AFC West: Lovie Smith

Chargers in good shape on defense

January, 15, 2013
Before hiring Denver offensive coordinator Mike McCoy as head coach on Tuesday, the Chargers did consider some defensive coaching candidates such as Lovie Smith and Gus Bradley.

I think they made the right call by hiring an offensive coach. That’s the side of the ball where the Chargers need to be fixed the most.

Defensively, the Chargers were strong in 2012 and they have several young, key pieces on that side of the ball. U-T San Diego has reported that McCoy wants to keep defensive coordinator and his staff on board. They are all under contract.

I think that is the right call. Pagano did a nice job last season and there needs to be some continuity on this team.

San Diego needs to let McCoy build his offensive staff and improve the offense and let Pagano continue to build upon a strong start in 2012.

San Diego’s improvements must start on offense and pairing McCoy and Pagano is the smart way of doing it.

Rivers is key for McCoy hire

January, 15, 2013
The San Diego Chargers won on Tuesday morning.

Will it result in more victories when it counts? That’s the goal, but it is clear the Chargers want to take a young, refreshed approach as they move away from the long tenure of GM A.J. Smith and coach Norv Turner that ended with a three-year playoff drought.

[+] EnlargeDenver's Mike McCoy
Byron Hetzler/US PRESSWIRENew San Diego head coach Mike McCoy's biggest job will be getting quarterback Philip Rivers back on track.
And the Chargers want to do it by fixing their 31-year-old quarterback.

Less than 72 hours after Mike McCoy landed on the market, the Chargers plucked the grand prize of the remaining head-coaching candidates by agreeing to terms with the Denver offensive coordinator. San Diego was one of five open jobs when it agreed with McCoy. McCoy had interviewed with four of the five, and the fifth -- Jacksonville -- was hoping to line up a visit.

San Diego finalized its deal with McCoy while Arizona tried to get a second interview with him Tuesday. The Cardinals were his most aggressive pursuer, and they were considered one of the few teams that would have waited for McCoy if Denver had ended up in the Super Bowl. However, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported Monday -- the day of McCoy’s only interview with the Chargers -- that McCoy wanted the Chargers’ job.

And he got it.

His first task will be working with quarterback Philip Rivers.

Heading into the 2011 season, Rivers was considered the best active quarterback without a Super Bowl ring. But Rivers has since become a turnover machine. Still, he is far from a lost cause. He threw just one interception in the final six games of the 2012 season and none in the final four games.

Rivers has seen the talent dwindle around him at essentially every offensive position. It will be up to new San Diego general manager Tom Telesco -- who, like McCoy, is 40 -- to help in the talent area. It is up to McCoy to give Rivers a new life and to give him new philosophies. Rivers has worked closely with Turner since 2007.

Now, McCoy will get a chance to infuse his energy and knowledge into Rivers. This must be the main reason McCoy has been hired. Nothing can turn around a franchise like a top quarterback. Rivers can be that guy again.

Rivers is clearly the reason McCoy wanted the Chargers. Rivers was considered the best quarterback among the five teams without a coach, including Jay Cutler in Chicago. Cutler is younger than Rivers, but he is considered a more difficult personality to work with.

McCoy enters his relationship with Rivers on the heels of two unbelievable quarterback coaching experiences in the past two years. In 2011, McCoy coached Tim Tebow. In 2012, he guided Peyton Manning. He went to the playoffs with both QBs.

McCoy got on the radar as a head-coaching candidate with his Tebow work. In midseason, simply as an act of survival, McCoy scrapped a pro-style offense and scripted an option-based offense that suited Tebow. It worked. Then, in 2012, McCoy got a year into the mind of Manning, the greatest quarterback mind of all time.

McCoy comes to San Diego with quite a résumé and playbook.

For the second time in less than a week, I applaud San Diego for a key hire. The Chargers hired Telesco over longtime A.J. Smith assistant Jimmy Raye. Telesco is known as one of the bright young minds in the league. Going outside of the organization was a smart move for the stale Chargers.

The Chargers talked to several older coaches, including Lovie Smith and Ken Whisenhunt, and the team was planning to talk to Colts offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, who worked with Telesco.

But when the young, fresh McCoy became available, he clearly became the Chargers’ target. There’s no doubt the Chargers won the coaching sweepstakes with McCoy, and the reason why is the presence of Rivers. Now, they all have to make it work.
Now that the Denver Broncos’ Super Bowl dreams have been derailed, they act as a coaching feeder outlet for the AFC West again.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that Denver offensive coordinator Mike McCoy is interviewing with the Chargers on Monday, and he may be a top candidate for the job. Schefter reported McCoy and Seattle defensive coordinator Gus Bradley (he interviewed with San Diego on Thursday) could be the two candidates the Chargers are zoning in on.

Also, Schefter reported that the San Diego job is the job McCoy is really shooting for. McCoy is arguably the hottest head-coaching candidate this year, as essentially every team with an opening has or will interview McCoy.

McCoy is popular because he is a young offensive mind and he's had success with both Tim Tebow and Peyton Manning in Denver. The Chargers’ offense needs both a new philosophy and more talent. If Bradley gets the job, the Chargers will be enhancing their top area of need, but they will still have to find a way to improve the offense.

San Diego is talking to several candidates including Lovie Smith, Bruce Arians and Jay Gruden and Ken Whisenhunt.

If McCoy gets the San Diego job, it will be the second straight year an AFC West foe has plucked Denver’s staff. Last year, Oakland hired Denver defensive coordinator Dennis Allen as head coach.

Chargers' John Pagano is in limbo

January, 12, 2013
John Pagano is in a tough spot.

He is under contract with the San Diego Chargers, and there is a chance he will be kept as defensive coordinator. However, the Chargers’ coaching search is still full swing, so Pagano must wait.

In the meantime, he is missing out on opportunities. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports that Cleveland wants to hire Pagano as defensive coordinator. Former San Diego head coach Norv Turner is likely going to be Rob Chudzinski’s offensive coordinator. The three men worked in San Diego together. However, the Chargers aren’t letting Pagano out of his deal, because they might have plans for him.

Schefter also reported that Pagano had a chance to interview in Kansas City. Andy Reid hired Jets linebackers coach Bob Sutton to run his defense. Pagano did an excellent job in San Diego. If Colts offensive coordinator Bruce Arians is the hire in San Diego, I expect Pagano to stay.

In other AFC West news:

Schefter reports former Chicago coach Lovie Smith wants to hire Stanford offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton as his offensive coordinator if he gets the San Diego job. Hamilton coached for Smith in the past. I think Hamilton could interest Oakland as well.

Denver had three first-team players on the Associated Press’ All-Pro squad. They are: quarterback Peyton Manning, left tackle Ryan Clady and linebacker Von Miller.
Now, that the San Diego Chargers have hired former Indianapolis executive Tom Telesco to take over as general manager, the search is fully focused on finding the team’s new head coach.

The plan is to make a hire by the end of next week. The Chargers, who fired general manager A.J. Smith and coach Norv Turner on Dec. 31, have started the coaching search, but Telesco takes over.

There have been several names connected to the job including former Chicago coach Lovie Smith, Indianapolis offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, UCLA coach Jim Mora and former Seattle and Green Bay coach Mike Holmgren.

I think Smith and Arians may be the favorites of that group, although anything could happen.

Two more names could be part of the team’s list as well. Cincinnati offensive coordinator Jay Gruden could interest the team. Telesco played at John Carroll University with San Francisco offensive coordinator Greg Roman. Cincinnati defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer could also be part of the process.

While the Chargers’ immediate ends are on offense, Telesco has worked in programs that have been led by both offensive and defensive-minded head coach.

Arians has long been considered a favorite for this job. the fact that he and Telesco were key parts of the team’s wonderful turnaround likely won’t hurt his chances. But I’m not sure if it increases the chances of Arians being hired because I think Telesco will be open minded.

Telesco is also connected to Smith in a round-about way. Telesco was with the Colts when Tony Dungy coached there. Smith is part of Dungy’s coaching tree. Overall, I think everything is one the table for San Diego as it fully concentrating on replacing Turner now that Telesco is in place.

UPDATE: ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports Arians will tentively is set to interview with the Chargers on Monday.
Well, six days into the San Diego Chargers' coaching search and we have our most intriguing name: Mike Holmgren.

CBS Sports is reporting that the Chargers could talk to Holmgren.

That would be quite the pursuit.

It makes sense in some areas because Holmgren is an offensive mind, he’d likely be intrigued to coach quarterback Philip Rivers and he is from the West Coast. Ron Wolf is consulting the Chargers during their general manager and coach search. Holmgren and Wolf won a Super Bowl together in Green Bay.

But the Chargers want to continue with a more traditional power structure where the coach reports to the general manager and the team is near the end of its general manager search. Would Holmgren, 64, listen to a young general manager? Would he want to be part of that structure?

Perhaps he’d simply be interested in coaching and be happy with the Charges’ setup. If that is the case, he would certainly be an interesting candidate.

Other candidates are expected to be former Chicago coach Lovie Smith, Colts offensive coordinator Bruce Arians and UCLA coach Jim Mora.

Scott Pioli is out in Kansas City

January, 4, 2013

The Kansas City Chiefs made a big move Friday morning that will probably soon be followed by an even bigger move.

The Chiefs announced they parted ways with general manager Scott Pioli after four years with the team. On Monday, when the team fired Romeo Crennel, it indicated that Pioli would be under review.

The team is on the brink of hiring former Philadelphia Eagles coach Andy Reid. Barring a breakdown, the Chiefs should have their targeted coach by the end of the day. ESPN is reporting that Reid has canceled planned interviews with the Chargers and the Cardinals. Reid’s focus remains solely on finishing a deal with the Chiefs.

Reid is expected to get significant power in Kansas City. That is likely a reason he canceled in San Diego. Reid is from Southern California and has been said to be intensely interested in working for the Chargers. But the Chargers want to maintain a more traditional structure.

That is not a problem in Kansas City, where Pioli is out. There was little chance a strong-willed, powerful coach like Reid would work with Pioli, who is also strong-willed. Pioli’s time in Kansas City was met with great anticipation, but it produced little.

I will be back with more thoughts on Pioli’s departure. Here are some statements on the move.

From owner Clark Hunt:

“After several productive conversations, we made the difficult decision to part ways with Scott Pioli and allow him to pursue other opportunities,” said the Chiefs chairman and CEO. “Scott has been an invaluable member of the Chiefs family since joining us in 2009, and we sincerely appreciate his tremendous contributions over the last four years.

“I know that this was a difficult decision for Scott as well. He has a great deal of appreciation for the history of this franchise, for our players, coaches and employees, and especially our great fans.

“There is no way to overstate the level of respect and admiration I have for Scott on a personal level. His character, loyalty, integrity and commitment to a team are extraordinary, and throughout the last four years, he has consistently put the best interests of the Chiefs ahead of his own. I know he will go on to enjoy further success in the National Football League, and I certainly wish him the best in the future.”

From Pioli:

“I would like to thank Norma, Clark and the Hunt Family for the opportunity that they gave me four years ago. I’d also like to thank the players, coaches, scouts and countless other employees, throughout the organization and at Arrowhead Stadium that have worked so hard during my time here. I would also like to genuinely thank Chiefs fans.

“The bottom line is that I did not accomplish all of what I set out to do. To the Hunt family -- to the great fans of the Kansas City Chiefs -- to the players, all employees and alumni, I truly apologize for not getting the job done.”

With Reid out, the Chargers’ search might be focused on former Chicago coach Lovie Smith and Indianapolis offensive coordinator Bruce Arians.
Earlier in the week, there was a report that the San Diego Chargers wanted to talk to Penn State coach Bill O’Brien. But it was no sure thing he’d make himself available.

Thursday, he did, then he took himself off the market. CBS Sports reports that O’Brien will stay at Penn State after he interviewed with the Browns this week.

Cross an intriguing name off the Chargers list.

A lot of people I talked to thought O’Brien would be a perfect fit for the Chargers. He is an offensive mind and the Chargers need a spark offensively. Many people thought O’Brien -- a former New England offensive coordinator -- would be a great influence on Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, who has struggled the past couple seasons.

With O’Brien out of the picture, the Chargers will still plug along. While they run their general-manager search, the coaching names that have been connected to San Diego thus far are Colts offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, Andy Reid (who could become the Chiefs’ coach in the next 24 hours) and Lovie Smith.

Lovie Smith on Chargers' radar

January, 3, 2013
The San Diego Chargers may be looking at a big fish themselves.

As Andy Reid reportedly closes in on being hired in Kansas City, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports the Chargers have been trying to get in on Reid and also want to interview former Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith.

If talks fall through with the Chiefs -- it looks like he will end up in Kansas City, though -- Reid could come in to play for the Chargers. Regardless, it seems like the Chargers will look at Smith, who was fired by Chicago on Monday.

I like Smith a lot. He is a fine coach. He is an experienced winner. He is a proven NFL coach.

But I’m not sure he fits with the Chargers. The reason why Smith -- a defensive specialist -- was fired in Chicago after a 10-6 season is he couldn’t find a way to make it work offensively. Smith went through several offensive coordinators and he couldn’t find offensive consistency over the years.

The Chargers’ biggest need area is on offense, as the biggest issue is a lack of talent. But if Smith couldn’t get anything going offensively in Chicago, how can he do it in San Diego?

He would need to bring a big offensive mind with him to make this work. While there is a lot to like about Smith, the offensive question looms large.

Meanwhile, I think the Chargers will miss special teams coach Rich Bisaccia. His contract was up and he is no longer with the team. He joined the Auburn staff Thursday, He is a good football man and he did a good job. Every other coach other than receivers coach Charlie Joiner is under contract. The future of the rest of the staff will be decided by the new brass.

Haley third in COY voting

February, 2, 2011
Kansas City coach Todd Haley finished a distant third place in the Associated Press coach of the year voting.

New England coach Bill Belichick won the award for the third time. Tampa Bay’s Raheem Morris came in second place. This is how the 50-person vote went: Belichick earned 30 of a possible 50 votes, followed Morris (11.5), Haley (4.5), Atlanta's Mike Smith (1), Philadelphia's Andy Reid (1), Chicago’s Lovie Smith (1) and St. Louis' Steve Spagnuolo (1).

Belichick’s team went 14-2 despite being very young in key spots. Haley led Kansas City to a 10-6 record and its first AFC West title in seven years. The Chiefs won a total of 10 games in the previous three seasons. Prior to the end of the season, I wrote that Haley should win the award.

In the past few weeks, I didn’t think Haley would win because the way the Chiefs ended the season, but I thought he met the usual criteria to win the award. He oversaw a young team that exceeded expectations and made an unlikely playoff run. I thought the voting would be closer, but the bottom line is, I can’t argue with the masterful job Belichick did.

While Haley didn’t win the award, the Chiefs’ second-season coach showed he has a positive influence on his team and that he is one of the better young coaches in the NFL.

Todd Haley candidate for award

February, 2, 2011
The Associated Press coach of the year will be presented Wednesday evening.

Kansas City Coach Todd Haley is a likely candidate for the award. There will likely be several candidates in what many consider to be a wide-open race. Haley’s competitors include Philadelphia’s Andy Reid, Tampa Bay’s Raheem Morris, St. Louis’ Steve Spagnuolo, Chicago’s Lovie Smith, Atlanta’s Mike Smith, New England’s Bill Belichick and Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin.

I wrote near the end of the regular season that Haley is the easy choice. I still think he should win. He led Kansas City to a 10-6 record in his second season as coach after the Chiefs won a total of only 10 games in the three previous seasons. It was also Kansas City's first AFC West title in seven years.

Haley completely changed the culture in Kansas City. Often coaches who direct a huge turnaround win the award. Thus, Haley has to be considered. We’ll see Wednesday night if the voters agree. What do you think? Fill the comment section of the post if you think Haley should win the award.
Todd HaleyAl Messerschmidt/Getty ImagesTodd Haley has turned around the Chiefs much sooner than anyone, including himself, expected.
In August, Todd Haley had no idea his second season in Kansas City would be so delightfully better than his first season.

Still, he sensed he was on the right track -- even though it likely wouldn’t be the fast track to NFL riches.

“I knew last year wasn’t going to be easy or fun or smooth or comfortable,” Haley said on one of the final days of the Chiefs’ training camp in August. “And it lived up to expectations. ... But we were building a program and trying to change things. We’re doing it our way.”

Four months later, it is evident Haley did it his way better than any other NFL coach in 2010.

The Chiefs (10-5) are the surprise division winner in the AFC West and one of the biggest turnaround stories in the NFL. Kansas City was 4-12 in 2009 in Haley's first season after new Kansas City general manager Scott Pioli hired him away from Arizona, where he was the Cardinals' offensive coordinator. Haley’s final game with Arizona was a Super Bowl loss to Pittsburgh. After accepting the task in Kansas City, it seemed like that game would be Haley's last postseason experience for a while. The Chiefs, who last won the AFC West seven years ago, won only 10 games the three previous seasons.

Yet, Haley’s Chiefs -- who are 7-0 at home heading into Sunday’s regular-season finale against Oakland -- are preparing to face either New York, Baltimore or Pittsburgh on Jan. 8 or Jan. 9 in the wild-card round.

Haley’s work with this team has been stunning, and he's the easy choice for NFL Coach of the Year.

Who else could it be?

Sure, St. Louis coach Steve Spagnuolo could get consideration if his 7-8 Rams beat Seattle to win the NFC West. It would be a huge improvement for the Rams, who went 1-15 last season. But Haley’s work this season isn’t less impressive. Here’s a tiebreaker: Haley’s Chiefs beat Spagnuolo’s Rams in St. Louis easily in Week 15.

Other candidates include Philadelphia’s Andy Reid, Chicago’s Lovie Smith, Atlanta’s Mike Smith, New England’s Bill Belichick and Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin. No one has done the job Haley has done this season.

Not much was expected this season in Kansas City -- even in Kansas City. The Chiefs were just hoping to be more competitive in 2010 than they were in 2009 and continue to build the program on both sides of the ball. Instead, Haley has orchestrated the biggest one-season turnaround in Kansas City history.

“Through experience I have learned that you can get things going at least in the right direction,” Haley told reporters this week. “For us to get to this spot, this quick, is really great. I can’t say that it was necessarily expected.’’

Haley has overseen a major reconstruction on offense and defense. Offensively, the Chiefs are one of the more efficient and hard-nosed teams in the league. Quarterback Matt Cassel has made great strides this season. The running tandem of Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones leads the NFL’s No. 1-ranked run offense. Kansas City has committed only 12 turnovers, three behind New England, which leads the league with nine. The NFL record for fewest turnovers in a season is 12 by the Chiefs in the nine-game strike-shortened 1982 season. (The Dolphins and Giants each had 13 turnovers in the 2008 season.)

[+] EnlargeDerrick Johnson
AP Photo/Ed ZurgaAlthough he clashed with Todd Haley in 2009, Derrick Johnson had a Pro Bowl season in 2010 and was awarded a contract extension.
On defense, Kansas City is aggressive and timely. In 2008 and ’09, Kansas City combined for 32 sacks, including an NFL record-low 10 in ’08. Kansas City has 34 sacks this season.

There’s no doubt Kansas City has benefited from the additions of offensive coordinator Charlie Weis and defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel. Haley said as early as the NFL combine in February that the hiring of the former key New England assistants would help free him to do more of what he wanted to as the CEO of the staff.

Haley, who is fourth in the league in going for it on fourth down (21 times), is not afraid of being different. Who can forget when assistant coach Maurice Carthon brought a portable toilet onto the field for players to catch passes out of to improve their concentration during training camp? During a minicamp, Haley had select veterans dress as coaches and instruct their teammates in an exercise to build team chemistry. Haley had the same thing in mind on a hot day in training camp when he suddenly blew the whistle on practice and sent his team to the movies.

Still, Haley has a reputation for having a hard edge. He argued with Terrell Owens in Dallas and Anquan Boldin in Arizona as an assistant coach. In his first year in Kansas City, Brian Waters, Dwayne Bowe and Derrick Johnson spent time in Haley’s doghouse.

To his credit, Haley doesn’t believe in burying players. This summer, Haley said he was thrilled that players persevered through the culture change from the Herm Edwards era to his program. Edwards was known as a player-friendly coach. Haley was not interested in adding to his Facebook friend collection when he came to Kansas City. Haley said in August he felt like his players were all “buying into” his program.

This year, Waters and Bowe made the Pro Bowl. Johnson had a career year and was awarded a contract extension.

It’s clear that Haley’s master plan is working in Kansas City and it is clear he was the right choice by Pioli. Haley has now won a division title with five different teams as an NFL coach, either as an assistant or head coach. No other active head coach can say that.

There’s no doubt Haley deserves to be the coach of the year. Still, he’s sticking to his preseason mantra. The job is not done.

“I know we have a lot of work to do, and I don’t think we’re there yet,” Haley said. “We still have our issues and things we have to continue to work on, and I don’t think anything has changed for us as a team. We just have to get a little better every day and that will give us our best chance.”

AFC West video mailbag

December, 5, 2009
Another installment of our video mailbag feature:

Posted by's Bill Williamson

One of the most memorable moments of the first day of the NFL draft was Mel Kiper Jr. criticizing Oakland's decision to draft Ohio University safety Mike Mitchell in the second round.

Kiper said Mitchell was a free-agent prospect. Backing up Kiper's opinion, two teams that I talked to said they did not have Mitchell on their draft board. Mitchell wasn't invited to the NFL combine.

Still, Kiper's words will be long remembered by Mitchell.

"Yes, I heard them," Mitchell, a well-spoken young man, said Sunday. "That's OK. Mel Kiper has his opinion and I respect it. But what does it mean? My 9-year-old nephew can watch film and make an opinion. ... I think I value the opinion of scouts who actually get paid to make their opinions. All I know is the Oakland Raiders made me their second-round pick and I'm determined to make Mr. [Al] Davis know he made a fine pick."

Mitchell said he'll keep Kiper's comments close to him for the rest of his career. In fact, Mitchell said he is in the process of getting a picture of Kiper. Mitchell plans to decorate his Oakland locker with it.

"It will carry me through my career," Mitchell said. "It will serve as motivation for me."

Mitchell said he awoke Saturday thinking he would be taken within the first four rounds. He started to get excited when his agent received a call from Chicago telling him he may be taken at No. 49. The Raiders took Mitchell at No. 47. The Chicago Tribune reports the Bears were hot on Mitchell.

"I guess Jerry Angelo and Lovie Smith were wrong about me, too," Mitchell said.

Mitchell got on the radar of NFL teams after a strong Pro Day workout this spring. Game film showed that the speedy Mitchell is also a ferocious hitter.

"I think I opened some eyes," Mitchell said. "The bottom line is I'm an Oakland Raider and I was taken in the second round. It is now all up to me. Whatever everyone has to say doesn't matter."