By Jeff Moore
Tuesday, August 20th, 2002
Imagine yourself as a head coach in the National Football League. The men
you supervise can make five times more money than you do. The national and
local media second-guess all your decisions and when things go badly, the
quarterback is not the guy who gets fired.
Every year, the revolving door that is the NFL head coach hiring/firing carousel
results in a number of coaching changes. This season is no different and
a number of teams have new men in charge.
Fun Under the Gun
Who would want to take the head coach job in Washington? The pressure
of working for owner Dan Snyder, who wants to win yesterday, would
cause many to look over their shoulder. The man who coaches the Redskins
needs to be so confident that he would predict the end of a nine-game winless
streak against division rival Dallas Cowboys, criticize the work habits
of Saints coach Jim Haslett, and throw to the endzone on a
fourth and one when his team is already up by three touchdowns late in his
first pre-season nationally-televised game.
It's been a busy beginning for Steve Spurrier. Does he feel pressure
working for Dan Snyder? With everything else Spurrier has going on, he probably
only thinks of Snyder when he reads his name on his paycheck. Spurrier has
succeeded everywhere he has been. More importantly, he succeeded where others
did not before. Spurrier brought a first-place finish in the ACC at
Duke, made the Tampa Bay Bandits of the USFL a winning team
when no one else thought he could, and made Florida a national powerhouse.
Just Leave, Baby
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' search for a head coach after firing Tony
Dungy became an odyssey. The 35-day crusade included Bill Parcells
taking, then not taking the job, interviews of several candidates, the rejection
of Marvin Lewis by the owners, a subsequent resignation offer by the
General Manager, and then a $42 million dollar offer for 49ers coach
It wasn't looking good for the Bucs when out of nowhere they landed Jon
Gruden from the Raiders. Gruden is as hot as a Martha Stewart
stock tip as far as head coaches go and he didn't come cheap. Al Davis
let him go to Tampa for a first and second round pick in 2002, a first round
pick in 2003, and a second round pick in 2004. Oh, and $8 million.
Gruden, who was a tuck rule away from the AFC Championship Game last season,
inherits one of the best defenses in the NFL, but needs to build an offense
to match. It seems like a tough job without the draft picks, but don't bet
Out of the Dungyeon
What do you get as a reward for getting your team to the NFL playoffs four
years out of six, including a trip to the NFC Championship in 1999 where
you hold the eventual Super Bowl champs to 11 points? You get fired, of course.
Tony Dungy's big downfall in Tampa was never developing an offense to match
Peyton Manning's arm is gold, but the Colts' defense is more
like rusty steel, with lots of holes. It looks like a good fit and Dungy
seems serious about improving the defense, using the first six picks in the
draft on that side of the ball. Dungy will improve the Colts' defense and
the AFC South will become Peyton's Place.
One More Schot
When your team has a string of six consecutive years without a winning season
complete with losing streaks of 6, 11, and 9 games over the last three years,
a change has to be made. And when the change is made who do you turn to?
Apparently, a coach who has produced successful, yet underachieving teams.
However, in San Diego, underachieving would be a great improvement
from the last few years.
Marty Schottenheimer had great success with Cleveland and
Kansas City, but always fell short of the big game. Marty's return
to the sideline after being in the broadcast booth has only so far resulted
in an 8-8 record in Washington. There is considerable work to be done in
San Diego and perhaps more than Marty is up to doing. The Chargers just want
someone to right the ship and an old-school disciplinarian like Schottenheimer
just might be the guy.
Who Are These Guys?
Some teams don't land the big-name coach or reach back into the past for
someone who wants a break from broadcasting. Some teams hire a coordinator
they think is on the rise from within their organization or another team.
Carolina Panthers: George Seifert won Super Bowls with
the 49ers and set the coaching standard for winning percentage. But with
the Panthers, Seifert set the standard for most losses in a row with
15 and lost his job. John Fox, former defensive coordinator for the
Giants, takes over a team that has a great deal of youth on its side.
Fox should be given some time to see what happens in Carolina as the players
Minnesota Vikings: Too many crash landings after promising
beginnings took its toll on Dennis Green and he left the Purple and
Yellow. The team didn't look far for a replacement when they hired Mike
Tice, their offensive line coach. The Vikings, like many teams
in the salary cap era, also face some sort of re-building, but promise to
do so with some excitement as long as Daunte Culpepper is throwing
to Randy Moss. How much progress Tice can make is a mystery and he
only has a decade to go to try and last as long as Green did in Minnesota.
Oakland Raiders: What possesses an owner (or Manager of the
General Partner) to dismiss one of the top coaches in the game from his team?
Did Jon Gruden become too big for Al Davis? Was Davis convinced that Gruden
was going to leave anyway after his contract was up and decided to get something
Certainly, Davis extracted lots of money and draft picks for Gruden. With
Bill Callahan, Davis has a man who has been with the Raider organization
for a few years and is no stranger to the players and the Raider way of doing
things. The Raiders still have a great deal of offensive talent, but they
have lost some of the heart that Gruden gave them. This season, Davis is
going to find out that some things can't be compensated for with draft picks
It isn't clear what the new coaches will accomplish with their new teams.
One thing is certain and that is there will be more firings to come. If the
following teams don't show signs of improvement, look for the vacancy sign
over the head coach's office.
Detroit Lions: Marty Mornhinweg and his Lions flirted
with a winless season until finishing 2-14. Matt Millen, General Manager,
is used to winning from his years with the 49ers. Mornhinweg won't last if
the Lions go into another 12-game losing streak.
Atlanta Falcons: Sure, new owner Arthur Blank, of Home
Depot fame, gave Dan Reeves a three-year contract extension, but
Reeves' 16-32 record since 1998 doesn't seem to warrant it. With Joe
Gibbs now a minority owner and Bobby Beathard hired as an advisor,
Blank may already have the tools to use if Reeves can't get a winning season
New Orleans Saints: No, not because Spurrier says Jim Haslett's
hours don't translate into more wins. Remember 2000, when the Saints won
the NFC West and then beat the defending Super Bowl champs St. Louis
in the playoffs? Fast forward one year. The Saints lost the last four games
of the season by a total score of 160-52 and missed the playoffs. If the
Saints open this season the way they finished the last, Haslett will be cashing
in his Mardi Gras beads.
Arizona Cardinals: Realignment will be Dave McGinnis'
worst enemy. The Cardinals move to the NFC West and face the 49ers, Rams,
and improving Seahawks twice this season. Throw in the Eagles,
Raiders, and Broncos and the Cardinals' record of 7-9 from last year
looks like a best case scenario.
Cincinnati Bengals: Which NFL team was the only one to have
a top ten defense and a 1,000-yard rusher and not make the playoffs? The
term "Bungals" is not unearned. Dick LeBeau has been coaching in the
NFL for 43 years. Looks like 44 will be a difficult one and his last in
Cincinnati. LeBeau is in the last year of his contract and although many
other Bengal coaches have not fared much better, LeBeau has failed to get
the quarterback needed to help out Corey Dillon and the defense.
This offseason, Drew Bledsoe could not be persuaded to come to the
land of WKRP and Elvis Grbac retired instead of opting to wear the
stripes. With no free agent signings, you would think that the Bengals would
draft a QB. Nope. In fact, the only offensive player the Bengals drafted
was a tackle with their first-round pick. For a team that has scored fewer
than 10 points in 13 of their 22 losses over the last two seasons (including
six shutouts), it seems LeBeau isn't even trying and might as well retire
when he turns 65.
Every year, NFL coaches get fired as owners try to find a winner. With the
salary cap rules, the opportunity to have a winning team is an even shorter
time period than it used to be. With more and more head coaches looking for
contracts that give them more input and control over personnel decisions,
the final responsibility of the team's record often rests with them. As Mike
Ditka once noted, "There are two kinds coaches in the NFL, ones who are
fired and ones who are going to be fired."