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Hot commodities in the NFL coaching ranks
By Roger Hensley
Question: Assuming the Rams open up a coaching search after this season, are there any candidates out there with no previous head coaching experience in the NFL that you think should be considered?
There are lots of attractive candidates out there and the smart teams will find them. Some names to watch are Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, Titans defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, Cardinals offensive line coach Russ Grimm, Titans offensive line coach Mike Munchack, Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan and the intriguing 32-year-old Raheem Morris, who coaches the Bucs defensive backs. Spagnuolo will look for a better job than the Rams gig but Billy Devaney will be able to put together a good list. Devaney was a part of the process that led to the Falcons hiring of Mike Smith.
Jim Schwartz of Tennessee is one of the league’s most respected defensive coordinators and his Titans play a physical, aggressive style. Smart, media savvy, and a big statistics guy, he’s at a point in his career where he’s ready for the next step.
The “hot” candidates are defensive coordinators Steve Spagnuolo of the Giants and Jim Schwartz of the Titans. But the Rams already tried that with Scott Linehan, and we’ve seen the results. They need an experienced, steady hand to try to sort out the mess at Rams Park.
My candidate is Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan. I’ve talked to him quite a bit, since since his brother Jim Ryan is involved in my KFNS radio show. Family ties could make Rex interested in this job while others would pass. He has a strong track record and lots of polish. (His brother Rob Ryan, d-coordinator in Oakland, is more like their combative father Buddy). Rex grew up in the game. He has seen the good, bad and ugly of the business. Brian Schottenheimer fits that mold, too — especially if the Rams hired his father Marty to fill a Bill Parcells-like role in the organization. Brian did time here early in his coaching career, so he knows the landscape.
We’re going single topic on you today, folks, because I want to dig a little deeper into the question above I asked of the writers. Please bear with me and don’t hesitate to tell me if you think I’m off my rocker.
SO YOU’RE LOOKING FOR A NEW HEAD COACH: All the talk recently about whether or not Jim Haslett should be brought back as Rams head coach next season got me to thinking about the NFL coaching ranks. Haslett may or may not be a good head coach, but I must point out that his overall record with the Saints was far from stellar and the guy who came in to replace him found success there immediately.
But what I really wanted to know is this: Is it a good thing to bring in guys who have had previous head coaching experience in the league to turn a team around, or “retreads” as they’re often called, or better to go outside the box and find a coach on the rise from elsewhere?
Sure, who wouldn’t want Bill Cowher. But that’s not going to happen here. And is Marty Schottenheimer really the guy to light a fire under the troops at Rams Park? Oh, yeah, and there was also the early calls to bring back Dick Vermeil. Puh-leeze.
All one has to do is to take a look around the league to see that opportunities for fresh blood can bring instant results, and coaches who motivate and lead can achieve immediate success. Below is just a few examples of recent history to chew on, with the coach, the year he took over, the experience he brought, the team he inherited from his predecessor and what he’s done since taking over:
MIKE TOMLIN – PITTSBURGH STEELERS, 2007
Tomlin came to Pittsburgh in 2007 after serving as the Vikings defensive coordinator in 2006. Tomlin’s resume included no head coaching experience at any level.
2006: Head coach, Bill Cowher. Record: 8-8
2007: Tomlin goes 10-6 and takes the Steelers to the playoffs.
2008: Steelers are 11-3 and already have clinched the AFC North.
MIKE SMITH – ATLANTA FALCONS, 2008
Smith took over a hapless Falcons team after serving from 2003-07 as defensive coordinator for the Jacksonville Jaguars. He had no previous head coaching experience.
2007: Head coach, Bobby Petrino/Emmitt Thomas. Record: 4-12
2008: Smith has the Falcons at 9-5 and competing for the NFC South, and this while starting a rookie quarterback in Matt Ryan.
JOHN HARBAUGH – BALTIMORE RAVENS, 2008
Harbaugh was the Eagles special teams coach from 1998-2006 and served as the secondary coach in 2007. He, too, had no previous head coaching experience.
2007: Head coach, Brian Billick. Record: 5-11
2008: Harbaugh has the Ravens at 9-5 and in the thick of the AFC playoff race. Oh, and did I mention that he’s doing it with a rookie QB, also?
ERIC MANGINI – NEW YORK JETS, 2006
Mangini came to the Jets after serving with the Patriots as defensive backs coach from 2000-04 and as defensive coordinator in 2005. No previous head coaching experience.
2005: Head coach, Herm Edwards. Record: 4-12
2006: Mangini leads the Jets to 10-6 and an AFC Wild Card appearance.
2007: Record falls to 4-12.
2008: Playing in one of football’s toughest divisions, has the Jets at 9-5 and contending for division title.
KEN WHISENHUNT – ARIZONA CARDINALS, 2007
Served as offensive coordinator in Pittsburgh from 2004-06. No previous head coaching experience.
2006: Head coach, Dennis Green. Record: 5-11
2007: Whisenhunt gets the Big Red to a .500 record at 8-8.
2008: In Year Two, Whisenhunt already has clinched the NFC West with an 8-6 record.
MIKE McCARTHY – GREEN BAY PACKERS, 2006
McCarthy came to the Packers after having served as the offensive coordinator in New Orleans from 2000-04 and in San Francisco in 2005. No previous head coaching experience.
2005: Head coach, Mike Sherman. Record: 4-12.
2006: McCarthy leads Packers to 8-8 record and they miss playoffs on a tiebreaker.
2007: Pack goes 13-3 in McCarthy’s second season, advancing all the way to the NFC Championship game where they fall 23-20 to eventual Super Bowl champion Giants.
2008: Comes back to earth in a 5-9 season.
TONY SPARANO – MIAMI DOLPHINS, 2008
Ah, the only coach on this list with previous head coaching experience … at the University of New Haven from 1994-98. Came to Dolphins after serving as assistant head coach/offensive line with Dallas in 2007.
2007: Head coach, Cam Cameron. Record: 1-15.
2008: Sparano has sparked the biggest turnaround in the league this year, leading the Dolphins to a 9-5 record … tied with Jets and Pats for AFC East lead.
SEAN PAYTON – NEW ORLEANS SAINTS, 2006
Payton came to the Saints after serving as assistant head coach/passing game coordinator with the Cowboys. No previous head coaching experience.
2005: Head coach, Jim Haslett. Record: 3-13
2006: In his first season Payton leads Saints to 10-6 record, an NFC South crown and a trip to the NFC Championship, where they lose to the Bears.
2007: Team falls back to 7-9.
2008: Sitting at 7-7, but still one of the funnest offenses to watch in the league.
The above examples come with a caveat … almost all of the aforementioned teams have a relatively stable front office. And, yes, I’ll even include the Arizona Cardinals now that Michael Bidwell seems to be making more of the calls than his father, Bill Bidwell. There are plenty of examples of young head coaches failing, and recently, but you can point to a dysfunctional front office in many of those instances.
To wit: Did Scott Linehan (or Haslett for that matter) stand much of chance with the Rams front-office situation? And perhaps Cam Cameron wouldn’t have been a 1-15 head coach for the Dolphins last year had he been lucky enough to have Bill Parcells in place as the Executive Vice President of Football Operations. Mike Nolan was doomed from the beginning as the Niners have been a mess due to the York family for years now. And don’t even get me started on Lane Kiffin and Oakland. The good (Art Shell), the bad (Kiffin) and the ugly (Norv Turner … how does this guy keep getting jobs, period?) couldn’t find a way to be successful under the reign of terror known as Al Davis.
But the point is this: As Rams fans look to next season and beyond when calling for a new head coach, perhaps it’s better to look for the next great coach rather than simply settle for the past average coach. Oh, and keep your fingers crossed that whomever the coach is, he’ll have a better situation in the front office to help him out.
-12-18-2008 #2Falconator Guest
Re: Hot commodities in the NFL coaching ranks
great article........there are so many good coaching prospects (Spagnuolo, Schwartz, Ryan) that I think its idiotic to go for a retread.
The retreads (Cowher, Schottenheimer) want personnel power too - and that rarely works - the only time I can remember the head coach making most of the personnel moves (and it actually worked!) is Jimmy Johnson. I guess you could say Belicheck but he relies heavily on Scott Pioli. Although Dan Reeves got my Falcons to a SuperBowl - he presided over one of the biggest "talent drains" in NFL history - he had 8 drafts and 63 draft picks and he "hit" on about 8 players - or one per year on average - just awful.
If you guys could get either "Spags" or Schwartz I think that would be a great start.
-12-18-2008 #3ScottD413 Guest
Re: Hot commodities in the NFL coaching ranksHaslett may or may not be a good head coach, but I must point out that his overall record with the Saints was far from stellar and the guy who came in to replace him found success there immediately.
Re: Hot commodities in the NFL coaching ranks
The problem with choosing a coach based on his ability to manage a particular part of a team is that you're never sure that they have the ability to expand their coaching ability to encompass the entire team. That's why so many assistant coaches fail. They continue to focus on the areas that they are comfortable in. In some cases to the detrament of the rest of the team. The coach that can let go of the old responsibilities and embrace their new role is hard to find. Even harder is finding that same person that is willing to go out and find and hire someone that might be better than they were in their old position, and then leave them to do their job. The HC job is a balancing act. Some coaches get it, and some don't. A coach might want their teams identity to be that of a defensive power. However, if they do that with disregard to the offensive side of the ball you'll still have trouble getting over the hump. Worse still is a coach who focuses on offense and lets the defense flounder. When that happens you get a team like the Cardinals; fun to watch when their offense is on the field, but a disaster when it's their defense's turn. The worst case scenario right now (in my little world) is the Rams. Years of neglect and poor decision making on the defensive side made left our D in shambles. Poor decision making has done much the same to our offense. We have no identity or focus.
I'd like to see the Rams hire the best coach available to them. Although he's not my 1st choice, if the interviews are thurough and fair, I"ll give Haslett the benefit of the doubt for 1 or 2 years (I'd give him a short leash). Haslett might prove to be capable. I'm just not sure this is the best spot for him. At least half the fan base wants him gone. So if he isn't successful quickly, things could get ugly fast.That's my story, and I'm sticking to it!!
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