The Daily Puppy

Monday, December 27, 2010

Mike Singletary Won't Be Last NFL Coach Sent Packing

If you caught a sound bite of Mike Singletary Sunday night, you heard him talking in the past tense, like a coach who had already been fired.
When you woke up this morning, you found out he was gone -- let go as soon as the 49ers' plane from St. Louis landed in San Francisco, making him the fourth NFL coach fired during the season.
After "Black Monday'' (alternate name "Bloody Monday" -- the day after the regular season ends) next week, the coaching-vacancy figure could hit double digits. The NFL isn't European "football,'' where coach/manager changes happen three times a season for some teams. But in this country, impatience also runs high among owners.
So with the playoff picture finally becoming clear -- right down to the "play-in'' game next Sunday night for the NFC West title, featuring 7-8 St. Louis at 6-9 Seattle -- the future of some coaches on the bubble is becoming clearer.
In addition to the changes already made in Dallas, Minnesota, Denver and San Francisco, there is one that was sure from the start of the season: John Fox is leaving Carolina. Fox's contract has expired, and he conceivably could be in demand elsewhere, although coming off a two-win season won't help him (more on that later.)
A couple of things to keep in mind when you consider "celebrity'' coaches, notably Jon Gruden and Bill Cowher: No coach who has won a Super Bowl has ever won a second with a new team (and Mike Shanahan doesn't look like he's about to win anything soon.) Example: Bill Parcells kept going a level lower at each stop -- two Super Bowl wins with the Giants; a Super Bowl loss with the Patriots; an AFC championship game with the Jets; and a one-and-done in the playoffs with the Cowboys.
Beyond that, four of this year's best coaches -- Andy Reid, Mike Smith, Mike Tomlin and Raheem Morris -- were total unknowns when they were hired. Only Smith and Tomlin were coordinators. And remember that owners currently pleading "poverty'' during talks with the union can get those kinds of coaches cheaper than they can get Gruden, Cowher, Fox or college "celebrities'' like Jim Harbaugh or even Nick Saban. (Saban's name has come up, but he's unlikely to go back to the NFL -- he's a control freak who can't get total control or control the media the way he can in college.)
In any case, here are the likely vacancies:
In addition to the changes already made in Dallas, Minnesota, Denver and San Francisco, there is one that was sure from the start of the season: John Fox is leaving Carolina. Fox's contract has expired, and he conceivably could be in demand elsewhere, although coming off a two-win season won't help him (more on that later.)
A couple of things to keep in mind when you consider "celebrity'' coaches, notably Jon Gruden and Bill Cowher: No coach who has won a Super Bowl has ever won a second with a new team (and Mike Shanahan doesn't look like he's about to win anything soon.) Example: Bill Parcells kept going a level lower at each stop -- two Super Bowl wins with the Giants; a Super Bowl loss with the Patriots; an AFC championship game with the Jets; and a one-and-done in the playoffs with the Cowboys.
Beyond that, four of this year's best coaches -- Andy Reid, Mike Smith, Mike Tomlin and Raheem Morris -- were total unknowns when they were hired. Only Smith and Tomlin were coordinators. And remember that owners currently pleading "poverty'' during talks with the union can get those kinds of coaches cheaper than they can get Gruden, Cowher, Fox or college "celebrities'' like Jim Harbaugh or even Nick Saban. (Saban's name has come up, but he's unlikely to go back to the NFL -- he's a control freak who can't get total control or control the media the way he can in college.)
In any case, here are the likely vacancies:
Carolina: Fox is out and ... well, the Panthers might love Harbaugh if he could bring Andrew Luck with him. But Harbaugh told Peter King of SI/NBC that he thinks Luck will stay at Stanford, more bad news for the Panthers -- there are people who think Luck really might be the next John Elway, including Elway himself. If Harbaugh leaves Stanford, it's more likely to be for Michigan than for the NFL. Russ Grimm, who's been close to a few other jobs, might be a good fit.
Miami: Tony Sparano. You can't go 1-7 at home with losses to Buffalo and Detroit in your final two games in front of your fans. That's especially true in Miami, which doesn't sell out automatically and has become increasingly celebrity conscious (yes, South Beach, LeBron and all that). Parcells is no longer there to protect his guy and Steve Ross might be an owner to go big-time -- Cowher's "people'' have been leaking Miami as a possible site for their guy.)
Cleveland: Eric Mangini. If Mangini had won, Mike Holmgren could probably get by the lack of chemistry -- both personally and professionally. Holmgren, after all, was tolerant enough not to fire him when he took over. But at 5-10? Gruden, who apprenticed in Green Bay under Holmgren, might fit. So would Holmgren himself, who hasn't ruled out a return to coaching. On the other hand, Seattle only became a Super Bowl team when Holmgren dropped his GM duties and concentrated on coaching, something he's unlikely to do here.
Cincinnati: Marvin Lewis. His contract is up and he's unlikely to re-sign -- he's been asked by Mike Brown to do everything from act as general manager and chief scout to dean of discipline. The problem is Brown, who won't hire a GM, scouts or anyone to do a lot of the little chores with which Lewis is stuck. Better for Lewis to take a year or two off, then finding another job. If he's someone's defensive coordinator, that's probably all right with him after the burden he's had, including that run of disciplinary troubles that Brown has brought in. And look what happened Sunday when T.O. and Ochocinco didn't play.
Tennessee: Jeff Fisher. Maybe 18 seasons is enough, especially with an owner who wants his quarterback in there. That situation alone is reason to leave, and Fisher is hardly unemployable. He'd also do well in television, the "holding tank'' for coaches. His critics say he's never won anything. How about 154 games?
Houston: Gary Kubiak was supposed to be the next Mike Shanahan (which may not be all good.) Yes, he's had injuries this year, but so has everyone else (Green Bay, for example.) Bob McNair is one of the NFL's smartest owners and a patient one. But he has to realize Kubiak hasn't worked out. Again, a place in which Cowher has expressed an interest. Does McNair want to pay $6 million a year? He has talent in Houston, although Matt Schaub may be one of those quarterbacks who's just good enough to lose.
And the "interims.''
Dallas: Jason Garrett is a tough call for Jerry Jones, who spent Saturday evening on the NFL Network fudging about whether to keep his interim coach, who once was the coach-in-waiting. He might as well keep him. Jerry will never relinquish his GM duties, which are at the heart of the problem. It's a multi-billion dollar family business, but the Cowboys probably won't improve until Jones takes a step back. Still, there's talent at the skill positions, and Garrett has done about as well as he could have in his situation -- he shouldn't get demerits for losing in Arizona with his third-string QB against the Cardinals' third-stringer, who had three games' more experience.
Minnesota: Just keep Leslie Frazier, who has to find a QB. The Brad Childress/Darrell Bevell/Zygi Wilf pursuit of Brett Favre almost got them to a Super Bowl in 2009 and failed abjectly in 2010. That's not the only problem on a team with too much age. But Frazier has been thought of as an up-and-comer for a while, and the Vikings are better off with him. The bigger chore is finding a place to play for a team whose last three games have been postponed or moved.
Denver: Josh McDaniels tore the team apart but might have left them with a quarterback to build around -- Tim Tebow, whose intangibles could make up for any flaws in his delivery. Eric Studesville has never been on anyone's "hot'' list, so he's out after his interim title expires. Harbaugh is one of the names that's come up. Good luck with that.
San Francisco: Singletary's problem was one common to Hall of Fame players -- he thought every 49er should play with his drive and fire. Another team that has Harbaugh on its wish list -- remember that Bill Walsh came from Stanford. Twice. No way. This is a problem in the front office. Maybe it would be different if they'd stayed in the Bay Area and drafted Aaron Rodgers over Alex Smith in 2005. But they didn't, and "what ifs'' are available on every one of the 32 teams.
New York Giants: Tom Coughlin is probably safe. Should he be? He's been at the Meadowlands for seven seasons, won a Super Bowl and made the playoffs four times with an outside shot at a fifth. But that fifth looked like reality with eight minutes left in the 14th game this season. With one of the most explosive front fours in the NFL, the Giants have allowed 73 points in their last 68 minutes, perhaps because Perry Fewell, who turned around the defense, has been overaggressive against Michael Vick and Aaron Rodgers -- both are mobile enough to escape and leave the secondary exposed. In any case, owner John Mara believes in stability and in his late father's choice. That was Coughlin.

Addendum: Cowher has made it known he'd like the Giants. Fox, who was defensive coordinator when Jim Fassel was head coach, is more likely.

Washington: This is a real long shot, although Dan Snyder reportedly is upset about the way Mike and Kyle Shanahan (at this point, they're hard to separate) handled Donovan McNabb. So is everyone else -- 14 different reasons for his benching in 24 hours (OK, four) is ridiculous. Mike Shanahan has two Super Bowl rings, courtesy of John Elway, but is stubborn and bad with defense. Blame Snyder and his "name'' collection, to which both McNabb and Shanahan belong. No, he won't change coaches.

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