Tag Archives: jim caldwell

OP: End of the Lucky Horseshoe

Time for an outlandish prediction, or if you’d rather, a little preja vu…

The future arc of the Indianapolis Colts has been brewing in my mind for a while now, ever since Tony Dungy decided to retire after the 2009 season. And as the offseason has gone on, I’ve become more and more convinced that the horseshoe that has been pointed up for so long in Indy is going to turn downward. I’ve said as much in private email conversations for a while now, and now I’m goin’ public.

To leave the land of the metaphor and say it plainly, here’s the prediction:

The Colts won’t win 10 games this year.

That’s a big deal, because the Colts won at least 10 games in each of the 7 years of Dungy’s tenure (2002-08). In fact, Indy won at least 12 regular season games in each of the last six years.

But that run will come to an end this offseason. And here’s why:

*Jim Caldwell isn’t up to it – We’ve gone into this at great detail here on the site. (You can read here how I compare the Caldwell hiring to others this offseason and read here what I don’t like about Caldwell’s career path.) I lived through the Caldwell experience at Wake Forest when I was a student there, and while he is a very nice man he’s not a good coach. He came to Wake Forest with a Joe Paterno pedigree, and he gets this Colts job with a Tony Dungy pedigree. But a pedigree is not a guarantee. I simply can’t believe in Caldwell as an NFL coach.

*Staff turnover – The Colts apparently hired Caldwell as Dungy’s successor in waiting to preserve staff continuity. But that didn’t work, because the Colts will have new coordinators on offense, defense, and special teams. The offensive coordinator, Tom Moore, retired (along with OL coach Howard Mudd) in fears of losing pension money. Moore and Mudd will remain as consultants, and their replacements – Clyde Christensen as offensive coordinator and Pete Metzelaars as line coach – have been in Indy for 7 and 5 years, respectively. But losing Moore and Mudd cuts the staff’s overall experience, and something will get lost in transition. Even Peyton Manning has questions about how it’s going to work.

On defense, the Colts wanted a more aggressive scheme than Dungy’s patented Tampa 2, and so they encouraged coordinator Ron Meeks to resign. (He landed in Carolina.) That smacks of a new coach’s arrogance in trying to implement his system and his way. The Colts’ defense wasn’t great, but it was OK, and the personnel fit it. But Meeks was replaced by Larry Coyer, who has a reputation of being blitz happy from his previous stops. There’s no way the current personnel – which haven’t been upgraded on defense – can take a huge step forward with the new scheme with the current personnel. Instead, I expect a step back, if not two. And the fact that Coyer and Caldwell used to work together makes me wonder if cronyism, not strategy, prompted the move.

Caldwell also cut special-teams coach Russ Purnell loose. That’s not a big deal, except it’s another sign that Caldwell is trying extremely hard – too hard, in our opinion – to put his own stamp on the team. The team was winning 12 games a year, and a failed college coach wants to put his stamp on it?  That’s just not a good idea.

*The divisions are labor – The Colts have made hay in an AFC South that is traditionally a so-so division. Jacksonville and Tennessee have each been good at times, but rarely at the same time. But Tennessee should be tough this year, and Jacksonville (who always gives the Colts problems) should bounce back. Plus, Houston continues to get incrementally better. It will be hard for the Colts to get to 4 wins in the division. The Colts play the NFC West out of conference, which will help the win ledger, but drawing the entire AFC East plus a road game at Baltimore is no bargain. (Thanks to Andy for starting my thought process on the schedule.)

*Roster rut – If you look at the transactions ledger, the Colts have only added one free agent from another team – backup linebacker Adam Seward. They have lost some key players, including P Hunter Smith, DT Darrell Reid, CB Keiwan Ratliff, and most notably WR Marvin Harrison. The problem is that marginal draft picks will have to replace most of these guys. While that long-term strategy works, in the short term that could lead to some growing pains. And this is a team with too much in flux to afford many growing pains.

All in all, I see the Colts slipping noticably this year – even with Peyton Manning, Bob Sanders, Dwight Freeney, Reggie Wayne, and the other stars there. The personnel depth has always been so-so because the Colts had so many stars, and that will show up negatively especially as the defense attempts to change schemes.

And remember how fortunate the Colts were to get to 12 wins last year. Over the first half of the season, the Colts were 3-4 including two white-knuckles wins over Minnesota and Houston that could have easily gone the other way. The Colts will not be good enough this year to turn those white-knucklers into wins, and the difference will show in the win/loss record. The horseshoe isn’t lucky enough to save the Colts in 2009.


Filed under outlandish prediction, preja vu

RP: Coaching trees

Per Chase’s request, we spent some time this offseason researching the coaching influences of NFL head coaches. We compiled this information into coaching trees. There are four dominant trees in the league right now: the Bill Walsh tree, the Tony Dungy tree, the Bill Parcells tree (thanks in part to Bill Belichick), and the Marty Schottenheimer tree (thanks in large part to Bill Cowher). Two other trees connected to Buddy Ryan and Jimmy Johnson are also worth noting.

Let’s dig into each tree to see how it has grown and what the distinguishing characteristics are. One note: While many coaches have apprenticed in several of these trees, we’ve tried to locate them in the area that most describes their coaching styles and philosophies. So, for example, while Herman Edwards could be listed under Dick Vermeil, we’ve put him under Tony Dungy because his defensive approach is more like Dungy’s.

You can see an illustration of all of these trees at the bottom of this post.

Paul Brown
Distinguishing characteristic: Short, timing-centric passing game a.k.a. the West Coast offense
History: Walsh, who learned under Hall of Fame coach/GM Paul Brown, perfected those lessons in a career that earned him three Super Bowls and spawned at least five other Super Bowl winners — George Seifert, Mike Holmgren, Mike Shanahan, Brian Billick, and Jon Gruden. This coaching tree has spread like wildfire since the early 1990s, when Holmgren, Shanahan, and Dennis Green first got their shots as NFL head coaches. Because those guys are all long-time NFL coaches, they too have “fathered” assistants who went on to get head coaching jobs. Holmgren’s early Green Bay staffs included significant head coaches such as Andy Reid, Gruden, Steve Mariucci, and Mike Sherman. Similiarly, recent head coaches like Billick and Gary Kubiak trace their lineage back to this line.
Current status: As we get further away from Walsh’s fine 49ers tenure, this tree is starting to die off. Of current NFL coaches from this tree, only Brad Childress, Kubiak, Jim Mora, and Jim Zorn truly are true West Coast offense believers. Others — including as John Fox, John Harbaugh, Tom Cable, and Raheem Morris — are defensive guys who coached under Walsh disciples but who haven’t demonstrated the same affinity for the West Coast offense. The fact that West Coast offense stalwarts Gruden, Shanahan, and Holmgren left the coaching ranks after the ’08 season (at least for now) limits the current impact of this tree significantly.
Importance: This coaching tree dominated the league through the 1990s and most of this decade, but it’s now nearing the end of its run unless Kubiak, Childress, Mora, and Zorn produce another generation of coaches who embrace Walsh’s favored West Coast offense.

Inspiration: Chuck Noll, Monte Kiffin
Distinguishing characteristic: Zone defense with two deep safeties a.k.a. the Tampa-2
History: Dungy’s temperment reminds us of Chuck Noll, his Steelers head coach, while his strategy owes a debt to Monte Kiffin, his defensive coordinator in Tampa Bay. Dungy is probably the youngest coach to have spawned a coaching tree, but you can trace three current head coaches and two former head men to him. Mike Tomlin and Lovie Smith are the current success stories, and Jim Caldwell gets his shot this year. Two others, Herman Edwards and Rod Marinelli, apprenticed under Dungy before getting their shot. Given that Tomlin has already won a Super Bowl and that Smith has been to one (losing in the game to Dungy’s Colts), this tree has already grown roots throughout the NFL.
Current status: With Dungy’s retirement, it’s left mostly to Smith to continue his style of coaching and style of defense. While Tomlin echoes Dungy when it comes to temperment, he kept the Steelers’ zone-blitz scheme when he took over in Pittsburgh. Caldwell also seems to be moving away from the Tampa-2 defense as he replaces Dungy. That leaves Smith as the best example of a second generation of the Dungy tree. Marinelli is unlikely to get a second head-coaching shot given his failure in Detroit, and Edwards has already had two chances with decent but not eye-popping success.
Importance: This tree might have already seen its peak days. The future depends on whether Smith can continue as Chicago’s head coach and how successful Caldwell is in continuing Dungy’s legacy in Indy. But this tree is significant in that it represents the first three African-American head coaches to make it to the Super Bowl. The fact that Dungy had hired the other two as assistants speaks volumes about his ability to surround himself with the right people.

Ray Perkins
Distinguishing characteristic: Size over speed and “Parcells guys”
History: Parcells was a college assistant who moved to the NFL under former Giants coach Ray Perkins and ultimately succeeded him. Since then, Parcells has been a success in five stops (New York Giants and Jets, New England, Dallas, and Miami) as head coach, GM, or both. Given his 25-year-plus NFL tenure, he has spawned many head coaches, including current head men Tony Sparano, Tom Coughlin, Todd Haley, Payton, and the most influential, Bill Belichick. Coughlin, a long-time head coach in Jacksonville and the Giants, has seen Dick Jauron and now Steve Spagnuolo branch off from his assistants, while Belichick has mentored Eric Mangini, Josh McDaniels, Nick Saban, Romeo Crennel, and Charlie Weis. Scott Linehan, a former Saban aide, gives this tree its first fourth-generation branch.
Current status: This is the dominant tree in the NFL today because of Belichick’s influence, Coughlin’s success, and the fact that three of Parcells’ recent Dallas assistants — Haley, Sparano, and Payton — have recently gotten head coaching jobs and succeeded. This tree looks like it is ready to continue branching out, although some of Belichick’s lieutenants (Crennel and Mangini) whiffed in their first head-coaching tries.
Importance: This is a dominant tree, with Parcells having two Super Bowl rings, Belichick three, and Coughlin one, and there appear to be chances for more rings to come. Plus, Saban has a national championship in the college ranks, adding to the luster. In a decade, we’ll look at this tree in much the same way that we current look at the Walsh tree.

Joe Collier
Distinguishing characteristic: Smashmouth style
History: Schottenheimer, a longtime AFL player, became a head coach in Cleveland back in 1984, and since then has spent more than 20 years as an NFL head coach in Cleveland, Kansas City, Washington, and San Diego. His coaching tree includes Green Bay’s Mike McCarthy and also its most notable member, Bill Cowher. Cowher’s long run as head coach in Pittsburgh is where this coaching tree gets its depth, as at least five head coaches — Ken Whisenhunt, Mike Mularkey, Dom Capers, Jim Haslett, and Marvin Lewis — served as coordinators under Cowher. Surprisingly, it is Lewis and his time in Baltimore that created the next generations of this tree, as Jack Del Rio learned under him, with Mike Smith took the Schottenheimer approach to Atlanta last year.
Current status: Cowher’s influence is still felt in the league, and the spread of the 3-4 defense throughout the league has a lot to do with the influence of Pittsburgh’s style under Cowher and defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau. Whisenhunt, Del Rio, Smith, and Lewis are current coaches from the Cowher line, while McCarthy is a direct Schottenheimer disciple.
Importance: This tree doesn’t have the breadth of the Walsh or Parcells editions, but the long tenures of Schottenheimer and Cowher have definitely left a mark. If a second coach from this tree can join Cowher as a Super Bowl winner, the tree will be viewed with more historical importance.

Weeb Ewbank/Walt Michaels
Distinguishing characteristic: High-pressure defense a.k.a. the 46 defense
History: Ryan first burst onto the scene as the defensive line coach with the New York Jets in Super Bowl three. He went on to become the coordinator of Minnesota’s Purple People Eaters in the 1970s before bringing the 46 defense to Chicago, where he famously led the crew that won Super Bowl 20. Ryan went on to become the head coach in Philadelphia. He is the mentor to Jeff Fisher, the long-time Titans coach who played for Ryan in Chicago and coached under him in Philadelphia. Ryan also has twin sons — Rex, the new head coach of the Jets, and Rob, a longtime defensive coordinator now in Cleveland. Jim Schwartz, a former Fisher aide who is now the head coach in Detroit. Mike Singletary, like Fisher, is former Ryan player who is bringing the coach’s aggressive defensive attitude to the sidelines.
Current status: This is a tree that might be growing into prominence thanks in large part to the Ryan twins and to Fisher. The longer Fisher coaches and succeeds in Tennessee, the more of his assistants will become head men in the NFL. And if Schwartz turns the Detroit wasteland into football utopia, or if Singletary returns the 49ers to prominence, then this tree will take off.
Importance: It’s growing, but Rex Ryan, Singletary, and Schwartz will determine its future. My father-in-law says this of trees: “The first year they sleep, the next year they creep, and the third year they leap.” This coaching tree is the creep stage, and it remains to be seen whether it will leap in the coming years.

Frank Broyles
Distinguishing characteristic: Speed over size
History: Johnson was a successful college head coach at Oklahoma State and Miami before his ex-Arkansas teammate Jerry Jones brought him to the NFL to be head coach of the Dallas Cowboys. There, Johnson created a dynasty by drafting speedy athletes all over the field. He preferred to draft a speedy guy and bulk him up instead of drafting a bigger guy. That college recruiting tactic worked, and Johnson won two Super Bowls (and provided the pieces for a third) in Dallas. Three of his major assistants became high-profile head-coaching hires — Dave Wannstedt in Chicago (then Miami and now the University of Pittsburgh), Butch Davis (at the University of Miami, then the Cleveland Browns, and now the University of North Carolina), and Norv Turner (in Washington, Oakland, and now San Diego). One of Turner’s assistants in Washington and San Diego, Cam Cameron, has had head-coaching stops with the Dolphins and also the University of Indiana.
Current status: This tree is all but dormant now because Wannstedt, Davis, and Turner have all struggled as NFL head coaches.  Turner is on his third shot and has had marginal success with the Chargers. Davis and Wannstedt have returned to the college ranks, both with some success.
Importance: This coaching tree never lived up to its potential because Wannstedt, Turner, and Davis weren’t the coaching stars that they appeared to be on Johnson’s staff. While Johnson is an iconic NFL coach, his tree won’t be remembered as all that impactful.

There are three significant recent coaches who don’t fit into these 6 primary coaching trees. Wade Phillips’ primary influence was his father, Bum Phillips. Mike Nolan first established himself under Dan Reeves with the Giants. And Mike Martz wasn’t known until he worked with Dick Vermeil in St. Louis.

As promised, here’s a visual-learner-friendly look at these coaching trees:



Filed under NFL coaches, research project

Research project: More on Jim Caldwell

I wrote last week about how I’m uncomfortable with the Jim Caldwell move in Indianapolis. One of the reasons is that I didn’t remember a failed college coach becoming a top NFL coach. But remembering and research are 2 different things, so I went back to 1989 and tried to look at how former college head coaches did in the NFL. I’ll give the full list and then use it to make appropriate comparisons to Caldwell’s situation. The list is alphabetical. If I missed someone, leave a comment and I’ll add them in.

*Rich Brooks, St. Louis – Went 89-111-4 at Oregon before getting the chance to coach the Rams. Went 13-19 in two years, spent 4 more years in NFL as a defensive coordinator, and then went to Kentucky, where he is 32-41.
*Tom Cable, Oakland – 11-35 at Idaho, then 3 years as NFL assistant before becoming Raiders coach. 4-8 in 1 partial year at Oakland. (He still could get permanent job.)
*Cam Cameron, Miami – 18-37 at Indiana, then 5 years as NFL assistant before becoming Dolphins coach. 1-15 in 1 year at Miami, then fired. Now offensive coordinator with Ravens.
*Tom Coughlin, Jacksonville – Former Parcells assistant who went 21-13-1 at Boston College and then went straight to Jacksonville. Is 111-95 with Jaguars and Giants with one Super Bowl ring.
*Butch Davis, Cleveland – Went 51-20 at Miami before taking big money to coach the Browns. Went 24-35 in 4 seasons before being fired. Now at North Carolina, where he is 12-12 in 2 seasons.
*Chan Gailey, Dallas – 24-11 at Troy State and Samford, then 10 years as NFL assistant before becoming Cowboys coach. 18-14 in 2 years at Dallas, then fired. Went 67-41 at Georgia Tech; was offensive coordinator at Kansas City in ’08.
*Dennis Green, Minnesota – Went 10-45 at Northwestern, then spent 4 years as an NFL assistant, and then went 16-18 at Stanford before getting his shot with the Vikings. Totaled a 113-94 record with the Vikings and Cardinals during his career. Now a broadcaster.
*Al Groh, Jets – 26-40 at Wake Forest, then 12 years as an NFL assistant before becoming Jets coach. 9-7 in 1 year with Jets before leaving for the University of Virginia, where he is 56-41.
*Jimmy Johnson, Cowboys – Had a 82-34-2 record at Oklahoma State and Miami before moving up to the pro ranks with the Cowboys. Finished with an 80-64 record with Dallas and then Miami in the NFL. Now a broadcaster.
*Steve Mariucci, 49ers – After being offensive coordinator for Packers, went to Cal and went 6-6 in one year befoer going to San Francisco. Went 60-43 with the 49ers, then 15-28 with the Lions, for a total of 75-61. Now a broadcaster.
*Dick MacPherson, New England – Went 66-46-4 with Syracuse before getting a shot with the Patriots, but went just 8-24 in two seasons with the Patriots.
*Bobby Petrino, Atlanta – Former NFL coordinator went 41-9 at Louisville before going to Atlanta for big money. Went 3-10 and left midseason to go to Arkansas, where he was 5-7 in his first year.
*Mike Riley, San Diego – 8-14 at Oregon State, then straight to San Diego, where he went 14-34 with Chargers. After being fired, went back to Oregon State, where he’s 46-28.
*Bobby Ross, San Diego – Went 94-76-2 at The Citadel, Maryland, and Georgia Tech before getting a shot with San Diego. Went a total of 74-63 with San Diego and the Lions, then returned to college and went 9-25 before retiring.
*Nick Saban, Miami – Went 91-42-1 with Toledo, Michigan State, and LSU before getting big money to join Dolphins. Went 15-17 in 2 years before bolting for Alabama, where he is 19-8.
*Steve Spurrier, Washington – went 142-40-2 at Duke and (mostly) Florida before getting big money to join the Redskins. Went 12-20 in 2 years before leaving and has been 28-22 at South Carolina since.
*Barry Switzer, Dallas – Went 157-29-4 at Oklahoma but had been out of the game for a while before getting a shot with the Cowboys. Went 45-26 with Dallas, including 1 Super Bowl. Hasn’t coached since.
*Mike White, Oakland – went 87-71-4 at Cal and Illinois, then spent 9 years as an assistant before getting the Raiders job. Went 15-17 with the Raiders before getting fired.

That’s the list. So who is Caldwell most comparable to? You can’t put him in the class of elite college coaches, which would include national champions Saban, Spurrier, Switzer, Ross, and Johnson, along with hot prospects Davis and Petrino. You can’t even put him in the class of solid college coaches like Coughlin, MacPherson, and Brooks (who had a losing record but turned Oregon into a solid program).

And for the sake of fair comparison, I wouldn’t match him with Riley, who without much pedigree went straight from college to the pros, or with Mariucci, who was an NFL guy who spent just one year in the college ranks.

That leaves Caldwell in a class with six other coaches who:
*Had been college head coaches
*Had spent several years as NFL assistants
*Got their jobs more for their NFL track record than for their college accomplishments.

Let’s play relativity with these coaches. Remember that we’ve slotted Caldwell as a “3” hire relative to the other hires this offseason so far.

10 – None.

9 – None.

8 – Dennis Green: Green was a well regarded NFL prospect who probably took the Stanford job to get an opportunity that wasn’t prevalent for African-Americans at the time. But Green’s Bill Walsh pedigree was still the selling point. His career with the Vikings was quite good, as he made the Vikings a top-10 team. While the Vikings never made the Super Bowl (blowing their best chance in ’98), they were definitely contenders. For that, Green was a very good hire. Despite his less-than-stellar college coaching mark.

7- None.

6- None.

5- Chan Gailey. Gailey, who had won a D-2 national championship at Troy, got his shot with Dallas after serving as the offensive coordinator on a Steelers team that went to the Super Bowl. He had a 10-win season and then an 8-win season, but Jerry Jones didn’t like the trajectory of the team, and therefore pulled the plug. Gailey never got another NFL head-coaching shot, but he was not an abject failure in Dallas. He falls in the middle of the pack.

5 (con’t) – Al Groh. It’s hard to slot Groh, who had just one year as an NFL head coach. Remember that he got the job after Bill Parcells left the Jets and then Bill Belichick quit after 1 day to go to New England. Groh went 9-7, which isn’t a bad record, before deciding the NFL was not for him. Could Groh have had a Tom Coughlin type of run in the NFL? We can’t say, but you can’t rule it out. So we give Groh an incomplete and put him at coin-flip level for his single season.

4- None.

3- None.

2 – Mike White. White had been a somewhat successful college coach and a long-time NFL assistant when he got his shot with the Raiders. He started 8-2 but then collapsed to 8-8 in his first year. The second year was another losing season, and then he was gone. It’s not the worst Raiders coaching job we’ve seen over the last 15 years, but it was not good at all.

2 (con’t) – Tom Cable. If Cable gets the Raiders job full time, he becomes a comparison for Caldwell. Cable was awful at Idaho and had just 2 1/4 years as an NFL assistant before getting his shot as an interim. His 4-8 mark was an upgrade for the Raiders at the time, and the performance at the end of the season gave hope (at least when seen in light of where the Raiders have been lately). Cable would not be a dregs hire, but there have to be better options — even for the shipwreck that is the Raiders.

1- Cam Cameron. Cameron’s head coaching tenure couldn’t have been worse. One year, one win, and there’s the door. Cameron’s strong performance as San Diego’s offensive coordinator got him his shot, and he showed in 2008 with Baltimore that he is a great assistant coach. But a great coordinator doesn’t always make a great head coach. The college-ranks failure ended up being a strong predictor of Cameron’s NFL head coaching tenure. Unfortunately for the Colts, I get the feeling the same will be true for Caldwell.

One more thought: In researching this list, it’s amazing how many former college coaches lasted 2 years or less as NFL head coaches (Groh, Cameron, Gailey, Saban, Spurrier, Petrino, White, Brooks, MacPherson). That’s 9 of 18, or 50 percent. That percentage says it’s a coin flip that Caldwell will still be with the Colts in Sept. 2011. As harsh as it sounds, that timetable of failure almost sounds right to me.


Filed under NFL coaches, research project

FR: New head coaches

To review new head coaching hires in the NFL this season:
*Mike Singletary, San Francisco (replacing Mike Nolan mid-season, was interim)
*Jim Mora, Seattle (replacing Mike Holmgren, was coach-in-waiting)
*Eric Mangini, Cleveland (replacing Romeo Crennel)
*Josh McDaniels, Denver (replacing Mike Shanahan)
*Jim Caldwell, Indianapolis (replacing Tony Dungy, was coach-in-waiting)
*Jim Schwartz, Detroit (replacing Rod Marinelli) 
*Raheem Morris, Tampa Bay (replacing Jon Gruden) 
*Steve Spagnuolo, St. Louis (replacing interim Jim Haslett, who replaced Scott Linehan) 
*Rex Ryan, N.Y. Jets (replacing Eric Mangini) 
*Tom Cable, Oakland (replacing Lane Kiffin mid-season, was interim)
*Todd Haley, Kansas City (replacing Herman Edwards)

We put these hires through the theory of relativity. We’ll do it on a 10-point scale, with 10 being the best possible hire, and 1 being the worst possible hire. And you’ll note that we didn’t hit either extreme this offseason.

10- None yet.

9- Mike Singletary, San Francisco. Everybody noticed Singletary’s first-week craziness. (kicking Vernon Davis off the sidelines, reportedly dropping his pants in a locker-room motivational tactic, and prattling on about how “I want winners” in a press conference) But more impressive was Singletary’s performance coming down the stretch. The Niners finished 5-4, even though offensive coordinator Mike Martz was never going to be Singletary’s guy. While Singletary wasn’t ready when he got the job, his half-season definitely moved him closer to that mark. And when he is ready, Singletary is going to be a terrific head coach. Think Mike Ditka’s emotion, only without the condescension or combustibility. It still may take a year or two, but Singletary will be a winner in the league, and the Niners were right to lock him in now before he got a chance elsewhere. Given the way the season played out, this was absolutely the right move. Only the first-game jitters keep this from the 10 level.

8- Josh McDaniels, Denver. This is the ultimate “hot candidate” hire. McDaniels is this year’s it-guy, the young, up-and-coming assistant who is lighter on track record but bursting with buzz. McDaniels, just 32, has done a great job coordinating New England’s offense the last couple of years, and his Belichick connection is an asset as well. And you can see why Denver owner Pat Bowlen would make this move — he has a young offense in place (Jay Cutler @ QB, Ryan Clady @ OLT, Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal @ WR are all young buidling blocks). Plus, the last time Bowlen hired the young offensive genius, Mike Shanahan won 2 Super Bowls. So Bowlen sticks what’s worst. There’s great upside here, but McDaniels’ relative inexperience means there’s some significant downside too. A three-year-and-out failure will begin to waste Cutler’s prime and force him to start over in a new system at a time when he should be establishing himself as elite. So this hire a chance — but it’s a chance worth taking.

7- Jim Schwartz, Detroit. If you took a break from Christmas dinner last month to create a list of the 3 hot assistants this offseason, the list would have been Steve Spagnuolo, Schwartz, and whoever your personal flavor of the month was. Schwartz epitomizes the assistant who’s ready to take the next step. He’s worked under one of the best coaches in the league in Jeff Fisher and guided a defense that has been at least good and at times outstanding. Plus, Schwartz brings a new edge to football. He’s one of the biggest proponents of new-wave statistics in the league (and has been for a while). So if he can get a Billy Beane type of jump on the rest of the league, he may be able to take a quicker step forward than most coaches.
That said, this hire for Detroit is not quite ideal.  First of all, Detroit’s going to have to draft a quarterback in the first round. They have the No. 1 overall pick plus Dallas’ pick at 20, which means Matthew Stafford and Mark Sanchez have to be considered, even though they would be minor reaches at No. 1 overall. So it might have made more sense for the Lions to hire an offensive. Schwartz will need to hire a QB guru (someone like Scott Linehan, or perhaps Norm Chow, whom he worked with at Tennessee) to make it work. Even more, the Lions probably could have used someone with a veteran hand who could contribute to personnel and organizational decisions. The front office in Detroit is far from experienced, so a Marty Schottenheimer or a Dan Reeves type would have been an even better hire.
Schwartz has the tools to be successful, but he’s stepping into a sorry situation. While there are guys who might have been a little better suited to lift the Lions out of the morass, Schwartz at least has a chance to do so. That means the Lions have hope that they haven’t had in a long time.

6- Jim Mora, Seattle. Mora’s record in Atlanta was better than you think – 26-22, plus 1-1 in the playoffs. He was run out of the Dirty South more for personality (including his stated interest in the U.Washington job) than for performance. You don’t have to worry about the U-Dub connection anymore, because the job was open this offseason, and Mora probably could’ve gotten it had he wanted. Instead, he cashed in the coach-in-waiting card Seattle gave him last year. Mora is a proven coach, and his past experience will help him. Plus, Seattle isn’t as bad as its 4-12 2008 mark, because injuries knocked at least 2-3 wins off the ledger. But there isn’t a lot of energy behind Mora’s hire, since the defense he helped to coach was pretty wretched (30th in yards against, 25th in points against). If not for the coach-in-waiting deal, could Seattle have gotten a hotter candidate? Maybe. But there were definitely worse options out there. With Mora and health (especially Matt Hasselbeck), Seattle is at least a contender to win 8 or 9, and as we see now, that’s contention in the NFC West. All in all, this hire is more good than bad, but barely.

6 (con’t) – Todd Haley, Kansas City – As the playoffs progressed, Haley became another “it” guy this offseason. Haley has football pedigree (his dad was a long-time front-office exec), and he has showed a fiery demeanor on the sidelines on more than one occasion. He also has play-calling chops, showing this offseason his prowess at making adjustments as games go on. (That’s an underrated skill.) But is Haley ready? Is he too combative to be a franchise’s lynchpin? We’ll see. Haley appears to be a hot prospect, but his situation in K.C. is what makes this hire a good one. New Chiefs G.M. Scott Pioli is going to win, and his prior relationship with and existing respect for Haley puts Haley in a good situation. The talent level in K.C. is still below average, but Pioli will fix that in time. Meanwhile, Haley figures to get time to get it done. That means playoff visits are in his future at Arrowhead in 2-4 years.

5- Eric Mangini, Cleveland. This is a Mora-esque hire, only just below. Mangini’s record (23-25) wasn’t bad with the Jets, although he did have the stinker year that Mora avoided. The reason this hire is a notch below is the philosophy question. Mangini’s pedigree is similar to the man he replaced – the main difference being that Romeo Crennel had no previous head coaching experience, along with Mangini’s age. Mangini has proven to be a decent NFL head coach, and he’s young enough that he could still be very good. But that’s far closer to a coin flip than a real guarantee.

5 (con’t) – Raheem Morris, Tampa Bay – Starting last year,  there were rumblings that there was a defensive backs coach in Tampa named Raheem Morris who was going to be an NFL coach one day. But that day came a lot sooner than expected, as Tampa bounced Jon Gruden to promote Morris. Morris, just 32, probably isn’t ready yet. But he is a terrific prospect who can continue the strong defensive tradition the Buccaneers have had over the last decade or so. That’s important, because the defense will soon lose stalwarts Derrick Brooks and Ronde Barber. If Morris had at least one year as an NFL coordinator, this ranking would be much higher. (Remember, that’s the background Mike Tomlin had when the Steelers hired him.) But Morris’ inexperience (one year as a college coordinator, just 4 as an NFL assistant) means that an adjustment period is likely, at least early on. This could be a home run, but that dinger is more likely to come in the fifth inning than in the first.

4 – Steve Spagnuolo, St. Louis – Spagnuolo trained under Andy Reid and Jim Johnson in Philly before spending 2 years as the Giants defensive coordinator. That run in New York made him a hot head coaching candidate. While Spagnuolo’s pedigree is positive, the question us whether his leadership qualities match his tactical abilities. I can’t shake that question, and so I can’t rate Spagnuolo above Schwartz or even Morris. For some reason, I have a sinking feeling that this hire may end up looking more trendy than successful in the long run. 

4 (con’t) – Rex Ryan, Jets – Ryan is a qualified candidate, with a resume as good as first-time head coach can have. But there’s one troubling thing about him – his team for the last 10 years, the Ravens, passed him over last year. The Ravens’ brass is top notch, so that judgment weighs heavily. If they don’t want him, I’m not sure I do. With that in mind, I just can’t bring myself to say the Jets are better with Ryan than they would be with Mangini. You might believe in change for change’s sake, but I don’t. 

3- Jim Caldwell, Colts – The fall of 1993 brought many people to the Wake Forest University campus for the first time. Me. A then-unknown basketball player from the Virgin Islands named Tim Duncan. And football coach Jim Caldwell, who had left his post as an assistant coach under Joe Paterno at Penn State to become the ACC’s first African-American head coach. Caldwell lasted eight years at Wake Forest, compiling a 26-63 record and one bowl berth. So I’m familiar with Caldwell’s work.
The question is whether things will be better with the Colts. For one thing, Caldwell has much more experience, under a head coach in Dungy with whom he shares a steely demeanor. Caldwell undboutedly has learned something from Dungy, and his similiarities to Dungy are why he now has this opportunity. But can Caldwell keep the Colts at an elite level? Remember, the Colts are getting older. Peyton Manning is still in his prime at 32, but it would appear that  WR Marvin Harrison (36), C Jeff Saturday (33) are closer to the end than the beginning. DE Dwight Freeney (28), WR Reggie Wayne (30), and S Bob Sanders (27) are in their prime, but if Caldwell has any sort of adjustment period, that prime period will soon be slipping away.
Caldwell has the best job available – better even than Denver – but also no margin or time for error. And because of the standard Dungy said and the age of the roster, Caldwell needs to be at least an A-minus coach right away for this succession plan to work. I could see him being a B-minus coach, or even a B, but anything more seems like a stretch. That stretch means the end of elite-dom for the Colts. And that, in turn, makes this Caldwell as coach-in-waiting plan a mistake. My hunch is that former defensive coordinator Ron Meeks, who should become a head coach in the league soon, would have been a better choice to continue Dungy’s legacy in Indy.

2- Tom Cable, Raiders – Cable was awful at Idaho (11-35 record) and had just 2 1/4 years as an NFL assistant before getting his shot as an interim head coach. His 4-8 mark, though unimpressive, was a minor upgrade over what the Raiders had been doing under Lane Kiffin. More pertinently, the Raiders’ performance at the end of the season gave a small glimmer of hope. With that, there’s a bit of a defense for keeping Cable on, but it’s not like the 49ers’ move to hold onto Mike Singletary. I just can’t get over the feeling that the Raiders could have hired a coach who wanted another chance — a Jim Fassel type — who had a much better resume and background. Or there could have been another Kiffin-type hire — a young coach looking to prove himself. The last time the Raiders were relevant, it was because they took a chance on Jon Gruden before he was truly ready to be a head coach. Even for the shipwreck that is the Raiders right now, there had to be better options. The Raiders just didn’t really look for them.

1- None yet.


Filed under Football Relativity, NFL coaches