Can Jim Haslett Focus Vontaze Burfict’s Fire?

The Cincinnati Bengals coaching staff has been picked over like a bargain basement toy box. The success of the No. 2 ranked scoring defense has made other teams aware of the talent hidden on the banks of the Queen City. The Bengals filled one of the vacancies created with a seasoned defensive mind. Jim Haslett will be the new linebackers coach responsible for getting Vontaze Burfict to focus his fire and energy.

Haslett is a Pittsburgh native who was a four-time All-America pick as a linebacker at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. The longtime NFL head coach and assistant spent one season as a consultant for Penn State’s football program.

Haslett began his NFL coaching career with the Los Angeles Raiders, in 1993. He’s also had stints as the head coach for the New Orleans Saints and St. Louis Rams. He was named NFL Coach of the Year with the Saints in 2000. Haslett was defensive coordinator for the Washington Redskins, from 2010 through 2014, before they parted ways and Haslett was hired at Penn State.

Can Jim Haslett
Haslett has already addressed the situation with Burfict. He knows that part of his duties will be to get the Pro Bowl linebacker to play with focus. He’ll have to get him past the incidents that have taken the attention away from his obvious football skills.

“The stuff that comes off the field, that comes with age,” Haslett responded about Burfict, via ESPN. “He’ll grow out of some of those things. Again, not knowing him, it’s hard for me to say, but I know how things get blown up.”

He realizes that he’ll have a project on his hands.

“I hope I can do whatever I can to help him out and maybe even make him better.”

James Franklin, head coach at Penn State, was thrilled to have Haslett aboard. From the glistening praise he received when hired, he’ll surely be missed.

“Jim has an outstanding football mind and invaluable experience that will be a tremendous resource,” Franklin said previously, per “He has great knowledge of the game at the next level and we plan to put that to good use. He will work with our offensive, special teams and defensive coaches and will be a fantastic sounding board for our staff.”

Haslett could be the guy that turns Burfict into the fiery player that demands respect around the league. Players tend to respect a coach who has done what they’re doing. Haslett was a special player and dedicated defensive coordinator. His Pittsburgh Steelers’ defenses were near the top of the rankings, from 1997 to 1999.

Haslett was an inside linebacker for the Buffalo Bills. He also played against the Bengals in the 1981 Divisional Round game in Cincinnati. The Bengals won on a late Cris Collinsworth touchdown catch to advance to the AFC Championship Game. In the 28-21 loss to the Bengals, Cincinnati’s No. 2 offense bested Buffalo’s No. 7 defense.

“We should have won,” Haslett recalled. “They hit us with a delay of game penalty… That was a good game. That year they had a good offense and we had a good defense.”

Can Jim Haslett
Haslett’s job with Burfict will come with perks. One year after being signed as an undrafted free agent from Arizona State, Burfict recorded a league-high 171 tackles en route to earning his first trip to the Pro Bowl. This past season, he returned from offseason micro fracture knee surgery to record 74 tackles and a pair of key interceptions during 10 regular-season games. The fire, passion, and talent are there.

Haslett has seen tapes of Burfict and realizes that he’s extremely smart and understands the defensive system better than most.

“He’s very powerful. He’s one of the best tacklers I’ve seen in a long time. So from an on-field perspective, just watching tape and having not met him yet, I think he’s one of the top linebackers in the National Football League.”

Jim Haslett may be the one to help Burfict focus that passion and fire.

[Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images]