When the Pittsburgh Steelers announced this week that James Saxon would be the new running backs coach, many in the fan base probable see him as just the man that didn’t screw up Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson. After all, Peterson is so good that he doesn’t even need a running backs coach, right? Saxon, however, had success coaching NFL running backs long before Peterson came into league.
Saxon first began coaching running backs in the NFL in 2000 with the Buffalo Bills, but after just one season there, the entire coaching staff was turned over. The Kansas City Chiefs then hired Saxon in 2001 and immediately he made an impact.
The Chiefs signed free agent running back Priest Holmes that offseason after the Baltimore Ravens gave up on him as they had drafted Jamal Lewis in the first round of the 2000 NFL Draft. In his first season with the Chiefs, Holmes led the league in rushing with 1,555 yards and chipped in another 614 yards on 62 catches. His 2,169 total yards from scrimmage was also tops in the league that year.
In 2002, Holmes bettered his numbers as he rushed for 1,615 yards and caught 70 passes for another 672 yards. His 21 rushing touchdowns led the league that season as did his 2,287 total yards from scrimmage,.
In 2003, Holmes’ numbers dipped slightly, but he still managed to produce 2,110 total yards from scrimmage to go along with a league-leading 27 total touchdowns. If you owned Holmes in your fantasy football league in any of those three years, you likely owe Saxon a thank you note for the money that you won winning a championship. I know that I do.
Holmes wasn’t the same back after injuries and heavy usage took it’s toll on him, however, and the Chiefs drafted Larry Johnson in the first round of the 2003 NFL Draft out of Penn State to succeed him. Once Johnson took over as the starter midway through the 2005 season, he picked up where Holmes left off and it resulted in him gaining over 2,000 yards of total offense in both 2005 and 2006.
In 2007, Johnson was done for the year after just eight games and several of the Chiefs coaches were out of jobs at the end of the season. After seven seasons in Kansas City, Saxon was out of a job, but he didn’t stay unemployed very long.
The Miami Dolphins hired Saxon in 2008 and veteran running backs Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams combined to rush for 1,575 yards that season. Remember, Williams was 31 that year, but still managed to produce a 4.1 yard per carry average. The Dolphins went 11-5 that season and won the AFC East. They haven’t won it since.
Led by Williams 1,121 rushing yards in 2009, both he and Brown combined to produce over 2,100 total yards from scrimmage, but the wheels came off of both the following season. It didn’t help that Chad Henne was still the Dolphins starting quarterback there as well.
in 2011, Saxon was hired by the Vikings and Peterson, who suffered a nasty knee injury late that season, returned the following season to have a career year that included him nearly breaking the single-season rushing yards record that belonged to Eric Dickerson. That was Peterson’s sixth year in the league and he isn’t likely to have another one like it.
While Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell will more than likely never have the kind of single-single rushing yards that Peterson had in 2012, he certainly should be able to easily top the 1,300 yard mark for several seasons in a row moving forward. In addition to that, with Bell being such a good receiver out of the backfield, 2,000 total yards from scrimmage certainly isn’t out of the question.
Saxon has gotten the best out of several running backs during his 14 years as an NFL coach and there’s no reason to believe that he won’t get the best out of a talented young running back like Bell. His resume says that he will.