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NFL Musical Coaches or Symphony of Succession
Posted By Christopher Rowe On Jan 8 2012 @ 6:13 pm In NFL | 18 Comments
Looking across the landscape of NFL coaches, it may seem odd to realize that the most controversial move so far has been Bill O’Brien taking the post at Penn State (Josh McDaniels has already been announced returning to New England). PSU has not seen a new head coach since 1966 when a relatively young Joe Paterno took the helm without fanfare and 40 years prior to the inception of the Twitterverse. Recent college football scandals aside, it is a mathematical reality that there are only 32 head coaching jobs in the NFL. While there are the occasional bouts of tenure (Bill Belachik in New England, Andy Reid in Philadelphia) no one is immune to the “What Have You Done for Me Lately” philosophy which pervades the ranks of NFL ownership.
Some teams didn’t wait for the end of the regular season to dismiss their “scape-coaches” or gridiron pariahs. Kansas City disposed of Todd Haley in favor or interim Romeo Crenell. Miami sent beleaguered Tony Sparano to the coaching showers and rode defensive coordinator Todd Bowles to season’s end. Jacksonville divorced themselves from Jack Del Rio while many other franchises opted to at least allow their football frontman to finish the season. None made the social faux pais of interviewing a potential replacement head coach before informing the departing head coach (as Miami did when attempting to woo Stanford standout Jim Harbaugh to succeed Coach Sporano). Recycling is a common practice among NFL coaches but the only thing worse would have been to ask Sporano to conduct the interview for his own replacement (Harbaugh took the opening in San Francisco instead).
More teams have dismissed head coaches and general managers since the season ended. Steve Spagnuolo has been asked not to complete the fourth and final year of his contract with the St. Louis Rams, affording him the option of being paid $4 million to not coach in 2012. Rahim Morris will not return in 2012 for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, marking the first time that all three Florida teams will debut new head coaches in the same season. The noose may already be hung for any number of coaches – including the likes of Hu Jackson in Oakland, Chicago’s Lovie Smith or Jason Garrett in Dallas.
This fails to mention those who may be still be privately questioned such as New York’s Tom Coughlin, Washington’s Mike Shanahan, Buffalo’s Chan Gailey, Philadelphia’s Andy Reid, Atlanta’s Mike Smith Denver’s John Fox or San Diego’s Norv Turner. Many of these have been granted public confirmation that they will return in 2012 but can only garner tentative performance-reliant support beyond that.
Even coaches whose jobs may not be in jeopardy will likely lose their more successful and prestigious coordinators most of whom are in consideration for a number of open jobs. Brian Schottenheimer is being considered for the Jacksonville job along with Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey, Cincinnatti defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, Denver Broncos assistant Mike McCoy, offensive coordinator Jay Gruden, Houston Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips and former longtime Titans coach Jeff Fisher.
What may be most surprising is the distinct lack of college coaches being considered for potential NFL openings. Pete Carroll (Seattle) returned to the NFL after a successful decade at USC followed by the aforementioned Harbaugh inheriting the San Francisco mantle. College coaches tend to sign much longer contracts and become vested in their school, making themselves out to be an institution of football legend without being accountable to the cold hard reality of winning being everything. More often than not, NFL owners choose to pick off the tree of successful coaches by grabbing the assistants and coordinators rather than pull from the college ranks. Is it the difficulty that BCS Bowl season now lasts into the NFL playoff month or the fact that the college coaching methodology simply doesn’t translate well into the pro game? Probably a little of both!
Occassionally the odd situation will occur such as that in Indianapolis this week when team architect Bill Polian was separated from the Colts by owner Jim Irsay yet Coach Jim Caldwell remains as head coach for the time being. Venerable candidates include former successful coaches including Bill Cowher, Jon Gruden, Brian Billick, Herm Edwards, Marty Schottenheimer, Jimmy Johnson, Tony Dungy, Steve Mariucci, Brad Childress and a litany of others. For most, if they have won a Super Bowl and have been removed from the game (even if working in television) more than three years, do not expect them back. Others such as UFL coaches Jim Fassel or Dennis Green, Wade Phillips, Fisher or former Green Bay Packers Mike Sherman have bided their time waiting for the right position to open up.
Many take coordinator positions or the year off hoping that the right situation will present itself only to find that teams no longer afford complete control over drafting, scouting, personnel and play-calling. This is what has kept dinosaurs such as Jimmy Johnson, Barry Switzer, Dan Reeves, Mike Ditka, Sam Wyche or Mike Holmgren from returning to the coaching ranks. At the same time it does afford opportunity to newer specialists such as Sean Payton, Ron Rivera, Jon and Jim Harbaugh, Ken Whisenhunt and Gary Kubiak who have successfully established themselves.
One final grouping of coaches would include those on the job fewer than three years. Many of these candidates such as Ron Rivera (CAR), Pat Shurmur (CLE), John Fox (DEN), Jason Garrett (DAL), Leslie Frazier (MIN) or Mike Munchak (TEN) were promoted from within or landed at the end of an exhaustive head coaching search. It is unlikely that any of these newer coaches would be fired prior to the start of their third season but don’t think that anxious NFL owners would stand on ceremony were there a hot college coach or scintillating NFL assistant waiting in the wings (see MIAMI DOLPHINS, 2011).
More than a few coaches may have granted themselves a stay of execution by making the playoffs in 2011 but would be replaced faster than a Devin Hester punt return had that not been the case. We’re talking about you Marvin Lewis (CIN), Mike Smith (ATL), Tom Coughlin (NYG) and John Fox (DEN). Any or all of these men will be feeling the industrial strength seat warmers getting fired up come October unless their teams get off to a quick start. Keep your realtor on speed dial throughout 2012 just in case…
Open NFL Head Coaching Jobs: TAMPA BAY, MIAMI, JACKSONVILLE, ST. LOUIS, KANSAS CITY
Potential NFL Openings: OAKLAND, SAN DIEGO, MINNESOTA, DENVER, CHICAGO, ATLANTA, DALLAS, WASHINGTON, INDIANAPOLIS
Most likely candidates for openings
ST. LOUIS RAMS –Jeff Fisher, who likes that the Rams have a franchise QB (Sam Bradford) and a solid defensive core in place while they also sport the #2 overall NFL Draft position. Fisher had been the most tenured coach spending 15 seasons with the Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans and would like the option of maintaining more roster and personnel control. He should finish his career in St. Louis and have the option to hand-pick his coaching staff. Other considerations included Josh McDaniel, Mike Martz, Bill Cowher, Brian Billick and both Gruden brothers.
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS – Romeo Crenell won his first game as interim coach (2-1 in 3 games) after taking over for deposed Todd Haley. While Crenell has been in-house as defensive coordinator, his previous record as a head coach (24-40 in Cleveland 2005-2008, featuring 10-6 in 2006) seems to hang over his head eclipsing his success in New England. Other candidates considered Jack Del Rio, Jeff Fisher, Greg Williams. Crenell is the right choice for the job.
JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS – Tough job to fill as the future of this franchise is not certain. Maybe they go to Los Angeles? Perhaps they relocate somewhere else. The NFL has not been happy with the franchise’s lack of success drawing in fans (comparable to TV blackout black holes such as Oakland and Buffalo but lagging dead last in ratings in second-smallest market). Installing a coach who would encourage stability and be the face of the franchise might be the way to go but candidates such as Bill Cowher, Tony Dungy, Jon Gruden and even Jimmy Johnson have turned up their noses at the prospect. Neither Tom Coughlin nor Jack Del Rio could jolt much life into this waterlogged franchise and aside from Maurice Jones-Drew their claim to fame is losing to the Denver Broncos in the 1996 postseason (their third season of existence). Best choice would be to find a solid football strategist who would treat this group of teal toddlers like a college team… a teacher… a living legend-in-the-making. The Next Jimmy Johnson who would be unfazed by talk of relocation, barnstorming or whatever else may come. Who is that?
Well since Ed Gennaro, Joe Paterno and Lou Holtz are not viable candidates; look for a current NFL assistant trying to make a name for himself. Mike Zimmerman, Mike McCoy, Brian Schottenheimer or perhaps Mike Mullarkey would be the most likely.
MIAMI DOLPHINS – A franchise that could not be saved by Bill Parcells, Wayne Huizenga, Jimmy Johnson, Dave Wanstadt, Don Shula or even Dan Marino is trouble especially when most younger fans only know them as that bunch of old guys who pop the champagne whenever a season has no undefeated. The Perfect Season was 1972 – 40 years ago and their last Super Bowl appearance was in Dan Marino’s second season a la 1984. This team has no QB, no stars, virtually no fans in the stadium and a questionable stadium situation down in South Beach – plus they seem to lack a certain talent level for the better part of the past dozen seasons. This situation needs a true football architect – perhaps the combination of Bill Polian or Bob the Builder and a modern-day version of Don Shula or Bill Walsh. Many suggest Jon Gruden as the perfect candidate but he has never built a team from the ground up. Importing both Gruden Brothers and affording them a wide latitude with regard to coaching staff and player management could be an interesting move but would also require three years to implement. Jeff Fisher has already scoffed at the chance as did Steve Mariucci. Like Jacksonville this is a huge undertaking, the reinvention of a once-proud franchise. Then again Jim Harbaugh seemed to do it in one season with essentially the same players that failed for Mike Singletary the previous year. Since Mike Ditka is not looking to coach and Sean Payton is securely entrenched in New Orleans, I’d like to see Dick Vermeil, Dan Marino and Polian form a management group of solid football pedigree take advantage of the money infused by several celebrity owners.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS – Jon Gruden and Tony Dungy tag-teamed a Super Bowl champion in the former land of Orange Crush Pirates just 10 years ago. Since then the Pirate ship has been set adrift on a sea of mediocrity left with Josh Freeman’s raw talent and very little bounty. Rahim Morris was the embodiment of the youth movement which regressed the Pirates in Pewter Pants into a squad Warren Sapp would not recognize. While Dungy (NBC) or Gruden (ESPN) would be excellent choices to revitalize this franchise both have vehemently denied any interest in leaving their TV jobs. Ergo this would be a job for a proven winner with a trophy case hungry for one more shiny object. Unfortunately, Bill Cowher (CBS) claims that he is not in the market for another coaching gig… or is he? Cowher finally descends from his tower @ The Plaza and returns to patrol the sidelines with his legendary scowl and a propensity for building a winner. Question is, has Cowher waited too long or has he been saving up for this?
Coaching Carousel as Reid Turns http://www.prosportsblogging.com/2011/12/27/coaching-carousel-as-reid-turns/ 
AFL or USFL II: Electric Boogaloo http://www.prosportsblogging.com/2012/01/22/afl-or-usfl-ii-electric-boogaloo/ 
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