After five weeks last season the Utah Raptors decided to let go of head coach Ken Norton, Jr. following a 1-4 start to the season. Defensive Coordinator Pepper Johnson went 6-5 as the interim head coach, but the franchise is going a different direction and have hired Mike Kafka to become their next head coach, the second full-time head coach in their franchises’ history.
Kafka very well may be the youngest head coach in league history at just 32-years-old. He was a fourth round pick in the NFL Draft in just 2010 but decided to retire in 2015 after failing to make a team. Kafka played for seven different teams, but only made the team in Philadelphia (2010-11) and Tampa Bay (2014). But he picked up a few things playing under coaches like Andy Reid, Bill Belichick, Mike Zimmer, Mike Mularkey and Marvin Lewis.
In 2016, Kafka became a graduate assistant at his Alma Mater Northwester, where he was a second-team All-Big Ten selection and set multiple records for quarterback. After one season, Reid decided to re-unit with his former Eagles player and brought in on as his quality control coach for the Kansas City Chiefs in 2017. Last season, he was elevated to Quarterback Coach and his coaching helped Pat Mahomes have one of the most dominant seasons for a first year starting quarterback ever.
“It’s certainly been a quick whirlwind to become a head coach, but I’m extremely excited to become the head coach of this franchise and I think we have a lot of good pieces to build on,” Kafka said. “I would like to thank Corey Johns for believing in me and not seeing my age or honestly relative inexperience in terms of the number of years I’ve been a coach as a deterrent. I believe I’m ready and capable and by him hiring me he believes the same thing.”
Certainly, hiring a 32-year-old with only three years experience on a coaching staff is a huge gamble, but Johns explained his decision to hire Kafka.
“Everything you hear about the guy, everything you see when he is interacting with players, everything you hear from him when you talk to him, it is very clear he knows how to be a good coach,” Johns said. “Experience certainly helps you become a better coach, but this guy is ready and capable now. Just because he is young does not mean he does not have the ability.”
Kafka said he already had discussions with each coach on the previous coaching staff and plans on retaining everybody, though quarterback coach Klint Kubiak has left for a job with the Minnesota Vikings and tight ends coach Steve Heiden left for a job with the Arizona Cardinals.
“I had a long discussion with Pepper Johnson, who certainly proved his coaching ability last year with six wins, but he is on board and returning as my defensive coordinator,” Kafka said. “Previously, working with another defensive-minded head coach, Pepper was the defensive coordinator but wasn’t able to fully create his own defense. Last year, you saw him switch over to the 3-4 immediately after becoming the interim head coach and that group blossomed and he is excited to have total control over his side of the ball.
“Edwin and I think we can really work well together. He’s a ground-and-pound trenches guy and I’m a passing game guy obviously. That blend of our styles will work very well together.”
The rest of the coaching staff will return as well with exception to Kubiak and Heiden. Kafka already announced the hirings of their replacements. The new quarterback coach will be Joe Bleymaier, who was his assistant in Kansas City. Kafka will work heavily with the team’s quarterbacks while Bleymaier will help him but will also be serving as a passing game analyst and will take on more of an analytics role for the position. Andy Bischoff, a four-year assistant tight ends coach for the Baltimore Ravens, will take over the job replacing Heiden. Bischoff helped work with a number of quality tight ends in Baltimore.