AFC East: Lovie Smith
If Rex Ryan is fired at the end of the season, the New York Jets are sure to have the following names on their radar:
1. Darrell Bevell, Seattle Seahawks, offensive coordinator: After five straight defensive-minded head coaches, the Jets figure to pick an offensive guy to oversee the rebuilding of that side of the ball. Bevell is an obvious candidate because he worked with general manager John Idzik, a former Seahawks executive. Bevell's stock has soared with Russell Wilson's rise to stardom.
2. Ken Whisenhunt, San Diego Chargers, offensive coordinator: Whisenhunt was the Arizona Cardinals' coach from 2007 to 2012, working alongside then-general manager Rod Graves, now Idzik's right-hand man in the Jets' front office. He was only 45-51 in Arizona, but he won an NFC Championship. Whisenhunt, who won a Super Bowl ring as the Pittsburgh Steelers' offensive coordinator, has helped revive Philip Rivers' career in San Diego. He's a former Jets player and assistant coach.
3. Greg Roman, San Francisco 49ers, offensive coordinator: Spies say Idzik spent time with Roman at the scouting combine last February. They've never worked together, but Roman is a rising name in the coaching ranks. It helps having Jim Harbaugh as a mentor. Roman grew up in the Atlantic City area.
5. Bill O'Brien, Penn State: Owner Woody Johnson looks down the Turnpike and sees how a former college coach, Chip Kelly, has revived the Philadelphia Eagles with his cutting-edge offense. O'Brien is from the Bill Belichick coaching tree, having spent five years as a New England Patriots assistant.
ICYMI: The Jets worked out several free agents Tuesday, including CB Brandon Burton (Minnesota Vikings/Buffalo Bills), C Nick McDonald (Green Bay Packers/Patriots), OL Ryan Miller (Cleveland Browns) and CB DeMarcus Van Dyke (Oakland Raiders/Steelers). ... Former Jets special teams coordinator Mike Westhoff offers his take on the blocked punt and criticizes the lack of talent on special teams. ... Our weekly film breakdown.
Is Marrone the right choice for Buffalo? Expect plenty of early skepticism.
The Bills failed to make a splash with Marrone, who was only 25-25 at Syracuse. Based on comments I received this past week, nabbing Kelly would have been more appealing to Bills fans if they wanted a college coach.
However, a low-profile hire doesn't always mean it's a bad hire. It simply means the Bills had better be right. Marrone’s .500 record in college and Buffalo’s poor track record with head coaches makes it a risky choice. The Bills will either look smarter than everyone else or dumber than everyone else in two or three years based on Marrone's performance.
You also knew what Smith and Whisenhunt brought to the table. Both coaches led their former teams to the Super Bowl and multiple playoff appearances. This is what Buffalo is striving for as an organization, and there was comfort in taking the safe pick.
But Buffalo took the retread route twice in the past seven years with Dick Jauron and Chan Gailey. Both choices were disasters. So the Bills deserve some credit for trying something different.
The Bills have a seven-to-10-year stadium lease, a new president in Russ Brandon and Marrone as their next head coach. This is truly a new beginning in Buffalo. Marrone will get the next several years to prove he is the right choice for the Bills.
Buffalo’s next step is to hire the best coordinators and assistant coaches available. Marrone has no NFL head-coaching experience, and that transition will go more smoothly with veteran assistants.
The Bills have quality talent on both sides of the football. Buffalo tailback C.J. Spiller is one of the more dynamic players in the NFL and must be used properly in 2013. Buffalo’s next offensive coordinator must make Spiller the focal point.
The Bills’ defense underachieved this past season but has talented players such as Mario Williams, Marcell Dareus, Kyle Williams and Stephon Gilmore. The Bills need a defensive coordinator who can maximize their talent.
Buffalo's last two coaches were NFL "retreads" -- coaches who were fired by one NFL team but given a second chance in Buffalo. Gailey's failed stint with the Dallas Cowboys and Jauron's failed stint with Chicago were warning signs that neither was a good head coach. The Bills took that chance anyway and ruined the past seven seasons for the franchise.
Smith now has that infamous "retread" label after getting fired this week by Chicago. But if you look more deeply at the numbers, Smith is as intriguing a candidate as he is polarizing.
There are plenty of reasons to believe in Smith, such as his 81-63 record, his 6-3 mark in the playoffs, and one Super Bowl appearance. There also are reasons not to believe in Smith, such as his six non-playoff seasons in nine years and his consistently horrendous offenses in Chicago.
How polarizing was Smith in Chicago? Look no further than the fact that he was just fired after a 10-6 season. That rarely happens. But the spectrum of opinions was so wide with Smith that the Bears decided it was best to start over.
There are good NFL retreads and bad NFL retreads. The Bills had a pair of misses recently with Gailey and Jauron. But if Buffalo goes the same retread route this year with a coach like Smith or former Arizona Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt, the Bills better get this call correct.
The Buffalo Bills are moving fast and furious with their 2013 coaching search.
Howard Simon of WGR in Buffalo reports the Bills have scheduled an interview this weekend with former Chicago Bears head coach Lovie Smith. Smith was fired after leading Chicago to a 10-6 record but just missed the playoffs. He holds a solid 81-63 overall record in nine seasons. He also is 6-3 in the playoffs with one Super Bowl appearance.
The AFC East blog ran a poll this week of the early candidates, and Smith was the runaway leader among Bills fans. Also, here is a look at the pros and cons of each candidate the Bills have interest in so far, including Smith.
Although more names will surely come up, here are some early thoughts on Buffalo's first round of candidates.
Ken Whisenhunt, former Arizona Cardinals head coach
The bad: Whisenhunt is another retread -- a head coach who was fired for failing somewhere else and then given a second chance by Buffalo. That trend hasn't worked well for the Bills, who hired the wrong retreads in Chan Gailey and Dick Jauron. Whisenhunt's career record is 45-51 and he led Arizona to the playoffs in only two of his six seasons there.
Ray Horton, Cardinals defensive coordinator
The bad: Horton is somewhat of an unknown with zero head-coaching experience. Is he the next Mike Tomlin or the next Jauron? You never know for sure. Horton has only been defensive coordinator for two seasons. Horton is very much a defensive coach and would require a strong offensive coordinator to call the shots on the other side of the football.
Lovie Smith, former Chicago Bears head coach
The bad: Smith, another retread, only led Chicago to the playoffs in three of his nine seasons. That's not a good ratio. Smith didn't have many awful years, but he didn't have many tremendous years, either. The Bears were about average and finished with seven to nine wins in four of Smith's nine seasons. Smith is a good defensive coach, but his offenses have been terrible. The Bears were 23rd or worse in total offense in all but one of Smith's nine seasons.
Mike McCoy, Denver Broncos offensive coordinator
The bad: The Bills, or any other team, must wait for McCoy to finish his season. The Broncos are expected to make a deep playoff run. Some predict Denver will make it the Super Bowl. That would significantly push back any timeline for the Bills to get started with McCoy -- and time is of the essence.
Chip Kelly, University of Oregon head coach
The bad: The pro level isn't for every college coach. Even top college coaches such as Nick Saban failed in the NFL. Can Kelly make it in the pros? That's the big unknown. But Kelly has a cushy job at Oregon and tons of interest from other NFL teams. The Bills might have to pay top dollar and perhaps get into a bidding war to convince Kelly to leave the college ranks and choose Buffalo over other NFL teams.
This is a good list to start for Buffalo. The Bills are doing a good job of getting right to work and lining up as many coaching candidates as possible.
Which coach out of this group would be the best fit for Buffalo?
NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reports that the Bills, Philadelphia Eagles and Cleveland Browns are scheduled to interview Kelly this week. Buffalo execs are currently in Arizona to interview former Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt and defensive coordinator Ray Horton. So in many ways this is one-stop shopping for the Bills, who can get three interviews done in short order.
Buffalo also has been linked to Denver Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy and former Chicago Bears head coach Lovie Smith. Here is a poll from earlier Wednesday on whom our AFC East community thinks the Bills should hire among the early candidates.
Is it former Arizona Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt? The recently fired coach led Arizona to the playoffs twice and one Super Bowl. However, things fell apart for Whisenhunt last season due to quarterback issues. Is he the best fit for Buffalo?
What about Cardinals defensive coordinator Ray Horton? He is considered a rising star among assistants. Could Horton infuse new energy into the Bills?
Former Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith also has reported interest in Buffalo. Smith also has Super Bowl experience and the potential to fix the Bills’ defense. Syracuse head coach Doug Marrone is another name being mentioned.
Using our SportsNation poll, vote on the best fit for Buffalo among the early candidates. You also can share your thoughts in the comment section below.
- Former Chicago Bears head coach Lovie Smith is interested in the Buffalo Bills, NFL Network reports.
- Who will be the next general manager of the New York Jets?
- The New England Patriots avoided a serious injury scare with defensive end Rob Ninkovich.
- Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill says he’s gained confidence from his rookie year.
No other AFC East coach appears on the list, comprised solely of NFL and NBA coaches. Forbes speculates that because competition from the college ranks drives up salaries in those sports substantially more than Major League Baseball and the NHL.
Forbes compiles its rankings with media reports and estimates.
- Bill Belichick, New England Patriots: $7.5 million
- Mike Shanahan, Washington Redskins: $7 million
- Doc Rivers, Boston Celtics: $7 million
- Pete Carroll, Seattle Seahawks: $7 million
- Gregg Popovich, San Antonio Spurs: $6 million
- Lovie Smith, Chicago Bears: $6 million
- Mike D'Antoni, New York Knicks: $6 million
- Ken Whisenhunt, Arizona Cardinals: $5.75 million
- Tom Coughlin, New York Giants: $5.25 million
- Mike Tomlin, Pittsburgh Steelers: $5 million
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.
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.
While Belichick had the benefit of Brady at quarterback, the Patriots went through a transitional phase both offensively and defensively. They traded Randy Moss, dealt with Logan Mankins' long contract holdout, endured injuries that would rattle other teams, and successfully infused several young players into key roles.
The Patriots dominated the regular season. They led the NFL in scoring and ranked eighth in points allowed. They broke the NFL record for fewest turnovers in a season with 10.
Belichick, who also oversees New England's personnel, operated without any coordinators in 2010.
While the honor went to the best candidate, I was surprised to learn Belichick won in a landslide. He received 30 of the 50 votes cast. The award often is given to a coach who has dramatically improved his team. The Patriots were expected to be good in 2010, while there were a few who turned losers into playoff teams -- or came darn close.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers second-year coach Raheem Morris was a distant second with 11.5 votes. Kansas City Chiefs coach Todd Haley was third with 4.5 votes. Mike Smith of the Atlanta Falcons, Andy Reid of the Philadelphia Eagles, Lovie Smith of the Chicago Bears and Steve Spagnuolo of the St. Louis Rams each received one vote.
To guess who will win, we safely can eliminate three-quarters of the AFC East.
Miami Dolphins coach Tony Sparano won a single home game and nearly lost his job while owner Stephen Ross flirted with then-Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh right after the season.
AP's voting panel couldn't have been too impressed by a coach who spoke presumptively about the Super Bowl for months then entered the postseason as a sixth seed.
Buffalo Bills coach Chan Gailey was downright fantastic in keeping his team from total implosion. The Bills began the year 0-8, but Gailey somehow kept them stoked enough to win four games and scare some playoff teams, taking the Baltimore Ravens, Kansas City Chiefs and Pittsburgh Steelers into overtime.
So that leaves us with one legitimate AFC East contender for coach of the year.
Bill Belichick coached the New England Patriots to 14 wins, most in the NFL. Sure, they were one and done in the playoffs, but all the votes were cast by then.
Belichick's season was incredible when you consider what he had to navigate as a coach and personnel overlord.
He overhauled the Patriots' offense, relying less on the spread and more on multiple tight ends. He handled the Logan Mankins holdout. Belichick made the decision to trade Randy Moss after two games and swing a deal to bring aboard Deion Branch. All the while, Brady was masterful.
Belichick also dealt with losing his best cornerback, Leigh Bodden, before the season began. At times, the Patriots started four rookies on defense, putting Devin McCourty on the opposition's top receivers. McCourty went to the Pro Bowl.
As much as Belichick deserves the award (I would have voted for him if I had a ballot), I doubt he'll win it because the Patriots were expected to be good, and the honor usually goes to a coach who guides his club to a dramatic improvement.
Chiefs coach Todd Haley, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin and Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith would fall into that category. Each went from out of the playoffs in 2009 to a division title. So did Pete Carroll with the Seattle Seahawks, but he's not winning it.
Belichick has claimed the AP award twice: 2003 (Patriots went from 9-7 and out of the playoffs to 14-2) and 2007 (Patriots went 16-0).
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Peyton Manning in Lucas Oil Stadium, Tom Brady in Gillette Stadium and Ben Roethlisberger at Heinz Field.
And if he makes it through still alive and advances to the Super Bowl, then Bill Belichick, Lovie Smith, Todd Haley or anybody else who wins a 2010 Coach of the Year Award ought to ship it on over to One Jets Drive.
The sixth-seeded Jets can accomplish a rarity if they defeat the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday for the AFC Championship. Wild-card teams have reached the Super Bowl before, but only one team ever has knocked off the first, second and third seeds to do it.
The 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers were the first, but the quarterbacks they faced in those playoffs were Carson Palmer, Manning and Jake Plummer. Not exactly a Murderer's Row.
Manning, Brady and Roethlisberger have won six Super Bowls and played in eight. They have a combined 32-17 postseason record.
"That's a pretty strong task when you mention guys like that," said Tom Flores, who coached the first wild-card champions, the 1980 Oakland Raiders, in Super Bowl history. "They've been there before. They've experienced being in big games before and winning big games before.
"You're going against the best. There's no unknowns there."
In addition to the superstar opposing quarterbacks, the Jets are venturing into some of the most difficult venues in any sport.
Flores got past an impressive group of quarterbacks for his first Super Bowl (he won another two years later as a division champ): Ken Stabler, MVP Brian Sipe and future Hall of Famer Dan Fouts.
But that lineup isn't as tough as what the Jets are facing. Flores sees Sunday's game being less intimidating than their showdown against the Patriots.
"Their biggest hurdle was in New England," Flores said. "That was almost impossible to beat them there."
Unfortunately for Ryan, awards like coach of the year are based on regular-season results.
He led the Jets to a 11-5 record, but they faded down the homestretch. Their lopsided 45-3 loss to the Patriots in Week 13 followed the next week by an ugly home loss to the Miami Dolphins erased any chance of Ryan winning honors.
But if Ryan can navigate this rugged playoff stretch and make it to the Super Bowl, then we'll know who really deserves to be considered the best.
"Well, I can say this: It's not easy," Ryan said. "I don't know who's next. [Terry] Bradshaw?
"Clearly, we have a ton of work to do to pull this off. But we think we're the men for the job, and we're going to find out Sunday."
How much elite talent would Parcells say he gathered?
It would be difficult to ask Parcells that question because he almost never agrees to interview requests these days.
But we can discover what Parcells thinks by reviewing the finalists for NFL Alumni Player of the Year Awards. Parcells alone selected the finalists, three in each major positional group on offense and defense plus three for all special-teams.
Parcells selected Dolphins left tackle Jake Long as one of his offensive linemen and Dolphins edge rusher Cameron Wake as one of his linebackers.
Also from the AFC East were New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, New York Jets tight end Dustin Keller and Buffalo Bills defensive lineman Kyle Williams.
Parcells, however, did not list Brady among his three candidates for player of the year, opting instead to nominate San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu and Green Bay Packers outside linebacker Clay Matthews.
Another surprise is that Parcells didn't choose Bill Belichick, his former defensive coordinator, as a coach of the year candidate. Parcells went with Todd Haley, whom he interviewed for the Dolphins job Tony Sparano took in 2008, Lovie Smith and Mike Smith.
Former players will determine the awards from the names Parcells nominated. Winners will be reveled Feb. 4.
Buffalo Bills coach Dick Jauron's once-mighty approval rating has dwindled to a single digit.
As of Thursday night, Jauron's number in the SportsNation NFL head coach approval ratings was lower than the Erie County sales tax: 8 percent.
That's the second-lowest rating of any of the 35 coaches, including three who were fired, over the 14 weeks so far. Minnesota Vikings coach Brad Childress pulled a 6 percent in Weeks 2 and 4.
Scott Linehan also sank to 8 percent before the St. Louis Rams axed him. Ex-Oakland Raiders coach Lane Kiffin bottomed out at 33 percent, while former San Francisco 49ers coach Mike Nolan dipped as low as 20 percent.
Jauron also owns the biggest discrepancy between his zenith and nadir.
Jauron rang up the poll's highest rating of the season when he hit 95 percent in Weeks 3 and 4 and didn't slip below 86 percent through Oct. 26. Washington Redskins coach Jim Zorn also soared to 95 percent in Week 5.
But Jauron's 83-point differential dwarfs everyone else, including the NFL's lighting rods: Andy Reid (79 points), Wade Phillips (73 points), Mike McCarthy (67 points) and Lovie Smith (67 points).
The worst year for fan dissatisfaction belongs to Cincinnati Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, whose highest approval rating was 23 percent in Week 9.