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T-post Tom
01-03-2006, 10:09 PM
Good read:

Expect fresh faces to fill '06 head coaching voids
Jan. 2, 2006
By Clark Judge
CBS SportsLine.com Senior Writer

The firing squads are busy again, which means it must be the end of the NFL season.

Black Monday is becoming as much a part of the football calendar as the trade deadline, only this year it's bigger and better than ever. Mike Martz? Gone. Mike Sherman? Adios. Mike Tice? Gone in 60 seconds.

Now the attention is on their replacements, and you can throw guys like Martz, Sherman and Jim Haslett -- another casualty -- into the pool of candidates.

But my concern is not with them. My concern is with lesser-known assistants or college head coaches not named Pete Carroll. Carroll, at the top of everyone's list, just signed an extension to stay at USC -- which removes him from the picture.

So who's left? Good question. I contacted several GMs and front-office executives to discover whom they liked and why. What follows is a list of the most-talked-about and soon to be the most-talked-to coaches in the next month.

"The problem you have," said one league executive, "is that before you fire someone you should have another in mind to replace him. I'm not sure that's going to happen."

When it does, look for these names to surface:

TIM LEWIS, defensive coordinator, N.Y. Giants. He's smart. He's articulate. He's experienced. And he's ready. He was a finalist in San Francisco when the 49ers had an opening a year ago. The Giants are improved on defense, though you wouldn't know it by league statistics. They ranked 24th where they were 13th a year ago. But look closer. Their two defensive ends made the Pro Bowl, with one leading the NFC in sacks and the other third. Their 37 takeaways were second only to Cincinnati and a step up from the 28 of 2004. They allowed 314 points this season; they allowed 347 in 2004. I think you get the idea. But here's what you like most about Lewis: He held this group together when injuries started claiming starters -- particularly linebackers. Look at what he operated with last week: He started a rookie cornerback and a previously unemployed linebacker the Giants signed that week. Yet they won the most important game of the year. Yeah, I'd like to hear what he has to say.

PAT HILL, head coach, Fresno State. Tough. Confident. Successful. And "rough around the edges," said one general manager. Meaning .... meaning he's not telegenic. "But who cares?" asked one league executive. "Do you want someone who looks good on TV or wins games?" Ask owners, and they'll tell you they want both. After all, it's become a TV game. Hill's strength is that he has pro experience -- coaching with Cleveland/Baltimore -- and is successful, leading Fresno to seven straight bowl appearances. He's also bold. He doesn't care whom he schedules, and he doesn't care where. He just plays them. And he usually wins. "Our program has to play the best and beat the best to be considered the best," he said. All I know is that when I mentioned his name to two NFL executives they said they had Hill near the top of their lists.

JERRY GRAY, defensive coordinator, Buffalo. With the Bills in retreat lately, you might wonder what he's doing here. I don't. I saw what happened in Buffalo last year when the Bills had a league-high 39 takeaways, fueling a second-half run that fell just short of the playoffs. The Bills returned with another 30 takeaways this year but, in general, the defense was a disappointment -- plummeting from second to 29th as the Bills fell from 9-7 to 5-11. What was supposed to be the backbone of a team with a young quarterback instead became an enigma, with the defense allowing over 400 yards in four of its last seven starts. I know, Takeo Spikes missed most of the year, but that doesn't explain what happened. But in Gray's defense, tell me one phase of the Bills that lived up to expectations this season. I'm waiting. What you like about Gray is that he's sharp, studies the game and has experience as a player. He knows when and how to connect with his understudies, and never underestimate that in today's game.

RON RIVERA, defensive coordinator, Chicago. Watch the Bears to see how far they go. That might tell you what happens to Rivera. Coordinators from successful teams are hot properties. Though Rivera's been a coordinator for only two years he has what owners covet: He's articulate, he's smart, he's projects a strong and positive image and he's good at what he does. He also has this: He's a former player, having served behind Mike Singletary, so he has a kinship with guys in the locker room that can be critical to success. Nobody, of course, has been more successful on defense this year than the Bears. They led the league in virtually every category and went to the top of the NFC North on the big shoulders of their defense -- with five of their starters named to the Pro Bowl. That should make an impression. "I would be disappointed if he didn't get some (interviews)," coach Lovie Smith told the Chicago Sun-Times. "He deserves a shot at running his own team someday."

KEN WHISENHUNT, offensive coordinator, Pittsburgh. "He's what I call a defensive offensive coordinator," said one general manager. "He'll run the ball and rely on his defense." That's what's happened in two years on the job in Steelers, where Whisenhunt took the 31st-ranked rushing offense and turned it into the league's second-ranked unit overnight. OK, so it helps when you have Jerome Bettis in the huddle. But Bettis was there in 2003, too. All I know is that when Bill Cowher made Whisenhunt his coordinator in 2004 he put him on notice that he wanted to return to what the Steelers do best, which was running the ball. It was up to Whisenhunt to provide a solution. Well, he did, and the results speak for themselves -- not only were the Steelers fifth in rushing this season; they're 26-6 in regular-season play with Whisenhunt as a coordinator. Like Rivera, he's been on the job only two years, but don't let that fool you. He knows what he's doing, and people noticed.

JIM SCHWARTZ, defensive coordinator, Tennessee. Another finalist in San Francisco's coaching hunt last year. He's young, he's bright and he fits the corporate image owners seek. Plus, he's ahead of the curve, so proficient in computer analysis that you hear people describe him as the Billy Beane of NFL assistants. And that is good. So is his resume. Schwartz worked with Bill Belichick. He worked with Jeff Fisher. He replaced Gregg Williams as coordinator and had the Titans playing at a high level before injuries in 2004 and youth in 2005 sent the team's defensive numbers in the other direction. The public might consider him one of the least-known and least-visible of this year's assistants, but owners should not be misled. This is someone who will wind up as a head coach -- probably sooner rather than later.

BRAD CHILDRESS, offensive coordinator, Philadelphia. He was a hot candidate last year and didn't make the cut. But there were only three openings, and the experience then should benefit him now. I can't see how he misses this year -- despite the Eagles' woes. Childress is sharp, forceful, cooperative and part of a club that, over the last five years, was one of the league's model franchises. OK, so the Eagles slipped this season, but don't blame Childress. He was in the vortex of that Terrell Owens storm during training camp and remained firm and strong when circumstances seemed to be spinning out of control. A critical part of an outstanding staff, Childress is seen as an extension of coach Andy Reid -- and that is nothing but positive. All Reid's done is lead the Eagles to four straight NFC conference championship games. Childress should be among the first assistants hired; he's already set to talk with Minnesota and Houston.

RON MEEKS, defensive coordinator, Indianapolis. Shortly after bowing out of the 2004 playoffs, team president Bill Polian vowed to improve his team on defense. So the Colts made key additions, including the signing of defensive tackle Corey Simon, but did nothing with their defensive coordinator. That might have been the smartest move of all. Under Meeks' direction the Colts vaulted from 29th in team defense to 11th. More important, they improved from 19th in points allowed to second, behind only Chicago. That is significant. So is this: Over the past two seasons the Colts have 67 takeaways, among the best in the league. The further this team goes in the playoffs, the more attention Meeks gains -- and it's deserved. If I can't get Tony Dungy, I want the closest thing to him. That would be Ron Meeks.

KIRK FERENTZ, head coach, Iowa. Another college coach with a pro background. Ferentz worked with Bill Belichick and the Cleveland Browns before making the move to Iowa where he's enjoyed extraordinary success. In the last four seasons Iowa has gone 11-2, 10-3, 10-2 and 7-5. What pro executives like about him is that his teams almost always play beyond expectations, outperforming opponents who seem more talented. Moreover, seldom is anyone more prepared than the Hawkeyes, a reflection on their coach. The only question about Ferentz is: Does he want to return to the pros? He says he doesn't, and he's signed through 2012. But if he changes his mind, look for a line to form at his front door -- with Green Bay leading the charge.


GARY KUBIAK, offensive coordinator, Denver. Six years ago he was a hot candidate. Then, suddenly, nothing. Now he's back again, and look no farther than Jake Plummer and a 13-3 finish for an explanation. The Broncos' quarterback sharply reduced his mistakes this season, going eight straight games without an interception, and was so effective that at one time he was given MVP consideration. Credit Kubiak and coach Mike Shanahan for his development. Kubiak has experience coaching quarterbacks (Steve Young and John Elway) and playing the position and spent the last decade learning under Shanahan. If you want to perk up your offense, you might start here. "If they're smart," said Shanahan, "he'll get one of those jobs." Look for Houston and, maybe, New Orleans to inquire.


AL SAUNDERS, offensive coordinator, Kansas City. Only one exec I spoke to mentioned him, but you can't ignore the facts. And the facts are these: Interviews are accumulating so fast for Saunders that one source close to the Chiefs' assistant predicted he might be one of the first head coaches to be hired. Saunders has been a head coach before, but that was nearly 20 years ago in San Diego when the Chargers weren't good and ownership wasn't patient. Under his direction, the Chiefs offense soared to the top of league rankings the past two seasons and, over the last five years, averaged more points than any club. More important, its rushing attack has been superb -- with Kansas City producing a league-best 89 rushing TDs the past three seasons. Saunders is confident, polished and experienced. Now, he's wanted.

milkman
01-03-2006, 10:20 PM
Very nice article, that gives some background on a lot of HC prospects, without to much rumor and speculation.

siberian khatru
01-03-2006, 10:22 PM
FWIW, htismaqe and I both thought Schwartz leaped out as a dark horse.

Crush
01-03-2006, 10:23 PM
Say no to the Cover 2 guys.

SNR
01-03-2006, 10:24 PM
Go pick some black guy off the street, interview him, and sign Saunders!