Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Monday, Bloody Monday: NFL Head Coaches Drop Like Flies in Season-Ending Aftermath

It's a good thing that NFL head coaches are well-paid. If you can get through, say, a three-year, multi-million-dollar contract, then you can at least take your ignominious dismissal (when it inevitably comes) and go buy a farm to live out your natural life. Or maybe you go buy a little drinking establishment and set yourself up as bartender for the rest of your days, stashing tips in a big glass jar and doling out hard-earned wisdom to barflies on Sunday afternoons while TVs throughout your place broadcast the entire NFL schedule.

The future is now for the raft of head coaches axed by their frustrated superiors in the past 48 hours. The list includes: Dom Capers, Houston; Mike Sherman, Green Bay; Mike Tice, Minnesota; Norv Turner, Oakland; Mike Martz, St. Louis; and Jim Haslett, New Orleans. Throw in Dick Vermeil's retirement from the Chiefs and Dick Jauron's lame-duck fill-in situation at Detroit (following Steve Mariucci's mid-season firing), and you have eight new head-coach openings that need to be filled for 2006.

The bloody deeds were done, characteristically, without an ounce of sympathy. Heck, Martz (left) spent most of the season in a hospital with a heart infection. He's mending now, and says he still wants to coach. Tice actually had a winning record, 9-7, and his team won 7 of its last 9 games. But for Tice (right), it's a PR problem: he was caught selling off his Super Bowl tickets last year, and then his players took any hope for his career on a weird midnight cruise on a yacht named Orgygate. The Haslett situation seems grossly unfair. Should we shift blame for Hurricane Katrina from FEMA's "Brownie" to him? Haslett (below, right) ought to get a medal just for logging in all those insane miles between New Orleans, Baton Rouge, San Antonio, the Meadowlands, and the eight other road venues into which he had to lead his shell-shocked troops. Sherman (left) put up a damn fine 57-39 record in six seasons at Green Bay. This year's 4-12 finish was a direct result of massive injuries, which also had a huge impact on Brett Favre's efficacy at quarterback. The Packer front office will be lucky to replace him with a coach half as good.

As for the Capers and the Jauron/Mariucci situations, we might consider that they killed the wrong rat. Poor Capers (left) has had two head coaching positions in his pro career—both times with expansion teams. The guy needs a break. He was especially hamstrung in Houston by general manager Charley Casserly's personnel decisions. Four years later, the Texans still have a lousy offensive line. You can talk all you want about acquiring skill players—David Carr, Andre Johnson, maybe USC's Reggie Bush upcoming—but it's all meaningless unless you have an OL that can protect your QB and open decent holes for even average running backs. Drafting skill players is pointless without a strong foundation. One need look no further than Detroit for another example of similar bad planning, where GM Matt Millen (who, by the way, was an annoying blowhard of a TV announcer) kept drafting wide receivers while overlooking a mediocre running attack and a do-nothing defense. Maybe Casserly and Millen can go into business together, as consultants for how to dismantle and undermine a pro football team.

The Turner situation in Oakland was simply pathetic. Turner (left) is a smart offensive coach, and he really was a fairly good head coach in his previous stint in Washington. Still, he never unlocked the key to righting a ship that had sunk in 2003 under Bill Callahan only a year removed from a Super Bowl appearance. The Raiders have never looked so bad, organizationally or on the field, and really, maybe it's a blessing for Norv, who seems like a good guy and ought to easily find a home elsewhere.

But we needn't feel sorry for these guys. Most of them will rebound one way or the other, and they can't be hurting financially. If they don't grab another head coaching job, or a good assistant coach position with another team, then they can turn to the college ranks a la Callahan (Nebraska) or Pete Carroll (USC). Or they can head into broadcasting, since it's been proven that you need no prior experience or demonstrated talent to get into that game. Just ask Matt Millen.

Somehow, tending bar or clearing the North 40 might actually be more fulfilling than coaching an NFL team. The money's certainly not as good, but at least you know your job will be there when you wake up in the morning.

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