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NFL - The NFL Coaching Carousel

By Jeff Moore
Tuesday, August 20th, 2002
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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 Steve Mariucci.

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 against him.

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 the defense.

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 mature.

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 for him?

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 and cash.

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 in Atlanta.

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."

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