Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Out With The Old, In With The Old

Using some of the criteria we explored in the last article, now I'd like to take a look at the eleven incoming coaches to see how they stack up.

A note or two before I do. As I was digging through some of the data for the last article I confirmed something I kind of already knew. Coaching hires work in three year cycles. Very rarely does a coach get hired and then leave his job prior to three years, also rare is the coach who gets a fourth year despite relative ineffectiveness. What makes this particularly interesting is that we've had a very rare juxtaposition this winter. Four tenured coaches left their positions, two coaches who had gotten extra time to fail (Nolan and Edwards) were finally sacked, and one coach was fired early (Kiffin). This made for an extraordinarily large incoming class of coaches. What this also means is that we can look for another very large class in three years as most of the current crop washes out.

Super Bowl appearances make coaches bulletproof for some reason. Until this winter, the only coaches with a Super Bowl team who got fired this decade were Bill Callahan and Brian Billick. With this winter's departures of Dungy, and Gruden, and with the recent retirement of Cowher, the only coaches currently employed who have won Super Bowls are Belichick, Coughlin and Tomlin.

So on to this year's crop:

Old Made New

Mora gets promoted after a couple of years under Holmgren's wing, while Mangini hadn't even opened his first unemployment check before being scooped up. They both fit the profile of young but experienced head coach who didn't quite succeed in his first gig. This is the Belichick/Shanahan/Dungy route and tends to make for very successful coaches. Seattle is a bit of a mess but both teams have some talent. I expect at least one of these guys to build a top-flight franchise. I'm giving the edge to Kokinis and Mangini who both have very good pedigrees and familiarity with each other from the last days of the old Cleveleland Browns.

The Interims Un-Interimed

Singletary and Cable. These guys are as different as they are similar. Both of them were promoted from position coach positions, Cable offensive line and Singletary as linebackers. Cable is a bit younger than Singletary and a career coach after playing under Dennis Erickson and alongside Scott Linehan at Idaho. He was Idaho's head coach for four years, unsuccessfully, before returning to college coordinator duties and eventually position coaching in the NFL. Singletary has a very brief coaching resume, only 5.5 years, all at linebackers. Although there is limited history, short apprenticeships and lacking experience as NFL coordinator are both very negative trends for NFL head coaching success. Going back to 1990 no team has won a Super Bowl with a coach originally hired as an interim. Two coaches have lost Super Bowls with that distinction, and both happen to be among the best; Marv Levy who was originally hired in '86 and Jeff Fisher who was hired in '94.

Apprentice Promoted

It only seems fair to give Jim Caldwell his own category since he's waited so patiently. Like Mora, Caldwell was anointed Dungy's successor over a year ago. Unlike Mora, Caldwell is a head coaching neophyte, but not a coach without experience. He may not have the right kind of experience to succeed though. Caldwell was a college head coach at Wake for eight years before joining Dungy in the NFL, first with Tampa and then for his entire tenure in Indianapolis. Caldwell has been stuck behind the great Tom Moore for his entire term in Indy, so he has only had the role of quarterbacks, not coordinator. Manning was already a great quarterback when he got there so it is very difficult to measure Caldwell's accomplishments. Jim Sorgi's preseason reps aren't a lot to go by. The Colts still have Moore and Manning and will win games provided Caldwell stays out of the way. In a somewhat worrisome move Caldwell has already demonstrated a bit of cronyism, inexplicably replacing Ron Meeks with Larry Coyer who he played under in college, and promoting another of his former players, Ray Rychelski to Special Teams coordinator. We'll see, but I'm thinking long-term prognosis poor.

The Position Coach

Yeah, I know. Technically Raheem Morris was promoted from the DC spot to replace Gruden, but considering he was coordinator for less than a month I think we have to consider him a position guy. All around, this looks like a really terrible decision. Morris is a young guy, turning 33 right around Labor Day, and has very limited coaching experience. He spent one year as a college defensive coordinator and six years with the Bucs sandwiched around it. He was a positional assistant until the last two years when he was promoted to defensive backs. He also had a couple of years of small college experience prior to joining the NFL. With the Tampa 2 architect Monte Kiffin joining his son at Tennessee, and with the team's offense continuing to lack an identity, Tampa Bay is at a crossroads, despite being very talented. Typically this is where a veteran coach with veteran assistants would move in to establish a system and standards. I have significant doubts that Morris, with his limited experience and limited NFL contacts will be able to pull it off.

The Coordinators Young And Old

This is the largest group of new coaches, which is common. They bunch into a convenient dichotomy between the inexperienced offensive coaches and the experienced defensive ones. First the offense.

In a normal year I would probably consider these two hires particularly weak. I still consider them weak, but dwarfed by the looming disaster of Morris and the likely immolations of Cable and Singletary. Both of these guys have questionable experience in their most recent positions, in a similar way to Jim Caldwell. Haley was and offensive assistant for offensive coaches under Garrett in Dallas and then Whisenhunt. While he is credited with the Cardinals' prolific offense in '08 his exact role is somewhat questionable. McDaniel is another very inexperienced coach, going from grad assistant to Patriot Offense coordinator in six years. While his role in the offense was likely more pronounced, there is no doubt that Belichick keeps himself firmly planted in every phase of instruction and organization. I suspect both of these guys are both more inexperienced than they seem, with only short terms as coordinators and professional homogeneity for each.

The defensive coordinators are each much more promising. Rex Ryan is the rock star of the three, born into football royalty. He's been coaching for 22 years which is typically reasonable experience for success. His NFL coordinator experience is a little lean, with four years, but any doubts that he was riding the coattails of a prior system or his head coach had to disappear this year when he was handed the keys by Harbaugh and put the Baltimore defense back into the top five. Jim Schwartz has the least total coaching experience of the three with 20 years, but he has the most varied and longest tenure as defensive coordinator. Working with Belichick's early staff in Cleveland, Newsome's first staffs in Baltimore and then with Jeff Fisher's staffs for ten years Schwartz has worked with a couple hands worth of current and future NFL head coaches. He's probably worked with more great coaches than any of the other new coaches with the exception of ... Spagnuolo. Spagnuolo is slightly older than many of the others, turning 50 toward the end of the upcoming season. He broke into NFL administration almost immediately out of college, working for a year with Gibbs' Redskin team in 1983. He managed to move back and forth between the NFL, colleges and the World League (twice) before landing in the NFL for good in 1999. In the mean-time he worked with Gibbs' Redskins, Ross' Chargers, Reid's Eagles for seven years before spending two years as DC for Tom Coughlin. Spagnuolo is a pure player's coach who gets his units to run through walls.

Of the eleven new coaches, Mora and Mangini probably have the best likelihood of success, followed closely by Ryan, Schwartz, and Spagnuolo. The other six, Cable, Singletary, Caldwell, Morris, Haley, and McDaniel all face more difficult challenges, each having limitations that typical new coaches don't overcome. All of this is contingent of course, on management teams and organizational philosophies that are also conducive to success. If Woody Johnson all of a sudden decides he is a football expert a la Daniel Snyder, or if San Francisco or Detroit continue their recent paths of front-office ineptitude Vince Lombardi, Mike Ditka and Nuke Laloosh all rolled together won't be able to save those teams.

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