Meet the New Head Coaches
Meet the New Head Coaches
Meet the New Head Coaches
By Tony Moss
Tony Moss Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The numbers are far from kind.
There are 32 NFL head coaching jobs, and no fewer than 16 - for you English majors, that's exactly half - have turned over in the past two seasons. The Oakland Raiders job has been vacant twice over that span, three times if you count Art Shell's entire 10-month, three-week tenure of lethargy.
If you coached in the AFC East when the calendar flipped from 2005 to 2006 and your last name is not Belichick, you don't coach in the AFC East anymore. Ditto for the AFC West, unless you happen to be Mike Shanahan.
The dean of coaches in the NFC North is Lovie Smith, who has been on the Chicago sideline for all of 52 meaningful games.
When making a list of coaches and continuous service with their current teams, the Jaguars' Jack Del Rio and Bengals' Marvin Lewis - two guys who don't exactly evoke memories of Paul Brown and Weeb Ewbank - both crack the Top 10.
Inasmuch, the seven men who will begin year one of their next coaching stop this season are all playing a veritable game of Russian roulette, only with far worse odds. And next year, when another handful of coaches are dragged away in disgrace (will we be looking at you, Tom Coughlin, Romeo Crennel, and/or Jon Gruden?), there will be another long line of candidates panting for the chance to pull the trigger.
Below we take a look at each of the seven regime changes to take place in the 2007 version of the NFL, gauging the short- and long-term prospects for each of the new head coaches and the franchises that they will be guiding:
Out With the Old: Dennis Green (16-32 in three seasons) was fired Jan. 1st.
In With the New: Ken Whisenhunt, formerly offensive coordinator of the Pittsburgh Steelers, was named head coach Jan. 14th. Whisenhunt spent six seasons in Pittsburgh (2001-06), including the final three spent at the helm of the offense. Prior to coming to the Steel City, Whisenhunt served NFL apprenticeships with the Jets (2000), Browns (1999), and Ravens (1997-98), and in the college ranks with Vanderbilt (1995-96). Whisenhunt played parts of seven seasons as an NFL tight end with the Falcons (1985-88), Redskins (1990), and Jets (1991-92).
Coordinator/Staff Situation: Whisenhunt was hired primarily for his offensive mind, though ex-Dallas wide receivers coach and T.O. adversary Todd Haley will serve as coordinator of the Arizona attack, at least nominally. The Cardinals made a canny move by keeping well-regarded defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast in the fold. Whisenhunt brings with him some notable new faces, including Russ Grimm, who will serve as assistant head coach and offensive line coach, the same position he held in Pittsburgh. Maurice Carthon (running backs) and Billy Davis (linebackers) are both former NFL coordinators, so experience abounds around Whisenhunt.
Personnel Situation: Whisenhunt has to be licking his chops over the opportunity to work with two terrific wideouts in Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin, as well as a promising young quarterback in Matt Leinart. The new regime has to figure out how to get one of the league's worst running games moving, which will initially mean finding some people to block for veteran Edgerrin James. There is some talent on defense, with tackle Darnell Dockett, linebacker Karlos Dansby, safety Adrian Wilson and cornerback Antrel Rolle at the front of that line, but much more personnel help is needed before that side of the ball can be considered a strength.
Level of Expectation: With a beautiful new stadium to call home, loads of talent, particularly on offense, and almost 20 years spent at or near the bottom of the NFL food chain, the Cardinals and their long-suffering fan base are ready to see a winner. Whether the notoriously frugal Bidwill family is ready to write the checks necessary to fund a winner remains to be seen, however. The NFC West has been the worst division in football for the last two seasons, and Arizona fans are right in believing that even for all their faults, the Cardinals should be able to compete for a division title.
Prognosis for Tenure: How do you predict success for a franchise that has posted one winning season in the last 22 years, one that has been through seven head coaches over that span, and one that has just hired a leader with no head coaching experience? Because this franchise is due, that's why. The Cardinals have playoff-caliber talent and an insatiable hunger to win. Whisenhunt is bound to make his mistakes early on, but has surrounded himself with plenty of people who know how to win, and isn't such an egomaniac (see Green, Dennis) that he'll refuse to adapt when things go wrong from time to time. Whisenhunt is the right man at the right time in Arizona, and is a couple of winning seasons away from being a folk hero there.
Out With the Old: Jim Mora (26-22 in three seasons) was fired Jan. 1st.
In With the New: Bobby Petrino, formerly head coach at University of Louisville, was hired Jan. 8th. Petrino compiled a 41-9 (.820) record in four years at Louisville, prior to which he served as offensive coordinator at Auburn for one year (2002). Petrino's only NFL experience came during a three- year stint in Jacksonville (1999-01), the last of which was spent in the offensive coordinator's chair. Petrino also spent time on collegiate staffs at Louisville (1998), Utah State (1995-97), Nevada (1994), Arizona State (1992-93), Idaho (1989-91), Weber State (1984, 87-88), and Carroll (MT) College (1983, 85-86).
Coordinator/Staff Situation: Petrino will call most of the offensive shots, and former Bengals wide receivers coach Hue Jackson was installed as coordinator to carry out his attack. Veteran assistant Mike Zimmer moves from the defensive coordinator's chair in Dallas to the same position in Atlanta. Other notable names on the new staff include quarterbacks coach Bill Musgrave, a coordinator for three different NFL teams who was retained after serving one year under Mora; tight ends coach Keith Rowen, who was fired at mid-season last year after serving as OC of the Cardinals; and veteran d-backs coach Emmitt Thomas, another holdover who has seven years experience as an NFL defensive coordinator
Personnel Situation: There is no glossing over the fact that Petrino's handling of the Michael Vick situation will make or break his tenure in Atlanta. Petrino needs to figure out whether Vick can be a consistent NFL quarterback, and quickly. Other areas that require the new regime's attention include wide receiver, where Mora never found an impact player; offensive line, which has struggled to protect Vick; and throughout a defense that has been bruised and battered and needs playmakers in several key positions.
Level of Expectation: The Falcons have won multiple playoff games and been to the Super Bowl in the past decade, so there is an expectation that they will regularly contend, though the fact that the franchise has never posted back- to-back winning seasons kind of cures the fan base of any "Super Bowl or bust" thinking. Team owner Arthur Blank is not afraid to spend money on free agents and expects to win, a situation that was both a blessing and a curse to Petrino's predecessor.
Prognosis for Tenure: The number of recent college head coaches who have enjoyed lasting success in the NFL can be counted on one hand. For every Jimmy Johnson, there are three Rich Brooks'. Also, the offensive system that brought Petrino fame at Louisville is not proven at the NFL level (the Jaguars were 22nd in the league in offense and went 6-10 in his only year as a coordinator in the league), a disconcerting fact given that the new staff is also going to have to figure out how to work Vick's talents into the scheme. The challenges will be numerous for Petrino, but he will have the support, both financial and otherwise, of one of the best owners in the NFL. Petrino doesn't look like he's going to be the next Bill Walsh, but if he can push some of the right buttons on offense, he can at least be more successful than was Mora.
Out With the Old: Bill Parcells (34-30 in four seasons) announced his retirement Jan. 22nd.
In With the New: Wade Phillips, formerly defensive coordinator of the San Diego Chargers, was named head coach Feb. 8th. Phillips will be wearing the head coach's headset for the fifth time, having compiled a 48-39 record in stints with the Saints (interim, 1985), Broncos (1993-94), Bills (1998-2000) and Falcons (interim, 2003). The 59-year-old NFL coaching veteran and son of former Oilers and Saints coach Bum Phillips spent three seasons in San Diego (2004-06), and also played assistant roles with the Falcons (2002-03), Bills (1995-97), Broncos (1989-92), Eagles (1986-88), Saints (1981-85), and Oilers (1976-80). Phillips began his career in the college ranks with Houston (1969), Oklahoma State (1973-74), and Kansas (1975).
Coordinator/Staff Situation: Jason Garrett, fresh off a largely unsuccessful stint as quarterbacks coach with the Dolphins, was team owner Jerry Jones' hand-picked choice as offensive coordinator. Garrett and o-line coach Tony Sparano, who Jones wouldn't allow to leave after serving for four seasons under Parcells, will make up the offensive brain trust. Phillips named the virtually unknown Brian Stewart, who was secondary coach with the Chargers, as his defensive coordinator. Bigger names further down the staff list include wide receivers coach Ray Sherman, a three-time NFL offensive coordinator, and ex-Syracuse head coach Paul Pasqualoni, who will coach linebackers in Dallas for a second straight year.
Personnel Situation: Phillips was hired largely due to his work with San Diego's 3-4 defense, and his goal will be to transform Dallas' inconsistent 3-4 unit into a stifling one. The Cowboys' highly-paid, big-name secondary was often terrible last year, and Phillips may have to make some changes there. On offense, quarterback Tony Romo's future looks bright and the running backs are solid, but the presence of an average-at-best line and aging wideouts like Terrell Owens and Terry Glenn will have to be addressed at some point in the near future. Oh, and lest we forget, Phillips' relationship with Owens will bear watching from start to finish.
Level of Expectation: The Cowboys' five Super Bowl titles are a good indication of what the annual expectations are of this team, both internally and externally. Jones expects that America's Team will annually be among the league elite, and so does the team's vast fan base. But the reality is that this franchise hasn't won a division title since 1998 or a postseason game since 1996, so Phillips has to be allowed to walk before he runs. The playoffs, which Parcells led Dallas to twice in four years, are a minimum requirement for a successful season in Big D.
Prognosis for Tenure: In his first two permanent head coaching jobs, Phillips had to follow the wildly successful Dan Reeves and Marv Levy, and now finds himself succeeding another coaching icon in Parcells. The difference here is that Parcells never accomplished a whole lot in his four years in Dallas, meaning Phillips has a chance to be perceived as a winner as opposed to a guy simply brought in to maintain the status quo. He has a real shot here, with a young quarterback beginning his ascendancy and some talented defensive pieces around which to build. Life is never going to be easy in the ultra-competitive NFC East, and Cowboys fans shouldn't expect to be delivered back to the halcyon days of the early '90s. But playoff wins and realistic discussions of the Super Bowl? Phillips should be able to deliver both.
Out With the Old: Nick Saban (15-17 in two seasons) resigned to become head coach at University of Alabama Jan. 3rd.
In With the New: Cam Cameron, formerly offensive coordinator of the San Diego Chargers, was named head coach Jan. 19th. Cameron was offensive coordinator in San Diego from 2002 through 2006, and was also quarterbacks coach with the Redskins from 1994 through 1996. Cameron's only previous head coaching experience came at Indiana University, where he was 18-37 in five seasons (1997-2001) and never managed a winning record. Cameron began his coaching career as an assistant at Michigan (1984-93).
Coordinator/Staff Situation: Cameron did not name an offensive coordinator, and will call the plays himself. Former Bills head coach Mike Mularkey was demoted from OC to tight ends coach but will remain on the staff, and revered o-line coach Hudson Houck will also stick around. The defensive coordinator will once again be the highly-regarded Dom Capers, who was also in the running to become head coach. Other notables include two-time NFL interim head coach Terry Robiskie, who will tutor wide receivers, and ex-Rutgers head coach and Bears OC disaster Terry Shea, who will coach quarterbacks. Special teams coach Keith Armstrong will be back, and will be working under his fourth boss in seven years with Miami.
Personnel Situation: The elephant in the room concerns the quarterback situation - will it be Daunte Culpepper or somebody else? Conventional wisdom suggests that if Brady Quinn is available with the Dolphins' No. 9 pick, they'll grab him. Cameron also must decide what to do about prodigal son Ricky Williams, the offensive line has not improved a great deal since the Dave Wannstedt era, and Miami could use at least one more impact pass-catcher. Defense is the strength of the team, but principles Zach Thomas, Jason Taylor, and newcomer Joey Porter have all reached their 30th birthday and that situation will have to be addressed sooner rather than later.
Level of Expectation: Although they are known as some of the quietest fans in the league, Dolphins fans do get passionate about coaching changes (see Dave Wannstedt, Nick Saban), and two losing seasons in three years do not play well in a town accustomed to double-digit wins on an annual basis. Cameron will be expected to make immediate inroads on offense, where the team has moved in fits and starts since Dan Marino retired. In year one, a spot in the AFC East and/or Wild Card races would bode well for Cameron's staying power.
Prognosis for Tenure: As his tenure in Miami begins, there is some deserved skepticism about Cameron's coaching talents. Is he a guy that fattened his resume' on the backs of LaDainian Tomlinson, Antonio Gates, and (until last year) Drew Brees? Maybe. Should anything be read into his 12-28 Big Ten record while at Indiana? Perhaps, but that doesn't mean he won't be successful with the Dolphins. You should be able to win in Miami, and Saban was a bungled quarterback situation away from molding the Fins into a playoff team in his two years. If Cameron can identify his starting signal-caller in short order, he'll win some games immediately. Trouble looms down the road in regard to the aging defense, but finding reinforcements should never be a problem due to the siren song of south Florida and its impact on free agents. Expect Cameron to fall somewhere between Shula and Wannstedt in the pantheon of Dolphins head coaches.
Out With the Old: Art Shell (2-14 in one season) was fired Jan. 4th.
In With the New: Lane Kiffin, formerly offensive coordinator at USC, was named head coach Jan. 23rd. The 31-year-old Kiffin spent six years with the Trojans (2001-06), including the final three as offensive coordinator. Kiffin's only NFL experience came in 2000, when he was defensive quality control coach with the Jacksonville Jaguars. The former Fresno State quarterback coached at his alma mater for two years (1997-98), and at Colorado State for one (1999).
Coordinator/Staff Situation: There is a perception that no one wants to work for Al Davis, but Kiffin was able to assemble what appears to be a quality staff nonetheless. New offensive coordinator Greg Knapp had many positive moments in the same capacity with both Atlanta and San Francisco, and his defensive counterpart, Rob Ryan, is viewed as one of the top coordinators in the league. Tom Cable, the ex-Falcons o-line coach, UCLA offensive coordinator, and Idaho head coach was a good choice to coach the beleaguered offensive trench unit. Keith Millard (d-line) and Tom Rathman (running backs) are both former NFL players with something to offer. If you're looking for a potential trouble spot on the staff, keep an eye on new special teams coach Brian Schneider, formerly of Air Force, who has no NFL stops on his resume'.
Personnel Situation: There is talent on this roster, but can Kiffin get anyone to show up to play? Wideouts Randy Moss and Jerry Porter both have major attitude problems, and Moss is being shopped in a trade. Injury-laden running back LaMont Jordan has been a high-priced bust, and the team has also sunk major dollars into an offensive line that has been brutal with a capital B. Even if Kiffin can work all that out, he's still looking at starting a rookie quarterback, probably LSU's JaMarcus Russell, in year one. Ryan's defense is in better shape, though it didn't do a great job of stopping the run last year and tackle Warren Sapp, the face of the defense, is older than the head coach.
Level of Expectation: Despite the franchise's proud history, the fact that the Raiders have gone 15-49 in their last four seasons and have been through three disastrous head coaches over that span has left Oakland fans just a little jaded. Any Raider supporter expecting this team to compete in the AFC West in 2007 is wearing colored glasses of the rosiest of tints. Which brings us to Al Davis, who wouldn't be above firing a head coach if he failed to produce with the expected immediacy, or if his new hire's offensive philosophy failed to jibe with Mr. Jumpsuit.
Prognosis for Tenure: Kiffin is the Raiders' fifth head coach in the last seven years, so expecting that he'll last long enough to experience greatness is foolhardy. Sure, his dad Monte has been a terrific NFL assistant with the Buccaneers, but the younger Kiffin's only season of league experience came as a glorified go-fer in Jacksonville seven years ago. And maybe he has some great offensive ideas, but his decision to hire west-coast maven Greg Knapp as the coordinator for a team owned by deep-ball aficionado Al Davis appears dubious. Will he gain the trust and respect of players who are all around the same age as their supposed mentor? Will he work well with defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, who was passed over for the head job? Kiffin may prove himself to be the second coming of John Madden or at least Jon Gruden, but as it stands now, there is much more evidence to suggest that he'll fall flat on his currently wrinkle-free face.
Re: Meet the New Head Coaches
Out With the Old: Bill Cowher (149-90-1 in 15 seasons) resigned Jan. 5th.
In With the New: Mike Tomlin, formerly defensive coordinator of the Minnesota Vikings, was named head coach Jan. 22nd. Tomlin guided the defense for one year in Minnesota (2006), prior to which he was secondary coach in Tampa Bay (2001-05). The rest of Tomlin's coaching experience came in the collegiate ranks, where he served stints at Cincinnati (1999-2000), Arkansas State (1997-98), Memphis (1996), and VMI (1995).
Coordinator/Staff Situation: In what seems to many to be an unnatural marriage, the Tampa-2 and 4-3-favoring Tomlin kept on defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, the father of the zone blitz and a proponent of the 3-4. How the two will co-exist remains to be seen. Bruce Arians replaces Ken Whisenhunt in the OC chair after three years as WRs coach, and Larry Zierlein, once offensive line coach with the Browns, replaces Russ Grimm in the same position. Former Bengals signal-caller and Jaguars quarterbacks coach Ken Anderson succeeds Mark Whipple as Ben Roethlisberger's tutor. Bob Ligashesky, who helped turn the Rams special teams around over the last two years, will try to do the same in Pittsburgh.
Personnel Situation: Tomlin has to find players to fit his defensive scheme, and the release of Joey Porter was the first casualty of the new approach. At the very least, the Steelers need a true defensive end and another tackle to complement Casey Hampton. In addition, the secondary has long been defense's weak link and has to be addressed. The offense's biggest concerns rest with an aging line. The Steelers look to be okay in the backfield and at receiver, though Roethlisberger will have to prove that he can win without Whisenhunt, Whipple, and Cowher to help shape his talents.
Level of Expectation: Expectations get no higher than in Pittsburgh, where annual playoff trips are the minimum requirement to keep the ultra-loyal fan base at bay. Though there is some sentiment that this could be a rebuilding year in Steeler country, don't expect team supporters to give Tomlin a pass for a 6-10 record. Luckily for Tomlin, the Rooney family generally turns a deaf ear to fan complaints, and allowed both Chuck Noll and Bill Cowher to coach their way out of periods when another ownership group might have canned them. It would probably take three straight losing seasons for Tomlin to lose his job.
Prognosis for Tenure: For the sake of his sanity more than his job security, Tomlin needs to win right away. If he doesn't, he'll hear endless harping in the Steel City about his tender age, limited leadership experience, and his decision to scrap the 3-4 zone-blitz system that has been such a major part of the Steelers' success and identity in recent memory. And let's not pretend, in a working class city such as Pittsburgh, that Tomlin's race won't be at least a whispered issue for a small and unfortunately vocal segment of the team's loyal fan base. Despite all the potential complications, the Tomlin era projects to be a successful one. The Rooney family will stand by their new man, just as they did with Noll and Cowher, and allow Tomlin to find his way as a head coach. And that's the way it should be.
Out With the Old: Marty Schottenheimer (47-33 in five seasons) was fired Feb. 12th.
In With the New: Norv Turner, formerly offensive coordinator of the San Francisco 49ers, was named head coach Feb. 20th. Turner will be a head coach for the third time, after presiding over largely unsuccessful eras in Washington (1994-2000) and Oakland (2004-05). Turner is 58-82-1 (.415) with just one playoff appearance in nine seasons. Turner received high marks for his work as offensive coordinator with the 49ers (2006), and in previous stops with the Dolphins (2002), Chargers (2001), and Cowboys (1991-93). Turner also served as an assistant with the Rams (1985-90), and in the college ranks with USC (1976-84) and his alma mater of Oregon (1975).
Coordinator/Staff Situation: The poor timing of its firing of Marty Schottenheimer meant that by the time the San Diego organization finally hired Turner, they had already lost offensive coordinator Cam Cameron (head coach, Dolphins), defensive coordinator Wade Phillips (head coach, Cowboys), and their potential heirs apparent, tight ends coach Rob Chudzinski (OC, Browns), linebackers coach Greg Manusky (DC, 49ers), and secondary coach Brian Stewart (DC, Cowboys). Enter new offensive coordinator Clarence Shelmon, who was promoted from running backs coach, and defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell, who has 22 years of NFL experience but has been run out of DC jobs with the Jets and Vikings and spent last season out of football. James Lofton stays on as wide receivers coach after interviewing for the Raiders head job. Ex-Bears defensive coordinator Ron Rivera was in the mix for a number of NFL head coaching positions in the offseason, but will find himself coaching inside linebackers in San Diego as 2007 begins.
Personnel Situation: There are not a lot of problems on either side of the ball. The best offense in the league last year returns just about everybody, and so does the defense. Veterans Keenan McCardell and Donnie Edwards are the biggest losses, but younger players should step in to fill those voids with ease. The weak link on this team is still the secondary, but there are some playmakers there and that area isn't a disaster by any means.
Level of Expectation: It might seem a strange phenomenon for a team that has gone 12 straight years without a playoff win, but if Turner fails to claim a postseason victory in 2007, success-starved San Diego fans are going to want a pound of flesh. Even football novices can discern how talented the Chargers are, and thus, even for a team that has never won a Super Bowl and has only been to one, expectations are extraordinarily high.
Prognosis for Tenure: Can Turner guide the Chargers to a Super Bowl victory in year one? Probably. Does that mean he was the right hire? Not really. Barry Switzer and George Seifert both won Super Bowls, but it is doubtful that Jerry Jones and/or the DeBartolo family would make those hires if they had to make them again. Simply put, Turner is not a quality NFL head coach, and just as he did in Washington and Oakland, you can count on him proving that fact sooner rather than later. The best-case scenario for Turner is that he stays out of the way of a talented roster for a couple of years, and wins a few games before things inevitably unravel on his watch.