Inside Slant: Dark period for hiring coaches

What a week for Ken Whisenhunt, huh? In less than seven days, he interviewed for the head coaching positions of three teams, called plays in the San Diego Chargers' season-ending playoff loss to the Denver Broncos and then was named the Tennessee Titans' coach.

That whirlwind is the most recent illustration of why it's worth discussing a better, more efficient process for postseason coaching transitions.

Current rules gave Whisenhunt a narrow window to interview, but they still took him away from the Chargers' preparations, a possible factor in their inability to score until the fourth quarter Sunday in the division-playoff game loss to the Broncos. The Titans, meanwhile, were scrambling after taking nearly a week to fire former coach Mike Munchak. They ultimately hired Whisenhunt on the basis of that one interview under far less-than-ideal circumstances, and as a result, never had the opportunity to interview any candidates from the four teams still contending in the playoffs.

Is there a way to improve this process? More specifically, can the NFL find a way to allow assistant coaches to focus solely on upcoming playoff games without crippling their candidacies? Here is one idea, one I'm mostly stealing from ESPN colleague Ed Werder after we discussed the issue last Saturday at CenturyLink Field. How about a full moratorium on coaching interviews of any type between the end of the regular season and, say, the day after the NFC and AFC championship games?

No process is perfect, and this proposal has some flaws. It would create an anxious waiting period, for one, and then possibly spur a frenzy similar to player free agency when the hiring period opens. But consider the upsides:

  • Teams would not feel pressured to make an immediate decision on their sitting coach. Some decisions are obvious, but this process would encourage a more civil and productive set of postseason meetings for those franchises who aren't certain. If you subscribe to the theory that demand for good coaches is now greater than the supply, perhaps a less-rushed evaluation process could spur the kind of patience that would reduce the total number of openings each season.

  • Instead of running dual searches for coaches and general managers, teams in need could focus on the latter during the coaching dark period. This would allow the general manager, whether he has full or shared authority, to participate in the interview process for the coach he will work alongside.

  • Assistant coaches on playoff teams wouldn't have to schedule interviews in the days before a game, guaranteeing their full attention on the current team. Then, when the time does come for an interview, they can swivel their full attention.

  • Teams would have the opportunity for a more thorough interview processes than the Titans had with Whisenhunt. The decision is too important, with too many long-reaching consequences, for it to be based on so little personal interaction.

  • The playing field would be leveled in competing for the best assistant coaches. Too many teams feel pressure to make a quick hire so that the new coach has his pick from the largest pool of candidates as possible. If nothing else, the moratorium would put most teams on roughly the same timetable for hirings.

  • Teams could interview Super Bowl coordinators -- who have 14 days to prepare for their final game -- at the same time as everyone else and determine whether they are worth waiting for. Up to two weeks would pass before the hire could be made official, but that's less of a time-based element than the potential for a five-week delay at the start of the postseason.

Again, this idea has some flaws. I don't think the current system is broken and I'm not sure the NFL and its owners would consider such a radical move. But there is room for improvement, and there's nothing wrong with exchanging ideas at a time like this.