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NFL - Around the NFL Coaching Carousel

By David Martin
Saturday, November 30th, 2002
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The end of each NFL season brings with it some fun times: playoffs, Super Bowl parties, and the first few draftniks start speculating what teams will take which players in April's draft. But, the season's end can be a tough time in some cities where hopes have been dashed again and again, ownerships are shortsighted, or lack of talent leads to the termination of coach's contracts, or coaches "resign" under strong suggestion from their superiors.

These last four weeks of the season often bring one or two job jolts, usually in the form of an out-and-out firing, but, more often in this portion of the year, men resign for the best of the team. There are always some obvious job opportunities visible at this time of year.

None are more apparent than the Detroit Lions' coaching position. Marty Mornhinweg came under heavy fire after a pair of tactical gaffes in Week 11 at Chicago. A generally uninspired performance on Thanksgiving is likely to do little for Mornhinweg's prospects. The Lions have been dismal under his leadership, and Joey Harrington's progress is likely to remain glacially slow if Mornhinweg must continue to think of the entire team when his abilities are best suited to working solely with the quarterback.

Staying in the same division, expect the ownership of the Chicago Bears to decide that Dick Jauron's stay has been long enough. I suspect the only way Jauron stays in Chicago is to fire his entire staff, just as the Colts required Jim Mora do to his defensive staff a year ago. Expect Jauron to balk at such a prospect, and find an assistant's job by March.

Rookie head coach Mike Tice of Minnesota seems safe. Expect huge changes should the ownership of the Vikings change hands early in the offseason, though. Tice's mixed-up and mixed effectiveness in dealing with problem child Randy Moss would be hailed as his undoing. More likely, though, his firing would result from having an uncomfortable quarterback and dreadful defensive secondary.

Expect the New York Giants to make a head coaching change. While the season hasn't been a complete bust for Jim Fassel, expect the dreaded "need for new ideas" to signal Fassel's demise in New York, but don't be surprised if he takes one of the other vacated positions around the league. Fassel is only two years removed from a Super Bowl appearance, but, should the Giants fail to make ground on a Donavan McNabb-less Philadelphia Eagles, those new ideas will likely exclude Fassel.

The NFC East has two other bubble-rubbing head coaches in Dallas and Washington. Dave Campo of the Cowboys may have saved his job on Thanksgiving, but Steve Spurrier, while not losing his, did set the stage for a firing or even a plain-old resignation. Should Spurrier choose to resign, he'll do it this year. Campo, while generally deserving of a firing, will probably stay on in Dallas, but expect a new offensive coordinator for the 'Boys next year.

If Mike Holmgren keeps both the general manager and head coaching duties in Seattle, it will be because his Seahawks win the remainder of their games, some in spectacular, dominating fashion. That not being likely, neither is his retention of either position. He won't be shelved for long, though. Should he choose to return to the coaching-only world, he'll have job offers from teams that haven't yet considered terminating their present coaches. One hopes, for Holmgren's sake, that his failure in Seattle has only damaged the position that one man can wear both hats. If it's believed he's lost his touch, well...

Also in the NFC West, Dave McGinnis is a likely prospect for removal, although I would guess they will wait until next season to make the change. The Arizona Cardinals will probably have a new quarterback next year, and his success under McGinnis will be the yardstick by which McGinnis will be inappropriately measured. Steve Mariucci shouldn't be in hot water, but an ugly Monday night performance following a late letdown to the Chargers may be re-inviting the thoughts of moving on that the San Francisco 49ers front office folks had last year.

The AFC has fewer openings, at least according to my shimmering crystal ball. With Dick LeBeau in Cincinnati the only sure-bet coaching loss in the AFC, the waters are much murkier for several of LeBeau's colleagues. If the Titans fail to get to the playoffs, expect Jeff Fisher to be job hunting. Fisher may be out after a poor performance in a first round playoff matchup. While he's had the team playing reasonably well of late, early no-votes of confidence from ownership speaks volumes as to the solidity of his job security.

Tom Coughlin in Jacksonville is an interesting case. The ownership has thoroughly supported Coughlin, but the Jaguars have been highly injury-prone and inconsistent for three years running. Coughlin's time has probably come, but it seems likely that ownership might ignore that it has arrived until it's too late.

As the Oakland Raiders prepare for salary cap rebuilding, it has been speculated that Bill Callahan is a veteran players' coach whose services could be unwanted in an upcoming youth movement. The only question is will Al Davis pull the trigger after the Raiders make their championship push this year, or will he put off the firing until next season? Or, will Callahan be the Oakland coach for the next 10 years?

One final coach whose job may not depend on this year's final results as much as how the team reaches that result is Gregg Williams in Buffalo. The Bills have struggled mightily over the last three games, and continued stumbling will raise eyebrows and questions about Williams' abilities as a head coach.

***

In other NFL news, Emmitt Smith's career has clearly come to an end. In what will be the second-lowest total rushing yards of his career (barely over 1,100 -- what a stiff!), it is clear that Smith's effectiveness is limited. He dropped a simple swing pass in the right flat early in the game on Thanksgiving against Washington, costing the Cowboys a dear down. On several occasions, he was stopped short of reaching five yards, and is averaging only 4.2 yards per rush this season. It is obvious that Jerry Jones vow to "move on" is the right one. Emmitt Smith is no longer the best back the Cowboys have, and they must trade him as soon as possible.

The Cowboys' Bruce Coslett-coached offense is clearly hurt a great deal by having to use Emmitt Smith on two of every three running plays. Having failed to reach 150 yards in Thursday's game, Emmitt expressed disappointment to the media when asked if he was amazed that he wasn't being used more, he said, "I'm not amazed." Clearly, even Emmitt has accepted that his career is over. The question now is, when will he hang up those cleats?

Having an average of 4.6 yards per carry in his career, Smith eclipsed Walter Payton's NFL record career rushing mark earlier this season in a loss to Seattle. He broke the 17,000-yard barrier in his performance on Thanksgiving, and had only his 76th 100-yard game. He is still one game behind the record, also held by Walter Payton.

Emmitt has committed to 10-10-220 and will likely finish his career doing other silly ads with unknown country singers, Alf, and Mike Piazza. His career was long, but riddled with several games in which he did not start every game. In fact, in his 12-year career he failed to play in each game of the those seasons four times.

No consideration has been given to the idea of bringing back as the feature back in Dallas for next year. It is not believed by the Cowboys brain trust that his rushing numbers would improve even if they had a passing attack that took the pressure off of the running game. Those Cowboys are shrewd, and will likely trade Smith to one of no fewer than 10 teams in dire need of a washed-up running back with questionable durability and career numbers so clearly inflated by having a great, then good, then poor, then average offensive line.

Farewell, Emmitt. Here's to hoping that whatever team you find yourself playing for doesn't do themselves the disservice of hiring Bruce Coslet. Of course, the real money is on who leaves the Cowboys first, Emmitt or the incredibly-talented Coslet.

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