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Thursday, December 30, 2010
Keep or sweep? Kubiak, Fisher, Del Rio

By Paul Kuharsky

Jack Del Rio/Gary Kubiak/Jeff Fisher
The future remains uncertain for (from left) Jack Del Rio, Gary Kubiak and Jeff Fisher.
Bob McNair, Bud Adams and Wayne Weaver do pretty well staying in the background and letting their football people deal with their football teams.

But early next week, the three owners will have to emerge -- either to offer support for their head coaches or to end their tenures.

The three owners have endorsed a steady, long-term approach and have said little. A few weeks ago, much to the chagrin of the bulk of his fan base, McNair said his team was on the right track. During the heat of the Jeff Fisher-Vince Young battle, Bud Adams told The Tennessean that he expected the two to work it out. Weaver’s been mum.

If you know someone close to any of the three who has a read on their feelings about their coaches, let me know. I can’t pretend to be in that position.

I don’t think Sunday’s results will be a giant factor in the decision-making. The Jaguars would much prefer 9-7 to 8-8, but if Jacksonville loses Sunday at Houston, I can’t imagine that sways Weaver to make a move.

Same for Kubiak and Fisher -- a big win or a big loss Sunday is the final line on their 2010 results. Nobody is coaching for his job on Sunday. Decisions will be made based on much bigger things.

The state of the labor negotiations can be a big factor here. Fire your coach and you still have to pay him as well as his replacement, who may be sitting and waiting on a lockout to get his hands on his players.

It’s possible -- for as much conversation as we’ve had about the future of Kubiak, Fisher and Del Rio -- that all three coaches remain in position.

A look at all three:

Gary Kubiak

Contract status: Signed through 2012.

Kubiak
The case for him: He’s a good offensive mind who’s done well forging a productive group that can move the ball and can score points in bunches, sometimes at lightning speed. He’s got an offensive system his guys believe in, and his easygoing personality makes him a likeable guy to work with and for. He could work well in tandem with a new, strong-minded defensive coordinator, which would give the franchise a chance to keep the offensive system intact.

The case against him: That low-key personality rubs off on a team that too often lacks fire and killer instinct. His team has regularly started way too slowly. He’s surrounded himself with a staff of friends when they have not always been the right people to fill vacancies or make effective changes. His defense is horrible, and he’s at least partially in charge of a mindset that thought, incorrectly, the young personnel in the secondary would suffice. The defensive coordinator, Frank Bush, was his choice.

Record: 36-43 (.456) in the regular season, no playoff appearances.

Telling numbers: The 2010 Texans are the first team in NFL history to come back four times from deficits of 14 points to tie or take the lead and then lose. And they did it in the span of five games.

Power structure: GM Rick Smith was hired after Kubiak and the coach has a strong say in personnel matters. I believe Smith, also under contract through 2012, would like things to remain as they are, but would be willing to work with a new coach.

If he goes: There are rumblings that Denver would be interested in him as the Broncos look for their next coach. He’d be super attractive as an offensive coordinator candidate for just about anyone.

Kubiak says: “I’m going to do this for a long time. I’m a good coach. I’ve got a lot to give. I plan on coaching for a long time. I know it’s part of the business. When you get yourself in the position I’m in as a head coach, those are things you got to deal with. So I will deal them the right way and I will come out of it a better football coach and I understand it’s part of the deal. Is it tough? You bet. It’s pretty damn tough.”


Jeff Fisher

Contract status: Signed through 2011.

Fisher
The case for him: He’s been a steady hand and the face of the franchise since taking over during the 1994 season. As co-chairman of the NFL’s powerful competition committee, he’s popular around the league and he knows the rules inside inside-out. His staff includes Hall of Famer Mike Munchak and highly regarded defensive line coach Jim Washburn. He’s good with the media and his California Calm means he never allows himself to lose his temper publicly. He’s steered his team through tough times and produced rebounds, though the high end of such cycles has shortened.

The case against him: He’s become stale, and he overrated his roster and the team’s leadership in a big way this season. He’s overly loyal to veterans and staff members when change may be necessary. He leans toward conservative game-planning and play calls. He and his staff seem intent on sticking with the game plan, and can be stubbornly unwilling or unable to adjust as a game unfolds. He’s got an explanation for everything and never allows for making a bad call, having a bad plan or overseeing a bad practice.

Record: 142-119 (.544) in the regular season, 5-6 (.455) in the playoffs.

Telling numbers: The Titans have had losing streaks of at least five games in five of their past seven seasons. They have not won a playoff game since the 2003 season.

Power structure: I believe he’s got the support of Steve Underwood, who runs the Nashville operation, and Mike Reinfeldt, a GM who jumped at a chance to work with him. Adams can overrule that, of course, and is a huge Young supporter. Fisher could quit if Adams insists on Young's remaining with the team.

If he goes: I believe he’d be an upgrade for several teams who are in the market or will be in the market for a head coach, particularly Houston and Dallas. Adams would hate to see a guy he loved and let go turn around a team in the state where he lives, and that could be a factor in keeping Fisher.

Fisher says: “I’m not going to go [into a conversation about the possibility of not being back]. I’ve never gone there. Again, I’m going to take the same approach I take week after week and that’s just to get them ready to play and try and find a way to win a ballgame.”


Jack Del Rio

Contract status: Signed through 2012.

McClain
The case for him: While his team’s been too inconsistent, the overall results have been better than could have been reasonably expected considering it’s the second year of a rebuild under general manager Gene Smith. They seem to work well together, and the team is on the upswing. Despite what looks to be a disappointing ending, he got good production out of a team that still has several holes.

The case against him: He’s a riverboat gambler in some game situations where the risk-reward equation doesn’t always seem to be thoroughly measured out. He’s candid, which is good, but sometimes it comes off as passing the buck, and he may not publicly take his fair share of the blame when things go wrong. He’s got some players who qualify as his personal favorites, and he can hold grudges for too long when a guy messes up but may still be his best option.

Record: 65-62 (.519) in the regular season, 1-2 (.333) in the playoffs.

Telling numbers: In 2004, 2006, 2009 and 2010, the Jaguars had control of their playoff fate only to give it up with a poor finish.

Power structure: Gene Smith didn’t hire him and may believe he could do better, but the working relationship seems solid and they can certainly move forward together. The more good, new players Smith provides, the better Del Rio, or his replacement, can do with them.

If he goes: He’s allowed his name to be linked to LSU and USC in the past, and I could see him as a college coach, though that would probably entail waiting a year. In the NFL, I don’t know that he’d be looked at for another head-coaching job. He could resurface as a defensive coordinator or a linebackers coach.

Del Rio says: “I think anybody that’s studied football understands that we are absolutely squeezing the very most out of this football team. I think our players and our coaches have been all-in, extremely committed. There’s no question that this group of men has been, as I’ve said all year, a lot of fun to coach. I really respect and appreciate the effort that has been given and there’s no question we are an achieving football team; we have been the last couple of years. It’s maybe not been portrayed that way but I think you understand, I really do, I believe in my heart that you know that. I don’t know whether or not you just don’t want to say that, but we have. That’s what we’ve been able to do despite being right in the middle of a rebuild. What we’ve got to do as a football team is not allow any negative energy to take away from the positive things we’ve been able to do, and I think that’s imperative for us.”