Change one letter and the NFC South becomes the NFC Youth, which is fitting for a division that features four new offensive coordinators, all of them under 40, with a combined two years of experience as an NFL OC.

Many factors will determine who wins the division, but high on the list will be which of the four — the Bucs‘ Liam Coen, the Falcons‘ Zac Robinson, the Saints‘ Klint Kubiak or the Panthers‘ Brad Idzik — can best put together a scheme that doesn’t look like a rookie product.

They are four individuals, but they have connected backgrounds and shared NFL upbringings, with a common precociousness that has them running their own show, with three of the four having some level of autonomy under defensive-minded head coaches.

Coen, the oldest of the four at 38, has one year as an NFL coordinator, with the Rams in 2022, but that was under an offensive head coach in Sean McVay. Kubiak, 37, also has a single season as an NFL OC, with the Vikings in 2021. Entering his 11th NFL season, he has twice as much NFL experience as the others. Robinson, 37, is entering his sixth year and first as an offensive coordinator and playcaller, having moved up the same Rams ladder as Coen. And Idzik, 32, is the fastest riser of them all, following new Panthers coach Dave Canales’ quick ascent to become an OC after working with him in Seattle and Tampa Bay.

The closest pair is Coen and Robinson, who worked together for three years with the Rams, each serving as assistant quarterbacks coach and assistant receivers coach. In 2022, Robinson was the passing game coordinator and quarterbacks coach when Coen was the offensive coordinator. As such, they’re also close friends, their families even vacationing together in Ireland last summer.

“There are a lot of similarities with him, both personally and professionally,” Coen said last week of Robinson. “You look at ‘What’s Atlanta going to look like? What are we going to look like?’ I think there’s probably going to be some commonalities there that will naturally occur. Basically, the whole division is going to be running a form of the same system. … We’re all drawing the same plays.”

When he was hired in Atlanta, Robinson spoke about what he learned in five years under McVay.

“There’s only one Sean,” Robinson said. “Definitely have learned a ton, whether it’s leadership principles and packaging plays, the marriage of the run and the pass, all of those things that I believe in because it’s been what I’ve known from the last five years. Forever grateful for Sean giving me that opportunity as the first job I got in coaching. I’ve learned a ton from him, not only football-wise — X’s and O’s — but off the field as well.”

Idzik is indirectly a branch on the McVay tree as well, as he and Canales worked in 2021-22 under Shane Waldron, who had spent the previous four years with the Rams, overlapping there with Coen and Robinson. As young assistants, Coen spent time with Idzik one offseason, teaching him how to use “Pro Quick Draw,” a computer platform for creating plays and playbooks.

All four new coordinators played some level of college football, but none ever played a regular-season game in the NFL. Coen was a quarterback at UMass, Robinson a quarterback at Oklahoma State. Robinson was drafted by the Patriots in 2010 and spent four years on NFL rosters and practice squads. Kubiak played safety at Colorado State and Idzik was a walk-on receiver at Wake Forest.

Kubiak and Idzik grew up with NFL fathers. Gary Kubiak played nine years as a backup to John Elway with the Broncos and later won three Super Bowls as an assistant and one as Denver’s head coach. John Idzik spent 28 years in NFL front offices, including two years as the Jets‘ general manager in 2013-14. Coen’s father, Tim, was a longtime high school coach who went 53-12 as a small-college head coach at Salve Regina in Rhode Island, and Robinson’s father, Rusty, was a walk-on kicker at Oklahoma.

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The challenge of being a team’s highest offensive coach — only Kubiak had done that before, and only for one year — is something all four coaches have embraced this spring. They’ve been given the chance to craft and implement their own playbook, to build an offense of their own.

“It’s been awesome,” Coen said. “You take what you’ve learned, and you can creatively do more. That’s been a ton of fun, because you get to truly make it your own.”

Coen and Robinson, as division rivals now, can’t lean on each other as they did for much of the past five years. The competitive aspect of fighting for the same division crown now overrides the natural instinct to pick each other’s brain, to bounce ideas off each other. They’re still close friends, but the conversation is more family, less football these days.

“I was busting his chops — he’s been really quiet the last couple of months,” Coen said. “I’ve talked a lot less ball than we’re used to doing. We met each other through football, formed a friendship through football and worked very closely, especially in that 2022 season, and now it’s kind of a bummer.”

Liam Coen, left, and Zac Robinson worked together with the Rams and are so close that their families vacationed together in Ireland last year.

The four coaching staffs are all intertwined. When Coen was the Rams’ offensive coordinator, the defensive coordinator was new Falcons head coach Raheem Morris, and Coen overlapped three years there with Ejiro Evero, now the Panthers’ DC. Canales and Idzik in Carolina know the Bucs’ personnel extremely well from their year in Tampa. Kubiak, who spent three years coaching new Falcons quarterback Kirk Cousins in Minnesota, interviewed for the Panthers’ OC job in 2022 and the Bucs’ opening in 2023 before landing with the Saints this year.

As such, having four offenses with similar roots in the division will help the NFC South’s defenses. They’ll all practice against offenses that look something like what they’ll see in their six games against division opponents.

“These defenses are going to get a little bit of a head start on some of the concepts,” Coen said. “You’re going to see things every single day, through this phase, in training camp, good on good, that they’re going to see live.”

Greg Auman is FOX Sports’ NFC South reporter, covering the Buccaneers, Falcons, Panthers and Saints. He is in his 10th season covering the Bucs and the NFL full-time, having spent time at the Tampa Bay Times and The Athletic. You can follow him on Twitter at @gregauman.

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