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NFL Coaching Carousel, Part 1
by Larry Ness - 08/03/2010
(Note: This is the third in a six-part series)
Three teams will open the 2010 season with a new head coach, the Buffalo Bills (Chan Gailey), the Seattle Seahawks (Pete Carroll) and the Washington Redskins (Mike Shanahan). All three have previous NL head coaching experience with Shanahan owning two Super Bowl titles (back-to-back championships in 1997 and 1998). Gailey spent two seasons as the Cowboys' head coach (1988 and '99), each time making the postseason (0-2). Carroll was the Jets' head coach for one season in 1994 (6-10) and made the postseason in two of his three seasons (1997-99) at New England (1-2). Of course, Carroll is best-known for his nine-year tenure as USC's head coach (2001-09).
It's a much smaller group than last year's "new coaches" and more experienced. The 2009 season began with nine teams featuring a different head coach from the one which had been on the sidelines for Week 1 of 2008. The list included seven first-time NFL head coaches plus the Bay Area duo of Tom Cable (Raiders) and Mike Singletary (49ers), who had been named interim head coaches during the 2008 regular season and then had the interim title removed. The 2008 season began with four new head coaches from 2007, all being first-timers. I'll take an in-depth look at the 2010 season's "group of three" on Friday (8/6) but first will take a look back at the last two seasons.
The 2008 "freshman class" of coaches did quite well. The group featured John Harbaugh (Ravens), Mike Smith (Falcons), Tony Sparano (Dolphins) and Jim Zorn (Redskins). Harbaugh, Smith and Sparano all led their teams to 11-5 records two years ago and made the postseason. Zorn went 8-8 with the Redskins (as many wins as SEVEN of 2009's "new coaches") but after a 4-12 season last year, found himself unemployed. Sparano was being hailed as the next coming of Don Shula after he led Miami to the AFC East Division title in 2008 but after last year's 7-9 finish he's being questioned for his in-game decision making and his personnel choices. How quickly things change.
Mike Smith's Falcons couldn't repeat their 11-5 mark in 2009 but did go 9-7 last season and many feel as if the Falcons could challenge the Saints for the NFC's South Division title in 2010. Remember, since the NFL expanded to eight divisions beginning in 2002, the NFC South has yet to see a team repeat as division champs. Harbaugh of the Ravens has put together a pair of terrific seasons, going 11-5 in his rookie campaign plus then winning on the road at Miami and Tennessee (Titans owned an NFL-best 13-3 record in 2008) before losing 23-14 at Pittsburgh in the AFC championship game. His team made the postseason again last year with a 9-7 record, then won 33-14 at New England in the postseason before losing at Indy, 20-3. Three postseason wins (ALL on the road) in one's first two seasons as a head coach, is quite an achievement. Many feel (myself included) that the Ravens are favored to win the AFC Central in 2010, which would further 'cement' this guy's coaching 'chops!'
Just two of last year's "newbie" coaches were able to produce winning records, Jim Caldwell (14-2) of the Colts and Rex Ryan (9-7) of the Jets. Caldwell was given hardly any respect last year but it's hard to ignore that the Colts opened the 2009 season by winning their first 14 games (giving the team an NFL-record 23 straight regular season wins) and he did lead the team to just its second Super Bowl since moving to Indianapolis, although you may remember the Colts came up a little short in that game. Rex Ryan may have the NFL's biggest mouth (he had a good teacher in his old man) but he did lead the Jets to the AFC championship game in his rookie season. He did it despite playing a rookie QB (Mark Sanchez) but built the league's top defense (ranked No. 1 in both PPG at 14.8 and YPG at 252.3. Many feel (I'm NOT included in this group) the Jets are the AFC favorites in 2010.
Josh McDaniels (Broncos) and Mike Singletary (Broncos) both went 8-8 last season but while Singletary and the 49ers have a good chance of winning the NFC West for the first time since 2002 this coming season, McDaniel and the Broncos have to wonder just what the 2010 season will bring. Denver opened last season at 6-0 (allowing 11.0 PPG), beating eventual 2009 playoff teams Cincinnati, New England, Dallas and San Diego in the process. However, the team would win just TWO of its final 10 games, allowing 25.8 PPG which is more than two TDs per game higher than it its 6-0 start! All teams in the AFC West are "looking up" at the Chargers and I don't see the Broncos getting to eight wins this year plus I'm on record as claiming Tim Tebow has as much of a chance of being a starting QB in the NFL as my old Pro Line buddy Wayne Root has at getting elected president.
The remainder of last year's new coaches had awful seasons. Tom Cable took over for Lane Kiffin in Oakland during the 2008 season (went 4-8) and finished 5-11 in his first full season. That's a 9-19 record heading into his second full season in 2010. I won't even get into Cable's 'confrontation' with his assistant coach (that seems to be "old news") but here's a team which scored just 17 TDs in 16 games in 2009 (12.3 PPG average was the second-lowest in the NFL). The Raiders have finally given up on JaMarcus Russell at QB (7-18 as a starter) and it's about time. However, does anyone really believe Jason Campbell (20-32, .385 as an NFL starter) is the 'answer?' Can Cable really last the year?
Todd Haley's first year at Kansas City was hardly memorable. The Chiefs went 4-12 in 2009 and are now in a three-year tailspin, going 10-38 since their wild card appearance in 2006 (9-7). The Chiefs were one of just six teams to allow more than 400 points last season (26.5 PPG) and that has to improve, plus Matt Cassel will have to prove he was worth that $63 million contract he got last year in 2010. Cassel should be helped by Charlie Weis (an outstanding NFL offensive coordinator) and the defense will be helped by Romeo Crennel, who takes over as defensive coordinator. Throw in GM Scott Pioli and this group should be re-named "Patriots Mid-West!"
The Bucs made four playoff appearances in a six-year period from 1997 through 2002, winning Super Bowl XXXVII in Jon Gruden's first season as head coach (2002). Gruden would also lead the Bucs to postseason appearances in 2005 and 2007 but when his team collapsed in 2008, losing its final four games to finish 9-7 (and out of the playoffs), he was let go. Raheem Morris is probably not "ready for primetime" but "the price is right." The Bucs went 3-13 Morris' first season (2009) and don't figure to improve too much in 2010. Whether or not Morris is an NFL head coach, we’ll never find out here.
Jim Schwartz took over a Detroit team in 2009 which went 0-16 in 2008. The Lions went 2-14 last year, allowing an NFL-high 494 points (30.9 PPG) and their minus-232 point-differential was the league's second-worst. After going 33-111 (.229) the last nine seasons, Detroit fans are longing for the 'glory years' of Wayne Fontes, who led the team to a 67-71 (.486) mark from 1988 through 1996. The Rams went 1-15 in 2009 in Steve Spagnuolu's first season. The former "Greatest Show on Turf" scored the fewest points of any NFL team (10.9 PPG) last year and its minus-261 point-differential was an NFL-worst as well. No team has won fewer games over the last three seasons (6-42, .125) with 18 of those losses coming by 21 points or more. What happens this year if Sam Bradford's shoulder goes out? Good luck to both Jim (Lions) and Steve (Rams).
I'll return on Friday with an in-depth look at Carroll, Gailey and Shanahan as they take over the Seahawks, Bills and Redskins in 2010.