NFL Nation: Keith Armstrong

Ranking the remaining coaching vacancies

January, 16, 2013
1/16/13
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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.

By the end of Sunday, it's possible the Chicago Bears will have concluded their first round of interviews in what has already been an epic coaching search. Indianapolis Colts offensive coordinator Bruce Arians was scheduled to be the 13th known candidate to speak with general manager Phil Emery. If there are more first-round interviews scheduled, they haven't been reported.

My educated guess is that some interviews have been completed in secrecy, so I wouldn't be surprised if Emery has spoken with 15 or more candidates. We've discussed the possibility that Emery is using this opportunity to pick the brains of as many smart assistant coaches as he can, but I think we have also seen an undeniable quality emerge as well.

Here's how Tennessee Titans general manger Ruston Webster put it last week during an interview with my AFC South colleague Paul Kuharsky on 104.5-FM in Nashville: "I know Phil Emery, and Phil Emery is about as thorough of a human being as I've ever known."

Meanwhile, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter, two of the coaches Emery has spoken with said "they never have interviewed with anyone as prepared and detailed" as him.

So before we try to ascribe some kind of ulterior motive to Emery's approach, and rather than conclude he is flailing blindly in the night, perhaps this search is best viewed as a physical extension of Emery's meticulous personality. Where and when it ends remains anyone's guess. Former NFL coach Jimmy Johnson tweeted that Emery favored his former assistant, current Montreal Alouettes coach Marc Trestman, but nothing more has come of what appears to be Johnson's personal view.

For the record, here are the Bears' Lucky 13 to this point:
  1. Arians
  2. Atlanta Falcons special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong
  3. Seattle Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell
  4. New Orleans Saints offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael Jr.
  5. Green Bay Packers offensive coordinator Tom Clements
  6. Dallas Cowboys special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis
  7. Houston Texans offensive coordinator Rick Dennison
  8. Denver Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy
  9. Minnesota Vikings special teams coordinator Mike Priefer
  10. Vikings special assistant to the head coach Mike Singletary.
  11. Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan
  12. Trestman
  13. Bears special teams coordinator Dave Toub
The first three names to emerge as candidates to replace Mike Mularkey as head coach in Jacksonville are St. Louis offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, San Francisco offensive coordinator Greg Roman and Atlanta special-teams coach Keith Armstrong.

We knew Roman would be in the mix for new general manager David Caldwell, because the two went to college together at John Carroll University in Ohio and worked together early in their careers with the Carolina Panthers.

Schottenheimer interviewed for the Jaguars head-coaching job last season and lost out to Mularkey. Armstrong works for the franchise Caldwell spent the previous five years working with.

[+] EnlargeBrian Schottenheimer
AP Photo/Michael YoungThe Jaguars have asked permission to speak with Rams offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer.
“Me coming in here as a first-time general manager and I’m looking for a co-builder of our team,” Caldwell said at his introductory press conference. “When I talked to (owner) Shad (Khan) in terms of a culture change along the football side, I felt like it was more of that. I felt like it was an atmosphere of change. I felt like that to do that, you’ve got to have a fresh start (across) the board.”

Prior work as a head coach is not a prerequisite for Mularkey’s replacement.

“You guys are all familiar with Mike Smith, who is our current head coach in Atlanta, did not have head-coaching experience and is the all-time leading winner in Atlanta,” Caldwell said. “I’m looking for the right person, he obviously has to have certain qualifications. In terms of previous … head-coaching experience, not necessary.”

Khan wasn’t going to be able to get his man without giving him power to pick his head coach.

Khan cited the team’s record getting progressively worse over the last three reasons as a reason for large-scale change.

Mularkey was a victim of bad timing, injuries, a thin roster and a bad year.

Khan bought the franchise toward the end of the 2011 season, and the team fired Jack Del Rio as coach and gave general manager Gene Smith a contract extension.

Khan and Smith hired Mularkey, whose overmatched team went 2-14. Jacksonville hardly had its best offensive player, running back Maurice Jones-Drew, and got one game combined out of two projected starting linebackers, Daryl Smith and Clint Session.

Smith’s four-year record as the personnel chief didn’t cut it, and Khan parted ways with him the day after the season ended.

He then left Mularkey’s fate in the hands of a yet-unnamed GM and ultimately allowed assistants to seek other work. They are still under contract, however, and will require Caldwell’s permission to leave.

Caldwell had long terms working in the front offices of two winning teams, Indianapolis and Atlanta.

“The common thread is the relationship between the head coach and the general manager and obviously the quarterback,” he said. “The type of people we bring in as players. They have to be good football players but they have to be positive, passionate, physical and I think you see that.”

He needs a coach first, and then they’ll assess what they will do offensively. Quarterbacks Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne are under contract and will be part of things. Tim Tebow won’t be, even if he is released by the Jets.

“I have others in mind and I’m comfortable with what’s here,” he said.

Adam Schefter reports that the Jaguars have already asked for permission to talk with Schottenheimer.

Because the 49ers and Falcons are still in the playoffs, Caldwell will have to wait to talk to Roman or Armstrong. If their teams lose, he will be allowed to interview them if they are interested. If they win this weekend, they are off-limits until after the NFC title game. If one goes to the Super Bowl, there is an interview window in the week leading up to the weekend off before the Super Bowl.

With a lot of turnover around the league, Mularkey could resurface as a coordinator. He did good work with Matt Ryan in Atlanta, though after helping the quarterback reach a certain level in his first four years, the team was ready to go a different direction when he got hired in Jacksonville.

Several teams in need a solid teacher for a young quarterback could benefit from adding Mularkey.

On the Eagles and Lovie Smith

January, 8, 2013
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The Philadelphia Eagles announced Tuesday that they will interview former Chicago Bears head coach Lovie Smith for their head-coaching vacancy Thursday. In answer to some questions I've already gotten, no, it's not a "Rooney Rule" requirement that the Eagles meet with him, as they've already interviewed at least one minority candidate (Falcons special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong). It's safe to assume the team has legitimate curiosity about Smith. He's the most accomplished of the candidates currently on their list, as he was 84-66 (including playoffs) with four 10-win seasons and a Super Bowl appearance in nine years as head coach of the Bears before being fired last week.

I remain a little bit skeptical that Smith ends up being the choice, however, since most of the other candidates the Eagles have talked to or plan to talk to have offensive backgrounds while Smith's is as a defensive coach. Chicago's offense was a consistent, year-to-year issue during Smith's time with the Bears, even as the team brought in good new quarterbacks, wide receivers and offensive coordinators to try and address the problem. So it's not just that Smith has a defensive background, it's that he's shown an inability as a head coach to preside over a productive offense. If they hired him as head coach, the Eagles would have to know he was bringing with him a strong offensive coordinator to run that side of the game. And with serious question marks already at quarterback, it's tough to imagine hiring a head coach who doesn't have proven success with an offense.

That's just a theory, of course. It's possible the Eagles will see in Smith a strong, effective leader of men, which he showed himself to be in Chicago, and decide that they can find a quarterback and coordinator who can be successful under him. It's possible they like him and consider him for defensive coordinator if they hire someone else and he doesn't get a head-coaching job somewhere. Smith is a good candidate with a good résumé and surely deserves the interview. I just don't feel like he's a guy who immediately vaults into front-runner status just because he's now on the list. But we will see.
The Chicago Bears have sought permission to interview seven known candidates this week for their vacant head-coaching position, according to reports. Five are offensive coordinators, two are special-teams coordinators and not one has a primary background as a defensive head coach.

What does that tell us about general manager Phil Emery's goals and objectives in this process?

First, we should make clear that the list of seven, whose names are at the bottom of this post, might not be all of the candidates Emery has targeted. Others could have gone undiscovered to this point by reporters or have been kept under the radar for competitive reasons.

But it's certainly worth noting that Emery appears to be most interested in the offensive side of the ball, the part of the team he said Tuesday was most disappointing under former coach Lovie Smith. NFL teams routinely seek out candidates that offer a stark contrast to the predecessor, and an offensive schemer would certainly qualify given Smith's background on defense.

It's possible that some of the candidates are being interviewed as potential offensive coordinators. You also wonder if Emery is leaving open the possibility for an offensive-minded coach to preserve the Bears' defensive staff, led by coordinator Rod Marinelli. Emery said Tuesday that all assistants were given an extra year on their contracts last season, meaning they all remain obligated to stay with the team unless the new coach fires them.

Again, it's difficult to draw too many conclusions based on what might be an incomplete list. All we can say at the moment is that there are no confirmed candidates with defensive backgrounds to this point.

The offensive coordinators: Bruce Arians (Indianapolis Colts), Pete Carmichael Jr. (New Orleans Saints), Tom Clements (Green Bay Packers), Mike McCoy (Denver Broncos), Mike Sullivan (Tampa Bay Buccaneers),

The special teams coordinators: Keith Armstrong (Atlanta Falcons), Joe DeCamillis (Dallas Cowboys).
It's too bad the networks can't flex-schedule press conferences. Because Chicago Bears general manager Phil Emery gave one of the most expansive and content-rich pressers in recent memory at a time -- New Years' morning -- when many Bears fans and perhaps some reporters were, uh, less than ideally equipped to provide rapt attention.

Emery provided a candid explanation for why he fired coach Lovie Smith after a 10-6 season, explained in unprecedented detail why he didn't address the Bears' offensive line last offseason, and was appropriately non-committal about the future of longtime franchise face Brian Urlacher.

[+] EnlargePhil Emery
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhBears general manager Phil Emery was candid about his reasons for firing head coach Lovie Smith.
Our friends at ESPNChicago.com have it all wrapped up on their Bears blog. I'm not sure I totally accepted Emery's explanation for the state of his offensive line -- essentially that he judged the acquisition of playmakers last winter to be more important considering the quality of line options available -- but that is a discussion over spilled milk. What's done is done there, and Emery will have more chances to address the line this winter.

What I thought was most important for the franchise was Emery's clear message of heightened expectations. In essence, Emery said that simply winning a lot of games -- as Smith did over the past nine years -- isn't good enough.

"Our No. 1 goal always has to be to win championships," Emery said. "And to win championships, we must be in contention on a consistent basis. And to be in contention, we have to be in the playoffs on a consistent basis."

Smith had an 81-63 regular-season record, but missed the playoffs in five of the past six years. Emery specifically quoted that drought Tuesday. He bluntly said the Smith's offenses were too inconsistent over time, and implied Smith had enough time to fix them. "We searched for answers," Emery said.

There is a risk in firing a coach who has won consistently, if not at a championship level. The next guy might not be able to win at all. That's the primary argument we've heard from those who think Smith should have been retained. Tuesday, however, Emery made clear he isn't willing to settle for good coaching or even very good coaching. He wants the best.

A year after taking control of football operations, Emery has ended an era during which the Bears were lulled into accepting good years instead of great ones. Lovie Smith is a very good head coach. By firing him, and by definition implying that the next coach will be better, Emery has set a high bar for himself and the franchise. But if you're a Bears fan, would you want it any other way?

Related: ESPN's working list of candidates that Emery has reached out to interview now includes four men: Denver Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy, Atlanta Falcons special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong, Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan and Dallas Cowboys special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis.

Mike Nolan also draws interest

January, 1, 2013
1/01/13
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As the Atlanta Falcons get ready for the postseason, they suddenly have a lot of potential distractions.

Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan has become the latest Atlanta assistant to get an interview for a position as a head coach. Nolan reportedly will interview in Philadelphia. Offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter and special-teams coordinator Keith Armstrong also will be interviewing for spots.

Since the Falcons have a bye this week, their assistants are allowed to interview.

Koetter, Nolan and Armstrong are all dedicated professionals, and I’m sure they’ll do their best to fulfill their duties to the Falcons this week. But it won't be easy to juggle the interviews with their regular duties.

The fact that they’re interviewing also could cause some distractions for the players. But if the Falcons really are going to make a deep playoff run, they have to be able to handle distractions.
In the hours since the Chicago Bears fired coach Lovie Smith, the names of two possible replacements have surfaced: Denver Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy and Atlanta Falcons special-teams coordinator Keith Armstrong. Both coaches are available to be interviewed this weekend, according to NFL rules, because their teams have playoff byes.

ESPN's Adam Schefter confirmed McCoy will interview over the weekend; Fox Sports' Alex Marvez and ESPNChicago.com's Michael C. Wright reports that Armstrong has a meeting planned as well.

McCoy also has drawn interest from the Arizona Cardinals and figures to be one of the hottest coaching candidates on the market. He drew rave reviews last season for adjusting his offense to fit run-oriented quarterback Tim Tebow. He then presided over a substantial transition in 2012 following the Broncos' acquisition of quarterback Peyton Manning.

Armstrong, meanwhile, has a history with Bears general manager Phil Emery. He coached the Bears' special teams from 1997-2000, overlapping for three seasons when Emery was a Bears scout. The pair also overlapped with the Falcons for one season in 2008 when Emery was director of college scouting.

I would imagine that more names will emerge. We'll keep you updated.

Why not the Falcons?

December, 28, 2008
12/28/08
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 Kevin Terrell/Getty Images
 Mike Smith, left, and Matt Ryan have the Atlanta Falcons on a roll heading into the playoffs.

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

ATLANTA -- In the postgame locker room Sunday at the Georgia Dome, a slogan was reborn.

What it lacks in originality is made up for by the possibility that it just might fit the Atlanta Falcons better than any team that ever has used the rallying cry.

"The message is, 'Why not us?'" coach Mike Smith said.

Why not?

As they enter the playoffs, the Falcons just might be the most dangerous team in the NFC. They're the hottest, entering the playoffs on a three-game winning streak. The top-seeded Giants and No. 2 Carolina are the obvious favorites and the most complete teams in the NFC.

"Why not us?" Atlanta receiver Roddy White said. "We're a good team. We beat a lot of good teams."

The Falcons just might have a point. At the moment, Atlanta has as much going for it as any team. Here are five reasons why the Falcons could win the NFC:

(Read full post)

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