That means that, with Mike Holmgren leaving at the end of the season in Seattle and Tony Dungy possibly stepping aside in Indy, more than a third of NFL teams could turn over their head man. Add in the four teams that changed coaches last year (Atlanta, Washington, Baltimore and Miami) and that would mean half of the NFL’s 32 teams will have flipped coaches since the 2007 season ended.
What factors are contributing to this upheaval? Is this good or bad for the league? And how many tears should be cried for a coach when he gets the call to turn in his playbook? And passkeys? And Escalade? And weekly coaches show? And support staff?
But first, a nod to the situations of newly dismissed Lane Kiffin in Oakland and Scott Linehan in St. Louis. These are moves that easily could have (and probably should have) been made at the end of last season. A robust mutual distaste built up between Kiffin and owner Al Davis before last year was out. Davis thought he’d hired a young guy who’d be told to jump and would ask, “How high?” instead of “Why? Or “No.” Bad bet by Al. Kiffin’s NFL roots run too deep for him to play the patsy and he’s been defying Davis to fire him.
But Davis showed in his bizarre Tuesday news conference announcing Kiffin’s firing that it’s not wise to get in a peeing contest with a skunk. Kiffin got called a liar and propagandist and was painted as a backstabber. Surprised Davis didn’t get around to blaming Kiffin for the market collapse, too.
As for Linehan, he got a temporary pass because his Rams were peppered with injuries during their 3-13 2007. But in that decline, the Rams exhibited a cluelessness and lack of resolve that started with Linehan, who scapegoated assistants in the offseason, scapegoated starting quarterback Mark Bulger and finally — out of scapegoats — got the heave-ho.
Now, here are the coaches on the ropes: Rod Marinelli (Detroit), Mike Nolan (San Francisco), Marvin Lewis (Cincinnati), Brad Childress (Minnesota), Romeo Crennel (Cleveland), Wade Phillips (Dallas), John Fox (Carolina), Lovie Smith (Chicago).
What factors have them there? For most, you’ll notice, there are issues at quarterback for many of the coaches I mentioned. And that’s one of the underappreciated reasons coaches get fired and will continue to. Highly drafted quarterbacks are coming out of college earlier with big expectations and a low command of fundamentals and no concept of the pressure they’re wading into. And when those quarterbacks fail and the head coach gets fired, those quarterbacks are back in the job pool as backups. And if you notice around the league, the backup quarterback pool is getting shallower and shallower.
“They are inextricably linked,” ex-Ravens head coach Brian Billick said Tuesday. “It’s the position we’re all trying to draft and develop and it’s why so much goes into that position — it’s the future of the franchise in many respects.”
Kiffin didn’t have a decent one in his time in Oakland. Marinelli’s been trying to get by with journeyman Jon Kitna in Detroit. Childress, Smith and Nolan have all been hamstrung — by their own doing in some cases.
Another factor is general impatience on the part of fans, the media and owners. If one coaching group isn’t working, flush ‘em out and start over.
“It’s also worth remembering that, in order to get our job in the first place, someone probably got fired,” concludes Billick.
It’s the circle of the NFL coaching life. And 2008 could be a year when the life cycle for a lot of head coaches ends at their respective locales. And, of course, begins for someone else.
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