NFL Nation: Brian Billick

John Harbaugh had a statue erected at Miami of Ohio's "Cradle of Coaches" on Saturday, joining the coaching legends who played college football at the school.

Playing off that honor, let's take a look at where Harbaugh ranks in the "Cradle" of Baltimore's NFL head coaches. In six seasons, Harbaugh has made the case for being the best, which is a significant achievement considering two former Baltimore Colts head coaches (Weeb Ewbank and Don Shula) are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Ewbank captured the most titles in the city's history, winning the NFL championship game in 1958 and 1959. Harbaugh, though, has a higher winning percentage (.651) than Ewbank (.539).

In the same respect, Shula has a better winning percentage (.737) than Harbaugh. But Harbaugh has more playoff seasons (five) than Shula (three) and accomplished something Shula never did with the Colts -- win a Super Bowl.

Brian Billick remains the winningest coach in Baltimore's NFL history with 85 victories, although he may not have this mark for long. Harbaugh is only 15 wins from surpassing Billick, and he's coached three fewer seasons.


Who is the best coach in Baltimore's NFL history?


Discuss (Total votes: 1,719)

All four coaches left lasting legacies in Baltimore. Ewbank and Billick turned fledgling teams into championship ones. Taking over the Colts in their second year of existence, Ewbank coached Johnny Unitas and the Colts to a 23-17 overtime win against the New York Giants for the 1958 NFL championship, which is often called "The Greatest Game Ever Played." Billick joined the Ravens in their fourth year of existence and quickly guided a franchise that had never had a winning season until the 2000 Super Bowl.

Shula and Harbaugh took what their predecessors did and ramped it up another level, elevating both franchises into perennial winners. Shula posted winning records in all seven seasons with the Colts (1963-69), and Harbaugh reached the playoffs in his first five seasons with the Ravens.

The detractors make similar points with Ewbank and Harbaugh. Ewbank's success often gets downgraded because he won with Unitas. Critics point out Harbaugh took the Ravens to the playoffs every year with Ray Lewis and Ed Reed but failed to do so in his first season without those longtime leaders.

Still, it's hard to argue with Harbaugh's results, especially when many raised an eyebrow after the Ravens hired an outside-the-box candidate. Since Harbaugh was hired in 2008, only the New England Patriots have won more games than the Ravens. Harbaugh is the only head coach in NFL history to win a playoff game in each of his first five seasons. His 71-38 career record ranks as the fourth-best among active coaches in terms of winning percentage, trailing Jim Harbaugh, Bill Belichick and Chuck Pagano.

But, when it comes to the history of Baltimore NFL coaches, it's difficult to put anyone above Harbaugh right now.
If you were surprised by the Baltimore Ravens giving coach John Harbaugh a contract extension, you're not the only one.

Asked about his reaction to owner Steve Bisciotti adding another year to his deal, Harbaugh said, "I guess the first thing I said was, ‘Why?’ He said, ‘Because that’s the best I can do and I want to do as much as I can.’ It’s a big statement."

After the Ravens won the Super Bowl last year, Bisciotti tore up Harbaugh's contract and signed him to a new four-year deal. That didn't shock anyone.

But no one expected Bisciotti to add another year to Harbaugh's contract after last season, which marked the first time that the Ravens didn't reach the playoffs in Harbaugh's six years as head coach. As I wrote Monday, this was a strong vote of confidence from Bisciotti.

Harbaugh, 51, is now signed through the 2017 season.

"You couldn’t get a better leader, or a man that understands group dynamics, understands how to build people up, how to bring together people in a way that is necessary for success and for treating each other with respect," Harbaugh said of Bisciotti. "We have a great leader at the top of our organization and his influence runs through the whole organization. He has a strong hand on what we’re doing that way. He does it in a soft-handed kind of way. He inspires, he transforms and he builds. It goes to Dick [Cass, team president] and to Ozzie [Newsome, general manager] and right through our organization.”

In six seasons, Harbaugh has guided the Ravens to a 71-37 record (.657), including three trips to the AFC Championship Game and one Super Bowl title. He is 15 wins away from becoming the Ravens' all-time winningest coach. Brian Billick had a 85-67 record (.559) in his nine seasons as the Ravens' coach.
Cam Cameron received a Super Bowl ring from the Baltimore Ravens on Tuesday, even though he was fired as their offensive coordinator with three games remaining in the regular season.

“Honestly, it meant a lot,” Cameron told The Baltimore Sun. “I’m very appreciative of the people in Baltimore and obviously the leadership of the Ravens for that gesture. It meant a tremendous amount. It meant a lot to my family.”

This is a classy move by the Ravens, particularly when you consider the firing of Cameron was one of the catalysts for the team's Super Bowl run. In 13 games with Cameron, the Ravens averaged 344.3 yards per game. In seven games under Jim Caldwell, Baltimore recorded 400.5 yards per game.

Would the Ravens have won the Super Bowl with Cameron as their offensive coordinator? Probably not. I don't see Cameron loosening the reins on Joe Flacco like Caldwell did in the second half of the AFC Championship Game in New England. I also don't believe Flacco is allowed to make that crucial audible on third-and-1 in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl with Cameron calling the plays.

I didn't write this post to bash Cameron. To his credit, he made the Ravens' offense much better than what it was under former coach Brian Billick. Cameron just never reached the valid expectations for an offense that has a young quarterback in his prime and one of the best running backs in the league.

In the end, the Ravens made the right move by firing Cameron and followed it up with the classy gesture of giving him a ring. Cameron, though, said he isn't going to keep it. He promised his stepfather that he would give his first Super Bowl ring to him.

Cameron posted a picture of his ring on Twitter, writing, "Thank you, Baltimore."

For those who are scrutinizing Jarvis Jones' disappointing pro day results, just think back to Terrell Suggs.

A decade ago, Suggs ran slower than expected in the 40-yard dash, which caused him to fall from a top-five prospect to No. 10 to the Ravens. Jones, the Georgia outside linebacker who is a potential draft target for the Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers, could suffer the same fate.

Their situations are similar. In 2003, Suggs dropped down to 257 pounds for his pro day and still ran the 40-yard dash in the 4.8s. On Thursday, the 246-pound Jones was clocked at a plodding 4.92 seconds at a cold and blustery day in Athens, Ga.

If there is a lesson to be learned from this, it's that the 40-yard dash isn't a barometer for pass-rush success in the NFL. Suggs is a five-time Pro Bowl player and was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2011.

I remember Ravens officials were pleased by Suggs' slow 40 times because it increased the chances of him falling to them. Then-coach Brian Billick put it in perspective when he said defenders never have to run 40 yards to sack a quarterback.

No one knows if Jones' ragged pro day will cause him to drop to the Steelers at No. 17, but Thursday's performance didn't help Jones' stock. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin was among those who attended Georgia's pro day. The Browns, who have been linked to Jones in the past, might not have him as high on their list after signing Paul Kruger in free agency.

The other concern with Jones is a medical issue. There have been reports that Jones has stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal column that could shorten his NFL career.

"I know what I need to know and I know what people are telling me," Jones said. "I'm cleared, I'm healthy, and I think I had a good day today. It's a done deal now."
Tucker/AkersUSA TODAY SportsRavens rookie kicker Justin Tucker, No. 9, has outperformed 49ers veteran David Akers.
NEW ORLEANS -- Field goal tries have decided two of the 11 most recent Super Bowls and four of them overall.

San Francisco 49ers fans could do without such a finish in Super Bowl XLVII after their team's kicker, David Akers, missed 10 of his 19 tries from at least 40 yards this season.

Not that the 49ers' opponent in this Super Bowl has sailed through the playoffs on the strength of its special teams. The Baltimore Ravens have their own issues in that area.

NFC West blogger Mike Sando and AFC North counterpart Jamison Hensley have covered most of the other angles heading into this game. Can they pull off an item dedicated solely to special teams or will this one bounce off the upright? You decide.

Sando: Ravens fans probably don't want to hear about Akers' struggles. They're still recovering from Billy Cundiff's missed field goal in the playoffs last season. But as I've watched the 49ers and Ravens advance through the playoffs, special-teams issues have been impossible to overlook. Here we have the Ravens, led by a former special-teams coach, allowing a 104- and 90-yard returns for touchdowns in a close game at Denver. And here we have the 49ers, with big bucks invested in special-teams coach Brad Seely, hoping against hope that Akers can make routine field goals. Are we overreacting here, Jamison?

Hensley: Not an overreaction at all, Mike. It's kind of been a curse with Ravens head coaches. Brian Billick could never get the offense on track when he was in Baltimore after coordinating the highest scoring offense at the time in Minnesota. The same goes for Harbaugh, who has to be irritated by the critical breakdowns on special teams after spending most of his NFL career coordinating that area of the game. It was worse for the Ravens last season, when they allowed three touchdowns on special teams.

Sando: I remember one of them well. Arizona’s Patrick Peterson returned a punt 82 yards for a touchdown in Baltimore. Cleveland’s Josh Cribbs and the New York Jets’ Joe McKnight also did the return-game scoring honors against the Ravens last season. It was the Broncos’ Trindon Holliday with that 104-yard kickoff return and 90-yard punt return this postseason.

Hensley: John Harbaugh thought the problem was fixed. The Ravens didn't allow a special-teams touchdown in the regular season and didn't allow even one yard on a return of any kind in the wild-card playoff game against Indianapolis. But lapses on special teams nearly cost the Ravens in the AFC division playoff game, where they gave up those touchdowns to Holliday. The Ravens still express confidence in their coverage teams and they have veteran experience there with Brendon Ayanbadejo, Sean Considine and James Ihedigbo. Still, those errors have to be in the back of the Ravens' minds.

Sando: The 49ers have had their own special-teams adventures, of course. We all remember Kyle Williams’ miscues dooming San Francisco to defeat in the NFC Championship Game one year ago. You might also recall Ted Ginn Jr. struggling to field the ball in the rain against New England this season. Ginn was a consistent threat in 2011, but not so much this season. He did have a 20-yard punt return against Atlanta in the NFC title game this year. Ginn has six career return touchdowns, three apiece on punts and kickoffs. He is a player to watch on special teams in this matchup. Playing the game indoors removes weather as a concern -- big for returners.

Hensley: The Ravens actually had Ginn in for a visit this offseason because they were looking to upgrade at returner. They finally decided he was too much of a risk considering his injury history. Baltimore was lucky in landing Jacoby Jones. A week after the Texans released Jones, the Ravens signed him to a two-year, $7 million deal. He's been an electric returner for the Ravens, earning a trip to the Pro Bowl this year that he didn't make. Jones is the only player in NFL history to return two kickoffs of at least 105 yards in a career. And he did it in one season. The other big pickup made by the Ravens this offseason was kicker Justin Tucker, an undrafted rookie who beat out Cundiff this summer.

Sando: Ah, yes, Cundiff. The 49ers signed him to compete with Akers before the playoffs got going. That is how desperate they had become after Akers made only 11 of his final 18 tries of the regular season. Akers, Cundiff and Green Bay’s Mason Crosby were the only qualifying kickers making less than 70 percent of their field goal tries during the regular season. Counting the playoffs, Akers has made only 9 of 19 tries from 40-plus yards. He bounced one off the upright against Atlanta, making that game the 49ers’ first under Jim Harbaugh without at least one made field goal.

Hensley: While the decision to go with Tucker over Cundiff proved to be the right one, it was still a gutsy call by Harbaugh back in the end of August. The Ravens went from Cundiff, a Pro Bowl kicker in 2010, to Tucker, an undrafted rookie out of Texas. They went from Cundiff, who had converted 89.9 percent of his kicks inside the 50 over the past two years (53-of-59) and led the NFL in touchbacks, to Tucker, who had never kicked in a regular-season game.

Sando: How the mighty have fallen. Akers set an NFL record for made field goals in 2011. He and Cundiff were both Pro Bowlers recently.

Hensley: Tucker has surpassed expectations. He connected on 90.9 percent of his field goals (30-of-33) in the regular season, which was the second-best mark by a rookie kicker in NFL history. Tucker also has been clutch with three game winners, including a 47-yarder to win the AFC divisional playoff game in double overtime. Another strength of the Ravens is at punter, and the 49ers can say the same thing.

Sando: I think Andy Lee is the best punter in the NFL. And while there’s no truth to the adage that special teams comprise one-third of the game, there’s no question field position can matter a great deal in a game between evenly matched opponents. So can last-second field goals. And if this game comes down to one of those, the Ravens have to like their chances.
John Harbaugh, Ed ReedEvan Habeeb/USA TODAY SportsJohn Harbaugh's hearing players out has earned the respect of Ed Reed (20) and his fellow Ravens.

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- The Ravens didn't look much like a Super Bowl team three months ago. If not for coach John Harbaugh, the Ravens wouldn't have been much of a team at all.

After getting routed by 30 points in Houston, the most lopsided loss of the Harbaugh era, the Ravens returned from their bye week only to be greeted with the last announcement they wanted to hear. Harbaugh informed everyone they would be practicing in full pads.

As grumbles filled the team meeting room, safeties Ed Reed and Bernard Pollard spoke out against Harbaugh's decision. Most coaches, maybe even Harbaugh five years ago, would have told the players to sit down, be quiet and get prepared for a physical practice. Instead, Harbaugh wanted to have a discussion. The players talked about how he treated them, and Harbaugh listened.

What could have escalated into an ugly argument essentially became a town-hall meeting. And, by the way, the Ravens didn't practice in full pads that day.

Said center Matt Birk: "Every coach talks about players have ownership and it's your team. But when push comes to shove, is that really true? With Harbs, it is. Everybody walked out there feeling really good about our head coach."

That was the turning point of the Ravens' season, and it's the major reason the Ravens are playing the 49ers in the Super Bowl. Not Ray Rice's fourth down-and-29 conversion. Not the firing of offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. Not Ray Lewis' retirement announcement.

All of those moments affected the season, but none resonated more with the players on a personal level. Ravens players have always played hard for Harbaugh. This season, however, they truly bonded with him.

“One thing about our guys, we like our guys talking things out and confronting issues," Harbaugh said. "We’ve been doing that throughout the course of the season and it’s pushed us so close as a football team. I think you’re seeing the results of that right now."

It was so meaningful that Reed brought it up after the Ravens won the AFC Championship Game.

"He humbled himself to really listen to the players," Reed said. "It was just something we had to go through as men."

When Harbaugh was named the third coach in Ravens history, he didn't have to rebuild the roster. Baltimore was two years removed from being the AFC's second seed and had Pro Bowl players sprinkled throughout the lineup, including two future Hall of Fame players in Reed and Lewis.

The challenge for Harbaugh was rebuilding the team's image. Under coach Brian Billick, the old Ravens boasted about their swagger. Under Harbaugh, the new Ravens promote discipline. The old Ravens embraced being the bad boys. The new Ravens rally around their faith and recite Bible passages in post-game news conferences.

“For everything we’ve been through since coach Harbaugh got here,” Reed said, “he had a vision of working us a certain way and taking us through something to build and to create this moment."

The foundation of Harbaugh's coaching philosophy can be summed up in what he said at his introductory news conference five years ago: "There are three important things in putting together a football team: No. 1 is the team, the second-most important thing is the team and the third-most important thing is the team."

Harbaugh, who had never been a head coach at any level, was ready to play hardball in his first season with a locker room filled with powerful personalities. Each player was allowed just one locker; in the past, the star players had two or three. Benches were removed from practices because no one was allowed to sit anymore. Shirts had to be tucked in and chinstraps had to be buckled even during walkthroughs.

For everything we've been through since Coach Harbaugh got here, he had a vision of working us a certain way and taking us through something to build and to create this moment.

-- Ravens safety Ed Reed, on coach John Harbaugh
Although players weren't thrilled with the stricter rules, no one could argue with the results. The franchise had been to the playoffs four times in its first 12 years of existence, and Harbaugh has guided the Ravens to the postseason in each of the past five seasons.

Harbaugh became the first head coach in NFL history to win a playoff game in his first five seasons and reach three conference championship games over that span. Since 2008, Harbaugh's first season as coach, only the Patriots have won more games than the Ravens. Not bad for the guy who was the Ravens' second choice after Jason Garrett and who was considered an outside-the-box candidate five years ago because he had never been an offensive or defensive coordinator.

"Coach brought a winning mentality here," running back Rice said. "He built a physical team, and him being a tough coach makes us a tough team. He's our head coach and if you believe in his vision and chase what he sees, it eventually becomes the whole team's vision."

Harbaugh now has an "open mic" where players can say anything they want. He seeks out player feedback whether they agree or disagree with him. If Harbaugh disagrees with the player, he'll explain why.

It's not about who's right or wrong. For Harbaugh, it's about what's right or wrong for the team. That was never more apparent than during that team meeting in October.

“I think he’s a special kind of coach,” Birk said. “When you want to play for a guy, I think you play a little harder. You do some of the extra things that it takes to be successful.”

Ranking the remaining coaching vacancies

January, 16, 2013
The Chicago Bears' hiring of Marc Trestman as head coach leaves Arizona, Philadelphia and Jacksonville as the final three teams with vacancies heading toward the 2013 season.

Trestman was not a known candidate for any other job. His rather curious hiring should not affect the Cardinals in any way.

A quick look at the known candidates for the Cardinals, Eagles and Jaguars:
  • Arizona: Offensive coordinators Darell Bevell (Seattle), Jay Gruden (Cincinnati) and Todd Haley (Pittsburgh) have reportedly interviewed or will interview. Cardinals defensive coordinator Ray Horton has already interviewed and remains on staff. Andy Reid and Mike McCoy were candidates before taking jobs elsewhere.
  • Eagles: The Eagles have interviewed and/or pursued Seahawks defensive coordinator Gus Bradley (Seattle), former Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt, Gruden, McCoy, Atlanta Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, Falcons special-teams coordinator Mike Armstrong, Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, former Baltimore Ravens coach Brian Billick, Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly, Oregon coach Chip Kelly, Penn State coach Bill O'Brien, former Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith, and then-Syracuse coach Doug Marrone. Did I miss anyone? Phil Sheridan of the Philadelphia Inquirer joked that the Eagles have interviewed "every living male with a visor" to this point.
  • Jaguars: Bradley headed from his Eagles interview to meet with the Jaguars on Wednesday. Bevell and St. Louis Rams offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer also interviewed. Schottenheimer was a finalist for the job one year ago, but the Jaguars hired Mike Mularkey. Jaguars defensive coordinator Mel Tucker interviewed. San Francisco offensive coordinator Greg Roman would be a logical candidate for the job given his success with the 49ers and close ties to new Jaguars general manager David Caldwell, Roman's former college teammate and roommate. The Jaguars were not yet conducting their coaching search when Roman was available for interviews during the window provided before divisional-round games. He remains off-limits during Championship Game week. Armstrong, the Falcons' special-teams coach, has also been mentioned as a candidate. AFC South blogger Paul Kuharsky sizes up the field.

The chart is an expanded version of previous ones I've produced, designed to show which openings might be most appealing from candidates' perspective. I would order them Philadelphia, Arizona and Jacksonville based on a range of factors, including quarterbacks and ownership.

The Philadelphia Eagles announced Monday that they have interviewed former Arizona Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt for their vacant head-coaching position. Whisenhunt, who coached the Cardinals for six seasons and went to one Super Bowl (famously beating the Eagles in the NFC Championship Game four years ago to get there), is the second former NFL head coach whose name has surfaced in connection with the Eagles in the last two days. reported that they also have interviewed former Baltimore Ravens coach Brian Billick.

Combined with the expected interviews of Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden and Colts offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, this brings the number of known interviewed Eagles candidates to 12, including the three college coaches who turned them down and decided to stay at their schools. What's interesting is the variety -- the college coaches, offensive coordinators, defensive coordinators such as Seattle's Gus Bradley and former head coaches in Billick, Whisenhunt and Lovie Smith.

What it says to me is that the Eagles don't have a clear preference among their remaining available candidates and are interviewing as many people as possible to make sure they make the right decision. Some have expressed frustration that the process is taking so long and appears to lack focus, but I don't think either of those is a valid criticism. I think there's no harm in casting a wide net, especially when you don't have a clear top choice (or when your top choice, who in this case I believe was Oregon's Chip Kelly, has already passed). If nothing else, in talking to men who've done the job at the NFL level, the Eagles' decision-makers can get a sense of the different approaches people take to the job and maybe educate themselves about what they like and don't like in a candidate.

Eagles fans haven't been through a coaching search in 14 years, so they can be forgiven for forgetting what it's like. But a lot of times, this is it. And it's only been two weeks since Andy Reid was fired, so really it hasn't taken as long as it may seem. Just because you're hearing different names of different types of candidates doesn't mean anything negative about the search. If anything, it's careful and purposeful, which is good because it's important to get it right.

Before Saturday's playoff game in Denver, I told an old colleague at The Baltimore Sun that Brian Billick would probably never get another shot at coaching if he didn't get hired this year. A day later, news broke that the Eagles interviewed Billick for their head-coaching vacancy.

I've always been shocked that Billick has never gotten a second chance to be an NFL head coach. The knock on the former Ravens coach is that he's arrogant and he failed to develop an offense (and quarterback) in Baltimore. It also hasn't looked good for Billick's résumé that the Ravens have been to the playoffs every year since they fired him in 2007.

But Billick deserves another shot to be a head coach. He won a Super Bowl in 2000 by understanding how to handle veteran players and strong personalities. He turned a losing franchise into a perennial winner. In nine seasons, he had more playoff seasons (four) than losing ones (three).

For some reason, teams have never been interested in Billick. There have been 36 head-coaching jobs filled since Billick got fired, and he's never been a reported finalist for any of them. Don't feel too bad for Billick since he was getting paid by the Ravens up until 2010 and he's got a good gig as a television analyst.

Still, you get a sense that Billick is eager to show he can still coach. That was made clear in 2010, when he chided the Bills for not calling him (Buffalo settled on Chan Gailey).

"Why [Bills general manager Buddy Nix] had not called a coach with a Super Bowl ring, 10 wins a year for nine years, having orchestrated the highest-scoring offense and defense in the history of the league, is a question worth asking," Billick said at the time.

Billick is right. Whether you like him or not, there's no reasonable explanation why Billick hasn't received a second chance while the likes of Gailey, Mike Mularkey and Dick Jauron have.

In other news involving former AFC North coaches, Bill Cowher said he has no plans to coach in the NFL. This comes a few days after the former Steelers coach told Newsday that he probably would come back at some point. Call me crazy, but something tells me Cowher hasn't made up his mind about his future.

Review: The issues with the Eagles job

January, 14, 2013

We have been discussing this here for some time. But with the rest of the outside world beginning to catch on (Read: Peter King, No. 9 in "Ten Things I Think I Think") and with Twitter followers now asking me for explanations instead of just calling me names, it's worth revisiting the question of why people are turning down the Philadelphia Eagles' head-coaching job. Over the weekend, Notre Dame's Brian Kelly became the third high-profile college coach (along with Oregon's Chip Kelly and Penn State's Bill O'Brien) to decide to return to his college job in spite of interest from the Eagles.

Peter muses that it's because the Eagles are "a team trending downward," but I don't think it's that simple. First of all, in the NFL, where at least one team goes from first place to last place every single season, there's sort of no such thing as a team trending downward. Any team is capable of a rapid turnaround given the right coach, quarterback and circumstances, and the NFC East is no longer a division that requires 11 or 12 wins.

And while I have been (unfairly) criticized on Philadelphia sports talk radio in recent days for my (accurate) opinion on this, that opinion has (of course) become distorted and presented to the angry Philadelphia public as "no one wants the Eagles job." That is not what I have written, nor do I believe it is the case. Someone will coach the Eagles in 2013, and there are candidates who would jump at the job this minute if it were offered to them. It's one of only 32 jobs in the world of its kind, and regardless of the flaws it offers the chance for a coach to live out his lifelong dream of running an NFL team on Sundays.

What I do believe is that, for several important reasons, the Eagles' head-coaching job is not as appealing as the Eagles and their fans wish it to be. And I think the fact that these three college coaches, O'Brien and the Kellys, decided after thinking about it that it wasn't the right NFL job for them explains why. They were willing to listen; they just didn't like what they heard.

So again, the three reasons someone who has a great college coaching job with control over the program and fans who adore him for what he's accomplished there might not want to leave to coach an NFL team in Philadelphia:

1. The Eagles have a GM in place. This is nothing against Howie Roseman personally or professionally. He could turn out to be the greatest GM in NFL history for all any of us knows. But it's the fact that someone holds that position and will continue to hold it that gives a candidate pause. If you're a college coach used to control, you likely have an image in your head of what your dream NFL job looks like, and it likely includes a higher level of control over the draft and personnel matters than the next Eagles coach is going to have. Owner Jeffrey Lurie has made it clear publicly, and undoubtedly in these interviews, that Roseman and the new coach will report directly to him and that the new coach will be expected to work in harmony with Roseman. Whether the candidate likes Roseman or not is irrelevant. Being told up-front that you have limited (if any) say in the construction of your roster isn't an enticement.

2. The Eagles do not have a quarterback in place. Michael Vick has nine toes out the door. Nick Foles is a 2011 third-round draft pick that the last coach, Andy Reid, liked but who was passed over a couple of times by everyone else. Even if the new coach likes Foles, he'd have to admit he's still a question mark. And if you have a question mark at quarterback in the NFL, you have a problem. Granted, most of the teams with head-coaching vacancies have this same problem (which is a big reason why they have head-coaching vacancies). But it'd be naive to think it's not a significant enough problem to convince a high-profile college coach he's better off staying where he is. The defense needs a rebuild, too, but that's not the same level of issue for coaches as quarterback is right now.

3. Pressure. There's no market like Philadelphia for pressure. There may be more pressure in other markets, but Philly has the market cornered on bitterness and negativity. The fact that the Eagles have never won a Super Bowl has taken over as the only thing about which Eagles fans care. Correcting it is the only way an Eagles head coach could win them over. And you can sit there and say that a good coach should relish such a challenge, and you may well be right. But not everyone's wired the same way. The pressure and expectations in Philadelphia, as well as the increasingly negative atmosphere around the team, would naturally be a concern of anyone who took the job. Whoever does take it will go in with his eyes open to the nearly impossible expectations he'll immediately carry, and it'll take a special sort of person to handle all of that and succeed there.

So there you have it -- my best, most logical and thorough explanation of why the best and brightest college coaching minds aren't climbing all over each other for the Eagles' head-coaching job. In the end, you may be happy about that. Maybe Gus Bradley is a star on the rise. Maybe Brian Billick is rejuvenated and improved in a second time around. Maybe there's somebody out there you don't even know about yet who's going to be better than all of the candidates we've seen so far. I'd just caution against dreaming too big, that's all. The Eagles are going to have to take a chance on someone and hope he's a hit.

AFC West coaching possibilities

November, 30, 2012
We are exactly a month from the end of the NFL regular season. Thus we are a month and one day from the start of the first process of the 2013 season: the firing of head coaches.

With five games remaining, both the Kansas City Chiefs and San Diego Chargers have to be considered prime candidates to make a coaching change. The Chiefs are 1-10, and Romeo Crennel has to be in danger even though he is in his first full season as coach. In San Diego, Norv Turner’s team is 4-7. It was a major surprise that the team kept Turner after last season. I don’t see any way he makes it to another season, barring an unlikely playoff berth.

The coach firings might not be the end in both cities. If Crennel is fired, general manager Scott Pioli will likely suffer the same fate. I get the feeling Kansas City owner Clark Hunt wants to keep both Pioli and Crennel, but the fan fury is so great, I doubt he'll be able to. San Diego general manager A.J. Smith may also be on the firing line, but I can see a situation where he is kept and Turner is not.

There is always a chance Oakland owner Mark Davis can lose patience and end the Reggie McKenzie-Dennis Allen tandem after one season (or just get rid of coach Allen). But I believe Davis will stick with the current situation despite a disappointing first year.

With potential change in the air, let’s look at some of the coaching candidates, in alphabetical order, who could be available:

Brian Billick
AP Photo/Gail BurtonBrian Billick went into broadcasting after he was fired by the Ravens in 2008.
Bruce Arians, interim Indianapolis head coach: I’m intrigued by Arians. The longtime offensive coordinator is doing a fantastic job with Colts coach Chuck Pagano out because of his fight with cancer. This is a unique situation. Teams could hire a coach who may lead a team to the playoffs without any restrictions -- and what an audition Arians is having. He has worked with Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh and Andrew Luck in Indianapolis. I could see the Chargers being interested in pairing him with Philip Rivers. The Chiefs could also be a fit for Arians.

Brian Billick, former Baltimore head coach: Billick is interesting because he is a Super Bowl-winning coach who might be reasonably priced. He has a reputation for being a strong offensive mind and a strong leader. He could fit in both San Diego and Kansas City, and I think he could work with an established general manager.

Bill Cowher, former Pittsburgh head coach: When Cowher decides he wants to come back, he will likely have his pick of jobs. I’m not sure if any of the AFC West jobs would be more attractive to him than others. Still, Cowher has a history in Kansas City and is the dream coach for many Chiefs fans. But he may be way too pricey for the team.

Jack Del Rio, Denver defensive coordinator: Del Rio has done a terrific job in Denver and had lots of head coaching experience in Jacksonville. I have a feeling he may remain Denver’s defensive coordinator, but he could be a reasonably priced option for the Chiefs or Chargers.

Jon Gruden, former Oakland and Tampa Bay head coach: The most frequent question I get from readers is this: Is there a chance Gruden could come back to coach the Raiders? I’ve heard that countless times since Gruden was fired by Tampa Bay after the 2008 season. My answer now is the same as always: Probably not. There have been plenty of opportunities for Gruden to come back to Oakland and it has not happened. Never say never, but I’d be surprised. If there is a fit this offseason in the division, I’d say it would be San Diego. I think Gruden -- some reports say the University of Tennesee wants to hire Gruden -- would love to live in San Diego, and he’d love to work with Rivers. I’m not saying Gruden is a favorite to end up in San Diego, but it wouldn’t shock me.

Chip Kelly, University of Oregon head coach: See Cowher. Kelly will get his pick of jobs and he will cost a ton. I’m not sure he’d fit in the AFC West, although working with Rivers could be intriguing to him.

Mike McCoy, Denver offensive coordinator: He is going to be a hot candidate. I think the preferred destination for McCoy, a former Panthers assistant, is to go to Carolina if the Panthers fire Ron Rivera; he is highly regarded there. I could see him receiving interest from the Chiefs as well. He is young, bright and won’t break the bank.

[+] EnlargeChip Kelly/David Shaw
AP Photo/Paul SakumaOregon's Chip Kelly, left, may be too pricey for the AFC West; Stanford's David Shaw could fit better.
Wade Phillips, Houston defensive coordinator: The only reason I put Phillips on this list is if Smith remains in San Diego. Smith admires Phillips from Phillips' days as the Chargers’ defensive coordinator. I think he’d be a candidate if Smith is making the choice.

Andy Reid, Philadelphia head coach: Reid is very likely entering his last month in Philadelphia after a tenure that started in 1999. The word around the league is that he will get instant interest. If Reid doesn’t opt to take time off, I could see San Diego being a fit. He has a home in the area and he’d work well with Rivers. But would the Chargers want to replace Turner with a veteran coach who just flamed out after a long stay with a team?

Rex Ryan, New York Jets head coach: It is no sure thing he will be fired, but there’s a chance. I think he could get some interest in the AFC West. He was a finalist in San Diego when Turner got the job. I think the Chiefs could also be interested. They have the makings of a good 3-4 defense -- Ryan’s specialty. Putting him in a small media market could also save Ryan from himself occasionally.

David Shaw, Stanford University head coach: This is one of my favorites. I can really see Shaw ending up in San Diego. He was born there and may be one of the hot young coaches available. I think he’d be perfect for San Diego whether Smith is there or not. His father, Willie Shaw, was a longtime NFL assistant. David Shaw played for Bill Walsh. He worked for Al Davis. He was an assistant to Jim Harbaugh and he has coached Luck. And he has won as a head coach. If I was hiring a coach next month, I’d seriously investigate this 40-year-old.
It may be easy for you and I to sit here and say Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones should give up on the idea of Jason Garrett as head coach, move on and start over with someone else. But it's important to remember that you and I probably wouldn't have hired Garrett to coach the Cowboys in the first place, and Jones did.

A half-season after he fired Wade Phillips as head coach and defensive coordinator, Jones looked at all of the available candidates and selected Garrett. Dan Snyder had beaten him to Mike Shanahan by a year, and the best remaining candidates at the time were either defensive coaches (John Fox, Jeff Fisher) like the one he'd just fired or offensive coaches (Jon Gruden, Brian Billick) whose stock had fallen since their Super Bowl title days. Garrett had just gone 5-3 over the second half of the 2010 season with Jon Kitna at quarterback. The team had responded to him, Jones had always thought highly of him, and so he made the decision that Garrett had earned his chance.

[+] EnlargeJason Garrett
AP Photo/Chuck BurtonIs a strong finish to the season a must in order for Jason Garrett to keep his job as Cowboys coach?
We fast-forward now to the present day. After Sunday night's loss to the undefeated Falcons in Atlanta, Garrett is 3-5 for this season, 4-9 in his last 13 games and 16-16 since taking over as head coach of the Cowboys in the middle of 2010. For the first time since he got the job, he does not have a winning record. Cowboys fans are profoundly disappointed that things have failed to get better over the past two calendar years, and since they believe their team has the talent to play with the league's best teams but isn't beating them, they assume it's a matter of coaching and that Garrett must go.

Now, I don't believe this Cowboys team is as "talented" as everybody wants to rush to believe it is. Sure, there are some excellent players on both sides of the ball. But they don't have the same kind of depth of talent on their roster as the teams to which they've barely lost to the past couple of weeks. And at the positions where they're strongest -- quarterback and wide receiver, for instance -- the Giants and Falcons are even better. The combined record of the five teams to which the Cowboys have lost this season is 32-10, which means they've been beaten by the very best teams in the league. Of their remaining eight games, five are at home and only one is against a team that currently has a winning record. There is reason to believe things so far have been tougher for the Cowboys than things will be the rest of the way.

But those are excuses, this is a results business and the results say Garrett is a .500 coach. So this becomes about evaluating the kind of job he's actually doing. And it's not great. The clock-management issues, the delays in sending in the plays ... these things are easy to spot, as is the fact that the offense (which is Garrett's responsibility) appears to be regressing. The additions of offensive line coach Bill Callahan and the free-agent guards they signed were moves of Garrett's making, and they have not paid off. Tony Romo's having a bad year. Dez Bryant isn't making the step forward he was supposed to make. There is no run game to speak of with DeMarco Murray injured, and it's not as though they were running for 175 yards a game when he was in there.

There are plenty of reasons, if you believe 32 games is a sufficient sample size, to conclude that Garrett isn't doing a good enough job. But only one man's opinion matters, and that man is the guy who hired Garrett in the first place. Just because fans are looking for reasons to fire Garrett doesn't mean they should assume Jerry Jones is, too. Jones has publicly said, many times, that he regrets firing Chan Gailey after only 32 games, and that he's learned lessons about the importance of continuity. Good leaders stand by their plan and their people, and Garrett is Jones' guy and his plan is to give him every chance to succeed.

Jones likes Garrett. Garrett is Jones' hand-picked choice to coach the team. If anything, he's looking for reasons to keep him. Another 5-3 finish that got the team back to .500 would allow Jones to claim that Garrett had done a good job recovering from a tough first half. It would push Garrett's record to 21-19, and Jones could very easily say he's not going to fire a guy with a winning record. A finish better than 5-3 would make the Cowboys a playoff contender, possibly even a playoff team if things broke the way they did last year in the NFC East.

A total flop against the soft second half of the schedule? Say, a 3-5 finish and a 6-10 record for the year? That's the kind of thing that could change Jones' mind. So could the sudden appearance in the coaching free-agent ranks of a highly qualified offensive coach such as Sean Payton or Andy Reid. As much as Jones likes Garrett, he likes Payton as well. And if a coach with Payton's pedigree hits the market, every team with even the faintest of question marks in the head coach's office is going to have to take a long look.

But the key thing to remember, amid the frustration, is that Jones feels differently about Jason Garrett than Cowboys fans do. Jones thinks more highly of Garrett than you ever did, or else Garrett would never have been the coach in the first place. Jones wants Garrett to succeed -- wants to build the Cowboys into a consistent winner around him and with the help of his vision. That might sound crazy and unjustified to you and to me, but it's what Jones has in mind for his franchise. And in order for him to get rid of Garrett, something big is going to have to happen to change his mind. So while you may want Garrett out and you may think it's obvious that he needs to go, you shouldn't assume it's definitely going to happen.
With the locked-out officials expected to return in time for Thursday night's game, many expect normalcy to come back to the game. The Browns and Ravens know that's not a certainty. They were part of a controversial finish long before the replacement officials ever walked onto an NFL field.

[+] EnlargeBrowns-Ravens 2007
AP Photo/Nick Wass)Officials reversed the call on the field, giving the Browns a field goal that sent their 2007 game with the Ravens into overtime.
Five years ago in Baltimore, Phil Dawson's 51-yard field goal at the end of regulation sparked debate and eventually resulted in a rule change. Dawson's kick clanged off the left upright, ricocheted back to the curved extension that supports the goalposts and bounced back into the end zone.

The Ravens thought they had won when an official ruled it no good and celebrated on the field. After a nearly five-minute discussion among three officials (referee Pete Morelli and the two standing underneath the goal post on the kick), Morelli reversed the ruling and called the kick good, which tied the score at 30 and sent the game into overtime. The Browns won in overtime on another Dawson field goal.

"I was remiss in not covering [in training camp] what we do when we've won a game, go into the locker room and are told to come back out again," then-Ravens coach Brian Billick said a day after the game. "I don't know that I had them adequately prepared for that."

The Ravens were upset that Morelli pulled on a headset, consulted with someone who may have seen the replays and then overturned the call. But the NFL insisted that Morelli put on the headset only to confirm that the play was not reviewable, not to get word on whether or not the kick was good.

In the offseason, the NFL decided to create a rule that allowed kicks that hit the uprights or crossbar to be reviewable. It's called the Phil Dawson rule.

So, what was the point of this go back-in-time moment? Yes, the replacement referees were an embarrassment. But don't expect the locked-out officials to be perfect when they return.

Family first: What if QB misses the game?

September, 21, 2012
Jim Harbaugh lives football. It's in his blood.

So, when a reporter asked whether the San Francisco 49ers' second-year coach would have missed a season-opening game at Green Bay to attend the birth of his son, Harbaugh sounded incredulous.

"Wild horses couldn't have dragged us away from this game coming up this Sunday," Harbaugh said.

[+] EnlargeKevin Kolb
AP Photo/Scott BoehmArizona's Kevin Kolb appears willing to prove that he puts family far ahead of football.
Harbaugh's wife delivered their first son, Jack, five days before the game. But if the delivery had conflicted with the game, Harbaugh would have missed the birth.

"Jack Jr. will understand in 20 years. He wants to win, too," Harbaugh said. "And my wife would understand, too. She wants us to win, too. They would understand, but it was great to be there for it."

Family first. We speak and hear that mantra frequently, but we don't always live it. When an employer is shelling out millions, as the 49ers are for Harbaugh, there can be an expectation work will come first in the absence of a tragedy.

The Harbaugh mind-set came to mind Friday upon learning that Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kevin Kolb would miss the team's game against Philadelphia if his wife, Whitney, went into labor with the couple's third daughter Sunday. She is about 38 weeks pregnant. The child could come any time. If that time comes Sunday and Kolb decided to be with his wife, the Cardinals' outlook against Philadelphia could change.

"I'm not going to miss the birth of my child," Kolb told Fox. "If it happened Sunday morning, I'm not missing it."

This seems like such an admirable position to take, but what if he missed the game?

The Cardinals have paid nearly $20 million to Kolb over the past 13 months. Arizona is 2-0 and, minus Kolb, could be left in a tough position at quarterback while John Skelton recovers from injury (his status for the team's game is not yet clear). The Cardinals are seeking their first 3-0 start since the team moved from St. Louis before the 1988 season.

Should factors such as these influence expectations for a player in Kolb's position? Comments Brian Billick made in 2007, when he was the Baltimore Ravens head coach, have stuck with me through the years.

"You always ask your family to recognize, 'No, I don't love my job more than I love you, but you're more forgiving, so naturally you're going to get the brunt of it because the job is unforgiving and relentless,'" Billick said then. "So, if something needs to give, it's going to be your wife and kids because they will."

Billick was speaking in general. Childbirth is different from the typical family matter, of course.

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger recently said he would put the birth of his child before a game -- even if it meant missing the 2012 opener.

Kolb is prepared to make a similar call, if necessary.
LaMarr Woodley and Ray LewisGetty ImagesThe Steelers and Ravens have made a habit of drafting Pro Bowl players like linebackers LaMarr Woodley, left, and Ray Lewis.
This is the time of the offseason when the Baltimore Ravens and the Pittsburgh Steelers shine. They build the foundation for Super Bowl-contending teams by finding players in April and not in March.

When it comes to drafting Pro Bowl players, the Ravens and Steelers rank among the top four since 1996, according to the Ravens' public-relations department. Baltimore and Pittsburgh have each selected 15 Pro Bowl players during that span, tied for third-most in the league. Only the New England Patriots (17) and Green Bay Packers (16) have produced more.

The secret to the Ravens' and Steelers' drafting success is establishing a vision of what type of player fits their teams. That philosophy comes from the stability of the organizations. Ozzie Newsome has been the Ravens' chief decision-maker since the team relocated to Baltimore in 1996, and Kevin Colbert has been the Steelers' general manager since 2000. The teams each have had two head coaches (Mike Tomlin and Bill Cowher for the Steelers, and John Harbaugh and Brian Billick for the Ravens) for the previous 13 seasons.

That type of cohesion builds a relationship to the point where the scouting department knows what players the coaches want. The front office has insight on what players succeed in their teams' offensive and defensive systems.

"I think that's one of the enjoyable things about Pittsburgh," Tomlin said at the Steelers' pre-draft press conference this week. "We don't get caught up in draft grades and the evaluation of the draft, and things of that nature like a lot of other things that could distract you. It's simply measured in terms of how we perform."

The Steelers have drafted four Pro Bowl players in the past five years: linebacker LaMarr Woodley (2007), wide receiver Mike Wallace (2009), center Maurkice Pouncey (2010) and receiver-returner Antonio Brown (2010).

Last season, seven of the Ravens' eight Pro Bowl players were drafted by the team: inside linebacker Ray Lewis, safety Ed Reed, outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, running back Ray Rice and guards Ben Grubbs and Marshal Yanda.

This type of consistent success is more amazing when you consider the level of difficulty. The Steelers and Ravens are finding these Pro Bowl players despite annually picking toward the bottom of each round.

These division rivals don't like each other, but they tend to like the same type of player. The Ravens and Steelers target tough, physical and competitive players.

“His motor in the fourth quarter is really, really important,” Ravens director of player of personnel Eric DeCosta said. “A lot of the guys who impress me are the guys who are getting their butts kicked in the fourth quarter, losing by 20, 25 points, and he’s still making plays or trying to make plays."

DeCosta added, "How does a guy tackle? If it’s a cornerback, does he face up and use his facemask? Does he bring you down? Does he miss a lot of tackles? If he’s a running back, does he run through contact? Does he lower his pads and try to break tackles? You get a sense. When you talk to people, you get a sense. Then when you interview a guy, you get a sense for his toughness.”

The true measure of draft success isn't the number of Pro Bowl players produced. There is a higher standard.

"Super Bowl championships," Colbert said. "That's it. There is no scorecard. Never will be, never has been."




Thursday, 8/21
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