Pendergast hire signals big things from Branch, Huff, and co.

Arizona Cardinals v Seattle Seahawks

Last Saturday, the Raiders hired Clancy Pendergast as their new defensive backs coach. And on Monday, they made the official announcement. Pendergast was most recently the defensive coordinator for the Kansas City Chiefs. And while he may have been with the Chiefs for one season before getting his walking papers, the Raiders are extremely lucky to have him.

The Raiders found themselves suddenly in need of a new defensive backs coach for the first time in a while after the retirement of long time Raider coach and player, Willie Brown. And the timing of Pendergast’s dismissal from Kansas City couldn’t have been more perfect.

While Pendergast may never receive another offer to become a team’s defensive coordinator, his track record with developing players is outstanding.

He started his NFL coaching career in Dallas and worked his way up to secondary coach in 2001. In just his second season in that position, the team drafted safety Roy Williams. Pendergast is credited with helping to develop Williams into an All-Pro in Williams’ sophomore season in the NFL and the five consecutive Pro Bowls that followed. Williams had 85 tackles during the one season he had under Pendergast. A total he has never come close to equaling in his seven seasons since then.

In 2003, Pendergast moved on to the Cleveland Browns as the team’s linebackers coach. During that season he turned round 5 draft pick Andra Davis into a star at the middle linebacker position. Davis had his best season under Pendergast; amassing 98 solo tackles while starting all 16 games. Davis started every game he was healthy for the Browns after that until he joined the Broncos prior to last season.

After just one season in Cleveland, Dennis Green and the Arizona Cardinals came calling to promote him to defensive coordinator. In his first season in 2004, the Cards drafted LB Karlos Dansby in the second round. Dansby immediately claimed the starting job as a rookie and improved every season under Pendergast.

That same season, strong safety Adrien Wilson had his best season as a pro up to that point, with 81 tackles, 3 interceptions and 11 passes defended. He had an equally good season in 2005 when he amassed 95 tackles, an interception and 9 passes defended. He was recognized as a Pro Bowler for the first time in 2006 when he had 77 tackles, 4 interceptions and 10 passes defended. He would also make the Pro Bowl in Pendergast’s final season in Arizona which saw the Cardinals make their improbable run to the Superbowl. But despite Clancy helping lead the Cardinals into Super Bowl XLIII, he was fired less than one week after Arizona lost to Pittsburgh 27-23.

He was wisely scooped up by former Cardinals offensive coordinator Todd Haley who was hired as the new head coach of the Chiefs and was assembling a staff. But Pendergast’s time on the job as the Chiefs defensive coordinator was short lived when the Chiefs decided they wanted to further the transformation into the wannabe Patriots. This meant bringing in former Pats defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel and offensive coordinator Charlie Weis to join other former Patriots; GM Scott Pioli, LB Mike Vrabel and QB Matt Cassel.

Pendergast may have only been with the Chiefs one season but it was a telling one. During that season he revived the career of safety Mike Brown who had his best season since 2002. Brown also had his highest interception total (3) since his Pro Bowl season of 2005.

Clancy also pulled safety Corey Mays off the scrap heap from Cincinnati. Prior to last season Mays had amassed a total of 21 tackles over three seasons with the Bengals and Patriots. He would more than triple that total in one season with his 64 tackles in 2009 under Pendergast’s tutelidge.

And just for good measure, even DE Tamba Hali enjoyed the best season of his career in 2009 under Pendergast. Hali had career bests in sacks (8.5) and tackles (47).

So now Pendergast goes back to coaching the position he has had the most success with: defensive back. But as you can see here, he has developed premiere talent at several different positions. The list of names that either developed into great players or great players who were at their greatest under Pendergast is an impressive one.

If he coaches a given position, the players at that position thrive every time. And when he has been in charge of the entire defense, it is the safeties that benefit most often. So it seems ideal that he be in charge of the defensive backfield where Tyvon Branch and Michael Huff are ripe for the kind of direction he can provide.

Branch had great numbers in his first full season in the league and Huff looked like he was finally coming into his own. Pendergast no doubt sees the kind of young potential in Branch that he had in Roy Williams in Dallas. He likewise sees the kind of skill in Huff that could be cultivated into reaping the kind of returns that Adrien Wilson gave the Cardinals and Mike Brown was able to resurrect for the Chiefs.

The Raiders finally seem to have scored on a coach with a solid proven track record without having to give him a promotion to get him to join the staff. And I will be looking at Branch and Huff as the players whose production will be stimulated the most by his arrival.

About Levi Damien, Senior Writer

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