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Friday, August 6, 2010
Tip Sheet: Coaching staying power

By Len Pasquarelli
ESPN.com

Mike Martz
One of the most creative offensive minds in football, Mike Martz doesn't stay unemployed for long.

In the four-plus years since Mike Martz was dismissed as the St. Louis Rams' head coach after the 2005 season, a campaign in which he took a medical leave of absence after five games to address a serious heart condition, the veteran coach has been the offensive coordinator for three franchises.

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"If you believe in what you're doing, it doesn't get old," said Martz, who was named the Chicago Bears' offensive coordinator this spring after similar stints with Detroit (2006-07) and San Francisco (2008). "It gets in your blood."

Actually, it might embedded be in the DNA, as former NFL coaches have discovered.

The league has 15 offensive or defensive coordinators who at one time were full-time NFL head coaches. There are nine other former head coaches who hold the title of assistant head coach or position coach. Three men who served as interim head coach are assistants in the league. And there are 14 assistants in the NFL who were full-time or interim college head coaches.

Clearly, there is life in the NFL after head coaching.

Some cynics might reference the "good ol' boy" syndrome, the network that seems to endlessly recycle coaches in the league and guarantees even coaches with losing records employment of some sort. That network, however, seems to have lost some clout in recent years. Instead, league observers insist, the large number of former head coaches now serving as assistants is more a direct function of the vast football knowledge those men bring to the game, the insights they offer, their desire to continue working, the upward spiral of salaries for assistant coaches and the fact most of them are, quite simply, very good.

"You don't forget all the stuff you've [accumulated] over the years," Dallas coach Wade Phillips said. "It's not like you got fired and then you got dumb."

Phillips served as a defensive coordinator three times -- at Buffalo (1995-97), Atlanta (2002-03) and San Diego (2004-06). In addition to serving as Buffalo's head coach from 1998-2000 and Denver's from 1993-94, he was interim head coach in Atlanta in 2003. In addition to Phillips and Martz, there are eight assistants in the NFL, coordinators and position coaches, who have held multiple jobs since being relieved of their head coach duties.

Despite some relatively long odds, some of them feel they can be head coaches again, and that the road to a No. 1 job in the NFL is a lot less pothole-strewn if they remain in the league. Others enjoy coaching at the highest level of the game. Still others are just NFL lifers. The majority feel they have something to offer to a club or a particular boss.

And there is always the NFL's bottom line.

"They make you better," said Philadelphia coach Andy Reid, whose staff includes two former league head coaches, offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg and senior assistant/defensive backs coach Dick Jauron. "They help you win."

One of the coordinators who might have a solid chance of being on the short list of any franchise seeking to make a change after 2010, particularly if New Orleans has another successful season, is Saints defensive boss Gregg Williams, dismissed by Buffalo after a 17-31 record in three years (2001-03). That the Saints won Super Bowl XLIV is notably attributable to Williams' unit.

But it isn't as if Williams' aggressiveness with the New Orleans defense necessarily translates to a burning desire to have a second shot at the head coaching brass ring.

"You've got a job to do [in New Orleans]," Williams said. "And you want to have pride in the way you do it and the way your players do it."

Former head coach Jerry Glanville (Houston and Atlanta) was generally reluctant to hire former head coaches for fear they might be potential successors and perhaps politick for his job. Like the "good ol' boy" network, though, that rationale has diminished in recent years. Still, it takes a head coach who is confident in his abilities, and isn't prone to always looking over his shoulder, to hire former NFL sideline bosses.

Maybe it's a guy who wants to win and shares a similar mindset to the coaches he brings aboard.

Chicago coach Lovie Smith, who hasn't been to the playoffs since leading the Bears to Super Bowl XLI in 2006 and has a record of 23-25 the past three years, qualifies on all those fronts.

In addition to Martz, his staff includes two other former NFL head coaches, Mike Tice and Rod Marinelli.

Smith previously served as Martz's defensive coordinator. Smith was on the staff in Tampa Bay when Marinelli, promoted to coordinator this season after serving as a Bears senior head coach in 2009, was the Bucs' defensive coordinator.

Len Pasquarelli, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.