AFC East: Bill Cowher

Hall of Fame tight end Shannon Sharpe has never been one to hold his tongue. Now an NFL analyst for CBS, Sharpe had a lot to say after New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick shunned the network for a postgame interview following a 28-13 loss to the Baltimore Ravens.

"There is something to be said about being gracious in defeat," Sharpe said. “We’ve seen the New England Patriots five times in the last 12 years be victorious [in the AFC title game]. And we’ve seen the opposing coaches that lost come out and talk to our [reporter] Steve Tasker. Coach [Bill] Cowher did it when he lost to them.

"Bill Belichick makes it real easy for you to root against the Patriots. You can’t be a poor sport all the time. You’re not going to win all the time, and he does this every time he loses. It is unacceptable."

Sharpe has a fair point. But for those like myself who regularly cover the Patriots, this is just Belichick being Belichick. He is tough with all media and doesn’t care for interviews whether in victory or defeat.

Belichick usually does the bare-bones minimum with media, although Sunday’s loss probably heightened his want to get out of Gillette Stadium more than usual. Belichick did go through the mandatory post-game news conference Sunday night. But it was clear that was probably the last thing he cared to do after another tough playoff defeat.
The good news is former Miami Dolphins quarterback and Hall of Famer Dan Marino is influential in Miami and wants Bill Cowher to be the team's next head coach.
Cowher
The bad news is Marino, who works closely with Cowher as a fellow CBS football analyst, doesn't think it will happen.

"I would love to see (Bill Cowher) be the Dolphins coach or if he wanted to coach again because that would be great for the NFL,” Marino told Dolphins.com on Wednesday. "But I don't think his mindset is that he wants to coach again. And he may change that over time but my feeling is that he's a pretty straightforward guy that tells the truth all the time and he said on TV that he doesn't have any plans to come back (to coach) and I believe him."

The Dolphins fired former head coach Tony Sparano Monday after a 4-9 record and securing his third consecutive losing season. Owner Stephen Ross has deep pockets and wants to make a splash. So there's been a lot of speculation that Miami will go after the big names, such as Cowher and ESPN analyst Jon Gruden.

But getting an "A-list" coach could be an issue.

The Dolphins didn't handle the Sparano situation well and that will not look good among the coaching community. Miami also plans to retain general manager Jeff Ireland, doesn't have a franchise quarterback and has to compete with winning programs like the New England Patriots and New York Jets in the AFC East. Top coaching candidates may see other jobs around the league as more attractive.
Here are the most interesting stories Tuesday morning in the AFC East: Morning take: Miami should certainly start at the top. But if we’re talking Bill Cowher and Jon Gruden, I don’t think it will work. Miami is unwilling to give up complete control and that’s what it will take to land the very best.
Morning take: Fitzpatrick is streaky and hasn’t been at his best in the second half of the season. Fitzpatrick still has a lot to prove that he will not be the next Kevin Kolb.
Morning take: Losing Jim Leonhard for the season is big for New York, but Pool can help soften the blow. Pool is the team’s most athletic safety.
Morning take: New England has been playing down to its competition lately. Whether it’s not finishing or keeping games too close, the Patriots have a few more weeks to work through it before the playoffs.

After Sparano: Next steps for Dolphins

December, 12, 2011
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In the past, NFL teams waited until the Monday after the season to announce their head-coaching firings. It’s called Black Monday.

When the Dolphins jumped into the mix by firing Tony Sparano hours after Todd Haley was let go by Kansas City, it was an indication how the shortage of head-coaching talent forced owner Stephen Ross to make a bold move. Ross didn’t want to fall behind other AFC teams looking for head coaches and reached out to close friend Carl Peterson to help run the Dolphins' operation.

The plan to hire Peterson is an indication the Dolphins will reach out to Bill Cowher, Jon Gruden and Jeff Fisher to start. Gruden is expected to stay with ESPN. Despite his good relationship with Peterson, Cowher might be reluctant to go to the Dolphins for several reasons. Cowher wants front-office control, big money and a top quarterback. The Dolphins have Matt Moore as their quarterback, which wouldn’t attract Cowher. Money might not be a problem, but power is a problem. The team is expected to keep Jeff Ireland as its general manager, and that might be enough to prevent Cowher from being a candidate. That leaves Fisher as a top candidate.

Teams in the hunt for coaches know there are three price tags for coaches. You can get your Cowhers and Fishers in the $7 million-a-year range. If you find the right college or former NFL head coach, he might go for $5 million a year. First-time coaches go for close to $3 million.

By firing Sparano on Monday, Ross is hinting he might be willing to pay top money to get a coach. He worries about the empty seats at home games. Now that pro basketball is back, the Dolphins take a back seat to the Miami Heat, so hiring a big name is important for marketing the team. Because Peterson is an aggressive recruiter and salesman himself, the Dolphins won’t be shy about going for the big names.

Firing Sparano now also gives Peterson and Ireland a chance to evaluate interim coach Todd Bowles, who had been the secondary coach. According to sources, Bowles had become more involved with the defensive play-calling over the past month. The Dolphins also played their best football over the past month. If Bill Parcells were running a team, sources indicate Bowles would have been a person he considered hiring as head coach.

Another name to watch is Jets offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. Peterson reinvented the Chiefs and sold out Arrowhead with Brian’s father, Marty Schottenheimer, as Chiefs head coach.

John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

AFC East update: Bills add kicker

November, 8, 2011
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Here are the latest happenings Tuesday evening in the AFC East:
  • The Buffalo Bills signed kicker Dave Rayner to fill in for the injured Rian Lindell (shoulder).
  • The December 4 game between the New England Patriots (5-3) and Indianapolis Colts (0-9) has been taken off prime time due to flex scheduling.
  • The New York Jets reportedly have no interest in acquiring former Patriots defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth.
  • Former Miami Dolphins head coach Jimmy Johnson says Miami should forget about Jon Gruden and Bill Cowher.
  • Here is a recap of this week's AFC East chat.

Wrap-up: Giants 20, Dolphins 17

October, 30, 2011
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Let's take a look at the New York Giants' 20-17 victory over the Miami Dolphins.

What it means: The Dolphins blew a fourth-quarter lead for the second straight week and fall to 0-7. Miami, which led 17-10 after three quarters, gave the Giants all they could handle but still dropped its 10th straight game, dating to last season. The Dolphins remain firmly in the hunt in the Andrew Luck sweepstakes. One winless team -- the St. Louis Rams -- won Sunday. That leaves Miami and the Indianapolis Colts (0-8) as the NFL's two winless teams.

What I liked: Just one week after saying the Dolphins "stink," Dolphins running back Reggie Bush responded with a big game against the Giants. Bush rushed for 103 yards on 15 carries. It was his first 100-yard game of the season. Rookie tailback Daniel Thomas was inactive with a hamstring injury, leaving Bush to get most of Miami's carries. Overall, I also thought Miami was energized and played with good effort most of the game under embattled head coach Tony Sparano.

What I didn’t like: Once again, the fourth quarter was the difference. Miami played very tentatively in the final period -- and much of the blame should go to the coaching staff. The offensive play calling was no longer aggressive with the lead and the defense laid far off New York's receivers most of the game, trying to prevent the big play. The result was New York scoring 10 straight points in the fourth quarter without much resistance. Miami tried to open things up offensively after New York finally took control. But Miami's offensive line couldn't pass protect for quarterback Matt Moore, who was sacked five times.

Bad news from Cowher: Perhaps the most important thing that happened to the Dolphins Sunday wasn't on the field. Former Pittsburgh Steelers and Super Bowl-winning coach Bill Cowher said he will not return to the NFL in 2012 and will stay in television. Cowher was widely regarded as being at or near the top of Miami owner Stephen Ross’ wish list. Ross, who has deep pockets, may still approach Cowher at a later time to see if the time is right.

What’s next: The Dolphins will stay on the road next week. Miami will play at Arrowhead Stadium against the Kansas City Chiefs (3-3). The Dolphins, including next week, will have played on the road in five of its last six games.
We have a lot of topics to get to this week. Let's get started.

Mr. Wakefield from Fort Collins, Colo., writes: What is the main factor holding the Buffalo Bills from having a successful defense?

James Walker: I talked to several Bills after their loss to the New York Giants, Mr. Wakefield. The common theme was they are not winning their one-on-one matchups. I agree. Football is both a complicated and easy game. There are things schematically that you can do to beat your opponent. But at the same time, the player has to beat the man in front of him. How many Buffalo defenders to do you see fighting off a block to sack the quarterback or sticking to a receiver in man-to-man coverage? It doesn't happen often. I like the scrappiness of the defense. But the Bills lack defensive players who can truly dominate and take over a game.

David P. Summers from Menlo Park, Calif., writes: What are the odds Buffalo's defense could improve significantly this year?

Walker: I don't know about significant improvement, David. About midway into the season we have a pretty good feel for strengths and weaknesses. But Buffalo needs to take a page out of the New England Patriots' playbook. The Bills must make small strides defensively week to week. A few weeks ago, New England was just as horrendous on defense. But the Patriots made a few improvements here and there, and now the defense isn't playing bad, despite the overall rankings. Buffalo is an offensive team. That's not going to change this season. But its defense needs to do more to carry its weight if the Bills want to make the playoffs.

Jerry K from Pittsburgh writes: Does losing linebacker Shawne Merriman actually mean anything for the Bills?

Walker: Anytime you lose a starting outside linebacker, I think it hurts. It gives Buffalo one less pass-rushing threat, although Merriman doesn't have the explosiveness he once had. The key is whether the Bills honor the final year of Merriman's contract or release him 2012 coming off Achilles surgery. Linebackers Arthur Moats and Danny Batten are both young and have to learn on the fly in Merriman’s place.

Jeff from London, Ky., writes: James, do you see the Dolphins pursuing Bill Cowher at the end of the season?

Walker: Absolutely, Jeff. It’s no secret that Cowher is on owner Stephen Ross' wish list. I did a blog this week saying Cowher needs to be Ross' top priority. The question is, does Cowher want to coach the Dolphins? There are reasons for and against going to Miami, and Cowher will have his pick of teams if he decides to come back in 2012. Cowher will take the most attractive job where he can win right away. I don't know if winless Miami is that place.

Wayne from Lake Worth, Fla., writes: Why hasn't practice-squad QB Pat Devlin been given any consideration?

Walker: The Miami coaching staff is fighting for their jobs and don't think Devlin is ready, Wayne. He's an undrafted rookie who didn't get any offseason work because of the lockout. Many Dolphins fans are curious. But playing Devlin could send the wrong message to the locker room that Miami is waving the white flag on the season. I've talked to him several times, and he has a good head on his shoulders. He's staying patient. There are 10 games left in the season. So you never know.

Kevin Huxford from Chesapeake, Va., writes: Which do you think is the most likely explanation for New York Jets coach Rex Ryan trying to change to a passing attack without a full offseason?

Walker: Kevin, I think the biggest thing that is New York's coaching staff believed Mark Sanchez was ready for it. He led the team to back-to-back AFC title games, and that most likely had Ryan and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer thinking it was time to take the leash off Sanchez in his third season. Add the fact that New York kept receiver Santonio Holmes and added Plaxico Burress and Derrick Mason (since traded), and it probably made sense to the Jets. But that was a mistake and Ryan has admitted as much. Sanchez wasn't ready, Mason was a bust, and Burress is just warming up. Sometime coaches can trick themselves by over-thinking, and this was one of those cases. But I give credit to Ryan for not being stubborn and continuing to throw 40 times a game when it’s not working.

Vin F. from Long Island, NY, writes: Do you think the bye week will help or hurt the Jets?

Walker: Good question, Vin. I always think bye weeks are a good thing. Not only does it give teams two weeks to rest and recuperate from injuries, but it also provides two weeks to prepare for an opponent. But for some odd reason, teams coming off byes are 3-9 this season. I think it's a fluke due to the NFL lockout. But byes have been generally good overall.

Ryan from Waterville, Maine, writes: Do you see the Patriots giving any consideration to adding T.O. this season?

Walker: I don't see it, Ryan. The Patriots have the No. 1 offense in the NFL. Why would they need Terrell Owens? They are better off getting Chad Ochocinco up to speed than spending more money on a receiver coming off a major knee injury.

Brandon Caron from West Haven, Conn., writes: James, when comparing Big Ben and Tom Brady both have tremendous success. But I would be hesitant to put Ben on Tom's level because of the head-to-head struggles he has had?

Walker: I agree, Brandon. I have a lot of respect for the ability of both quarterbacks. But Brady is a better quarterback than Ben Roethlisberger hands down. Both may end up in the Hall of Fame. But only Brady is top-five all-time, in my opinion.

Comment and complaint department

Here are some comments and complaints from our AFC East community:

Zack from Somerville, Mass., writes: Hey James, the Jets are going to grab the wild card coming out of the AFC East this year. The Bills are pretenders, as in past years. The Jets get to play them twice, and the remaining schedule includes the Broncos, Chiefs and Phins, Pats at home and then the overrated Eagles and the Redskins. I'm a Pats fan. But I think the Jets will be there in the end.

Walker: Your projection is not out of the question, Zack. The Jets certainly have the talent and experience to make a playoff push. But I don't expect the Bills to lay down, either. I agree that it will probably come down to one of those two teams. But since I'm staying out of the prediction biz this year, I’m not ready to pick.

Jets fan in NH from Brentwood, N.H., writes: It has been frustrating watching the Jets this year in that every time that there offense starts to get going they seem to change away from what is working, and try some sort of trickery. Why can't Shotty stay focused on just moving the sticks and instead of going for the big strike? Or am I just off on this?

Walker: I see what you're saying, Jets fan. Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer does have a penchant for making odd play calls at times. Remember the botched halfback throw against Miami that never got off the ground? Schottenheimer isn't having the best year calling plays. But I don't think he's the biggest issue on offense. I think the offensive line (until last week) put the Jets in a tough spot. If the line couldn't run-block or pass-block, what can an offense really accomplish?

James C. from FL writes: The Dolphin fans are in full on "Suck for Luck mode", but Andrew Luck has turned down a chance at being the No. 1 overall pick once before. With another year of eligibility, and the Dolphins looking like a much worse landing spot in terms of talent than last year’s Carolina team, do you think its possible that Luck would turn his back on the Dolphins if they were to obtain the No. 1 pick?

Walker: This theory has been thrown out several times, James, and I don't see it happening. First off, Miami is not a bad landing spot. The team has talent, particularly on offense with left tackle Jake Long, receiver Brandon Marshall, center Mike Pouncey and running backs Daniel Thomas and Reggie Bush. The new head coach (Cowher?) also will be an upgrade and the city of Miami is one of the top destinations for rich athletes to live. Luck is going to be the No. 1 pick whether he comes out this year or next year. Therefore, he's going to go to the worst team either way. I don't see the team factoring into his thinking.

AFC East Homer of the Week

This week's biggest homer is a Dolphins fan, who has a unique view on how they should handle their quarterback situation in 2012.

Pete from Pompano Beach, Fla., writes: James, am I one of the few Dolphins fans that has been happy with Chad Henne? He has shown vast improvement from his rookie season and hadn't stopped improving right up until he went down with the injury. The offensive problems the Dolphins have seem to be more with the wide receivers, mainly Brandon "Butterfingers" Marshall dropping passes and not necessarily bad passes. I'm not sure the whole "Suck For Luck" campaign is the best idea. He's a great college quarterback, but he could just as easily be the next Ryan Leaf or the next Peyton Manning. Why not go ahead and give Chad Henne another couple of years and see what his potential turns into?

Walker: Wow, Pete. You might be the only Dolphins fan who wants Henne over Luck. Henne had four years to show what he can do. You want to give Henne two more years to prove himself to Miami? That's not going to happen. Henne was the quarterback to the old regime of general manager Jeff Ireland and coach Tony Sparano. The new regime will not take on someone else's drafted, unproven quarterback who is coming off a season-ending shoulder injury. Congrats on being our "Homer of the Week" for Henne.

AFC East Haters of the Week

But we're not done...

There were a lot of haters from our Tim Tebow column following his win over the Dolphins. Tebow has a huge following and I got crushed for giving my honest take on the quarterback.

Enjoy.

Tim Ernest from Ft. Myers, Fla., writes: You elite think-you-know it all, college-educated media people are UNBELIEVABLE! Unless I was misinformed, when I played football the object of the game is to WIN!!! Did the Denver Broncos win in Miami, with the eyes of the ENTIRE world watching, with Tim Tebow, as their quarterback? In case you were too caught up evaluating his footwork or throwing motion, the answer to the question is a BIG FAT EMPHATIC YES!!!!!!!! No matter what you say Tim Tebow is a WINNER!

Dan from Rockledge, Fla., writes: Hmmm, you’ve been drinking with Merril Hoge and that Hall of Famer Trent Dilfer? Tebow will get better because he is a winner. But then again you went to Temple. You wouldn’t know about winning SEC, big boy football. Keep bashing. Keep sending subtle little digs. You too will look stupid in hindsight.

Walker: We received a lot of e-mails like these. Some had a lot worse language and were unprintable. The strange thing is I thought my Tebow column was pretty balanced. It provided pros and the cons that he fed into his legend and myth. "After watching Tebow on Sunday, I don't have a clear answer. Neither do the Denver Broncos," I wrote in the third graph. Some took away that I only ripped Tebow’s throwing mechanics and awful play for three-plus quarters. But I also praised his heart and ability to lead a huge comeback. Dan and Tim, thanks for being our AFC East blog "Haters of the Week."

If you have any questions, complaints, homer or hater comments, send them to our AFC East inbox.
Here are the most interesting stories Saturday morning in the AFC East:
  • Did receiver Brandon Marshall, via Twitter, guarantee the winless Miami Dolphins (0-6) will beat the New York Giants (4-2)?
Morning take: Marshall says he doesn't want any excuses from the media "when" Miami wins. I don't know if giving the Giants bulletin-board material is a good idea.
  • In more Dolphins news, Miami owner Stephen Ross denies an NFL.com report that he's reached out to representatives of former Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher.
Morning take: There have been several similar reports, and Miami has denied all of it. According to Ross' statement, he wants Tony Sparano to win and remain the Dolphins' head coach.
  • Will New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady be too much for the Pittsburgh Steelers' defense?
Morning take: History suggests Brady has Pittsburgh's number. I think Pittsburgh's best chance is for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to match Brady's production and try to pull out a close game.
Morning take: Fitzpatrick is officially the face of Buffalo's franchise. He's a good fit and leader for the Bills. Now, Fitzpatrick has to prove he's the long-term solution.

Poll Friday: Miami's next coach?

October, 28, 2011
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Our latest "Poll Friday" is a special one for suffering Miami Dolphins fans.

The question: Who do you want to be the team's next head coach in 2012?

Current Dolphins coach Tony Sparano is on a very hot seat in Miami after losing nine games in a row. Barring a historic turnaround, he will not make it beyond this season. Sparano even put his South Florida home on the market, although he said it wasn't related to his job status.

Dolphins owner Stephen Ross has deep pockets, and he will be willing to spend on the best candidate. Should Ross go top shelf to land an A-list candidate like Bill Cowher or Jon Gruden?

What about veteran coach Jeff Fisher? He had a lengthy run with the Tennessee Titans and is one of the top names on the market next year.

Should Miami go "other," which can be the assistant route? Top assistants like Rob Ryan and Perry Fewell have been mentioned as future candidates for head-coaching positions. Maybe there is another name you like out there for Miami.

Using our SportsNation poll, vote on who the Dolphins should hire to be their next head coach. You can also share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Morning take: Dolphins and Bill Cowher

October, 25, 2011
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Here are the most interesting stories Tuesday morning in the AFC East:
  • Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald reports Bill Cowher is keeping an eye on the Dolphins.
Morning take: This would be the perfect target for Miami owner Stephen Ross. But a top-shelf coach like Cowher could have several options. Would Cowher choose Miami over a team with less rebuilding?
  • Danny Picard of Comcast Sports New England writes the Patriots still have a lot of respect for Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu.
Morning take: When healthy, Polamalu remains one of the most dynamic players in the NFL. The Tom Brady-Polamalu chess match will be fun to watch.
  • Jay Skurski of the Buffalo News reports Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick did not speak to the media on Monday.
Morning take: I don't see any reason to be concerned. This probably is a sign a contract extension is coming, as ESPN's Chris Mortensen recently reported.
  • Rich Cimini of ESPNNewYork.com writes about Jets head coach Rex Ryan admitting to throwing too much early.
Morning take: With an extended lockout, new receivers and a young quarterback, I'm not sure why the Jets decided to throw 40 times a game. That was a flawed plan from the start. But at least the Jets went back to what they do best.

Ryan might be just what Burress needs

June, 14, 2011
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Plaxico Burress has contemplated playing for the New York Jets, and he admitted the possibility is intriguing to him.

Burress
Burress
"It's been thought about," Burress said in a sitdown interview with ESPN. The free-agent receiver was released from prison last week. "I am not going to sit here and front. For me to go to one side to the other side and win a championship in the same [city], how many people have done that? And do I have the capability to lead a team to a championship? Without question."

He also said of he Jets: "Of course, they are appealing. Ever since I came to New York, the fans have embraced me. It is a great city and a great town."

Based on comments about working for surly New York Giants head coach Tom Coughlin, Burress would appreciate the chance to work with a more jovial coach such as Rex Ryan, who isn't afraid to welcome a player with baggage.

Ryan has done well with receivers Santonio Holmes and Braylon Edwards and cornerback Antonio Cromartie, three players teams felt compelled to unload.

Burress reflected fondly on his relationship with former Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher and noted it was 180 degrees different than what he had with Coughlin.

Cowher "always had an open-door policy to where you could come talk to him or tell him what was on your mind," Burress said. "When that was taken away from me, I kind of felt it was like: 'I'm the coach, you are the player. It doesn't matter what you have to say. You just do what I tell you to do.'

"This is not college. This is professional sports. If you can't sit down and go talk to a man that you are busting your tail for, not even have the respect for anything that you have to say, like I said, the only thing I knew then was to rebel."

And we saw how that kind of arrangement worked out.

Power Rankings: Top 10 NFL head coaches

April, 5, 2011
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NFL Power Rankings: CoachesESPN.com IllustrationNew England's Bill Belichick was the unanimous choice for the top spot when our writers ranked the best coaches in the game.
Bill Belichick is the great unifier.

For the first time in ESPN.com's individual Power Rankings series, the eight panelists reached unanimity. Each of us voted Belichick the NFL's best head coach, and there's little room for argument.

As someone who has scrolled through their comments for the past three years, I can hear the Spygate whiners already.

But Belichick hasn't won anything since the New England Patriots were caught videotaping defensive hand signals ...

That's true, I suppose, if you don't consider 51 victories, a .797 win percentage, three division titles and a trip to the Super Bowl not winning anything. I'm pretty sure fans of any team other than the Green Bay Packers, New Orleans Saints, Pittsburgh Steelers and New York Giants gladly would trade their past four years for the Patriots' so-called embarrassments.

And I'm guessing fans would find ways to justify those three Lombardi Trophies if their teams were in the Patriots' situation.

Belichick wasn't the only coach voted on with conviction. Head coaches are the fifth installment of our Power Rankings series, and the 13 combined nominees from our ballots were the lowest number of nominees so far. Our panel nominated 17 tight ends, 17 pass-rushers, 16 wide receivers and 15 running backs.

Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin was second in the Power Rankings, and the lowest he rated was sixth on NFC West blogger Mike Sando's ballot. The minus-4 differential from Sando -- not a substantial disparity at all -- was the largest negative margin relative to final placement in the entire process.

Sando explained his deviance from the pack.

"I favored coaches that walked into tough situations, won relatively quickly and then sustained the improvement over more than one season," Sando said in a statement issued through an NFC West blog spokesman. "Tomlin took over a healthy operation and kept it going. He deserves credit for that -- I ranked him sixth -- but not as much credit as if he had produced similar results after taking over a struggling franchise.

"We should view the success Bill Cowher enjoyed in a similar context. Both worked for an outstanding organization."

To be honest, I actually considered putting Cowher on my ballot just for the heck of it. But I opted against getting cute.

Let's take a closer look at how we voted:

We ranked Philadelphia Eagles coach Andy Reid third, and he was listed no lower than fifth -- on AFC West blogger Bill Williamson's and mine -- on anyone's ballot.

Tomlin led the way with four second-place votes. Reid received three. Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy got the other one and came in No. 4.

To further illustrate how closely the voting breakdown turned out, four coaches received third-place votes, four received fourth-place votes and four received fifth-place votes.

Our top seven head coaches were listed on every ballot.

The highest-rated coach not to be universally nominated was Chicago Bears boss Lovie Smith at No. 8. He didn't make AFC North blogger James Walker, AFC South blogger Paul Kuharsky and Williamson's ballots.

"Consistency is very important for head coaches, and Smith has more non-playoff seasons than playoff seasons," Walker said. "Smith seems to be on the hot seat every other year in Chicago, and he missed the playoffs three consecutive times from 2007 through '09. Despite a good run last year, Smith is a pedestrian 34-30 since '07."

Atlanta Falcons coach Mike Smith came in ninth. He didn't appear on NFC North blogger Kevin Seifert's ballot because Smith hasn't won a playoff game yet. Seifert swore it had little to do with that Falcons school bus commercial that gets played incessantly on NFL Network. Three other panelists omitted Smith, too.

[+] EnlargeBill Belichick
Chris McGrath/Getty ImagesBill Belichick has a 162-94 record in his 16 years as a head coach.
Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh and Washington Redskins coach Mike Shanahan tied for 10th.

What helped narrow the field is the constant turnover the NFL coaching profession experiences annually.

Eight teams have new coaches for 2011, ostensibly reducing the number of Power Rankings candidates to 24 from the jump. Nine more coaches have been with their current teams for two seasons or shorter.

A two-year stint didn't prevent the panel from voting for Shanahan, whose body of work includes a pair of Super Bowl titles with the Denver Broncos, or Rex Ryan, who has guided the New York Jets to the AFC Championship Game in each of his two campaigns.

Williamson and Walker had Shanahan rated seventh, his highest placement. Shanahan was absent on four other submissions, mine included.

"Shanahan may not have looked like a brilliant coach in his first year in Washington, but he deserves to be on this list," Williamson said. "He is not some old retread. With so much turnover in the coaching ranks, he is truly one of the last remaining of the old guard 'Super Coaches.' The guy has two rings and a lot of playoff appearances. I don't think he's a top-five guy at this particular time, but he belongs in the top 10."

Williamson and I each thought Ryan deserved to be rated fourth, although none of our comrades had Ryan higher than seventh.

My reasoning is that Ryan, despite not winning the Super Bowl, has a tractor-beam pull on his players -- and even other teams' players -- unlike any other coach in the league. Ryan carries serious clout with the people who matter most of all, the ones on his roster. That's powerful, and these are Power Rankings.

Another to receive votes despite two years at the helm was Indianapolis Colts coach Jim Caldwell. He came in 13th overall, eighth on Kuharsky's ballot and 10th on Walker's.

"I do not think he's a particularly good game-day coach," Kuharsky said of Caldwell. "The rationale he had for the late timeouts that helped the Colts lose at Jacksonville and to the Jets in the playoffs was flawed.

"But in terms of delivering a consistent message, setting expectations and holding a team together through an injury-riddled season, he did excellent work. And those are very important elements to the job."

The floor is yours. Let us know if you agree or disagree.

Parcells, Bledsoe and the Hall of Fame

February, 9, 2011
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I once heard Tom Donahoe, the former Buffalo Bills president and general manager, call quarterback Drew Bledsoe a future Pro Football Hall of Famer.

Then again, Donahoe used to say a lot of things.

I was reminded of this when taking a glance at players who will make their first appearance on the Hall of Fame ballot for 2012.

Buffalo News reporter Mark Gaughan, who's on the Hall of Fame selection committee and last weekend was elected president of the Pro Football Writers Association, blogged the top newcomers to consider the next few years.

[+] EnlargeBill Parcells and Drew Bledsoe
AP Photo/Ed ZurgaBill Parcells and his former quarterback Drew Bledsoe will be on the Hall of Fame ballot next year.
The lists are helpful in speculating when fan favorites such as Andre Reed and Curtis Martin will get their Canton calls. They both were finalists this year -- Reed for the fifth time, Martin for the first -- but weren't added to the 2011 induction class Saturday.

Perhaps that development was fitting for Martin because his coach with the New England Patriots and New York Jets will be on the ballot again. They could get in together in 2012.

Bill Parcells has been a finalist twice, but not since 2002 because rules for coaches changed. They now must wait five years from their last game to be eligible for induction, and Parcells returned to the sidelines with the Dallas Cowboys in 2003.

Is Parcells a Hall of Famer? I know Miami Dolphins fans aren't too thrilled with him these days, but he did add to an already remarkable legacy -- two championships, different teams to the Super Bowl, a few organizational turnarounds -- by guiding the Dolphins from 1-15 to the AFC East title as their football operations boss.

Also on the ballot next year will be Bledsoe, running backs Corey Dillon and Tiki Barber, fullback Mike Alstott, guard Will Shields and coaches Bill Cowher and Marty Schottenheimer.

Bledsoe had a fine career with the Patriots, Bills and Cowboys and ranks eighth all-time in passing yards. But he was a Pro Bowler only four times and never was first-team All-Pro. Bledsoe was helpful in getting the Patriots their first championship, so he does have a ring. But that was Tom Brady's team.

Dillon also was a four-time Pro Bowler and won a Super Bowl with the Patriots. He ranks 17th in rushing yards and never led the league in a major rushing category.

Schottenheimer played for the Bills and Patriots before winning 61 percent of his regular-season games as head coach of the Cleveland Browns, Kansas City Chiefs, Washington Redskins and San Diego Chargers. His 200 victories rank sixth all-time, but his 5-23 playoff record will hurt.

That group of first-time candidates -- plus the newcomers for 2013 -- bodes well for Reed. There won't be any new receivers for him to box out. He already has jockeyed ahead of contemporaries Cris Carter and Tim Brown by making the cut from 15 to 10 in the selection process the past two years. Carter and Brown haven't.

Gaughan highlighted first-year players for next few classes.

2013: Quarterback Vinny Testaverde, offensive linemen Larry Allen and Jonathan Ogden, defensive tackle Warren Sapp, defensive end Michael Strahan.

2014: Running back Shaun Alexander, receiver Marvin Harrison, linebacker Derrick Brooks, safety Rodney Harrison and coaches Tony Dungy, Jon Gruden and Mike Holmgren -- if they don't return to sideline work.

2015: Quarterback Kurt Warner, receivers Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt, tackles Orlando Pace and Walter Jones and linebacker Junior Seau.

Tony Sparano ... You ARE the head coach!

January, 8, 2011
1/08/11
2:43
PM ET
I only kissed her, and that's as far as it went.

I didn't inhale.

We did not offer Jim Harbaugh a contract or reach out to Bill Cowher or Jon Gruden.

[+] EnlargeStephen Ross and Jeff Ireland
AP Photo/Wilfredo LeeDolphins owner Stephen Ross, left, and general manager Jeff Ireland spoke Saturday at the team's training facility in Davie, Fla.
I've seen enough episodes of "Maury" to know these sorts of declarations rarely hold up.

Tony Sparano said the Dolphins were in "a happy place" after a week of embarrassment and agitation. The Miami Dolphins announced Saturday that they were going to stick with Sparano as their head coach -- and gave him an extension through 2013 -- after a disastrous flirtation with Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh.

Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, general manager Jeff Ireland and Sparano held a media roundtable in their board room to clear the air and give their side of the story. Much of what they said sounded like spin, but they also debunked some erroneous media reports about their pursuit of Harbaugh.

Ross and Ireland admitted they jetted cross-continent to meet Harbaugh without telling Sparano. Ross said he was na´ve to think he could get away with pursuing Harbaugh -- just like that hidden camera and the hot-to-trot decoy in Maury's green room -- without the nation finding out.

Ross insisted he didn't make a contract offer to Harbaugh. ESPN's Chris Mortensen reported Ross was "willing" to make Harbaugh one of the NFL's richest coaches with a deal between $7 million and $8 million. Ross claimed during the meeting he advised Harbaugh to stay at Stanford, which makes Ireland's presence even more curious.

Ross also was emphatic that no one within the Dolphins organization contacted Cowher or Gruden. Within seconds of Ross voicing that contention, Miami Herald reporter Jeff Darlington, who was seated at the media roundtable, tweeted "I have multiple sources who will refute that." NFL Network reporter Jason La Canfora also added he had sources that told him the Dolphins did reach out to Cowher and Gruden. Mortensen previously reported the Dolphins had done so.

Perhaps Ross was dealing in semantics. His close friend is former Kansas City Chiefs executive Carl Peterson, who has been an adviser since Ross took over the Dolphins and has helped him in ancillary business endeavors. Peterson technically doesn't hold a position within the Dolphins organization. Or maybe the Dolphins didn't specifically speak with Cowher or Gruden, rather with their agents to gauge their interest level.

But for the sake of discussion, let's assume Ross is being genuine in his assertion the Dolphins didn't contact Gruden or Cowher.

That, to me, would make him look worse.

The Dolphins would have you believe they were going to stick with Sparano or dump him for Harbaugh only. If a team has identified that it needs to upgrade its coach, then why not explore all viable options?

Ross said Peterson wasn't on the flight to see Harbaugh as reported. Ross also explained the meeting he had agreed to and then canceled with former Cleveland Browns and New York Jets head coach Eric Mangini. Ross said Mangini asked to meet about a non-coaching capacity through Dolphins capologist Dawn Aponte, who came from the Browns.

The Dolphins will go through a healing process in the coming months.

They'll need to set aside their differences and get ready to evaluate prospects at the Senior Bowl and then the NFL scouting combine. They'll need to work together through free agency. They'll need to be on the same page at the draft.

The Dolphins fully expect to move past this. But so often these fractured relationships simply don't have a happy ending.

Can Dolphins actually get past this mess?

January, 7, 2011
1/07/11
6:34
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The Miami Dolphins prolonged their public relations disaster Friday.

Miami Herald beat writer Jeff Darlington reported the Dolphins had set up a meeting with Eric Mangini, but canceled it. Darlington wrote unidentified team sources informed him the Dolphins weren't going to speak with Mangini about being their coach, but just wanted to seek his advice.

Allrighty then.

Also reported Friday was a looming contract adjustment for Sparano, supposedly to smooth over any hard feelings. The Dolphins' front office embarrassed itself with a futile courtship of Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh and and reported contact with retired Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher.

Chicago Tribune and National Football Post writer Brad Biggs reported the Dolphins never made an actual contract offer to Harbaugh. Biggs, quoting an unnamed source, wrote Dolphins owner Stephen Ross was "intoxicated" with the idea of hiring Harbaugh after spending time with him in the days leading up to the Orange Bowl, but that Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland remained behind Sparano.

The Dolphins called a news conference for 4:45 p.m. Friday presumably to declare their allegiance to Sparano and then postponed it until noon Saturday with no word about whether Sparano's contract has been amended or if he's coming back for next season at all.

Strange days indeed.

All this happened while I was traveling for Saturday night's playoff game between the New York Jets and Indianapolis Colts in Lucas Oil Stadium. I had been playing phone tag with ESPN analyst Herm Edwards all day, and once we finally connected, I had to ask for his take on the Miami madness.

"Feelings are hurt, obviously, because of the way things went about," said Edwards, the former Jets and Kansas City Chiefs coach. "But, hey, they didn't have a good record. They could have fired him.

"But that's the sad part. They had a coach under contract. They wouldn't fire him, but they went and interviewed people. If you're going to do that, man, you need to do that on the QT. This didn't have to be public. You don't need to bring that attention to your organization."

Edwards, though, stressed this saga won't necessarily drag down the team and noted the more critical concern should be what the Dolphins do at quarterback than the current mess.

"If you win, all this goes away," Edwards said. "If you win, this is no big deal. The good part is the season's over with. The players aren't even in the building right now.

"By the time training camp starts, if anything the players look at it and say 'The coach is in the same boat we're in.' The players get it. But if the quarterback doesn't get better they'll be in that same boat again in a year."

For additional perspective on what it's like to hang by thread, I rang up former New York Giants coach Jim Fassel for his thoughts.

"If you have the right guys on the team, they'll battle for the head coach," Fassel said. "Players know regardless, they're still going to be judged on their own performance. It won't affect their performance unless they're not very smart.

"The way it might play a role is in the discipline phase of it might say 'I don't care what he says to be anymore.' But that would a small minority of the players."

Edwards felt more sympathy for the coaching staff than for Sparano.

"The assistants are the ones who are suffering," Edwards said. "They're tied to the head coach. You want to let these 15 or so guys know because when the merry-go-round stops and all the jobs have been filled, you're stuck."

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