Monday, January 6, 2014
Quick takes: Coaches, playoffs and QBs
By John Keim
Of the jobs left, I’d put only Detroit ahead of Washington for the same reason as most others: The Lions have a more established talent base. They do have salary-cap issues (three players will count more than $13 million against the cap this year) so they’ll have to restructure and/or release players. But you know a little bit more of what you’re getting from this group – on both sides of the ball. Both the offense and defense ranked in the top 15 in scoring. I wonder if the Lions’ experience with Jim Schwartz will make them go with a former head coach in this hire – like a Ken Whisenhunt or even Jim Caldwell – as opposed to someone such as Cincinnati offensive coordinator Jay Gruden.
Minnesota, Cleveland and Tennessee all have major flaws, too. The Browns would be more interesting if not for the fact that they just fired a coach after one season. They have a high draft pick and money to spend. But talk about a culture of dysfunction. The Vikings don’t have a young quarterback worth building around; their owners are based in New Jersey (which can be a good and bad thing) and were just hit with an $84.5 million penalty when a judge ruled they cheated their partners in an apartment complex. It’s hard to cast Tennessee as a great job. The Titans' quarterback, Jake Locker, remains questionable and their ownership is unproven.
The Redskins have major flaws as well – and a 15-year track record under owner Dan Snyder, which features chaos every few years and seven double-digit loss seasons since 2004. He has not proven he can build a winning organization. But his willingness to spend has attracted coaches in the past (it’s why Mike Shanahan came here) and will do so again. Yes, some will no doubt stay away from this job as they’ll consider it a bad spot. But money always matters – not just for their contract but for the desire to spend in free agency, etc.
Clearly, more than money is needed to build a good team. I think the smartest thing is to hire good people and let them do their jobs. I’d say that for the next coach, too.
Four of the eight teams that played in the first round of the playoffs hired coaches within the past two years. And three of them had first-year coaches: Kansas City, San Diego and Philadelphia. It’s not as if there is a common formula for their hires. The Chiefs grabbed the proven head coach; the Chargers a coordinator and the Eagles a dynamic college coach. I’ve heard some teams were not interested in hiring a coordinator with no head coaching experience to be their guy.
Of the past 15 Super Bowl champions, six were led by coaches in their second stint as a head coach (Mike Shanahan, Tony Dungy, Bill Belichick, Tom Coughlin, Jon Gruden and Dick Vermeil). Six were won by assistants in their first job (Bill Cowher, Brian Billick, Mike Tomlin, John Harbaugh, Mike McCarthy and Sean Payton). And of the last 15 teams that have lost the Super Bowl, 12 have been led by coaches in their first job. The three in their second job? Dan Reeves, Bill Belichick and Mike Holmgren. All totaled, 18 coaches with their first team have led their teams to the Super Bowl.
The point: If you build the right organization you can win, regardless if they have prior head coaching experience or not. It’s not enough to just get what you consider to be a good coach; the infrastructure is of utmost importance.
It’s also noteworthy that of the four quarterbacks left in the NFC, three can hurt you with their arm or their legs: San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick, Carolina’s Cam Newton and Seattle’s Russell Wilson. Kaepernick extended plays in Sunday’s win over Green Bay time and again. There were times he might have missed an open receiver to take off running, but the majority of his runs bailed the 49ers out of a bad spot. It’s why you don’t give up on Robert Griffin III when he’s one year removed from doing the same. Quarterbacks like this take you places -- if they figure it out. But with each quarterback left, the common denominator is this: a great defense. The Redskins were too reliant on the need for Griffin to do a lot because they failed to build anything solid to offset his growing pains. Kaepernick struggled this year, too; he's now in the second round of the playoffs.
Here’s an update on the coach search from Sunday night. As of that time I had not heard yet whether or not the Redskins had reached out to any of the Bengals' assistant coaches: Jay Gruden, Mike Zimmer or Hue Jackson. I would expect them to do so soon.
When Caldwell interviewed in Detroit, he also met with Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford. I would be surprised if something like that happened here, unless it was during a second round of interviews. Griffin’s desire was to get away and stay out of the coach search, knowing the perception of his situation. But considering his position, he is and should be a primary topic in these interviews.
I still refuse to believe the Redskins never reached out to Bill Cowher about their coaching vacancy. I understand he doesn’t want to coach, but there’s no way someone such as Snyder takes that as gospel, especially if he hears that second or third hand. Just look at who he’s lured here in the past. Doesn’t mean Cowher formally interviewed for the job. As I said last week, it would also make sense for Snyder to talk to as many experts as possible to get a feel for any potential good young coaches.