No More Dauphins, Please

AP/Michael Conroy

Photo: AP/Michael Conroy

I don’t necessarily mean to tear apart either Jim Caldwell or Jim Mora the Younger on their ascensions to head coach status with the Indianapolis Colts and Seattle Seahawks, respectively, in order to replace Tony Dungy and Mike Holmgren. Whether they are the right choices for their franchises will be borne out next season.

What I’m going to angle at again is that succession plans, as far as head coaching goes, and never mind the sport, are shit. More often than not, when a coach leaves, even voluntarily, there are fundamental aspects that need to change in the operation of the product on the field that aren’t meant to be kept. You can see this by the sheer fact that Mora is getting rid of coaches and bringing in new guys, but this happens after an underachieving season.

The question is: does ensuring continuity paper over bigger problems? Entirely possible. Let’s use Mora first: he was the secondary coach and assistant head coach last season, one in which the Seahawks secondary wasn’t all that great (although everyone on that damn team was hurt.) This is just a mild example.  As for the Colts, this isn’t Caldwell-specific, but it’s troubling — the defense bled just enough again to keep them from advancing. What, or whom, does Caldwell bring to the table to fix this?  Should Jim Irsay and Bill Polian have looked around at the multitudes in the head coaching market to see if they had the right approach to address this problem?

Only time will tell whether the dauphin approach truly works, but on its face, it seems like it’s asking for more turbulence rather than real continuity.

(When I’d previously tackled the “coach-in-waiting” thing, it had to do with colleges and the minority coaches issue. It doesn’t apply here: an exemption in the Rooney Rule allows assistants to be promoted to head coach if it is written into their contracts.)

A Hobo Disciple To Replace The Rat Fink

AP/Stephan Saviola

AP/Stephan Saviola

I’m not sure it’s necessarily fair to tar Josh McDaniels with the brush of the failures of Romeo Crennel, Eric Mangini, or Charlie Weis.  Crennel and Mangini were defensive people, and so is Bill Belichick by training, thus, it’s easy to wonder how much control they had over their side of the ball. Weis’ trouble is that his arrogance didn’t work well with a college program — along with his poor play calling and planning.

But let’s just say that hiring McDaniels to run the show and bringing in Dom Capers to run the defense doesn’t really strike this Broncos fan as the best of ideas.  Capers is a very good coordinator, but I was a supporter of trying to get Rex Ryan in for an interview. Someone has to make the defensive side of the ball shape up again.  Then again, the only defensive minded coach the franchise ever hired was Wade Phillips, and look how that turned out.

Any choice Bowlen made wasn’t going to be better as a coach than Mike Shanahan. I think I and every other Broncos fan had accepted that. However, since Shanahan was so responsible for personnel, the failure on the defensive end was so much more connected to hiim because he drafted and signed those guys.

McDaniels is a blank slate. We don’t know what he’ll do with a team. What will be more important is to evaluate that hire in combination with the GM and other personnel folk that Bowlen brings in to work with him.

A Quarter Century Of Trying

charliestrongAfter so long, a man has to get frustrated. I suppose that’s what’s happened with UF D-coordinator Charlie Strong, whom in the Offseasn Of Black Coaches Getting Hired By Non-BCS Programs and the Turner Gill Effect, apparently got not one call for an interview about a head coaching gig, if his chat with an Orlando Sentinel writer is to be believed — and that his white wife is a factor (as written earlier, Gill’s also married to a white woman.) This is now getting even more attention post-Gill, as the NYT’s Harvey Araton is the latest to write about it.

Strong is a victim of the consistent bad rap against many lifetime coordinators (“they don’t interview well”, which is an excuse for just about anything, and also a legit reason to an AD when considering a man to be the head of its most prominent athletic program), being in the shadow of an immensely successful head coach, and the current college AD’s obsession with offensive numbers (because, if you are a D-IA program in a top BCS con, running up the score may be essential to your poll impact).  So he’s got the triumverate going against him, and a good enough job (with enough security) to wait to get a shot at a program with a chance to compete at the national title level.

But at what point will he get that chance? He’s 48 now, and watching men in the age ranges of his fellow Florida coach Dan Mullen get hired at Mississippi State (which we understand, given the complete O-related shortcomings under Sly Croom) and Lane Kiffin get inked at Tennessee (which I understand a bit less so, although I think it has a good chance of working out.)  Eventually, the only shot he may have, given the way ADs are chasing after younger coaches, hoping to latch onto a long-term solution, the more it seems Strong’s only shot might be if Meyer leaves Florida and the AD dubs him the successor.

If the man has two BCS chamipionship rings after tomorrow and there aren’t teams rushing to pay him after the 2009 season, something’s up.

Randy Lerner Loves Him Some Coach Hobo Disciples

manginiGenerally, when owners in the NFL decide to clean out the entire front office, it’s usually along the lines of a complete housecleaning, resisting anything that could reek of the prior regime. But that probably doesn’t apply to Cleveland Browns owner Randy Lerner, who apparently could not get enough of hiring Bill Belichick disciples — specifically, his defensive coordinators — and now he’s done it in sequence, replacing Romeo Crennel with recently canned Jets coach Eric Mangini.

It sounds like one hell of a mancrush, if the Cleveland Plain-Dealer is to be believed:

Lerner was informed of Mangini’s firing during a sit-down with Cleveland reporters. His eyes lit up at the news and he almost immediately made arrangements to meet with Mangini the next day. Lerner was so impressed that he never wavered from Mangini as his first choice.

In fact, Lerner effectively chose Mangini to head his football reorganization ahead of GM candidate Scott Pioli of the New England Patriots.

Once close friends and former roommates, Pioli and Mangini became estranged when Mangini left the Patriots as defensive coordinator to coach the Jets. When Lerner surmised that the relationship between Mangini and Pioli might be unworkable, Lerner proceeded with plans to make Mangini the coach.

I have no reason to doubt Mangini’s connection (likely emotional) to the franchise as a 14-year old ballboy.  I also will say that he got an extremely raw deal from the Jets; despite some bonehead coaching handles and obviously not handling the defense as well as needed (the Jets’ secondary was awful), that didn’t seem like a firing year to me. He should have been on the hot seat for next year, for sure. But anything coming out of the Meadowlands about the Jets’ coaching search informs you of how dysfunctional that organization is compared to the Giants (what other owner leaves the country on vacation while the coaching situation is in flux?)

But I’d be remiss if I didn’t think this might not blow up in someone’s face. Homecomings are always awkward, made all the more so by a need to guide a team crumbling on both sides of the ball.

Building From The Bottom Up

Quietly, the number of black head coaches is rising. I say quietly because none of them is really landing at a program known for being anything resembling a football powerhouse. Maybe that’s as it should be, but it’s also part of circumstances that beyond each individual candidate’s control.

dewaynewalker

UCLA defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker is set to be introduced tomorrow as the head coach at New Mexico State, joining former Illinois OC Mike Locksley, who took over at UNM mere weeks ago. In that interim, Turner Gill re-upped at Buffalo after losing out on the Auburn gig,  Notre Dame OC Mike Haywood went to the other Miami in Ohio, and Ron English left Louisville after one season as DC and headed back to Michigan — Eastern Michigan, the lowest of the directional schools in the state. That makes seven when you add Houston’s Kevin Sumlin and Miami’s Randy Shannon (the latter being the only one at a BCS school now.)

Given that 7 out of 119 (9 minority coaches out of 119 total) still sucks, but there appears to be no obvious way to crack the ranks further post-Barkley ranting about what many of us thought int he wake of the Gene Chizik hiring. That kind of frustration is writ large sometimes for observers, if the coaches won’t say it themselves, especially in a case like Walker’s, who watched a guy he recruited get a head coaching gig in a BCS conference before he did:

In the mid-1990s, when Walker was a young assistant at Brigham Young, he recruited [Steve] Sarkisian to play quarterback. In 2001, when Walker was at USC and working as Pete Carroll’s associate head coach, Sarkisian was getting his toes wet as quarterbacks coach for the Trojans. On that USC staff was another lower-level assistant, Lane Kiffin.

Sarkisian and Kiffin are now the first-year head coaches at Washington and Tennessee, respectively, at the ripe old ages of 34 and 33.

Now, Walker is headed to Las Cruces, a place where there’s no real tradition to build on. He would have been much better off starting with the San Diego State job that wound up going to Ball State’s Brady Hoke — he wouldn’t have strayed too far from his SoCal recruiting base, and I’m not sure that Hoke was any less of a risky hire in SD (riding Nate Davis’ arm, maybe?)

But it may be better this way for Walker and the others: they are in situations in non-BCS conferences where they have to build programs of their own. As far as the conference goes, it’s not like there are automatic losses in the WAC outside of Boise any longer.

While it’s tougher in principle for Locksley in the Mountain West (Utah, BYU, and TCU make it harder) and for Haywood in the MAC, the old “Field of Dreams” principle will have to do, as minority coaches will have to jump at any head coaching opportunity they can impress with.  What better test of recruiting expertise than by seeing if those connections will work when you make the top job?

“If you build it, they will come.”

Besides, everyone remembers the man who builds a program into a winner. Rarely are the ones who merely maintain a winner as well thought of.

A Necessary Bloodletting

So long, and thanks for the Super Bowl titles.

So long, and thanks for the Super Bowl titles.

If the Rocky Mountain News is to be believed, the firing of Mike Shanahan after 14 years and back-to-back Super Bowls came down to an ultimatum over Broncos’ D-coordinator Bob Slowik. Owner Pat Bowlen wanted him out; the Rat Fink wouldn’t fire him, even after this horrendous defensive season. So, out goes the coach that helped John Elway and Terrell Davis take Denver to the Promised Land.

Truth is, it probably should have happened a couple of years ago. Maybe not the firing, but at least a reduction in the Fink’s authority; a removal of the exec VP of football ops title he held — with an Isiah-style plan, rebuild in one or two years or you’re done. The trends in the NFL have changed again; coaches who hold final personnel say are an endangered species. Only Coach Hobo continues to wield this power in New England; someone will give Bill Cowher similar power to return to the ranks, but that’s it.

When Shanahan fired GM Ted Sundquist last year (and I say Shanahan did it rather than Bowlen for a reason), all the focus went on him and a very visible inability to identify defensive talent and the right coaches to bring them along. Elvis Dumervil and D.J. Williams were the only two recent draft picks on defense that turned out ot be anything decent.  (Verdict’s still out on Marcus Thomas; Spencer Larsen could be really good.)

You never want to be the person pulling for the coach who won two titles to get fired, but I had come to that conclusion after watching seasons where the Fink blew through DCs every year with no defensive improvement; at the very least, he needed a GM to check and balance.

Shanahan wanted all the responsibility, accepted it, and did well with legendary talent. Now, he has to accept the loss of his job for sustained mediocrity. Such is life in the NFL, and maybe, just maybe, the Broncos needed to cut losses now and start over, because no matter how promising that offense looked with Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall, Eddie Royal, and Tony Scheffler, the defense would have let them down — and after so many DCs, that goes straight to the man who wanted all that authority and responsibility.

So, thanks for the titles and the aggressive play-calling, Coach, but the franchise needs to go somewhere you can’t take it any more. It happens. Nothing can last forever when you go 1-4 in the playoffs in the 10 seasons after the glory years.

College Football’s Inconvenient Truth

Based on his MAC championship turnaround of a Buffalo Bulls football team that had been the worst in Division I-A when he took over in 2005, one would think Turner Gill would have already been money-whipped by a bigger football factory school by now. But no, Syracuse passed him over for Doug Marrone, who has never been a head coach at the pro or college level (although reports say Gill wasn’t really convinced that ‘Cuse was right for him), and in one of the dumber coaching hires since I’ve been following the sport, Auburn decided on Gene Chizik for its head coaching vacancy. Yes, the same Gene Chizik who went 5-19 in two years at Iowa State.

This is the kind of environment black coaches are in, now with their ranks up to 4 out of 119 D-IA schools as head coaches.  Outside the Lines looked at the number in its Sunday report, based on an article by Dr. Richard Lapchick making recommendations on how to remedy the problem — and this was even before Chizik’s hiring.

The OTL show is in four parts. I’ll link to them, since WordPress hates outside video players not YouTube or DailyMotion:

  • Bob Ley’s tracked piece on Gill and the hiring issue
  • Discussion with Mike Locksley, the new HC at New Mexico and Houston head coach Kevin Sumlin
  • Another discussion, this time with Ohio State’s AD, a member of the board of trustees at Michigan State, and Floyd Keith, the head of the Black Coaches Association
  • Roundtable with Lapchick, an NCAA diversity administrator, and ESPN’s Mark Schlabach

OK, so you’ve likely watched all of them by this point — or I hope you have, because Schlabach made an absolutely stunning statement, or it would be to people who think we’ve somehow gotten past institutional racism in less than half a century:

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