NFL Nation: Marty Schottenheimer

Ten thoughts (plus 2) on Jay Gruden

March, 27, 2014
Mar 27
10:35
AM ET
ORLANDO, Fla. -- Some leftover impressions after Jay Gruden's breakfast meeting with the press Wednesday:

1. I've said a few times that he's a breath of fresh air. Here's why: You don't get the feeling he's putting himself above anyone, even though his position puts him at quite a high level. He's personable, he's respectful. Shortly after he was hired, I spoke with him on the phone for a few minutes. After I was done asking him questions, he actually asked one of me. What does that mean? Probably not a whole lot, but I was not used to it. This only suggests that Gruden will be good to deal with from a professional standpoint. That doesn't mean he'll get a free pass.

[+] EnlargeJay Gruden
Rob Foldy/USA TODAY SportsCoach Jay Gruden has set himself apart in interviews from his predecessors in Washington.
2. Jim Zorn was personable as well. But from the minute he took over, you knew he was in over his head. He also was a bit goofy with his stories and that did not play well with players and coaches who often wondered where the heck his tales were going.

3. There's zero of that with Gruden. He's at least been an offensive coordinator so being elevated to this job was no surprise, whether people think he should have been or not. Nobody outside of the Redskins felt Zorn should have been a head coach. Some thought Gruden should be one, others did not.

4. One reason Gruden did not want to come to the NFL long ago was because he wanted to enjoy his family, coaching their youth sports and just being a dad. I completely can relate to that sentiment. But I also think it makes him less likely to believe he's smarter than everyone else. Some coaches from the past did not share that outlook.

5. Gruden spoke for an hour at Wednesday's breakfast and said quite a bit that provided insight. Former coach Mike Shanahan often spoke that long, but usually said little -- for obvious reasons, of course.

6. Gruden has a sense of humor. The topic was Robert Griffin III's running and taking too many hits. Gruden, too, hurt his knee when he played quarterback. It was not from running, however. “I hurt my knee because the right tackle missed a block,” he said. You know, that may have sounded funnier when he was talking. Now I wonder if he's not still annoyed. Whatever. It was funny at breakfast.

7. It was very different to see other teams' coaches garner much more attention than the guy leading the Redskins. Chip Kelly, for example, had reporters sitting at the table and then another ring standing behind them, with cameras all around. Gruden had a couple of national guys stop by, ask about Griffin and then leave.

8. Look at the coaches hired by the Redskins under Dan Snyder (outside of Zorn): Marty Schottenheimer, Steve Spurrier, Joe Gibbs and Mike Shanahan. All brought a certain level of attention. Gruden's last name does, but despite him being a good quote there will be less attention. Unless they win: Hey, another Gruden who wins! Or unless things go south in a hurry: Hey, another Redskins coach in trouble! Griffin's presence will always bring a high level of attention, however.

9. One question that was asked often during the coaching search about any candidate: Can Gruden command the room? Can he sell his vision and plan? That was typically tops on the list of importance when I'd talk to various NFL people about coaching candidates. Don't know if Gruden can do that or not yet in Washington because he hasn't had the chance. But I'll be curious to hear how that goes. It's a key.

10. So, too, is Griffin's improvement and a defense that must -- must -- show some teeth for a change. They still need a safety. (Yes, Ryan Clark remains in the mix.) They need to prove that the talk in March will result in a better pass rush in September. And they need to cut down on big plays allowed. Do that and Gruden's task is much easier. Otherwise, all the personable traits won't matter a bit.

11. I also wonder how he'll handle the bigger media market and how dysfunctional things can get with this organization. There's no way to know until it happens, of course. But coming from being a coordinator in small-market Cincinnati to being in charge in Washington represents quite a leap.

12. What does all this means for wins and losses? Well, that depends on other factors -- do you believe Bruce Allen can build a winner is one of the big questions, of course. The organization has failed to produce a consistent winner and until it does, there will be massive questions about that ability.
Jim HarbaughChristian Petersen/Getty ImagesJim Harbaugh has reached the NFC title game in each of his three seasons, so why would the 49ers look elsewhere?

Coach Jim Harbaugh's situation in San Francisco has been one of the most talked-about stories in the league in recent weeks.

If a resolution on his contract isn't reached, it will likely hover over the franchise all season and would be a major story next January, when Harbaugh could leave the team, although Harbaugh told Sports Illustrated this week he is happy with all aspects of his job and doesn’t see any way he will leave the team before the end of his contract. Still, getting the contract done would ease a lot of issues.

We all know the backdrop: Harbaugh has led the 49ers to the NFC title game in all three of his seasons as coach. He got them to the Super Bowl after the 2012 season. He is entering the fourth year of a five-year contract that pays him $5 million per year. Harbaugh and the 49ers have been in discussion about a new deal for about a year, but are not close to an extension. Team owner Jed York recently told the Sacramento Bee he thinks contract talks will resume after the NFL draft in early May.

Things got interesting when the Cleveland Browns pursued a trade for Harbaugh. The 49ers were not interested, but that could change next year.

There have been rampant reports that Harbaugh has had trouble with some in the 49ers' front office, including general manager Trent Baalke. York, Harbaugh and Baalke have long downplayed the friction, indicating that they can coexist.

However, there is enough smoke here to think this situation go could south if a contract isn't agreed upon this year. Let's look at some issues that may be part of this story as it further develops:

The history: While it would be stunning to see the 49ers-Harbaugh marriage disintegrate after such a stellar start, similar breakups have happened before.

[+] EnlargeJimmy Johnson and Jerry Jones
AP Photo/Ron HeflinJim Harbaugh would not be the first successful coach to leave during a team's prime. Jimmy Johnson left the Cowboys after winning two Super Bowls because of fighting with owner Jerry Jones.
After winning two straight Super Bowls, Jimmy Johnson famously left the Cowboys in 1994 after fighting with owner Jerry Jones. Following the 1998 season, Mike Holmgren shocked the NFL when he left quarterback Brett Favre and a Green Bay Packers team in its prime after a seven-year run that included a Super Bowl win. Holmgren left for more power and much more money in Seattle. In 2002, the Raiders traded coach Jon Gruden to Tampa Bay for a massive amount of draft picks. The Raiders were burned as Gruden led the Buccaneers to a Super Bowl win against Oakland in his first season. In 2007, the Chargers sided with general manager A.J. Smith in his feud with coach Marty Schottenheimer even though the Chargers went 14-2 the season before.

If Harbaugh leaves the 49ers, it wouldn't be the first time a coach and team split despite success.

The highest-paid coaches: Harbaugh told Sports Illustrated he is not unhappy with his pay, but the man is underpaid considering his massive NFL success. Nine of the 32 NFL coaches in 2013 made at least $7 million. Only five of them had won a Super Bowl.

I'd think it has to bother Harbaugh that Chip Kelly earned $6.5 million in his first NFL season and NFC West rival Jeff Fisher made $7 million in St. Louis. Coaches' salaries are at a premium and, by NFL standards, Harbaugh is underpaid.

The best coaches without power: He is hypercompetitive and likes to be in control. So, Harbaugh probably isn't always thrilled to defer personnel decisions to Baalke. But I don't sense Harbaugh wanting to be the general manager and making every decision as he said. He is a coach.

I don't see this as a deal-breaker.

There are plenty of great NFL coaches who don't have total power, including Harbaugh's brother, John, in Baltimore. There's also Mike McCarthy in Green Bay, Mike Tomlin in Pittsburgh and Pete Carroll in Seattle. So, a lack of total power in the NFL really isn't a big deal anymore for coaches.

[+] EnlargeDavid Shaw
AP Photo/Matt YorkWould Stanford coach David Shaw be a candidate to follow Jim Harbaugh again?
Where could Harbaugh land? Harbaugh's situation could cause teams to adjust their plans late in the season. I could see many owners prematurely firing a coach to get a shot at Harbaugh if he goes into January unsigned.

But right now, the list of teams that may be making a change next year and may make sense for Harbaugh isn't very long.

Miami and Dallas would be among the biggest suitors. Miami tried to hire Harbaugh before he went to San Francisco. The team has deep pockets, a need for good public relations, and the Dolphins have a good young quarterback in Ryan Tannehill. Dallas has big bucks and Tony Romo. Harbaugh could like both places.

Other possibilities could include both New York teams and Atlanta (coaching Matt Ryan would surely be intriguing). A potential long shot could be Oakland. Harbaugh was an assistant in Oakland and he could stay in the Bay Area. But the Raiders have to find a quarterback and ownership would have to be willing to shell out financially to make it work. Plus, the 49ers would need to get a haul from the Raiders to trade him to their Bay Area rival.

If I had to give odds on the early favorite, I'd look toward Miami.

Who could replace Harbaugh? It's only logical to think that San Francisco ownership, in the back of its mind, is thinking post-Harbaugh just in case.

The chance of getting draft picks for a coach the 49ers can't come to an agreement with could interest the team next offseason. Also, the idea of front-office peace could be at the forefront as well, especially if things go haywire the rest of this year.

The first place the 49ers would likely look to replace Harbaugh is on the current staff. Because the team has been so successful, I could see the 49ers having interest in staying close to home. Offensive and defensive coordinators Greg Roman and Vic Fangio, respectively, would likely be on the 49ers' list. Defensive line coach Jim Tomsula is a favorite of the front office. He was a candidate when Harbaugh was hired and his players love him.

Here's another name the 49ers could look at -- David Shaw. He replaced Harbaugh at Stanford. I'm sure he wouldn't be afraid to do it again.

Shaw has been steadfast in his desire to stay at Stanford. But if he were ever to leave for the NFL, this would likely be an appealing situation. He and his family could stay in their house and he'd go to a near perfect NFL situation with a franchise quarterback in Colin Kaepernick.

There is plenty to unfold in this situation in the next several months. Harbaugh and the 49ers could end it all by coming to a contract extension. But as we have realized early this offseason, it's not that simple.
Jay GrudenAP Photo/Manuel Balce CenetaNew head coach Jay Gruden comes to the Redskins with something to prove.
ASHBURN, Va. -- At some point during Jay Gruden's introductory news conference, it became clear: Gruden was, for lack of a better phrase, a breath of fresh air.

That doesn't mean he'll work out as the Washington Redskins' head coach. No coach has proved he can win in Washington under owner Dan Snyder. The owner isn't always the reason, but it is his organization and facts are facts: No coach that he's hired has left here with a winning record.

And he's hired some of the all-time winningest coaches: Marty Schottenheimer (career winning percentage: .606), Joe Gibbs (.665) and Mike Shanahan (.552). He hired the college hot shot, Steve Spurrier (.730). Yet that group posted a combined winning percentage of .420 as Redskins coaches with eight losing seasons out of 11. The three longtime NFL coaches combined for seven losing seasons in their other combined 48 NFL seasons.

Again, it's not all on Snyder. But the organization can't hide from its past and this is what they've done here.

Yes, Jim Zorn was not Snyder's typical hire, though that resulted as much from lack of preparation as anything. They were caught off-guard by Gibbs' retirement and had no real plan. Zorn, a nice personable guy, could not command a room and did not have the respect of his players. Even coaches would wonder about some of the bizarre tales he would tell the team, wondering how it related to his ultimate message. After Zorn's first news conference, I remember thinking: I'll like this guy, but it will not go well.

Gruden also is atypical, though in a different way than Zorn. He, too, comes across as personable. He does not come here with the résumé of the other non-Zorn hires. You can point to reasons why he'll be good and equally point to reasons why he won't be. A case can be made either way.

But it's good that Gruden arrives without the sizzle of the others. Gibbs did not arrive with any in 1981 either. Nor did Schottenheimer when he took over in Cleveland. Shanahan was a hot-shot coordinator but failed first-time head coach when he got the Denver job. They all won.

There's a different sort of energy that comes with a guy trying to reach a certain place rather than trying to maintain it. When you've had success, perhaps you start to get too confident in what you can do -- and with whom. You can overestimate your abilities as a coach because of your track record. Gruden, it seems, understands he'll need help -- from coaches, but mostly from players.

The past brings instant credibility, but it clearly hasn't guaranteed anything here. It's not like other teams wouldn't have hired any of these previously successful coaches. During their first news conferences you could see, and feel, why they'd won in the past. But duplicating past success is difficult, especially when you work for an organization with a weak foundation. Is it more firm now? Will there really be a better way of making decisions? I say: Prove it. We've heard this talk before about Redskins Way and Redskins Grades. Why is this time different?

But this is why hiring someone such as Gruden is intriguing. He needs to work hard to prove himself to his players rather than pointing to his résumé. It's not that the others weren't respected; they were. And I'm not even blaming them solely for their losing records here; good organizations win. The Redskins have not. Schottenheimer probably would have won had he stayed longer, but taking all control from Snyder was a bad move, one he felt he could do because of, well, his track record of success.

Of course, the track records buy respect with the owner and can keep him less involved.

But with Gruden, the newness brings something new, something fresh. His personality could be good for quarterback Robert Griffin III, a more personable coach with an even-keeled demeanor. I also can't imagine a former quarterback isn't hard on his own quarterbacks. And it's not as if Shanahan was out of control; Griffin deserves his share of the blame in this breakup. However, Gruden might just be a better fit for him.

Every coach needs authority, but not every coach needs power. Too often here there's a power struggle. Spurrier had none, but he was ill-equipped for the NFL. Zorn had none, but was blinded by an 8-2 start into thinking he was a coach he really wasn't. Only Gibbs knew how best to use that power under Snyder.

Gruden doesn't arrive here as a polished guy, nor as someone who will wow anyone with his charisma when he walks into a room. Maybe that's good because, for a change, it's not all about the coach here. The coach must be in charge; he must be the authority. But he doesn't have to be the star.

A lot has to go right for Gruden to work, just as would be the case anywhere (though Griffin could make his life easier by returning to his old self). The Redskins have never proved all will go right for more than a season at a time. So this is far from just up to him. That can't be emphasized enough. The front office must provide the players and also the support. The owner can't undermine his coach -- whether it's real or perceived -- by his conduct, whether in recommending certain moves or getting too tight with players.

The coach has to do his part too. That's where Gruden's newness can help. Yes, he has a famous last name. But he still needs to make his name.

Quick Takes: Coaching search

January, 3, 2014
Jan 3
9:20
AM ET
  • I’ve been told several times that Bill Cowher is not returning to coaching. But to think that Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder hasn’t at least reached out to him is insane. Snyder has lured Marty Schottenheimer, Joe Gibbs and Mike Shanahan to his organization. You don’t think he’s at attempted to get Cowher -- one of two big names still on the sidelines (Jon Gruden being the other)? Don’t forget, Snyder heard “no” from Gibbs a couple times over several years before snagging him. Of course, Snyder has hired three of the all-time winningest coaches -- and in their nine combined seasons they produced three winning records and one NFC East title in Washington. Not a great track record. Cowher is smart and would have to know the issues involved, and past obstacles, in coaching here.
  • Cowher
    The CBSThisMorning twitter feed sent this out this morning: Bill Cowher (@CowherCBS) says there is “nothing to” the rumor he’ll return to coaching, but the “door is never closed."
  • That’s why, when I hear that they haven’t talked, I laugh. Any team that doesn’t reach out to Cowher to gauge his interest is not doing its job. And no owner is more attracted to star power than Snyder. Cowher exudes the power and confidence any owner would love, especially Snyder. If he thinks that door is "never closed" of course he'd pursue him.
  • Having said that, even if that door is closed here, if I’m Snyder and Bruce Allen I’m tapping into all my resources to find the right coach. Snyder has a relationship with Cowher, so there’s just as strong a chance that if they have talked, it’s also to run names by him and pick the brain of a Super Bowl coach. Just like Allen would be doing with Gruden. They might not be interested in coming to Washington -- at all -- but they can still help in the search. It’s what I’d do as well. It’s smart. My guess is they'll pick the brain of many others about the job.
  • I also remember when Gibbs was hired, there was a spotting of Snyder’s plane in Charlotte several days earlier. A reporter, Len Pasquarelli, asked Snyder about it -- and about Gibbs -- and was pretty much told nothing was going on. He was hired a few days later. Snyder’s plane was in Denver early in the 2009 season, and again we were told it had nothing to do with a meeting between the owner and Mike Shanahan; instead the plane was there for someone else's use on business. That was the line. Later we found out differently. Point is, believe nothing and consider everything until it’s over.
  • Gruden
    And I’m not saying I think Cowher is coming. At this point I have zero evidence to the contrary, and people I respect and trust say it's not happening, so that’s what I stick with. But I’ve learned not to fully believe certain denials by the organization.
  • The Redskins face an uphill battle in some ways with their search. Yes, there are attractive parts to the job -- young offensive nucleus, cap space -- but the reality is a 15-year record of mostly losing and chaos every few years. That will scare some candidates off and make others leery. So find out from experts such as Gruden and Cowher what they need to do -- and who they need to interview.
  • And just because they interview someone, it does not mean they have a strong interest in them. It’s good to interview coaches with various backgrounds to see how they assess your team and organization. If you limited your search to just, say, offensive-minded coaches, you would not learn all you need to know. It would be quite dumb to operate that way.
  • From what I’ve been told, they have not yet reached out to Arizona defensive coordinator Todd Bowles.
  • San Diego offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt, an intriguing candidate for any opening, was teammates with Detroit general manager Martin Mayhew from 1989-90 in Washington. I heard that they’ve maintained a friendship, which could help lure him to the Lions. But if the Chargers win this weekend, would the Lions wait just for him? Not sure about that. One potential drawback to the Lions job: I’ve heard they want to maintain the defensive staff. If another coach wants to hire all of his coaches, that could be an issue.

Snyder's history of coaching hires

December, 31, 2013
12/31/13
8:15
AM ET
Before the Washington Redskins' head coaching search gets fully underway -- though, in reality, it began a couple weeks ago -- let's take a look back at the coaching hirings owner Dan Snyder has made. This will be his sixth hire since buying the team in 1999. That leads to constant changing of schemes, which means a constant changing of talent to fit those schemes. And constant losing. Will this time be any different?

Here's a look at his past coaches, all but one of whom was considered a big-name hire:

Marty Schottenheimer

Why he was hired: Predecessor Norv Turner was viewed as too soft when it came to discipline. Snyder went for a strong-willed, no-nonsense coach.

Why it failed: Schottenheimer had too much power for Snyder’s liking. When Schottenheimer fired Vinny Cerrato shortly after taking over, it started the beginning of the end for him. Partners in Snyder’s group did not like Schottenheimer and, by Week 3 of his first season, rumors of his demise already had begun.

Record: 8-8 in one season.

[+] EnlargeDan Snyder
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsDan Snyder will be making another coaching hire this offseason.
The ending: Schottenheimer had to wait nearly a week after the season ended to have his fate decided. And every day a media horde would follow him from the facility to his car awaiting an update. It was bizarre. The day Steve Spurrier resigned from Florida, colleague Liz Clarke of the Washington Post and I were in the press room. I remember her immediately saying, “Snyder’s going to hire him.” It was a gut feeling based on knowing how the then relatively new owner operated. I hedged, saying how people close to him said he’d never: A) Leave Florida and B) Coach in a colder climate. A week later I vowed never to assume anything. And I'll still say this: Had Schottenheimer remained in control, the Redskins would have had more success. He went .500 with Tony Banks and Kent Graham at quarterback and a roster devoid of serious talent. You did not hear excuses when he was done.

Steve Spurrier

Why he was hired: After watching Martyball for a season, the Redskins opted for the supposedly innovative Spurrier, whose offenses at Florida were fantastic. He also was hired because he did not want power. That was evident from the get-go and most especially during the draft when Spurrier had little involvement.

Why it failed: Turns out personnel matters more than scheme. Who knew? Spurrier thought he could win with former Florida quarterbacks Danny Wuerffel and Shane Matthews. Nope. Spurrier did not keep typical NFL coaching hours. He was ill-prepared for the NFL and he did not have a front office that could bail him out. He was a good guy and entertaining. But I remember his first press conference when he could not name but one Redskins player. It became clear: He was unprepared for the job.

Record: 12-20 in two seasons.

The ending: Spurrier wasn’t fired, but rather resigned. When the news broke he was on a golf course. I happened to be on the phone with one of his former assistants, who said he had earlier told his wife that after being on his staff he could not figure out how the guy even won in college.

Joe Gibbs

Why he was hired: Because he’s Joe Gibbs. Snyder was like every other Redskins fan, a Gibbs worshiper because of the Redskins’ success under him in the 1980s and early ‘90s. Three Super Bowl wins tend to make you a legend.

Why it failed: It didn’t fail as much as it didn’t succeed in grand fashion. The Redskins did make the playoffs twice in four years under Gibbs. But the coach who oversaw dominant offenses throughout the 1980s with nine finishing in the top 10 in total yards had a mediocre attack in Washington. Their top ranking in total yards per game was 13th and in points was 11th.

Record: 30-34 in four seasons.

The ending: Before the 2007 season, Gibbs, myself and another reporter chatted casually outside their weight room. He talked about golfing and other leisure activities and seemed like a man wanting an easier lifestyle. Adding to that desire: His grandson had leukemia, which he often talked about. Then came the 2007 season and Sean Taylor’s death. By the end Gibbs was drained. Only Redskins management was caught completely off-guard by his retirement.

Jim Zorn

Why he was hired: Because others turned them down, notably, and lastly, Steve Spagnuolo, who did not like that the staff already had been hired. A month-long search led them back to Zorn, hired as an offensive coordinator. The Redskins also touted him as Gibbs-like in terms of his personal side.

Why it failed: Because he should never have been hired as a head coach. The Redskins started strong under him, winning six of their first eight games and there was a thought that perhaps the quirky Zorn could indeed make it work (players and coaches would say they often had no idea where he was going with his messages once he started talking). He could not. Injuries hurt down the stretch, but the Redskins went 2-6 and then 4-12 the next year. Zorn had no power in the organization and several players could bypass him and go right to the owner. But Zorn was overmatched.

Record: 12-20 in two seasons.

The ending: Came fast. Zorn was fired after the Redskins returned from a season-ending loss at San Diego.

Mike Shanahan

Why he was hired: He was the biggest name available and Snyder had been talking to him for a while. There was even chatter that had the Redskins indeed landed quarterback Jay Cutler, their next move would have been to fire Zorn and hire Shanahan. His two Super Bowl rings and résumé suggested it would at least be a solid hire.

Why it failed: All sorts of reasons, from the salary-cap situation to Robert Griffin III’s knee injury. But to just blame those would be incorrect. There were bad personnel decisions, not enough depth produced through the draft and a head coach who perhaps trusted his instincts too much. They had little margin for error so when anything went wrong, games (and seasons) unraveled.

Record: 24-40 in four seasons.

The ending: As you know, it occurred Monday morning.

Ten observations: Packers 38, Redskins 20

September, 15, 2013
9/15/13
10:30
PM ET
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Ten observations after the Redskins' 38-20 loss at the Green Bay Packers.

  1. Do not assume that just because the Redskins were 3-6 and won seven straight that they will emerge from this horrid start to have great success. It wasn’t that they lost 38-20 to Green Bay, it’s that the Packers could have done a lot more. Of the Redskins' first six losses a year ago, they really only were out of one game -- the loss in Pittsburgh. And even after that one they came away with a feeling of missed opportunity because of all the dropped passes. It was hard to imagine a seven-game win streak; it was not difficult to envision a stronger finish just because of how the offense was playing. Now? Neither side of the ball is providing any real help.
  2. Is this a coaching issue? It’s the same staff that guided them to seven straight wins and earned praise for never panicking. Did they forget how to prepare? I don’t think so. But do they deserve blame? Of course. When you’re 0-2 and look terrible -- think back to the early Marty Schottenheimer days -- everyone deserves heat. Calling plays are one thing; coaching is as much about getting players to buy into what you want them to do. From there, it’s about making plays. There were times, for example, that Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers read the coverage wrong. He still made plays. Dropping passes that are slightly off; missing tackles; dumb penalties ... those don't qualify as "making plays."
  3. [+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III
    Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY SportsDavon House and the Packers made Sunday frustrating for Washington QB Robert Griffin III.
  4. But with the amount of penalties, undisciplined ones at that, it’s going to be easy to paint this as a frustrated team that needs better coaching from Mike Shanahan on down. Have at it. I won't disagree and neither will, or should, they. Some of the issues go away if Robert Griffin III gets going. The trickle-down effect of his play is tremendous. Great players, which is what he was last year, cover up many sins. But good luck covering up all their sins thus far with one player turning himself around. The Redskins need Griffin -- and he must work through his rust, and regain trust in himself to be the player he was a year ago -- but this is way more than just about him.
  5. Receiver Josh Morgan has a pass skip off his hands on a crucial fourth down (he would not have made the first) that leads to an interception. Somehow Perry Riley is alone with speedy receiver Randall Cobb on a fourth-and-3 -- one safety, Bacarri Rambo, rotated to the right flat to cover a receiver and the other safety, Brandon Meriweather, ran to his left to double Jordy Nelson. So the Packers' most dangerous receiver was left with a linebacker. Who blew it? Does it matter? There are other examples. The point is made. It keeps happening.
  6. Sunday’s game against Detroit becomes the biggest of the season. This team can’t afford to start 0-2 at home, particularly against two teams you feel you were better than (on paper, at least). This is far from a gimme: the Redskins have problems with big defensive tackles; the Lions have them. They struggle against offensive playmakers. The Lions have them.
  7. They did get to Rodgers in the first quarter with three sacks, helped on one by the coverage. And then? The Packers went to more three-step drops. “Rodgers even told me himself they weren’t dropping back anymore. I was like, You gotta be kidding me,” Redskins linebacker Brian Orakpo said.
  8. Don’t be surprised if more teams go that route. If a team is struggling to tackle in the back end or missing assignments, then why not test that ability? They are not playing disciplined football. You know the Redskins can apply some pressure, but can they tackle consistently? They didn’t Sunday, that’s for sure. By the way, five different Packers had gains of at least 27 yards -- and four had gains of at least 32. That’s unbelievable. So is 480 yards passing.
  9. You know why I like rookie tight end Jordan Reed? He’s one of the few receiving targets who made a catch on a pass that wasn’t perfect. On his 3-yard touchdown reception, the ball was behind him. On his 4-yard catch in the fourth quarter, he had to reach up high. Too many others are dropping those passes. Yes, Griffin isn't as accurate right now as he needs to be; not even close. He also needs players to help him out; Reed did. He should play more.
  10. Third downs have been a killer, particularly in the first half. In the last two games the Redskins are 1-for-9 on third downs in the opening two quarters. Only one of those has been for under five yards. It’s a tough way to live. They were 1-for-5 Sunday, which is why they managed zero first-half points despite averaging 6.5 yards per play. Oh, and of their 24 drives this season, 17 have started at their 20 or worse. Meanwhile, the opponents have combined to convert 9-of-17 third down chances in the first half.
  11. You knew it would be tough with two rookies playing key roles in the secondary. Both safety Bacarri Rambo and corner David Amerson will be given time to grow and there will be bumps. For Amerson Sunday, it was a blown assignment. He thought he was in one coverage, but did not realize they had checked to something else. Rather than stick with receiver James Jones running down field, he bumped and released him. Jones was free for a 57-yard gain. Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett gets defensive when talking about his rookies. That’s fine; he’s protective. This isn’t about whether or not they can play. Time will decide that. But they do have a lot to learn. That's not second guessing; that's reality. Sadly, it's not as simple as these two players improving and everything else goes away. This is a collective effort -- and that's what's scary.
Any ranking for the 20 greatest coaches in NFL history would leave off at least two of the 22 enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The ballot I submitted for our "Greatest Coaches" project left off eight of them: Guy Chamberlin, Jimmy Conzelman, Weeb Ewbank, Ray Flaherty, Sid Gillman, Bud Grant, Greasy Neale and Hank Stram.



That seems outrageous. However, there were only 20 spots available, and many coaches appeared interchangeable to me outside the top 10 or 12. Current or recently retired head coaches such as Bill Belichick, Tom Coughlin, Mike Holmgren, Mike Shanahan, Tony Dungy, Bill Cowher and Marty Schottenheimer deserved consideration, in my view, but including them meant leaving out others. I also thought Chuck Knox should be in the discussion even though he's long retired and not a Hall of Famer.

Putting together a ballot was difficult. There's really no way to fully analyze the jobs head coaches have done. We must consider won-lost records over time, of course, but little separates some of the coaches further down the list. I figured most panelists would go with Lombardi in the No. 1 spot, but I'm not sure whether that was the case.

Herm Edwards revealed his ballot Insider previously. We agreed on George Halas at No. 1. He put Lombardi second. I went with Paul Brown and Curly Lambeau after Halas, followed by Lombardi, Tom Landry, Bill Walsh, Don Shula, Joe Gibbs, Belichick and Chuck Noll to round out the top 10. The choices got tougher from there.

Edwards had Bud Grant, Dick Vermeil and Marty Schottenheimer in his top 20. He did not have Steve Owen, Holmgren or Cowher. I easily could have justified swapping out some of the coaches toward the bottom of my ballot for others not listed. Edwards and I both had Coughlin at No. 15. Our rankings for Lombardi, Landry, Walsh, Shula, Gibbs, Belichick, Madden and George Allen were within three spots one way or the other. I had Brown and Lambeau quite a bit higher than Edwards had them.

I tried to balance factors such as winning percentage, longevity, championships, team-building and impact on the game. The coaches I listed near the top of my ballot were strong in all those areas. There was room lower on my ballot for coaches whose achievements in some areas offset deficiencies in others.

Halas was a straightforward choice at No. 1 for me. He coached the Chicago Bears for 40 seasons, won six championships and had only six losing seasons. The Hall of Fame credits him as the first coach to use game films for preparation.

"Along with Ralph Jones, his coach from 1930 through 1932, and consultant Clark Shaughnessy, Halas perfected the T-formation attack with the man in motion," Halas' Hall of Fame bio reads. "It was this destructive force that propelled the Bears to their stunning 73-0 NFL title win over Washington in the 1940 NFL Championship Game and sent every other league team scurrying to copy the Halas system."

Brown was my choice at No. 2 because he won seven titles, four of them before the Cleveland Browns joined the NFL in 1950, and he revolutionized strategy while planting a massive coaching tree. Lambeau edged Lombardi in the No. 3 spot on my ballot. He founded the franchise and won with a prolific passing game before it was popular. His teams won six titles during his 31 seasons as coach.

ESPN has revealed the coaches ranking 13th through 20th based on ballots submitted by Chris Berman, Jeffri Chadiha, John Clayton, Colin Cowherd, Mike Ditka, Gregg Easterbrook, Edwards, David Fleming, Ashley Fox, Greg Garber, Mike Golic, Suzy Kolber, Eric Mangini, Chris Mortensen, Sal Paolantonio, Bill Polian, Rick Reilly, Adam Schefter, Ed Werder, Seth Wickersham, Trey Wingo and me.

The eight coaches, beginning at No. 13: Jimmy Johnson, Coughlin, Grant, Stram, Levy, Gillman, Shanahan and Dungy.

Gillman was an interesting one. He spent 10 of his 18 seasons in the AFL and had a 1-5 record in postseason, but there is no denying his impact on the passing game. Like other coaches rounding out the top 20, his case for inclusion was strong, but open for debate.
It’s that time of year. Rumor time.

There was a radio report that Kansas City owner Clark Hunt met with former coach Marty Schottenheimer at the team’s offices Friday. That would please Chiefs fans, because Schottenheimer is one of the most popular figures in team history.

The Chiefs strongly deny it is true. I believe them.

However, I do find it plausible that Hunt could have met with Schottenheimer, 69, or that the former coach could meet with the team in the future. Perhaps Schottenheimer could be in the team’s plan in a major role if changes are made. Regardless, I could see Hunt relying on Schottenheimer as a sounding board. Schottenheimer knows Kansas City and he knows the NFL. He could offer good advice for Hunt in a difficult time.

Again, the Chiefs deny anything happened Friday. But I do think it is worth keeping an eye on the situation as the season continues to unravel in Kansas City. When a team is 1-7 and there such uproar in the fan base, I think all options are on the table.

Bucs have to get back to searching

January, 23, 2012
1/23/12
9:37
AM ET

Oregon coach Chip Kelly reportedly backed out just as it appeared he was about to become the head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Kelly reportedly had been in the final stages of negotiating a deal with Tampa Bay. But general manager Mark Dominik said Monday morning that Kelly informed the Bucs he’ll be staying at Oregon.

So where does that leave Tampa Bay’s coaching search?

Well, Kelly may have been the first choice, but the cupboard is far from empty. Of the candidates known to have interviewed, only Joe Philbin, now the head coach of the Miami Dolphins, is officially out of the picture.

Former NFL head coaches Mike Sherman, Marty Schottenheimer and Brad Childress already have interviewed. So have NFL assistants Tom Clements, Mike Zimmer, Jerry Gray and Rob Chudzinski.

The Bucs could turn to one of them. The Bucs also could seek to talk to other NFL assistants. Or they may have another surprise candidate like Kelly. It hadn’t been reported that Kelly was even on Tampa Bay’s radar until Sunday night, when he appeared close to a deal. It turned out the Bucs quietly had interviewed Kelly last week.
Scratch Joe Philbin off the list of candidates to coach the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He reportedly is headed to the Miami Dolphins.

I don’t think that’s left the Bucs suddenly hopeless. As I mentioned Thursday, I had Philbin at No. 7 on my rankings of the eight candidates known to have interviewed for the Tampa Bay job. Yes, the Bucs interviewed Philbin and may have liked him, but I don’t think he was all that high on their list.

As we’ve mentioned many times, the other known candidates are Mike Sherman, Mike Zimmer, Tom Clements, Marty Schottenheimer, Jerry Gray, Brad Childress and Rob Chudzinski. In fact, I don’t think a sudden exit by any of those candidates would shatter Tampa Bay’s plans.

I believe the Bucs think several of the candidates could be good fits for their job and are just trying to figure out who they think is the right guy. I also think it’s entirely possible Tampa Bay’s list could grow after this weekend’s championship games.

There’s a school of thought out there that the Bucs could be waiting to interview New York Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell and I wouldn’t be surprised if that happens. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Bucs also want to interview another candidate or two that’s been tied up with the postseason.

The only way this development hurts Tampa Bay is that Philbin will start hiring his staff for the Dolphins. That will narrow the pool of assistants available to the Bucs whenever they do hire a head coach.
Mike ShermanAP Photo/Tony GutierrezMike Sherman is the opposite of Raheem Morris, and that may make him Tampa's top target.

All indications are the Tampa Bay Buccaneers aren’t ready to end their search for a head coach. Monday will mark the three-week anniversary of Raheem Morris’ firing.

Since then, the Bucs seemingly have been talking to anyone (almost everyone), but don’t appear close to making a hire. They could be waiting to talk to more coaches that are still involved in the postseason. Or they soon could be narrowing their lengthy list and bringing a few candidates back for second interviews.

What we do know is that by the end of this week the Bucs will have interviewed at least eight candidates. We don’t know exactly how those candidates stack up in the team’s eyes.

But I’m going to give you my rankings of the candidates that are known to have interviewed or are expected to interview by the end of the week. I'm factoring in some insight on what it appears the Bucs are looking for in an ideal candidate. I’ve also talked to coaches and front-office types who have worked with some of the candidates as well as media members who have covered them.

So let’s take a look at my list:

1. Mike Sherman. Even before Morris was fired, Sherman’s name was tied to this job. Part of it was due to the fact Sherman uses the same agent as general manager Mark Dominik, who undoubtedly is going to have a big say in this hire. The Bucs want a cohesive relationship between their front office and the coaching staff and all indications are Sherman and Dominik would work well together.

But there are more reasons why Sherman remains No. 1 on my list. The first is that he’s almost exactly the opposite of Morris in just about every way and that appears to be what the Bucs want. Sherman is 57 with lots of experience. Although his most recent job was a lackluster tenure at Texas A&M, he has been an NFL head coach before. A lot of people tend to forget Sherman’s time in Green Bay was pretty productive.

He produced a winning record in five of his six seasons. He comes from an offensive background and I think that scores points with the Bucs. Tampa Bay needs quarterback Josh Freeman, who it wants to be the foundation of the franchise, back on track after a disappointing 2011 season.

Also, there’s the fact that Sherman is a strong disciplinarian, another thing Morris was not.

[+] EnlargeMike Zimmer
Kirby Lee/US PRESSWIREMike Zimmer has an impressive defensive coaching background in the NFL, but is that what the Bucs are looking for?
2. Mike Zimmer. Like Sherman, Zimmer is mature and would clean up the lack of discipline and accountability that plagued the Bucs under Morris. Zimmer hasn’t been a head coach, but he’s got a long résumé as a defensive coordinator -- he's currently working in Cincinnati with stints in Atlanta and Dallas before that. Zimmer is universally respected in league circles and the only potential knock against him for this job might be that he doesn’t come with an offensive background.

But Zimmer could end up with this job if he can convince the Bucs he can bring in a strong offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.

3. Tom Clements. He’s 58 and has never been an NFL head coach or coordinator. He’s been the quarterbacks coach of the Green Bay Packers for six seasons and you could say that coaching Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers is a lot like being the Maytag repairman. But those who know him well say Clements is a big part of the reason the Packers made such a strong transition from Favre to Rodgers.

Prior to joining Green Bay, Clements was quarterbacks coach in Pittsburgh, Kansas City and New Orleans. He also played quarterback at Notre Dame (back when the Notre Dame quarterback pedigree meant a lot) and was a Hall of Fame player in the Canadian Football League.

Clements, who also is an attorney, is known for his no-nonsense approach.

4. Marty Schottenheimer. If you based it only on experience, which obviously is a big factor, Schottenheimer would be the hands-down choice. He spent 26 years as an NFL head coach, with stints with the Browns, Chiefs, Redskins and Chargers. Schottenheimer’s career record is 327-200, which almost makes it easy to overlook his 5-13 postseason record. Freeman potentially could be better than any quarterback Schottenheimer ever worked with (and that includes Drew Brees only as he was in San Diego, not after he got to New Orleans).

But Schottenheimer is the one candidate who age could work against. He’s 68 and hasn’t coached in the NFL since 2006. He’s been a successful builder before, but can he do it again at this age?

5. Rob Chudzinski. At 43, he’s the youngest of the known candidates. He had a two-year stint as offensive coordinator in Cleveland and helped Derek Anderson (yes, that Derek Anderson) get to a Pro Bowl. But Chudzinsk’s a hot name right now almost entirely because of his work in his first season in Carolina.

Without an offseason program, he installed an entirely new offense and rookie quarterback Cam Newton had a record-setting season. If Chudzinski did that for Newton, the Bucs have to be imagining what he could do with Freeman. But Chudzinski also would have to convince the Bucs he could bring them a proven defensive coordinator.

6. Jerry Gray. He currently is the defensive coordinator in Tennessee and had a pretty successful run as coordinator in Buffalo when Gregg Williams was the head coach. Williams also has a strong background as a secondary coach.

Gray also had a good NFL career as a defensive back and finished his playing career with the Bucs in 1993. The fact that he’s a former player helps his candidacy because he can relate to players. But the fact that he is 49, means that unlike Morris, he would not be a contemporary to the players.

7. Joe Philbin. The offensive coordinator for the Green Bay Packers, Philbin already has had a second interview for the job as Miami’s head coach. Philbin has led a very good Green Bay offense since becoming coordinator in 2007. But head coach Mike McCarthy has handled play-calling duties. Although Philbin had 19 years of experience in the college ranks, the Packers are the only NFL team he has worked for. His rise has been pretty rapid. Philbin joined the Packers (then coached by Sherman) in 2003 as an assistant offensive line coach and became tight ends coach the next year. He later became offensive line coach for one season before becoming coordinator.

8. Brad Childress. Yes, Childress had some success as head coach of the Minnesota Vikings. He had a winning record in two of his five seasons, but his tenure was marked by inconsistency and turbulence, including the fiasco in which Randy Moss returned to the Vikings. Some who have covered Childress say stability isn’t necessarily his biggest strength. In Minnesota, he seemed prone to go with the quick fix, bringing in Favre and begging him to stay for a second season. That’s the kind of approach that could remind the Bucs, who are going to remain committed to building through the draft, a little too much of the Jon Gruden era, in which there never seemed to be a long-term plan.

Before joining the Vikings, Childress was offensive coordinator in Philadelphia. But head coach Andy Reid called the plays. I do think there’s a chance Childress could be hired by Tampa Bay, but as the offensive coordinator for one of the other candidates.
I’m just looking at the latest on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ coaching search and starting to wonder if the Bucs are trying to set some sort of record.

The latest is the Bucs will interview Green Bay offensive coordinator Joe Philbin and quarterbacks Tom Clements at some point soon. The Bucs are interviewing Cincinnati defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer and Carolina offensive coordinator Rob Chudzkinski on Tuesday.

The Bucs previously interviewed former NFL head coaches Mike Sherman, Marty Schottenheimer and Brad Childress as well as Tennessee defensive coordinator Jerry Gray.

Check my math here, but assuming the Bucs do interview Clements and Philbin, that will bring the number of interviews to eight. And that also is assuming the media as reported every coach who has interviewed. We chase these things like crazy, but sometimes an interview or two can slip through the cracks. The Bucs also could decide to interview more candidates that are still involved in the playoffs. There’s been some speculation about New York Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell possibly being a candidate.

But, for now, the number will stand at eight, probably later this week. I seriously think that might be some kind of record. ESPN Stats & Information does a wonderful job, but does not keep numbers on how many candidates have interviewed for any given job throughout history.

I’ve been through a few coaching searches in my day. Generally speaking, most teams interview three or four candidates and I think five is the highest number I’ve ever seen.

But I’m not seeing any huge drawback with Tampa Bay’s methodical approach. Indications are, the Bucs could narrow their list and bring back a few candidates for second interviews. That makes it sound like we might not see a hire for at least another week.

Assistant coaches are being hired all over the league and the Bucs may be missing out on some good candidates. But there still are lots of other assistants available. The East-West Shrine Game is this week and the Senior Bowl is next week.

Ideally, you’d like to have your full coaching staff in place for those two events, so the coaches can get a good look at the college prospects. But any assistant that’s available will be at the Senior Bowl and will be watching players on their own.

Besides, the coaching staffs aren’t the ones who do the bulk of the work at the college all-star games. The scouting staff does that.

Yeah, there comes a point when coaches need to start evaluating the current roster and getting ready for free agency. But, as long as Tampa Bay has its staff in place by the end of the month, there’s plenty of time for that.

I know a lot of Tampa Bay fans are looking at the candidates and saying there’s no one with a “wow factor." That’s true, but was there anybody with a “wow factor’’ out there to begin with? Maybe Jeff Fisher, who ended up in St. Louis. But Fisher is a good, but not tremendous coach and his stock was elevated in a year when Bill Cowher, Tony Dungy and a few other big names refused to join the league-wide candidate pool.

The Bucs aren’t going for the “wow factor" and there’s nothing wrong with that. The deliberate approach might be the right thing. Maybe the Bucs will get a coach who is the right fit. Then, two years down the road or so, maybe fans will say “wow’’ at what that guy has done.
I know there’s a lot of frustration out there among Tampa Bay fans because the Buccaneers have yet to hire a head coach.

They fired Raheem Morris two weeks ago. Since then, we know they reportedly have interviewed Mike Sherman, Marty Schottenheimer, Brad Childress and Jerry Gray. They’re interviewing Cincinnati defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer on Monday and Carolina offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski will interview Tuesday.

That means, that once Chudzinski finishes, the Bucs will have interviewed at least six candidates.

But that doesn’t mean a final decision is coming Tuesday. The Bucs could choose to interview more candidates. They also could narrow the list and bring two or three candidates back for second interviews.

I know it’s tough for fans to be patient, but this shouldn’t come as any big surprise. On the day Raheem Morris was fired, Bucs co-chairman Joel Glazer made it very clear the search for a replacement would be “exhaustive’’ and “thorough.’’

While it might be painful to wait, this approach might not be a bad thing. Although Zimmer is a candidate for the Miami job, none of the other candidates appear to be up for any other jobs as head coaches.

That means the Bucs don’t have to rush into anything. It also might be a sign the Bucs have learned from past mistakes. Everything about this search indicates they want to go in the opposite direction of Morris, who was the league’s youngest coach when he was hired in 2009. The fact that the search is taking a lot of time is another example of the Bucs doing things differently than they had in the past.

In 2009, the Bucs didn’t even do a coaching search. They fired Jon Gruden and turned right around and asked Morris if he wanted the job. When Morris accepted, the search was over.

Given how Morris’ tenure played out, the Bucs might be wise in being “exhaustive’’ and “thorough.’’

Add Rob Chudzinski to Bucs' list

January, 13, 2012
1/13/12
1:10
PM ET
As we mentioned earlier, Tampa Bay’s list of candidates for head coach goes beyond the guys they already have interviewed.

They now reportedly have asked for and received permission to speak with Carolina Panthers offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski. That comes shortly after a report that they’ve received permission to speak with Cincinnati defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer.

The candidates Tampa Bay is known to already have interviewed are Mike Sherman, Brad Childress, Marty Schottenheimer and Jerry Gray.

Chudzinski represents a bit of a departure from the rest of Tampa Bay’s known list. Chudzinski is just 43 and has only been a coordinator for one season. Sherman, Childress and Schottenheimer are former NFL head coaches and all are over 50 years old. Gray is 49 and hasn’t been a head coach, but has plenty of experience as a coordinator.

But it’s logical the Bucs would want to talk to Chudzinski, who interviewed for the Jacksonville job. Chudzinski joined Carolina soon after coach Ron Rivera was hired last year and quickly installed an offense similar to San Diego’s.

With rookie quarterback Cam Newton, the offense quickly became one of the most prolific in the league. Chudzinski previously was tight ends coach in San Diego. He also spent time as an assistant in Cleveland. Before that, Chudzinski was best known as the tight ends coach at the University of Miami, where he worked with Tampa Bay’s Kellen Winslow and Carolina’s Greg Olsen and Jeremy Shockey.

Chudzinski's success with Newton suggests that he could be able to get Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman back on track after a rough 2011 season. That's going to be a priority for whoever ends up with the Bucs.

Maturity is what Bucs need most

January, 10, 2012
1/10/12
12:24
PM ET
I’ve been on the road quite a bit and haven’t really gotten a feel for what Tampa Bay fans think of the Buccaneers’ coaching search.

But I was e-mailing back and forth with “The Fabulous Sports Babe’’ of ESPN Tampa Bay Radio (1040 AM) this morning and she said her callers aren’t excited about who the Bucs are talking to.

That’s understandable. Mike Sherman, Jerry Gray, Brad Childress, Wade Phillips and Marty Schottenheimer aren’t exactly Bill Cowher, Tony Dungy or Bill Parcells. Sherman, Childress, Phillips and Schottenheimer have been moderately successful in previous stops as head coaches, but none of them have won a Super Bowl. Gray, Tennessee’s defensive coordinator, never has been a head coach.

But it doesn’t look like Cowher or Parcells want to coach and Jeff Fisher, the hottest coaching candidate this year, isn’t coming to the Bucs.

They’re not going to get someone who is going to excite the vast majority of the fan base, but that is not entirely a bad thing. What is clear is the Bucs are looking for someone with extensive experience.

Gray’s a longtime assistant and the other four have plenty of experience. That’s what this young team needs right now. The Bucs apparently are going after the opposite of what they just had. They fired Raheem Morris, who didn’t have a ton of experience and wasn’t mature enough in his first stint as a head coach.

Going forward, the Bucs need maturity and experience. They also need structure and discipline. Sherman, Gray, Childress, Phillips and Schottenheimer may not wow fans.

But all of them are experienced and mature. Even more than “the wow factor,’’ experience, maturity and a steady hand at the top is what the Bucs need most.

Sherman, Gray, Childress, Phillips and Schottenheimer all fit the profile of coaches that could bring order to a franchise that had none in the 2011 season. In the long run, that profile could be better than bringing in a coach who can wow the fans.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Insider

NFL SCOREBOARD

Thursday, 9/18
Sunday, 9/21
Monday, 9/22
WEEKLY LEADERS