Thursday, September 8, 2011

Coaching Carousel

I would like to write about the blatant flouting of the Rooney Rule this past couple seasons. Roger Goodell consistently makes steps that seem buffoonish, from his posturing on the conduct policy to his enforcement of NCAA penalties. This is another area. Goodell does not seem to take enforcement of the Rooney Rule seriously, so it has lost its teeth. Candidates are getting blatant token interviews -- Danny Snyder had one of his asst coaches fake an interview -- it is on its way to becoming a sham. It's terrible.

I had planned to write some of that stuff. But this is a tough offseason to make an argument along those lines, when we have more minority head coaches in place than at this time last year. Leslie Frazier and Hue Jackson are black, Ron Rivera is Latino. Another minority coach, Perry Fewell, did not get hired this year, but has been identified as a potential future star candidate.

I don't know if this means the Rooney Rule is alive and well. One of those guys was an interim appointments who performed too well to dismiss. Al Davis has always gone his own way on this issue, anyway. And Ron Rivera has been a high-profile HC candidate since Paul Tagliabue was commish. It seems inevitable that Perry Fewell emerge as a HC candidate, given the great work he's done the past few years. Is the process working, or did the league luck out this year?

Anyway, here's the list. A quarter of the league's coaches are new this year.

TeamNew CoachFormerly
CarolinaRon RiveraDC Chargers, Bears; Eagles LB coach
ClevelandPat ShurmurRams OC; Eagles QB coach
DallasJason GarrettCowboys OC; Dolphins QB coach; longtime NFL QB
DenverJohn FoxPanthers HC; DC w Giants, Raiders; DB coach
VikingsLeslie FrazierDC Vikings, Bengals; DB coach Indy, Philly; 9 yr college HC
RaidersHue JacksonOC Raiders, Falcons; O asst Ravens, Bengals, Redskins
49ersJim HarbaughHC Stanford, San Dieg St; longime NFL QB
TitansMike MunchakLongtime Titans OL coach

Our task with these guys is to divide them into three groups, based on whether they will Succeed, Fail, or Muddle Along Respectably.


John Fox, Broncos

Fox coached 9 years in Carolina, to the tune of 5 non-losing seasons, 3 division titles and one Super Bowl appearance. (They came very close to winning that 2003-4 Super Bowl, too.) This after taking over a 1-15 team. Prior to last year's catastrophe, Fox's *worst* record in Charlotte was 7-9. Then the wheels fell off last year. Still, this is a good coach. His strengths are defense and running the football: physicality, back-to-basics stuff. Guess where Denver has been lacking in recent years? This is a great fit of an organization that needs some old-school butt-kicking, and a coach who is well-prepared to do it.

It's fair to wonder who is going to be picking the players. Brian Xanders is still the GM there. He's the genius who brought you the Tim Tebow trade. That's going to remain a black mark -- Sergio Kindle & Ed Dickson & Dennis Pitta are potential starters for the Ravens, while Tebow will never be worth anything. But the Broncos had a very traditional draft this year, where they loaded up on exactly the type of players John Fox knows how to use: basic football guys like Von Miller, Rahim Moore, Orlando Franklin and Nate Irving. 4 of their top 5 picks (and 6 overall) were defenders. Couple more drafts like that and this squad will look just like Fox's good Carolina teams: hard-nosed, physical, tough to beat. Probably not championship winners, but good football teams.

Leslie Frazier, Vikings

Are black head coaches disproportionately successful, compared to white head coaches? Lovie Smith has taken Da Bears to the Super Bowl; Mike Tomlin has won it, and then gone back. Ton Dungy's career record is ridiculous, especially when you consider the delta between how bad the teams were before he got there, and how successful after. Art Shell had a winning record his first go-around. Even plucky Raheem Morris, whom I picked against when he was hired a couple years ago, went 10-6 last year, with an exciting young QB who has a bright future.

If you're going to assert that black coaches are better, you'd better have some explanation about why. For a long time, I thought that there were more un-hired potentially great black head coaches than white, simply because the field of white head coaches was so picked-over. Rich frickin Kotite got multiple chances at a head job in the 90s, while Sherman Lewis's phone never rang and Art Shell never got a 2nd look even though he had a 54-38 record thru 1994. It was an ugly era. If you were looking for a great head coach, I thought black coaches were almost an untapped pool. A lot of great candidates. Since then we've had the Rooney Rule, so it's tougher to make that argument, although I am still biased in that direction. The other factor for me is an article Paul Zimmerman wrote several years ago about the importance of black leadership on successful football teams. It makes a lot of sense.

Frazier is supposedly more Dungy than Tomlin; and there's nothing wrong with that. There's great talent on that roster. Donovan McNabb can stabilize the QB situation for a year or so; and maybe they'll bring someone in. Frazier was a head coach for 9 years at Trinity International University in Illinois, starting at age 29. He founded the program and built it from thin air to a 2-time conference champion. That says something about his grasp of all aspects of a program. I just think Frazier will prove to be a breath of fresh air, and revitalize a sleeping giant.

It's a tough division, of course. The SB champions reside there, and I've already predicted "succeed" for the current Lions administration. Something's gotta give, you'd think. But today I'm picking Frazier to be successful.

Jim Harbaugh, 49ers

I can't pick against Jim Harbaugh. The Harbaugh family seems to really, really know what they're doing when it comes to football teams. Father Jack coached a zillion years in college and won a D2 national championship. Jim played a part in that achievement, as an unpaid coach and recruiter. Big brother John has proven the Harbaugh schmaltz is not just a rah-rah college thing, with a .667 reg season record and 4-3 in the postseason. If anything, Jim might be even *more* ready to talk to pro players than his brother, having toiled thru a 14-yr pro playing career.

All that is background. Jim H has been stunningly successful as a college coach. 29-6 thru three seasons at U of San Diego with 2 league championships. Then 4 seasons at Stanford, building them up to a 12-1 record, an Orange Bowl win and a #4 ranking. At Stanford!

College coaches don't always, or even normally, make a successful transition to the pro's. But Harbaugh knows the NFL intimately well. If he trips it will be for the normal reason of not having the right talent; not because he wasn't ready for the game.

The lockout hurts him, as it hurts all these 1st-year coaches. But I am very intrigued to see what this team does over the next few years. Harbaugh's record makes him look like an honest-to-goodness miracle worker. And I liked how he embraced the proud history of the franchise. He was asked if the team was going to run the West Coast Offense. "We will install the West Coast offense in San Francisco, the birthplace of the West Coast offense," Harbaugh said without hesitation. "And I'm excited about that." He went on with: "I think the West Coast offense is a very broad system," Harbaugh said. "It has the ability to encompass the talents of a lot different kinds of athletes."
Sac Bee
Harbaugh arrived at Stanford in 2007 and met often with Walsh before his death later that year. He said he had a small picture of Walsh taped to his computer screen and called him a "legendary coach and a great man."
"There's really no sentence that you could put Bill Walsh and Jim Harbaugh in," Harbaugh said when asked about their parallel career paths. "I have a long way to go and a lot of work ahead of me before any comparison can be made."
Doesn't necessarily mean that the team's commitment to Frank Gore will be lessened. It's useful to remember that Walsh's late Niners teams, and some of Seifert's, were excellent at running the ball. Also useful to remember that one other fairly pure West Coast Offense coach is Mike Shanahan. So, WCO does not necessarily mean that you don't run the football.
Bleacher Report
As for Stanford's alleged run bias: they may have statistically appeared heavily wedded to the run, but that is not entirely uncommon for a true West Coast Offense. In 10 seasons under Walsh, the 49ers never failed to attempt fewer than 415 rushes nor to gain less than 1,743 yards on the ground (except in the strike-shortened 1982 season). Remember, in a West Coast Offense the pass sets up the run, making the run the change of pace and often the thing that results in big plays. Also, as a team builds a lead, the run still becomes more and more prominent in eating up remaining clock.
I suppose it would be relevant to consider who will be picking the players (Trent Baalke), who the coordinators will be (Greg Roman and Vic Fangio), and whether it's really appropriate to believe in a magic coach when the guy is not named Parcells or Schottenheimer. I don't care about any of that. I am swept up in the Harbaugh mystique. Go Niners!
Bleacher Report


Ron Rivera, Panthers

I suppose Rivera knows his football, but that team is a mess and Cam Newton will prove to be an anchor.

Pat Shurmer, Brownies

Longtime student at Andy Reid's coaching school in Philly, and Holmgren seems to be building something stable in Cleveland. Holmgren seems to have recognized the necessity to be above all physical in this division. Chris on this blog believes Colt McCoy will prove to be the second coming of Drew Brees -- I've encountered more than a few people with that opinion. Cleveland has great personnel on the O-line.

Whatever, my brain cannot hold a scenario where Cleveland has a good football team. Marty and Belichick have been gone for many years. These guys have to pass both Baltimore and Pittsburgh to win division titles, and Holmgren has not shown personnel to be his area of expertise, in previous stops. This might be a heart over head pick.

Hue Jackson , Raiders

Sigh, Raiders. Sorry Hue.

Mike Munchak, Titans

Former Tennessee coach Jeff Fisher was an unbelievable football coach. He was there for 17 seasons, won 142 games, and established a tradition of physical, tough, smart fooball. He shepherded that franchise thru rebuilding movements and built great teams. Now he's gone and his longime OL coach has taken the reins. I'm sure Munchak is a fine fooball coach -- the Tennessee O-lines have usually been terrific -- but can his force of personality and fooball acumen do as much to buoy up the Titans as Fisher's did? It's tough to believe.


Jason Garrett, Cowboys

I originally had Garrett in the "succeed" list. And I have not changed my mind about how well he'll do. His team responded to him last year: he went 5-3 with a bad team absent its starting QB. The QB returns. Jerry will spend money to win; and god help me for saying this, but Jerry seems to have an eye for skill position talent. These guys could be a perennial 10-win team. If Garrett has even a little of Sean Payton's flair, then they could be very good.

But this is Dallas. What's "successful" in Detroit or Charlotte or San Francisco, does not necessarily spell success here. Even a good team could consistently finish 2nd or 3rd in this division, to the Eagles and Giants. It's easy to picture Jerry becoming impatient with 10 wins and out of the playoffs after the first round. Maybe Jerry gives extra slack to his handpicked fair-haired boy, but for how long? Jerry doesn't usually suffer 2nd place gladly.

I should also mention that Garrett does not have the same depth of coaching experience that this year's other NFL-QB-turned-HC has. Jim Harbaugh worked as a college asst in D2 for his dad, in an unpaid position during his playing career! And then turned around two different college programs as the head guy. Garrett did nothing but coach QBs for the Phins a couple years, then inherit a pre-built high-scoring offence to coordinate in Dallas. This is a guy who interviews well. Does he have the chops to manage this large a group of men, thru tribulations? We'll see.

Tune in next year, when we evaluate the new coaches in Cincinnati, Miami and San Diego!


  1. I've been thinking for a while that the reason that African American head coaches do so well is because only the elite are hired.

    I don't think we are still in the days where the Rich Kotites of the world keep getting recycled *cough* Chan Gailey *cough* but I do think there is still a bias toward top-down hiring practices of 'he is culturally similar to me, I understand him.'

    Team owners are all white, they hire white presidents who hire white GMs who hire white coaches who hire white coordinators.

    Obviously not universally true, but even if it is a true trend, only the most dynamic African Americans are able to fight their way to positions where they get seriously considered for HC gigs.

    not racism so much as familiarity, but the outcome remains pretty similar.

  2. If only Ray Rhodes had been dynamic. I do think we are well past the days of Richie the K getting multiple HC slots over guys like Frazier and Rivera.

    Rivera's odds of succeeding just went from 5 to 15% yesterday, ftr.



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