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Haslett knows he'll be better 2nd time
By Jim Thomas
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
From the day he was hired as Rams defensive coordinator in 2006, Jim Haslett hoped to get another crack at being a head coach in the NFL.
That chance is now at hand, albeit under less than ideal circumstances. As Scott Linehan's replacement, Haslett inherits an 0-4 Rams team and a schedule that includes games against Washington (4-1), Dallas (4-1) and New England (3-1) over the next three Sundays. As if that weren't bad enough, two of those three games are on the road.
Best of luck. But Haslett is grateful for the opportunity, and thinks he'll be a better head coach than he was in New Orleans from 2000-2005."I know I'll be better, because after you sit back and you analyze the six years down there you start saying, 'Well, I wish I would've handled this game a little bit better,' " Haslett said. "Game management to me is big because things happen fast. Dealing with the players."
Those are all keys to being a successful NFL head coach.
Now, nearly three years removed from the Saints, Haslett, 52, thinks he will be better for the experience. Looking back on his New Orleans tenure, Haslett's biggest second-guess concerns sticking with injured quarterback Aaron Brooks down the stretch of the 2002 season.
"We had a chance to go to the playoffs, and I got hard-headed because Aaron Brooks got hurt," Haslett recalled. "I should've put the backup in, and didn't. Everybody wanted the backup in, and I didn't. In hindsight, I probably should have because the backup turned out to be a pretty darn good quarterback, Jake Delhomme."
Interesting, since one of Haslett's first acts as Rams coach following the firing of Linehan was to reinstate Marc Bulger as the starter in St. Louis, and return Trent Green to backup status.
But the circumstances were different in 2002. Brooks' play was hampered because of a late-season injury in his right shoulder — his throwing shoulder. The injury affected Brooks' play, and the Saints squandered a 9-4 start by losing their last three games and missing the playoffs. In the last two games, losses to Cincinnati and Carolina, Brooks completed only 40 percent of his passes (28 of 69).
"Aaron wanted to stay in ... and I should've made the change," Haslett said.
Who knows what challenges Haslett will face over the final 12 games of this 2008 Rams season? And how will he respond to them?
It's easy to find examples of coaches who have prospered the second time around. Bill Belichick, Tom Coughlin, Tony Dungy, and Mike Shanahan all won Super Bowl titles in their second stints as NFL head coaches after being fired the first time around.
Dick Vermeil did the same thing in St. Louis in 1999 after resigning due to coaching burnout in Philadelphia following the 1982 season. So that's five cases of coaches who won Super Bowls during their second crack at being a head coach.
"I'm not saying we're going to do that, because they had time to do it," Haslett said. "We've got three months. I don't know if we have enough time. Those guys got a couple years to turn it around. But you are a better coach. It's pretty evident by the success those guys have had."
In Buffalo, Dick Jauron is trying to pull the Bills (4-1) out of years of mediocrity after a largely unsuccessful five-year stint as head coach in Chicago. Jauron did have a breakout year of 13-3 in 2001, but the Bears failed to win more than seven games in any of his other four seasons there.
"There's a saying that I like," Jauron said. "Some people have 10 years experience; some people have one year of experience 10 times. If you can build on stuff, obviously it's got to help you. The longer you've been around, the more you've seen. It's true in our game."
Rams defensive coordinator Rick Venturi concurs.
"As long as a guy is smart, flexible and is willing to learn, you're always going to get better with time," Venturi said. "We're one of the only societies in the world that puts our old out to pasture. Wisdom is only acquired in time. I don't care what the venue is."
All of which may be true, but there are plenty of examples of head coaches who had less success the second time around in the NFL. Mike Ditka in New Orleans, Dennis Green in Arizona, Dom Capers in Houston, and Joe Gibbs in Washington all come to mind. No matter what is learned from a first stint as head coach, you've still got to have players, and still have to be in an organization that knows how to win.
For example, Arizona has proved to be a graveyard for head coaches, with only one winning season since the Cardinals moved from St. Louis following the 1987 season. Green probably didn't have much of a chance.
Capers coached the expansion Carolina Panthers into the NFC championship game during just their second season (1996) as a franchise. Looking for a repeat performance, the expansion Houston Texans hired him as their first head coach, but he didn't come close to repeating his expansion magic there. It's not as if Capers suddenly got dumber. In terms of the expansion draft and extra picks in the college draft, the NFL made it much tougher for the Texans to get started than the Panthers.
Venturi, a longtime NFL assistant who is one of Haslett's best friends, thinks having him step in with the Rams was a natural.
"This is an opportunity that most teams don't have," Venturi said. "I'm not speaking as a friend. It's an obvious thing. You have a legitimate head football coach sitting here. You have a guy that without the (Hurricane) Katrina season has only one losing season. Not many coaches can say that."
Haslett's won-lost record was 43-39 in his first five seasons as Saints head coach, including a division title and a playoff victory in 2000 — the first playoff victory in franchise history. During his final season in New Orleans, a year in which the Saints were displaced by Hurricane Katrina, the team finished 3-13.
Venturi knows what it's like to step in as a head coach in the middle of a season. He was an interim head coach both in New Orleans and Indianapolis.
"The first thing is, it's a very difficult situation because it doesn't happen unless there's tremendous adversity," Venturi said. "But when Jim walks in a room, he commands a certain kind of presence, because he's actually been there and been successful. So I think it's a little different with him."
We're about to find out, beginning Sunday in Washington.
Re: Haslett knows he'll be better 2nd time
Hasletts first go round as a Headcoach he took over a Saints team that in 1999 was lead by Mike Ditka and had a record of (3-13). That 1999 team ranked 19th overall in Offense and 20th overall in Defense.
New Orleans Saints under Jim Haslett:
10th- (Overall Offense)
8th- (Overall Defense)
Won their first playoff game. I won't mention who they beat!
10th- (Overall Offense)
16th- (Overall Defense)
19th- (Overall Offense)
27th- (Overall Defense)
11th- (Overall Offense)
18th- (Overall Defense)
15th- (Overall Offense)
32nd- (Overall Defense)
2005- (3-13) *-All road games
20th- (Overall Offense)
14th- (Overall Defense)
Haslett was selected as the AP Coach of the Year for the 2000 season.
That same season he was selected as the Sports Illustrated Coach of the Year.
There were a few other accolades for Haslett for the 2000 season:
College & Pro Football Newsweekly Coach of the Year.
Football Digest Coach of the Year.
Football News Coach of the Year.
Pro Football Writers Association Coach Of the Year.
USA Today NFC Coach of the Year.
Looking at the won/loss records of the Saints under Haslett shows that his teams were competitive except for his last season.
Let's hope the second time around is a charm.
Re: Haslett knows he'll be better 2nd time
Not sure how well he will do as a head coach, if defensively, he wasn't so hot.
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