Entries in coaches (3)
A few years ago, when I was just a young whippersnapper, I was working in the IT department of a software company. I had been working hard, making my bones, minding my own business, when my manager informed me that I was doing great. Well enough, he said, for a promotion.
"Kick ass! Mo' money!" I thought.
"Thank you." I said.
The only hitch was that I would have to now decide on my "track". I had displayed some leadership qualities and therefore I was a candidate to move into the management team. But I had also shown some facility with the actual systems, so that I could choose the technical track if I liked.
And that's the way that people there were segmented into vocations that suited them. (I chose management, by the way. I love flirting with people that work for me. It's dangerous and stupid).
In the world of football, I would think that this is how different coaches end up on different sides of the ball. But I wonder if the NFL doesn't need a leadership / management track.
Take Raheem Morris as an example. Yes, he's a "defense" guy, but what stands out about this guy, and what you constantly hear about him, is that he's a "leader of men". He has people believing, and turned the Bucs from a 3-13 team to a 10-6 team seemingly overnight.
He chose the defensive track and it ended up working for him. But what would have happened if there was a way to identify his unique type of leadership ability?
Raheem Morris was lucky to get a head coaching job at such a young age, and frankly even luckier that he wasn't fired in the wake of a 3-13 season. That's a feather in the cap of the Bucs organization.
But how many Raheem Morrises are there that haven't gotten a shot?
Take Ron Rivera, for example. He built powerful defenses for the Bears and then the Chargers. And now he's a head coach. Where is the metric that says that being a great defensive coordinator prepares you to be a great head coach?
The modern NFL head coach is an entirely different position than it used to be. In the old days, you didn't have a vast coaching staff. There were only a few guys. And you didn't have concussions and illegal substances and DUIs and domestic abuse and the press. You didn't have the 24/7 press coverage of every team at all times like you have now.
Head coaching requires an ability to manage as much as it does to coach. It requires PR duties and charity duties. It requires radio shows and commercial shoots for the NFL Network where you have a five second clip saying "All I want is the NFL Network" or "All I want is for you not to change the channel" or, in the case of some coaches "All I want is a lady with a really nice pedicure".
The point is that head coaching has as much in common with being a captain of industry as it does with being a coach. Which is why you hear about superb managers like Brian Billick falling short with regard to the original reasons why they were hired. Brian Billick was an offensive mind, but as head coach of the Ravens, he never could seem to put together the type of potent offense that his pedigree would suggest.
But, everyone admits, he was a hell of a manager.
And so the question remains about where coaches get the type of training they need to be head coaches, other than from watching the head coaches they work under.
And maybe that's thought to be enough, though one would expect those coaches to be doing an approximation of their mentors, more than relying on their own instincts. Because just like the road to being a great coordinator, it takes time to hone your skills as a head coach. And sometimes, in the case of coaches like Mike Tomlin, it works out.
But it didn't seem to be enough for Dom Capers, or Gregg Williams or Josh McDaniels or Mike Nolan. All excellent coaches in their individual specialty who didn't quite cut it as head coaches.
Look at Dick LeBeau, for example, who has been an icon on the defensive side of the ball. LeBeau spent two unmemorable years as head coach of the Bengals, only to go back to being excellent as a defensive coordinator in Pittsburgh. If Ron Rivera is anywhere near as good as LeBeau, shouldn't we be doing everything to keep him coaching defense? Why would we ask him to split his focus?
Does it really make sense to train for decades in one specific discipline and then be asked to do something entirely different?
And look at the case of Todd Haley in Kansas City. Haley managed the head coaching duties, and they brought in uber-competent bookend coordinators Romeo Crennel and Charlie Weis, both of whom have more head coaching experience than Haley.
But rather than have these two pillars of coaching split their focus, they paid them to concentrate. Crennel fixed up the defense, Weis the offense, and all of a sudden you have a 10-6 division winner. Yes, the Chiefs were helped by having the easiest schedule in football, but the point is that with great coordinators keeping their eye on their side of the ball, good things are bound to happen.
Assuming your head coach is able to stay out of their way, which may be a tall order.
So perhaps there's nothing broken here. Or maybe we're all missing the opportunity to get honest-to-god commanders in the right spots. Because in the same way that great coordinators don't necessarily make for great head coaches, it stands to reason that the best head coaching candidates may not, in fact, make the best coordinators.
But there's no current mechanism for us to know that, is there?
I was going to write an article about how impressive the "younger" [read:shorter tenured] coaches in the league are, and as I started to do research, it amazed me at what's actually going on.
We're in the middle of a coaching Golden Age and I'm not sure we knew it.
If you look across the league, a shocking 24 of 32 head coaches have been hired since 2006, and the vast majority are not only doing it right, they're building solid, lasting franchises.
Of the 8 that have been in place since before 2006, I'd say that's where you're more likely to find guys that are going to be replaced at the end of the season.
Let's take a quick look: (in alphabetical order)
Arizona Cardinals, Ken Whisenhunt: (hired 2007) Job: Safe With Kurt Warner, he built a perennial contender. This season he messed up at QB, which is a big deal, but you can't say he's not a good coach.
Atlanta Falcons, Mike Smith: (hired 2008) Job: Safe Smith has built a contender in Atlanta. He has the right disposition, and isn't in any danger of losing his job.
Baltimore Ravens, John Harbaugh: (hired 2008) Job: Safe Harbaugh has built a powerhouse in Baltimore and while the defense has slipped a little, they're still a contender. The offense has improved, he has at least four legit receivers and three legit running backs, not to mention a franchise caliber QB. Solid. I remember when he got hired, people were like "who? Jim Harbaugh? The QB?"
Buffalo Bills, Chan Gailey: (hired 2010) Job: Safe Chan was hired into the weakest team in one of the toughest divisions in football, and while they're still seeking their first win, you can't say these boys aren't playing their butts off for old Chan. It's like the Anti-Wade Phillips effect.
Carolina Panthers, John Fox: (hired 2002) Job: Over I find it hard to fault John Fox for the brutal season the Panthers are having. Ownership made an organizational decision to utterly annihilate their payroll in anticipation of the upcoming labor situation, and Fox, in his last season, has had to eat crow because of it. I don't believe you can say he's not a very good coach.
Chicago Bears, Lovie Smith: (hired 2004) Job: In Danger I like Lovie Smith. I like that he brought in Julius Peppers and that he's historically built from the defense out. I like what he's tried to do in Chicago this year, but it may very well be the end of the line for him.
Cincinnati Bengals, Marvin Lewis: (hired 2003) Job: In Danger Again, I really like Marvin Lewis. He reminds me of a Brian Billick type in that he's got more of a percentage of manager in him than some of the rah-rah coaches out there. He's had a while to make the Bengals winners and hasn't managed to sustain it. Again, while you may disagree with some of his decisions, I think it's tough to say he's a bad coach.
Cleveland Browns, Eric Mangini: (hired 2008) Job: Unsure We love The Ice Dragon here at Ugly Fours. The Browns are playing their tails off for this guy and the only reason his job is (or should be) in jeopardy is that GM Mike Holmgren might want to put his coachin' boots back on. If he does, The Ice Dragon will rise somewhere else to smite people in the face.
Dallas Cowboys, Jason Garrett: (hired 2010) Job: Unsure He's been there six minutes, but his first press conference seemed to suggest some direction. We'll see how the Boys wear it.
Denver Broncos, Josh McDaniels: (hired 2009) Job: In Danger This one kills me because I'm a huge fan of McDaniels. I like his drive and his passion for the game. You can't argue that getting rid of Cutler hasn't paid dividends and that he's made a star out of Orton with a bunch of nobody's to throw to. Defensive injuries have killed this team, but I sincerely hope he gets one more year.
Detroit Lions, Jim Schwartz: (hired 2009) Job: Safe You have to love what this guy is doing in Detroit. The defense is coming on and he's building one hell of an offense. It's certainly too bad that Matthew Stafford has avian bones, but Schwartz gets credit for having a capable backup in Sean Hill, and a third stringer that is more than passable in Drew Stanton. Look for big things from this team in 2011.
Green Bay Packers, Mike McCarthy: (hired 2006) Job: Safe What McCarthy has done with this Pack squad in the face of injuries that would have crippled another team has to have him in the conversation for Coach of the Year.
Houston Texans, Gary Kubiak: (hired 2008) Job: Safe Kubiak needs to realize that he's now a run-first offense. It's tough to fault him for the play of his defense when guys like Mario Williams get hurt and idiot Brian Cushing turns out to be a steroid monkey, but he's building a great team with basically no money.
Indianapolis Colts, Jim Caldwell: (hired 2009) Job: Safe As steady as they come. As long as they have Peyton Manning, Caldwell won't have to coach too much. Tough to say whether he's a great coach, but let's give him credit for winning with six million injuries on his team.
Jacksonville Jaguars, Jack Del Rio: (hired 2003) Job: In Danger I like Del Rio as well, and think you can say a lot of things about how his time in Jacksonville has gone, but he's a very good coach who's had some tough breaks go against him. I doubt he'll make it to next year, but wherever he ends up, he's going to do well.
Kansas City Chiefs, Todd Haley: (hired 2009) Job: Safe Here's a perfect example of a guy that rubs ne the wrong way, but you just can't argue with his talent. He was the offensive coordinator in Arizona and was great in that role, and then he comes to KC and opens the season by punching the Chargers in the mouth. He's mean, and guys play hard for him.
Miami Dolphins, Tony Sparano: (hired 2008) Job: Safe Sparano might be my favorite coach in the league right now. He's building a tough, hard playing team in a merciless division. Sparano is a no-BS kind of coach and everyone plays hard for him. He's made his mistakes, but I love what the Dolphins are about. This team can trade body blows with anyone, and if Chad Henne starts to really click...look out.
Minnesota Vikings, Brad Childress: (hired 2006) Job: In Danger Or at least it should be. As far as I'm concerned, he should have been fired on Monday. Really like the story about him meeting his son in Afghanistan. And that's it. That's all I like about him. Still, is he a good coach? Two divisional championships in four years says he is.
New England Patriots, Bill Belichick: (hired 2000) Job: Safe Seems like it's been longer. You can hate him all you want, but he's a visionary. Right now he's orchestrating probably the best rebuilding season for any team in recent memory.
New Orleans Saints, Sean Payton: (hired 2006) Job: Safe I remember the outrage when Payton got the nod for the head coaching job in The Big Easy. No one's complaining now.
New York Giants, Tom Coughlin: (hired 2004) Job: Safe If you hear someone say this "Tom Coughlin Sucks and should be fired" (like thousands of idiot New Yawkers did at the beginning of the season) just ignore everything they say on any subject from then on. You shouldn't be hanging out with New Yorkers anyway. They all have syphilis. Coughlin is real.
New York Jets, Rex Ryan: (hired 2009) Job: Safe He's not here to kiss Bill Belichick's rings. And he hasn't. One of the most outrageous and likable personalities in sport. This guy is having a banner year, and building a thunderclap of a team. Guys go to the wall for him.
Oakland Raiders, Tom Cable: (hired 2009) Job: Safe And then some. Tom Cable reminds me of the drunken date-rapist / bully at your local tavern, but you can't argue with how this bully has turned this team around. They're playing hard for him and stepping up in all phases.
Philadelphia Eagles, Andy Reid: (hired 1999) Job: Safe I love this guy. It seems like the only people who are down on him are douchey Philly residents. Big Red has a career .617 winning percentage, so anyone saying anything about him can floss their butt with that. He hit a home run shipping McNabb out for the Kolb / Vick show. Either of these guys could start just about anywhere in the league. Andy Reid is excellent.
Pittsburgh Steelers, Mike Tomlin: (hired 2007) Job: Safe I once knew a guy who used to say that Mike Tomlin was all smoke and mirrors "All hat and no cattle" (a term I can't stand, by the way) is what he'd say. I think the 3-1 start and the schedule since should basically shit that idiot up. Tomlin coaches a mean ball club.
San Diego Chargers, Norv Turner: (hired 2007) Job: Safe The Bolts have won the division every year since Norv got there, so he must be doing something right. He gets some flak for his teams starting slow, but he has to deal with the curmudgeonly A. J. Smith screwing with his players and he's still managed to weather a storm of injuries this year. Like McCarthy in Green Bay, that means something and like Caldwell in Indy, he;ll be fine as long as Phillip "The Douchenozzle" Rivers is his QB.
San Francisco Forty-Niners, Mike Singletary: (hired 2008) Job: He's Done No way he survives until next year. Seems like a nice guy but I think the game may have passed him by. Having him as your coach is like bringing a bat to an uzi fight.
Seattle Seahawks, Pete Carroll: (hired 2010) Job: Safe Dad came in and made a big splash, surprising the hell out of everyone. He's likeable and has his players buying in. I'm not a huge believer in this guy, but the jury's still out on him. He'll have time in Seattle to prove his thesis.
St. Loius Rams, Steve Spagnuolo: (hired 2009) Job: Safe You have to admire the job Spags is doing in St. Loius. Sam Bradford is, without a doubt, the genuine article. The defense is clicking. He's turned these guys around in a year. They'll stay good. He'll make sure of it.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Raheem Morris: (hired 2009) Job: Safe People groaned when Tampa kept him on after last year, but you have to admit - he's impressive. He's building a great, young team in Tampa and I'm excited by his success. Guys like Kellen Winslow say he's the best coach they've ever played for. He has that vibe about him. New age coach, building a gritty, scrappy team.
Tennessee Titans, Jeff Fisher: (hired 1994) Job: Safe The longest tenured coach in the league and with good reason. Head Rancher Jeff Fisher is as good as they come, and might press for the big trophy this year.
Washington Redskins, Mike Shanahan: (hired 2010) Safe Actually, I hope he's not safe. I don't know what the money would look like to get rid of this guy, but I can't stand him. I actually think he's a relic and kind of a jerk and I think he hurts the NFL brand. He just seems like a guy with a diagnosable personality disorder and I don't think his mean spirited edge fits the new NFL. But, can you argue with his resume? Nope.