JC's Take: The 2011 NFL Coaching Carousel
Hello everyone and welcome back. With the NFL Regular Season done, playoff time is here! But that is only for 12 teams. There are 20 other teams that are already looking forward to next season. Some of thos teams are also looking for new coaches. Today, I'll take a look at all of the teams that have head coaching vacancies, or may have them in the very near future.
Current Coach: Jeff Fisher
Jeff Fisher is the longest tenured coach in the NFL. He's been with the Titans since 1994. He was there defensive coordinator before becoming interim head coach in 1994, then taking over the position full time in 1995. It took him until 1999 to get his first winning season, going 13-3 and leading the Titans to the Super Bowl where they came up 1 yard short of tying the Rams late. He went 13-3 again in 2000, but this time lost to the eventual Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens in the Divisional Round. Under Fisher, the Titans made it to the playoffs four more times, but were never able to make it back to the Super Bowl. There were high hopes for the Titans heading into this year, especially after their strong finish in 2009. The Titans started the season 5-2, and many thought they would challenge for the AFC South crown. But the Titans then hit a slide, losing their next six games and finishing with a 6-10 record. They brought in Randy Moss but he failed to provide any spark to the team.
But the biggest problem with the Titans this year was an apparent implosion in the relationship between Fisher and QB Vince Young. During a 19-16 OT home loss to Washington, Young injured he thumb on his throwing finger. Young apparently wanted to go back in, but Fisher did not put him in. Frustrated, Young thre his shoulder pads into the stands after the game and left the locker room after a confrontation with Fisher. Young was later placed on IR, and did not appear at the Titans facilities for the rest of the year. The rift between Young and Fisher leaves Titans owner Bud Adams with a big decision. Adams loves Young, as evident by his personal Christmas card to Titans fans.
So now it is up to Adams who he loves more: A QB with maturity issuses but a ton of athletic ability, or a coach who has been with the organization for over a decade and has been loyal to you the whole time. Senior management is apparently lobbying for Adams to keep Fisher, but I don' think that ends up happening. Adams's love for Young overrides his loyalty to Fisher.
Jeff Fisher, "YOU'RE FIRED!!!"
Whoever will replace Fisher will have to deal with two things: 1. They must be able to work with Vince Young and create an offense that is tailor-made for his abilities. 2. They'll have to deal with an owner who gets involved with personnel matters and lets his personal feelings towards players effect his decisions. This essentially eliminates any big time coaching candidates: Jon Gruden, Bill Cowher, Jim Harbaugh. More than likely it will be an offensive guy who will come in and take over. So you look to the offensive coordinator department. Mike Mularkey, current offensive coorinator in Atlanta, has done wonders with Matt Ryan. He stumbled a bit as a head coach in Buffalo, but that wasn't entirely his fault. Hue Jackson, offensive coordinator in Oakland, has done wonders improving the offense in Oakland. But I think the opening goes to Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg. By now, the debacle that was his Lions head coaching gig should be gone. Mornhinweg has done wonders with Mike Vick in Philadelphia. Vince Young has almost the same athletic tools as Vick. He has a good arm and the ability to make plays on the run. Mornhinweg, with his experience working with Vick, should be able to make the adjustments to Young's game to help him develop as a QB. The only question is, can Mornhinweg do anything to adjust Young's immature attitude?
Former Coach: Josh McDaniels
Many people pegged McDaniels as the next Bill Belichick. He didn't disappoint early on with the Broncos. The team started 6-0 in the 2009 season, including a win over the New England Patriots. The start quickly put to rest the problem McDaniels had with Jay Cutler, who they ended up trading in the off-season after Cutler became angered at inital attempts to trade him. The tream hit a slide after their bye week, losing their next four games and finishing with an 8-8 record. McDaniels had problems with WR Brandon Marshall throughout the season, and ended up trading him to Miami in the off-season. McDaniels created another stir in the 2010 NFL Draft, trading up to acquire Florida QB Tim Tebow, who many people considered to be a project QB at best. After a 3-9 start to the 2010 season and a video taping scandal similar to the one the Patriots had a few years ago, McDaniels was relieved of his duties. I still think McDaniels has potential as a coach. I think he might try out the college game for a few years before returning to the NFL.
The key here is that John Elway is now taking a more active role with the Broncos. Elway is a Stanford alum, and that is where Jim Harbaugh is coaching. I think he will be the guy. Harbaugh is the hottest coaching prospect out there and his Stanford connections with Elway I think will win out in the end. The Broncos also plan to interview Mike Mularkey, but if they can woo Harbaugh he will be there man. And with the #2 pick in the Draft, the Broncos could always try to swap picks with Carolina, reuniting Harbaugh and Stanford star QB Andrew Luck in the NFL, but that seems unlikely given the Panthers apparent love fest with Andrew Luck.
San Francisco 49ers
Former Coach: Mike Singletary
Singletary became the interim head coach in San Francisco during the 2008 season. Singeltary took over and became an instant disciplinarian in the 49ers locker room. He publically called out TE Vernon Davis in his first game. After finishing the season 5-4, Singletary was offered and accepted the full time head coaching job with the 49ers. After starting 3-1 in 2009, the team fizzled and finished 8-8. Singletary's outburst on the sidelines during the season were called into question, but they were worked out and he returned for the 2010 season. Many people considered the 49ers the heavy favorites in the weak NFC West heading into the season. But the team started off with an 0-5 record. Even at 5-9, the team was still in the playoff hunt. But after a loss to St. Louis in Week 16, Singletary was let go as coach.
The 49ers said that they will hire a general manager before a coach. Many people think that the choice will end up being Trent Baalke. As for the coach, the 49ers would love to grab Jim Harbaugh. It would be an easy transiton for him going from Stanford to San Francisco as it is not that big of a move geographically. i think in the end, though, Harbaugh chooses Denver over San Francisco. The 49ers have also asked for permission to speak to Raiders offensive cooridnator Hue Jackson. The key person to watch here, however, is Jeff Fisher. If Fisher is fired in Tennessee, I think he will come to San Francisco. There is a great admiration for Fisher in the 49ers organization, and I think he would be a great fit here. In a division as weak as the NFC West, having a coach like Fisher could upgrade the 49ers greatly.
Former Coach: Eric Mangini
Mangini was hired in 2009 and faced a massive resurrection project in Cleveland. Many people questioned the move immediately after it happened. His first year was less than spectacular. The team started off 1-11, and many people thought new Browns Vice President Mike Holmgren would let go of Mangini. But winning the final four games of the season saved Mangini's job. Mangini started 5-7 in 2010, with signature wins against the New Orleans Saints and New England Patriots. But this time, losing the last four games of the season ended up costing Mangini his job. I doubt Mangini gets another coaching job any time soon, if ever again.
Holmgren has not ruled himself out as a possibility to coach the Browns next year, but I don't think that happens. I think even Holmgren would realize that being coach and president would be too much to handle. Of course with his connection to Holmgren, Jon Gruden's name will be tossed around. I don't think Cleveland has the personnel that Holmgren would require in order to return. The Browns already have a number of interviews lined up with the following candidates: Rams offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, Falcons offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey, Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell, and Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg. While all those people are qualified candidates, I don't think any of them get the job in the end. I think when it is all set and done, the job will go to former Panthers coach John Fox. Sure, it'll be tough to sell this guy to the fanbase. Fox did just go 2-14. But he clearly wasn't given the talent to succeed this year in Carolina. I think Holmgren would prefer the experience that Fox brings. He's been to a Super Bowl and has one division championships. Fox may not be the sexy pick, but I think he is the safest pick in the eyes of Holmgren.
Former Coach: Tom Cable
The Raiders are coming off one of their best records in recent memory, and they appeared to be a team on the rise. They went 6-0 in the division, and many people thought Tom Cable had them going in the right direction. So what does Al Davis do? Not pick up his option for 2011. What is Davis reasoning behind this? Only Al Davis knows. There were reports that Cable didn't have the young talent on the team under the proper discipline. But that is something that can be worked on. Cable apparently also was having problems earlier in the season with Offensive Coordinator Hue Jackson. But the Raiders played some of the best football since their last Super Bowl appearence, yet Cable is gone.
There is no way a big time coach, or probably even coordinator comes here. Jim Harbaugh might be tossed around, but I doubt he chooses the Raiders over Denver or San Francisco. I'm sure the normal coordinators will make the rounds. I think Mularkey will get an interview, as will Marty Mornhinweg. But I think in the end, the Raiders will be forced to hire from within. And that leaves the job to offensive coordinator Hue Jackson. Jackson did wonders with that offense this year. He finally made a star out of Darren McFadden. He used his young wide receivers properly, and he got the most out of QBs Jason Campbell and Bruce Gradkowski. Many people will be hesitant to take this job, so the Raiders may be forced to take Jackson no matter what.
Former Coach: John Fox
Some might say Fox got a raw deal in Carolina, and I believe he did in his final year. Ownership did not give Fox the proper personnel to compete this year. Since Fox took over in 2002, this was his first year where he fell below 7 wins. He won two division titles and took the Panthers to the Super Bowl in 2003. But every good thing must come to an end, and Fox's time in Carolina came to an ugly close. I think he will coach again in 2010, as obvious with him being my pick to coach the Cleveland Browns.
The only real attreactives of this job are: the ability to live in Carolina, and the opportunity to work with QB Andrew Luck. The Stanford QB is the number one overall draft prospect, and looks to be a future stud in the league. The problem is, owner Jerry Richardson probably won't spend the money for a big time head coach. Right now the only interview the Panthers have lined up is with 49ers defensive coordinator Greg Manusky. I doubt he gets the job. This one might be the toughest one for me to call. If I had to take a guess, I would say that the job goes to Atlanta offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey. Mularkey would get the opportunity he didn't have in Buffalo, to work with and groom his franchise QB. Mularkey did wonders with Ryan, I'm sure he can do the same thing with Luck.
Current Coach: Tony Sparano
This one remains a mystery, just like Jeff Fisher in Tennessee. About a week ago it was said that Bill Parcells convinced Dolphins owner Stephen Ross to keep Sparano, even though Parcells isn't with the team anymore. The two sides met on Monday, and the meetings were apparently productive. But there has already been chatter about Jim Harbaugh coming to Miami. Dolphins owner Stephen Ross and Harbaugh are both Stanford alums. Sparano had an underachieving year in Miami, including a 1-7 home record which included home losses to Buffalo and Detroit. Sparano also failed to develop Chad Henne as a proper QB. Ross would love to make a big splash to compete with the Miami Heat and their rising popularity. In the end, however, I think Ross will realize he can't get Harbaugh, Bill Cowher, or Jon Gruden. I think Sparano is given one more year to right the ship in Miami.
The Verdict? Sparano stays!
Coaches Who Were on the Hot Seat, but Are Staying Put
Marvin Lewis, Cincinnati
I was actually quite surprised to see that Lewis was retained. He was suppose to compete with the Ravens and Steelers in the AFC North this year, but instead finished a very disappointing 4-12. Lewis will return for two years, however. I think this automatically means the departure of WRs Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco. As evident in the last two games, the team can do quite fine without them. I think this also means the return of QB Carson Palmer. He has an $11.5 million option in 2011, and owner Mike Brown and Lewis are both fans of him. I don't know if the Bengals will still be able to compete with either the Ravens or Steelers, but Lewis has two year to figure out how to do it. They'll also need to revamp a defense that could barely get pressure on the QB this year. But I forsee the Bengals being in the same situation in two years that they are in now, and Lewis finally on the way out in 2012.
Gary Kubiak, Houston
The Texans also were considered a major disappointment this season. They had high hopes going into the year, and an opening game win over the Colts only added to those expectations. However, the problems on defense were too much for a stellar offense to overcome. They found a gem in undrafted RB Arian Foster, and still have a top QB in Matt Schaub and WR in Andre Johnson. Now they just have to fix a defense that was gashed all year. There are reports that Wade Phillips may take over the role of defensive coordinator. I think that is a good move for the Texans.
Jack del Rio, Jacksonville
Del Rio had the Jaguars a game away from clinching the AFC South. But a loss at Indianapolis, along with two losses to end the year meant no playoffs again for the Jaguars. The Jags have only made two playoff appearences since dei Rio took over in 2003. Some thought the late season collapse would be enough to cost del Rio his job, but it wasn't. Now del Rio almost has to make the playoffs in 2011 to save his job next year. I'm sure the dozens of Jags fans that exist thought this year would be their year, but it wasn't.
Jason Garrett, Dallas
This is all but official. Due to the NFL's Rooney Rule, the Cowboys must interview at least one minority candidate. This is why I'm not a fan of the Rooney Rule. Yes, it is nice to see minority cnadidates receive an interview, but if a team already knows who they want as their coach, just let them hire them. Racism is essentially non-existent in the league anymore. Garrett did a wonderful job with the Cowboys after he took over for Wade Phillips. He re-juvinated a slumping offense, and the players appeared to try harder for Garrett than they did for Phillips. Garrett is a young, offensive-minded guy who should be able to do wonders with the Cowboys offense. Expect the Boys to be back on track in 2011.
Leslie Frazier, Minnesota
It's nice to see Frazier finally get a chance. He has had so many interviews over the last couple years, but he always seems to just miss an opportunity to land the job. Frazier did ok during his interim time in Minnesota. But he should do better next year. He won't have to deal with the distraction that is Brett Favre. He also shouldn't have to worry about rescheduled games or holes in the Metrodome roof. The one thing Frazier will have to worry about is an aging defense and a team with a couple key free agents on both sides of the ball. But Frazier is a very knowledgeable football guy who should do just fine in his new role.
That's all for today. I'll be back with an NFL Playoff Preview either Thursday, or early Saturday.
Until next time,