Sunday, January 2, 2011

NFL Coaching Changes for 2011

The number of fresh head coaching faces from the beginning of this season to the start of next year’s could reach double digits. Mike Singletary is out after three years in San Francisco, and Wade Phillips was mercifully let go after the Cowboys started 1-7. The Brad Childress-led Vikings didn’t fare much better, managing only three wins in their first ten games, leading to his (deserving) departure. Those three teams won’t be the only ones looking for new field generals this offseason. Will Eric Mangini be asked back in Cleveland? Did Jason Garrett do enough to earn the job in Dallas? Is this Tom Coughlin’s last year in New York? Will a “hot” college coach (namely Jim Harbaugh) make the jump to the pros? And what about those sideline guys currently on the sideline like Jon Gruden, Bill Cowher, and Brian Billick? Here are 10 teams with tenuous coaching situation as well as my guesstimated replacements.

Minnesota Vikings
2010 Head Coaches: Brad Childress and Leslie Frazier
This team had a narrow championship window to being the year, and with the team floundering on the field and Brad Childress’ doing the same off of it, it was certainly time for a change. The Vikings replaced him with assistant head coach, Leslie Frazier, and the team has gone 3-2 since the move, including a huge road upset at Philadelphia. They’ll likely be in a rebuilding mode with changes being made on both offensive and defensive lines and, of course, at QB. It’s possible they work out a deal for him to become the permanent coach before I finish this piece. They should.

2011 Head Coach: Leslie Frazier

Cincinnati Bengals
2010 Head Coach: Marvin Lewis
The offense is a mess. They’re averaging 33 yards less per game running the ball and could be without Carson Palmer, Cedric Benson, Terrell Owens, and Chad Ochocinco next year. A change is in order, but unfortunately, because Mike Brown is running things, proper change likely won’t occur (translate – he needs to hire someone who can actually make front office decisions but won’t because he thinks he’s Jerry Jones). Marvin Lewis is gone, right? They’ve had two winning seasons in his eight as head coach and just two playoff games (in two separate seasons) during that span. I think the logical guess is that Brown stays in house, takes the cheap route, and promotes defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer to the head spot. Nothing against Zimmer, but I think a stronger move needs to be made. But again, Mike Brown is calling the shots. Sorry Cincinnati.

2011 Head Coach: Mike Zimmer

Dallas Cowboys
2010 Head Coaches: Wade Phillips and Jason Garrett
After that ugly 1-7 start, the Cowboys are 4-3 under Jason Garrett. That record isn’t alone isn’t enough to warrant removing the interim part from Garrett’s title, but the Cowboys have easily been a more competitive team since the switch. The Garrett / Jon Kitna led Cowboys have beaten both the Giants and Colts, and the three losses were by a combined seven points. Garrett has been a valuable part of the Cowboys for four seasons, and he hasn’t done anything IMO to warrant being passed over for the job. I’d be shocked if Jerry Jones went in a different direction.

2011 Head Coach: Jason Garrett

Cleveland Browns
2010 Head Coach: Eric Mangini
I’m guessing Mangini is one of the first guys to get the axe this offseason. The Tattler has 10 wins in two seasons and a Super Bowl winning coach, apparently eager to get back on the sidelines, looking over his shoulder. There are some promising pieces on the defensive side of the football in Ahtyba Rubin, TJ Ward, and Joe Haden. Peyton Hillis was one of the game’s best offensive weapons this season, and while I still don’t think Colt McCoy is an NFL QB, he’d have a better shot with Holmgren. Jon Gruden gets a lot of buzz when it comes to this position, but I’m guessing he sits back and collects that final year of dinero from the Glazers while yucking it up on MNF with Jaws and Tirico another season. If Gruden was to return to the sidelines for 2011, Cleveland would be my pick for a destination, but I think Holmgren is the guy who ends up with the job. For what it’s worth, I think Gruden has a better shot of coaching the Browns next year than Mangini.

2011 Head Coach: Mike Holmgren

Tennessee Titans
2010 Head Coach: Jeff Fisher
With owner Bud Adams reportedly still firmly in Vince Young’s corner, I’ve got to think that Jeff Fisher is the one shown the door at season’s end. The NFL’s longest tenured coach, at an impressive 16 seasons, won’t be unemployed long, and I think the Titans would be doing him a favor by going in a different direction in 2011. What coach will be that drawn to Tennessee knowing that he’s going to be forced to go with Young at QB? That’s a big reason why I think this one gets filled from within. Would a “high profile” coach want this job? What about someone like John Fox or Josh McDaniels? Right now I think Fisher is out and replaced by offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger, a veteran coach who has experience with proven coaches and players. I don’t know why, but Gregg Williams (DC, New Orleans) creeps into my head as a surprise candidate for the job.

2011 Head Coach: Mike Heimerdinger

Denver Broncos
2010 Head Coaches: Josh McDaniels and Eric Studesville
Having the 31st ranked defense in the NFL would cost a lost of coaches their jobs, and that’s a big reason Josh McDaniels is no longer roaming the Denver sidelines. They’re not the ’99 Rams, but that offense has potential. Knowshon Moreno is a versatile playmaker out of the backfield, Brandon Lloyd found his skills this season, and as much as it pains me to say it, I find Tim Tebow’s potential as Denver’s franchise QB very intriguing. This team needs a defensive enema, and I believe the next head coach they bring in will have a strong defensive background. The Broncos finished dead last in the league in sacks, and getting a healthy Elvis Dumervil back will be just one way to remedy that problem. Robert Ayers disappointed for a second season in a row, and DJ Williams can’t do it all alone. Champ Bailey is set to be a free agent, and his return isn’t guaranteed. Some stability is needed on this side of the football, and I think the right guy for the job can be found within their own division. I think it’s about time for Ron Rivera to get his shot at a head coaching gig, and I really like the fit with Denver. The AFC West should be a very winnable division next year, and a hire like Rivera could be just what the Broncos need to make a sneaky division title run next year.

2011 Head Coach: Ron Rivera

New York Giants
2010 Head Coach: Tom Coughlin
Tom Coughlin is one of those guys whose message, I believe, begins to wear out a little sooner than others. He’s a strict disciplinarian, and although the Giants, have had only one losing season under his command, there have been whispers about his job security throughout his tenure. That said, I don’t know that change for the sake of change is a good move in this situation. If they were to make a move, I believe defensive coordinator Perry Fewell would be more likely to end up with the job than Bill Cowher.

2011 Head Coach: Tom Coughlin

Carolina Panthers
2010 Head Coach: John Fox
After nine seasons, the franchise’s winningest coach will not return for a tenth year. In easily his team’s worst season, Fox’s Panthers finished with just two wins and sit atop the board for the 2011 draft. I’ve got Andrew Luck going to the Panthers with that pick, but he’s reportedly not fully committed to turning pro. Want to help persuade him? Hire his collegiate head coach to continue that role at the professional level. I’m not sure how great a chance this has of going down or if Harbaugh would be more interested in seeing it through over an opportunity at the University of Michigan. It makes for a great story, and I’d love to see the Harbaugh-Luck tandem continue their success at the next level.

2011 Head Coach: Jim Harbaugh

San Francisco 49ers
2010 Head Coach: Mike Singletary
After opening as the heavy favorite to win the division, Mike Singletary’s 49ers took a big step backwards this season. Ineptitude at the QB position was the biggest downfall during Singletary’s regime in San Francisco, and it won’t surprise anyone when neither Alex nor Troy Smith is under center for the team next year. If Carolina is unable to or uninterested in getting Jim Harbaugh, it’s already pretty public that San Francisco wants him. I don’t think Jon Gruden would be interested in this job. There’s another former Super Bowl winning coach I think emerges as a legit candidate, and that’s Brian Billick. Of the ex-coaches looking to get back into the game, I think Billick would be easiest to woo. Billick has assembled successful offenses in the past, and pieces like Frank Gore, Vernon Davis, and a matured Michael Crabtree would form a solid foundation for Billick’s plan of attack.

2011 Head Coach: Brian Billick

Miami Dolphins
2010 Head Coach: Tony Sparano
Last but not least. The Dolphins underachieved yet again, and going 1-7 at home, capping off a three year ride that included just one playoff game, isn’t something you can do and expect to keep your job. At a minimum, offensive coordinator Dan Henning is unlikely to return, but I doubt the buck stops there. I don’t see a big groundswell of support for Sparano’s retention, and QB Chad Henne is regressing. I think both lose their gigs. Keep this in the back of your mind, but what about bringing in free agent to be Donovan McNabb to give Brandon Marshall a proven QB with which to work? He’d bridge the gap to a developmental draft pick (Christian Ponder?). What about head coach? I think the hire is going to be (or at least Miami hopes) a big name guy; someone with a proven track record who might be interested in taking control of a team with viable 3-4 defensive personnel, including shutdown corner Vontae Davis, Karlos Dansby, Cameron Wake, and Yeremiah Bell. I think this one has The Chin written all over it. Miami is reportedly on Bill Cowher’s short list, and I believe that, if he really wants to get back into coaching, this will be his best option. The head spot for the Texans and Giants, the two other teams he’s reported to have interest in, may not be open. Miami is a team that isn’t far off from seriously competing, and partnering a change at QB, with a hire like Cowher, and a first round selection of someone like Mark Ingram to transition from the Brown-Williams era could make Miami relevant rather quickly.

2011 Head Coach: Bill Cowher

Of those remaining coaches on the proverbial hot seat, who do I think stays? Gary Kubiak knows offense, and that’s certainly not the side of the ball letting folks down in Texas. Wade Phillips is rumored to be hired as the team’s next defensive coordinator, creating a relationship I believe could be very successful for the Texans. I think Chan Gailey and Tom Cable are both fine in Buffalo and Oakland respectively. Despite another losing season for the Bills, 2010 was Gailey’s first with the team, and I can’t believe he’s in danger of being replaced. Cable presided over the most competitive Raider team we’ve seen in years, and while you never say never with Al Davis, unless a year’s time has changed Jim Harbaugh’s mind, I expect Cable to return.

So in summary, I think Gruden stays in the booth, Cowher’s return takes him to South Beach, and Jim Harbaugh and Andrew Luck take their act to Carolina. Mike Holmgren and Brian Billick also get back in the game with hopes of recapturing Super Bowl magic, while Jeff Fisher takes a well deserved year off from the sidelines. Russ Grimm ends up being the “hottest” name that doesn’t land a head job, but I think that will change in 2012. Cincinnati and Tennessee attempt to fix their problems internally, while Leslie Frazier and Jason Garrett make their temporary titles permanent. It should be a busy and entertaining offseason, and the coaching carousel is sure to be front and center.

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