaches of all time, so to be from that tree really is, I think, where that interest started.”
On being a young coach (33) and even younger than some Lions players (via Freep):
“I’m going to be high energy, I’m going to be running around at practice, I’m going to be excited, all those things. But my dad’s almost 60 and he’s the same way. I think that’s just more personality than age. I think the guys, in my experience with not just special teams players but NFL players in general, they don’t really care about your age, they don’t really care about your past. What they want to know is how are you going to help them be a better football player individually and collectively how am I going to help them win games.”
Bonus: Here he is in his first role with the Lions, coaching up the North team at the Senior Bowl:
Kerry Coombs’ son, Brayden, among the coaches leading drills at Senior Bowl practice. Brayden Coombs just became the special teams coordinator for the Detroit Lions, who are coaching the North team; the Cincinnati Bengals, his previous employer, are coaching the South team. pic.twitter.com/lx0bAv9yms— Dan Hope (@Dan_Hope) January 21, 2020