Hidden Gem: Why Clyde Christensen Fits Perfectly Into Miami’s Staff
When a coach is hired at age 37 to lead a team, as Adam Gase has been, it is very likely that he will need others on his staff that can provide him with veteran savvy and years of experience.
Up until this past weekend, the Dolphins’ coaching staff seemed surprisingly shorthanded when it came to experienced options. Most positional coaches, as well as defensive coordinator Vance Joseph, were all younger than most with their respective titles in the NFL. Many expected Gase to seek out those who had been hanging around in the league for years, so that he could draw upon their wisdom in first his season as Miami’s head coach.
Adam Gase finally selected a veteran coach, one who will fill one of the team’s largest roles. Clyde Christensen has 20 seasons of NFL experience, as well as several collegiate seasons as a coach prior to that. However, what is it that makes Christensen a good fit for the Miami Dolphins? We examine that here.
The History of Clyde Christensen:
In 1979, Christensen got his start in coaching as a graduate assistant at Mississippi. He spent just one season there before heading to East Tennessee State, where he served as the quarterbacks and receivers coach. He bounced around the collegiate ranks for years, taking on various offensive roles. He was a positional coach, an assistant head coach, and an offensive coordinator. After reaching Clemson in 1994, he finally had the high level collegiate experience needed to jump to the NFL.
Christensen became the Buccaneers’ tight ends coach in 1996, hired by Tony Dungy. Later, Dungy promoted Christensen to quarterbacks coach. In 2001, Dungy once again ascended the ranks, as he became the team’s offensive coordinator.
The Buccaneers’ ownership grew frustrated with their frequent exits from the playoffs, and the lack of progress made by Dungy regarding his record in January. They fired Dungy, who was hired by the Indianapolis Colts. Clyde Christensen was then brought over as the wide receivers coach.
From 2002-2007, Christensen coached the likes of Reggie Wayne and Marvin Harrison, and won a Super Bowl with the Colts. In 2008, when Dungy felt he needed a shake up on the staff, he promoted Christensen to the position of assistant head coach. He maintained his role as the receivers coach.
In 2009, Jim Caldwell was hired to replace Tony Dungy. Usually, a team rids itself of previous staffers when a new head coach is brought in. However, this was not the case with the Colts, as Jim Caldwell named Clyde Christensen his offensive coordinator.
From 2009-2011, Christensen was the offensive coordinator for the Peyton Manning-led Colts.
In 2012, another head coaching change was made following a disastrous 2011 season. When Chuck Pagano was asked to take over in Indianapolis, he knew whom he wanted to retain for his staff.
It is rare for a coach to survive one head coaching change; Christensen made it through two.
Pagano asked him to become the quarterbacks coach for Andrew Luck, who he was able to help groom into one of the fastest learning players in NFL history. Yes, Luck did enter the league ready. However, Christensen undoubtedly has had some role in the Colts’ ability to prepare Luck so well at such a young age.
Then, in 2015, Clyde Christensen finally got the opportunity to return to his post as offensive coordinator.
If you doubt the impact that Christensen had in Indianapolis, let me explain something. There is only one connection that Adam Gase could possibly have to a longtime Colts’ assistant who hid in the shadows of the league for much of his career. That connection is Peyton Manning.
We can assume that Manning’s conversations over the years with Adam Gase had an impact here, as Christensen was selected to become the next offensive coordinator of the Miami Dolphins.
No Play Calling Necessary:
When Clyde Christensen was with the Colts, he had a very strange role based on other coaches the team had brought in.
Tom Moore served as the offensive coordinator until 2008, and was then given the title of senior offensive coordinator. While Peyton Manning does call his own plays most of the time, Moore served as his human play sheet on the sidelines. In 2010, Tom Moore stepped aside and became a senior offensive assistant/offensive consultant.
In short, Clyde Christensen was not the primary play caller for the Colts during his time with the team. Even though Christensen had a role in the selection of plays, Manning really did most of the heavy lifting while Moore assisted on the sidelines.
One thing that kept Christensen from ascending to an offensive coordinator position with another team is the perception of his limited role with the Colts. He was not a traditional offensive coordinator who phoned in the calls to his quarterback.
In 2015, there was finally an opening that wouldn’t ask Christensen to become a play caller in order to receive a promotion.
Adam Gase has already announced that he will call the plays for the Miami Dolphins. That being said, Christensen is free to focus on preparing the team, and working with each unit ahead of that week’s matchups. Gase will call the plays, and allow Christensen to do what he has done best for his entire tenure in the league: prepare his troops for battle.
In the NFL, preparation is a good portion of the battle. With Clyde Christensen as their offensive coordinator, Miami hopes to come out on the winning side of the preparation battle more frequently than they have in recent years.
Working With Young Receivers:
Clyde Christensen has spent more years working with wide receivers than he has with any other position since entering the league. He served as that position’s primary instructor for six years with the Colts. In that time, he was able to work with two future NFL Hall of Famers in Reggie Wayne and Marvin Harrison.
In Miami, Christensen will be handed an incredibly young group of pass catchers that he will work to mold in the image specified by Adam Gase.
Jarvis Landry, DeVante Parker, and Kenny Stills will form the primary triumvirate of options for Ryan Tannehill next season. They are all very young players, each still playing on a rookie contract. The team will obviously look to build around Parker and Landry in the future, and will turn Stills into a more efficient deep threat.
Clyde Christensen has a great deal of experience working with wide receivers, and will be handed an incredibly promising group this season with the Dolphins. His job will be to help each of them reach their greatest potential levels of play. If he succeeds in this, it could lead to Miami having one of the most dangerous tandems in the league.
Well Versed in Preparation of QBs:
This is what I believe will serve Christensen best in his role with the Miami Dolphins.
For a decade, the Indianapolis Colts’ offense operated on preparedness. Peyton Manning demanded that everyone on his offensive be on the same page, and he set the tone with obsessive film study each week. Obviously, this paid off in his tendency to win any chess match against even the league’s best defensive minds.
Later in his career with the Colts, Clyde Christensen helped pass on the tools he used to prepare with Manning onto another quarterback whose game is heavily reliant upon his preparation. Andrew Luck inherited one of Manning’s coaches, and therefore inherited some of his preparation tactics when heading into games.
Adam Gase’s offense is heavily influenced by the work he has done with Peyton Manning. The quarterback’s ability to identify the blitz and audible out of plays proved key in Gase’s system, both in Denver and Chicago.
That being said, Ryan Tannehill has almost no experience with this level of responsibility. He has not been asked to audible previously, and he has no experience with the authority at the line of scrimmage that he will be given by Gase in August.
The best way for a quarterback to be able to operate with fluidity and effectiveness at the line of scrimmage is through film study. Ryan Tannehill will be forced to learn how to aggressively study tape in order to create a second nature response to different blitzes and coverages. If there is one coach who knows how to properly instill those traits, it is Christensen.
It is obvious that Clyde Christensen is not the reason that Manning and Luck studied film addictively. They are students of the game. However, there is a valuable lesson here that we all learned as students around exam time.
It isn’t just about if you study. It is about how you study.
There is nobody better equipped to teach Ryan Tannehill how to properly study film than Clyde Christensen.
More than anything, Adam Gase needed someone with a wealth of experiences for him to draw upon at the offensive coordinator post. He was able to find one of the most respected and experienced coaches in the league in Clyde Christensen.
The Miami Dolphins did not need a play-calling expert as their offensive coordinator. They needed someone who could help prepare the group each week, as well as help coach up the team’s young players to reach the potential many of them have not yet realized they have. This role fits perfectly with Christensen, who spent years in Indianapolis serving a similar role while Tom Moore called plays.
Up until this hiring, many were concerned that the youth movement in Miami would be somewhat overpowering. However, while there is still some worry over the lack of experience on the staff, Clyde Christensen’s presence should help ease the minds of many fans.
Now, Christensen will be asked to bring the level of preparation he worked to achieve in Indianapolis to Miami. If he can do that, it will make a great deal of difference as the players adjust to the preparedness-intensive system run by head coach, Adam Gase. If Christensen is successful, it will pay dividends, and be very obvious early on next season as the Miami Dolphins work to restore the franchise’s winning ways in South Florida.